Friday, May 22, 2015

Friday Links!

From John Willcocks, and this has to be seen to be believed: World's Most Amazing Archer in Slow Motion. Note how he aims.

From Sirius, and who knew we'd ever find something like this: Scientists discover first warm-bodied fish. Also, and it's about time, it's Newly discovered frog species looks a lot like Kermit the Frog. One more, and it's bizarre: An island in the Maldives is made of parrotfish poop.

From C. Lee, and man, these are cool: A whimsical Ghibli-like world captured in beautiful GIFs you can stare at all day. Also, and this is just incredible, it's Brain-controlled Bionic Legs are Finally Here.

These links are from Scott Gould, and his description is so specific that I'm including it here:
YES this is a documentary about making an album and YES it's in seven parts and YES you won't have heard of Neil Hannon and YES I'm asking you to take 40 minutes or so of your life to watch. All 7 parts, wondering what this odd fellow is doing bossing all these musicians around and trying to work out what on earth kind of music he makes, and then at 1:40 of the seventh part it will all become clear.
Part the first

And after all that, an acoustic performance of one of the album highlights.

From a gassy source who wishes to remain anonymous, and this is just brilliant: Loz's magnificent 7-tone fart symphony. Note: this is much more clever than you would expect from the title. Music nerds in particular will enjoy this (it cracked Eli 13.9 up).

From Jeff Fowler, and this is fantastic: Hot lava flows in a parking lot—in upstate NY.

From Hennie van Loggerenberg, and this is amazing: These Online Maps Can Tell You Where Your Wine Came From.


From Steven Davis, and I had no idea this even existed: The Octobass – What does this huge instrument sound like?

From Nate Carpenter, and this is an incredible story: Ingeborg Rapoport to Become Oldest Recipient of Doctorate After Nazi Injustice is Righted: 102-year-old retired neonatologist submitted her doctoral thesis in 1938.

Thursday, May 21, 2015


National Tap Dance Day? Who knew?

Also, there's this mascot from a local ice cream shop:

How'd you like to see a shelf of these staring at you in the middle of the night? Chilling.

NHL 16

NHL 15 was a huge disappointment last year. Big chunks of content were missing, and the content that was included had baffling and seemingly random omissions. It was a sad year for one of the truly great sports franchises.

However, the series has built up so much goodwill with me over the years that I'm still looking forward to this year's release. The feature set was released this week, and almost all of the content seems to have been restored this year. If you'd like to see the full list, here it is: Complete List of Features for NHL 16.

What I've always appreciated about this era of NHL is that, unlike Madden, the development team has never chased stupid innovation. Madden has had dozens of dubious features that have been introduced, then almost immediately abandoned, and the only reason they existed in the first place was to have something new to market. NHL has been sensibly forward-thinking, and I only hope that continues this year.

By the way, this is Eli 13.9s favorite game, bar none. No big surprise there.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

PhD Tree

After the tree post last week, Brian Witte was kind enough to send me a fascinating e-mail, and I'm using it here. What follows is all Brian.

I saw your post on making computer models of trees and I wanted to share a story or two.  Brace yourself.

My friend did a PhD in Forestry in the late 90's at University of Washington.  The initial observation used to form hypotheses for the dissertation was this image:

The image you're looking at is farmland in eastern Washington State, near the Columbia River.  The circles are center-pivot irrigation used to grow vegetables.  The square blocks, however, are a tree plantation.  The trees are hybrids of different species of cottonwood, and they're being grown as a source of fiber for a paper mill.  Cottonwoods are notable both for their fast growth and the ease of cloning them.  Any twig can be dipped in rooting hormone, half-buried in the ground, and it will sprout into a new tree.  Using that approach, a single big tree can be chopped up and used to plant several contiguous acres of genetically identical trees.  Each of those rectangular blocks in slightly different shades of green are, genetically, one single tree that was chosen for its rapid growth and high quality fiber.  Here's a photo of a cottonwood plantation, with trees grown like corn:

Grown on this spacing, with plentiful drip irrigation, and cloudless summer weather of eastern Washington, the trees take only 7 years to reach 100' tall, with a trunk diameter of 2 feet. 

Cool story, right?  So where does modeling come in?  You'll notice that among those blocks of trees, some appear to be different shades of green.  When you broaden the range from visible light to full-spectrum imaging (the AVIRIS technology mentioned in the caption), the difference is even more pronounced.  Remember that each block is comprised of genetically identical trees. Looking at ONE tree is hard.  Looking at a giant block of trees allows you to eliminate individual variation over a tree's surface and measure averages.  Each block represents the average interaction of several thousand trees.  The blocks of trees were all planted at the same time, they all get the same water and fertilizer, and they all are rooted in the same soil.  So what accounts for the different appearance?

My friend, Kim Brown (now Dr. Brown), went out to those blocks of trees and measured every conceivable variable: chlorophyll content, leaf size, leaf shape, tree height, rate of photosynthesis, rate of respiration.  She even took the data she collected on the trees to France where she collaborated with a computer modeler to figure out what happened to incident rays of sunlight as they impacted the trees.  How much light was absorbed, how much reflected and at what angle, how much re-radiated in a different wavelength...even what happened to a ray of light as it entered a leaf and bounced around inside.  Here's an image from a related paper by the modeler :

It turns out that the different appearance of the blocks of trees came down to the angle at which the leaves hang, relative to the trunk.  Some cottonwood species have leaves with short, stout petioles (the little stem that connects a leaf to a branch), while others have long, limber petioles.

So yes, modeling trees is hard.  I still haven't seen a tree reproduced in a game that I would call convincing (plants have their own uncanny valley when a botanist like me is watching.  And don't get me started on the ents in Lord of the Rings with their totally unrealistic leaf physics).

As for the impact of long vs short petioles?  That would be for another time.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Happy Victoria Day

DQ VB.NET Advisor Garret Rempel sent me this picture today from Winnipeg:

I find it encouraging that there's unfrozen water in the streets, at least.

You Must Build a Boat

I know--The Witcher 3 went live today--but believe it or not, I think I'm looking forward to this game more. Here's the press release from Luca:
I’m Luca Redwood, I made the critically acclaimed "10000000" which Rock Paper Shotgun recently listed as one of the "Top 25 Puzzle Games Ever Made" .

After 3(!) years in the making, the sequel - "You Must Build A Boat"  is coming out on June 4th. It’s very exciting, here is a trailer: You Must Build a Boat trailer.

I’m pretty chuffed with how its turned out, It’s got loads of cool new features, capturing monsters, building up your boat and adding new and exciting rooms, random and nonrandom dungeon modifiers that change how each run has to be be played 

It’ll be out at the same time on PC,Mac/Linux,iOS and Android. 

Thanks for reading! 


At one point in the trailer video, you see the boat you're building, and here's what's inside the boat:
--HD television
--a camel
--a green dude next to a fireplace
--a weight bench
--guy with sword
--a giant snake
--a dog
--a bed
--a caveman with club, apparently embracing a woman
--a library
--a spit (or a high jump pit--not sure)
--a Pharaoh?
--a pool table (or torture rack--not sure)
--the cosmos?

Oh yes, I am so, so in.

Monday, May 18, 2015


We had a bit of a kerfuffle yesterday: Waco Biker Brawl: Scores Arrested After Shootout at Twin Peaks Bar.

"Scores" is 165, in case you're counting. 9 Fatalities and counting.

Here's an excerpt from another article worth reading:
Police helicopters hovered over the Waco, Texas, sports bar and above a scattering of knives, guns, and dead bodies in the parking lot. Surrounding streets were closed off as authorities prepared for more outlaws to converge on the city.

...Earlier that day, about 200 bikers from at least five motorcycle gangs gathered at Twin Peaks, a restaurant known for its bikini-topped waitresses and, apparently, for its crew of motorcycle-riding regulars.

But the scene turned into a gruesome turf war around 12:15 p.m., after a brawl inside the restroom spilled out into the bar and ended in the parking lot. On Monday morning, Waco police said 170 people were arrested and will face charges related to organized crime.

We've driven past that place more times than I can even count, because it's right off the interstate, easily visible as you're driving past. We always joke about the name, because it's basically a Hooter's clone.

It's ninety minutes from our house, roughly.

This was an incredible incident. The bar is in a standard strip mall (Panera Bread, Best Buy, Ross, Kohl's, etc.), and a fight inside the restaurant spilled outside and turned into a huge shootout.

[Editorial note: by the way, if any of you read an outraged opinion piece from one of the usual places about how this incident is indicative of the collapse of white culture and how white fathers have failed, please let me know.]

I met a guy years ago who was so memorable that I wrote down details of our conversation, then saved the file for future use. Incredibly, that day has arrived.

This fellow I met was a tow truck driver. He was huge and incredibly intimidating physically. Covered in tattoos.

Here are my notes, with only minor editing to protect his identity:
Moved here from another state. 20+ years with same company. Driving the whole time. Started straight out of the Army.

Moved to Austin when wife got job. Same company needed drivers. Not a recovery [repo] driver, but has friends who are. Did do private prop recovery in his previous state. People angry, wanting to bargain. 131.50. You're going to charge me the fifty cents? [a guy almost attacked him over fifty cents once.] Tries to reason with them. Knows how anger feels because he's an angry guy. Took classes to learn how to handle it.

Seen some terrible wrecks. Makes you think about safe driving all the time for your kids. Wife gets on him all the time for driving too slow. Seen too many things.

Says his girls don't know anything about his past because he's changed. Says they don't know he was a biker and beat up people for a living. Says that since he quit drinking and using he's a different person. Plus his Christianity makes him better able to deal with his anger.

He's on call 24 hours a day. Goes out when he gets a call. Said the owner of his company said he was building him a new tow truck to thank him for all his years of service.

Recovery is crazy. Said even people in wrecks are sometimes angry when he shows up. Still have adrenaline pumping. Says some think he wants to rip them off. Says no, I'm here to help you, not steal your money.

Gentle. Soft-spoken.

When he was talking about his girls, he said, "Being a father makes you want to be a better person for your kids," and man, if there was ever a universal truth, that's it.

I remember this as a truly poignant conversation, because this fellow--who was downright scary-looking--was as soft-spoken and non-aggressive as almost anyone I've ever met.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Friday Links!

We're a little light this week, but there's still some good stuff in here.

Leading off this week, From Sirius, and these are spectacular: These Are Easily The Most Gorgeous Maps Of The Moon Ever.

From The Edwin Garcia Links machine, and this is truly magnificent: 100,000 Stars.

From Scott Gould, and this archer is just ridiculous: World's Most Amazing Archer in Slow Motion.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is terrific: The Many Faces of the Greatest War.

From multiple sources, and he's quite the badass: Elon Musk: The World’s Raddest Man.

From C. Lee, and while I'm very skeptical, this could be huge: Cuba has a Lung Cancer Vaccine -- and America Wants It.

From Z. Jason Kerr, and if there's one thing you can say about North Korea, they're certainly forward-thinking in their execution methods: North Korea executes defence chief with an anti-aircraft gun - South Korea agency. That anti-aircraft gun has a range of 5 miles by the way.

From Marc Klein, and I think it's fair to ask if the NFL is actually making the game safer or if they're just conducting a giant marketing campaign: IS THE NFL'S BIG BET ON MAKING FOOTBALL SAFER WORKING?

From Joshua Buergel, and this is fascinating: Card money in New France.

From Steven Davis, and let's get started: A Backyard Roller Coaster the Whole Family Can Build.

This is a long, tremendous read: Denver’s Heroin Pizza Delivery System. Also, and I hope she makes it, it's Today, This Woman Will Row the Atlantic Alone.

Winding up, this is the "scorpion save" (hockey): Kiprusoff and the Scorpion Save.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Leaves and Planets

I went to a middle school band concert tonight. Quality was variable.

In the background, though, was a giant tree. The wind was strong, and the leaves were so thick on the tree that it made the tree ripple like it was wearing a huge green coat.

I watched that tree for quite a while, and then I remembered that developers have mathematical equations to describe the movement of trees. Which blew my mind, that something so staggeringly complex could be simulated so realistically.

Then I started wondering how they'd develop the equations.

This is probably wrong, but here's my best guess: after "building" a tree, you start with the part of the tree that has the largest cumulative surface area, which would be the leaves. So you do a check to see if the wind is strong enough to make an individual leaf move, then you sum the forces of the leaves on an individual branch to see if the movement of the leaves is strong enough to make the branch move. If the branch does move, you do a movement check on the branch it attaches to, then keep summing cumulative forces and check branch movement until you get to the trunk.

Or something.

One of the bands (not Eli's) played an excerpt from The Planets, which is one of my very favorite pieces of classical music. Unlike most people, the first version I ever heard of this piece was played not by an orchestra, but by Tomita, who created an arrangement for this huge wall of synthesizers he played.

I've listened to conventional versions of The Planets since then--many times--and while they sound beautiful, I still prefer Tomita's version. There's a special kind of intensity, but it's also whimsical in places.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Wright Brothers

So as it turns out, Eli 13.9 and the Wright Brothers have something in common.

I'm reading an entirely fascinating book called The Wright Brothers (it's by David McCullough, who is money), and I've reached the point where Wilbur and Orville go to France to demonstrate the airplane. Check out this passage:
Greatest by far was the spectacle of seeing so many -- children, men, and women of all ages -- playing with "diabolo," a simple, age-old toy that had lately become the rage. It consisted of a wooden spool the shape of an hourglass and two bamboo sticks about two feet in length, joined by a string four to five feet in length, and it cost about 50 cents. The player would slip the string around the spool, then, a stick in each hand, lift the spool from the ground and start it spinning and by spinning it faster, keep it balanced in the air. It was because the spool would so often fall to the ground, until the beginner got the knack, that it was called "the devil's game." It had originated in China a hundred years or more earlier, and to the brothers it was irresistible. Apparently the brothers caught on quickly to the diabolo art and become quite good at it. 

Finding out that the diabolo was all the rage in France in the first decade of the twentieth century is entirely fantastic.

On the actual subject of flying, let me recommend this book absolutely and completely. It is tremendously well-written and entirely entertaining.


Well, this certainly explains why we've been losing the satellite signal. Note to self: trees grow faster than you think they do.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Dream

I had a dream last night.

I was with Eli 13.9 and Gloria, and we all were talking. Eli is almost 5'9" now, and even though he's skinny (110 lbs.), he's ripped, so he towered over Gloria and made her seem very small in comparison.

I was saying something about how much he had changed, and I think I told a story about when he was just a small boy. They walked off together, into another room, and when they came back, Eli 13.9 had become Eli 3.5 again, wearing little overalls and a red shirt.

He was just beaming, with Gloria holding his hand, and I was so happy to see him. In a few seconds, though, I was so overcome that I started quietly weeping.

I woke up shortly after.

The dream made me think about how lucky we are that Eli really hasn't changed. That ball of energy that I nicknamed The Enthusiasm Engine is still inside him, and he's still as sweet and loving as he's ever been.

Yesterday, after I picked him up from school, we drove home and started playing our careers. He's playing as Connor McDavid in NHL, and I'm Enormous Bottoms in MLB. He went upstairs to play his career, and I stayed in the living room to play mine, and it was all so relaxing and peaceful. He left his door open, and we shouted updates back and forth. "Grand Salami!" I yelled as I hit a grand slam. "Oh, that did not just happen!" Eli shouted a few minutes. "Dad, you need to come see this!"

I did.

Otto and Nora

For some reason, talking to Mike today reminded me of a story from the wayback machine.

My mom grew up in Fort Smith, Arkansas (she doesn't recommend it). She left, but we went back to visit in summer. Her father's sister Nora lived in Fort Smith, too, and she married a German man named Otto.

Otto, in particular, was an amazing gardener. We would visit in summer, and his garden was always full of the most delicious food you could possibly imagine. He was so meticulous about his garden, and such a craftsman, and it made an impression on me.

Aunt Nora and Uncle Otto were both very old by the time I was twelve, both in their seventies (at least), and on one visit, Aunt Nora started trying to give us stuff.

In particular, and this memory is very vivid, she wanted us to have a lazy Susan that she had on a table in her living room. Insistent, really.

Why was she demanding that we take her things? She said she wouldn't be around much longer, and wanted to give her stuff away.

If you want to absolutely creep someone out, just say that to them. I thought it was the strangest thing I'd ever heard, but somehow, as I get older, I'm starting to understand what she meant.

We didn't take the Lazy Susan, but I'm sure we left with some small item. Yikes.

Mike and his Mom

My friend Mike lost his mom last weekend.

I only saw her a few times, but once he took me back to his hometown for a football game and we stayed at her house. She was in her early sixties then, and in every way, she was a real spitfire. She also had the kind of warmth that drew people to her.

She was in a bowling league well into her seventies (she was an excellent bowler), and was very, very active until the last few years of her. It had been particularly hard for her in the last year, when her health declined. Mike said it was hard to see such a vibrant person lose her vitality.

She was a huge sports fan, and whenever Mike visited her, there was always a game on. He drove up last weekend, because she was slipping away, and when he got there, he turned on a basketball game, just like they always did together. He was exhausted after a long drive and feel asleep for a few minutes. When he woke up, she had passed. It was a peaceful way to go, and fitting.

Monday, May 11, 2015

In Line at Whataburger

Dear Sir,
Please conclude your folksy, Chautauqua-style meanderings with the cashier as soon as possible and keep the line moving. Thank you.

Unlikely Careers and the Lowdown on House Hunters

A friend of ours moved to Illinois recently.

They looked at a house in particular--let's call it "House X" for no good reason whatsoever--but wound up not buying House X.

A friend of his who is also moving to Illinois (same company) saw House X and thought it was perfect. The only question was that there was a recent $12,000 insurance claim against it, and he wanted to find out why.

The lawyer didn't want to tell, but assured him it wasn't foundation, mold or water damage.

My friend was actually telling me this story at lunch the week before he left, and at this point I said "Oh my god--it's a dead body!"

Yes, it was indeed a dead body, and that insurance claim represented the "clean-up" costs.

The best part? The company that did the cleaning was called "Aftermath".

House X was purchased and is no longer on the market.

Also, my friend almost wound up on House Hunters, and he gave me the lowdown on how it actually works. The show's producers were interested in his family, and they told him to contact them when he had signed a contract on a house.

That's right. There's no showing of three houses in real life. Instead, the house a family already has a signed contract for is the one they "choose", and two other houses are found to maximize the differences between the couple.

So it's not real in any sense, even though Eli still enjoys watching it (so do I).

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