Urban Isolation - Skateboarding in an empty L.A.
A very relaxing video by Russell Houghten showing skateboarders riding around L.A. with all of the cars edited out. It’s executed wonderfully. How much effort goes into something like this?
A Father's Bookshelf
For a long time, I’ve avoided collecting too much stuff. I buy Kindle versions of books whenever possible, but there is a small shelf for the few books I have carried around with me over the years. My son, who is not quite two years old, will sometimes rummage through my books and leave them in a heap once he realizes there are no pictures, but it made me remember what my own father’s bookshelf was like for me.
I’m pretty sure I found Calvin and Hobbes on his bookshelf, and I ended up reading it countless times as I grew up. I found The Hobbit, which led to The Lord of the Rings, and then whatever other high fantasy I could get my hands on. I found The Royal Road to Card Magic, and my interest in card magic ended up being a pretty big part of my life after that. I didn’t read Gödel, Escher, Bach, but I recognized it from that bookshelf when I was introduced to it many years later.
A bookshelf creates serendipity. I encountered those books early, before anybody would have thought, “Ah, I know just the book that would interest this young man.” And discovering something of my dad’s and taking it for myself was much more exciting than being told, “Hey come look at this thing I liked when I was your age.”
So, since I’m the father now, I went and bought a big bookshelf for myself. I want to go through my parents’ storage to reclaim my favorite books, and I’ll slowly fill out my own bookshelf with books I think are worth keeping around – just in reach for my kids to discover on their own.
Reimagining Chess with AlphaZero
Modern chess is the culmination of centuries of experience, as well as an evolutionary sequence of rule adjustments from its inception in the 6th century to the modern rules we know today. While classical chess still captivates the minds of millions of players worldwide, the game is anything but static. Many variants have been proposed and played over the years by enthusiasts and theorists. They continue the evolutionary cycle by altering the board, piece placement, or the rules—offering players “something subtle, sparkling, or amusing which cannot be done in ordinary chess.”
Using AlphaZero to evaluate modified rules, to see which would be the most productive is a really interesting application of the AI. You can evaluate beforehand whether a certain rule change would make the game less or more balanced.
Why Switch Cartridges Taste Awful
The Nintendo Switch is designed to be portable, so it doesn’t have a disc drive. Instead, its games come on cartridges, just like games for Nintendo’s handheld platforms stretching back to the original Game Boy. But there’s something different about Switch cartridges: They taste awful.
Update (March 2): In a statement emailed to Polygon, a Nintendo representative confirmed the theory that Switch cartridges are coated in a material that’s meant to dissuade people from putting the units in their mouths.
So Nintendo actually takes special steps to make their cartridges taste terrible, to keep people from swallowing them. That’s an attention to detail that I hadn’t even considered before.
Beautiful vs. Effective Prose
A long time ago, I fancied myself a writer and strove to write beautiful prose. I read a lot and borrowed from styles that I admired, but oftentimes my sentences ran on, and I relied on my thesaurus too heavily. But I enjoyed the process of writing and reached a familiarity with words that allowed me to simply let my thoughts flow through my fingers onto the page.
At university, I discovered The Elements of Style and quickly became an advocate instead of lean, effective prose. I strove to convey my thoughts using fewer words. Composition took more effort as I scrutinized each phrase. I was happy with the results, and I felt a deliberate craftsmanship that seemed more pronounced than before.
Then, I moved to Asia and began communicating primarily with people for whom English wasn’t their first language. I started using short, simple sentences that got straight to the point. If the purpose of writing is communication, then all that’s really important is to tell the other person what they need to know, right? Saying things in a fancy way will only complicate things.
It was around this time that I first saw the Simple English Wikipedia, and my first thought was, “Now this is the pinnacle of knowledge transfer. This is how you provide the most information to the most number of people as efficiently as possible.”
“But,” nagged a deep and quiet part of my mind, “that can’t be the full story. Poetry and literature, sure, it’s easy to set those aside and say maybe that it’s an art form, it’s writing for the sake of writing, and that’s why the pursuit of beauty can occur. Normal, day-to-day writing is not the same.
“What about, say, Journalism? That’s writing to share information, but when you recall the most esteemed journalists they aren’t the ones who write like a press release. They are those who have perfected their craft, who can shape their words into a compelling picture to evoke emotional reactions in the reader. Isn’t that what you should strive for?”
Yes, of course. Beautiful or effective? You want a lot of both. And unless you’re writing an instruction manual, sometimes prose needs to be beautiful to be effective. I haven’t taken writing seriously in a very long time, so unfortunately my writing now is not much of either, but I suppose now is a fine time to start looking for my best voice again.
Star Wars Oil Paintings
I’ll always have a soft spot for Star Wars things, but these paintings by Naci Caba are wonderful. The colors add a great bit of flavor especially to scenes in space that would otherwise be predominantly black and grey.
Detroit: Become HumanIn this review, I'll talk about a few parts of the game that stood out to me, and I'll do my best to do so while avoiding spoilers.
Detroit: Become Human is a story-heavy adventure game developed by Quantic Dream, the studio I knew best as the creators of Heavy Rain.
The story takes place in a future where androids are commonplace and indistinguishable from humans aside from a computer chip placed on their temple. Predictably, the androids are mistreated and repressed by humans, and you eventually find yourself in the middle of a robot uprising.
You assume the role of three different characters with interweaving narratives, and the actions you take as each character determine the course of the story. The result is a giant web of branching storylines with many different possible outcomes.
Box Line Text: A minimal whiteboard app
This is a great implementation of an extremely minimal whiteboard app. There is no UI, and you can click to add text or click+drag to add boxes and lines. Zoom options in your browser will change the size, and you can save the HTML if you want to keep a copy.
It’s probably not enough for work meetings, but I thought it was a great, fun product.
What staying home has been like for me so far
Things that changed
- I have more time in the morning to do things around the house instead of commuting
- Remote meetings are a little harder than in-person meetings
- I write daily reports about my work progress, equally to show my teammates that I’m staying on track, and to keep myself on track
- We watch the news a lot more
- I don’t wear socks
- Pushing my social life online has lead to me talking to friends more than before
Things that didn’t change
- Waking up in the morning is hard
- Work hours are mostly the same, or a little longer from the lack of a commute
- There is still a lot of work to do and I am busy
- I still shave and brush my teeth and shower
- I get dressed in the morning
- We get groceries delivered once a week
- The world is stressful, but being able to stay at home is a blessing so total stress balances out
- The dog doesn’t seem to care that I’m around
Wag Buys Shares Back from SoftBank
Wag was looking to raise $75 million. It went to SoftBank and was like “will you give us $75 million?” SoftBank was like “no haha we’ll give you $300 million,” because that is SoftBank’s whole thing, it loves to give startups vastly more money than they want or need. And so Wag took the money. And then like a year and a half later Wag will get rid of SoftBank by giving back, I don’t know, but I am going to say some number less than $225 million (“well below” the valuation at which it invested). Wag got the $75 million it needed for free.
So under the right circumstances, you can make more money with a flop than you can with a hit!
Wag wasn’t exactly a flop, but SoftBank’s aggressive investment strategy does result in some pretty unusual situations.