I’m dreaming of a Blue October

I’m exhausted. I stayed up far later than I had planned watching the Royals do something they haven’t done since I was 5 years old. I’m not a die-hard baseball fan. I don’t generally watch games on TV, and my family usually only makes it to a couple games a year. But I’ve always rooted for the Royals in my own way. By watching the score update on my phone and following along with the season, at least for a little while. But life always gets in the way and I usually lose track.

So when I found out that we were playing the Wild Card matchup this year, I was pleasantly surprised. I was even more surprised when I realized that I’d actually have the free time to catch the game, rather than having to be out running around doing something fatherhood-adjacent. So I stayed up and watched the game and got excited about a sport that has done very little to excite me for almost 30 years (barring a very sweet victory over the Red Sox that I got to witness live while rubbing it in the face of my brother-in-law and a few other games at Kaufmann I’ve caught through the years). And while I probably still won’t be buying season tickets or watching every game on TV, I am still pretty happy to have found joy in a Kansas City team that doesn’t kick a ball around a field or pitch.

I don’t really have the words (or energy) to write a lot about this. Besides, this fan already said everything I could say. I may not have been as dedicated a fan as he during my childhood, but my apathy toward baseball mirrored his own for many years. And while I’ve grown excited a time or two when catching a game at the stadium or just talking about the team with my friends and family that are still baseball fanatics, last night’s game was different.

So go and read that article. And if you, like me and like him, found a little bit of magic in last night’s game, then I hope you tune in for the next one, too. Because, this year, far more than a White Christmas, I want a Blue October.

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There’s a Grandma-shaped whole in the world

My grandmother died today.

I don’t really know how to express how it makes me feel. We knew it was coming. I got to say goodbye. There was no chance that she would recover. But yesterday there was a woman occupying space in the world and today there is not.

My mom’s mom passed this spring, which was different. But the same. I couldn’t find the words I needed then, either. I’d like to believe that writing this will be the first step toward moving forward.

My grandmother was not a frail woman. She was a survivor. A fighter. She already beat cancer, but in the end it doesn’t matter. You can be the greatest fighter in the world, but you always lose the last fight.

I remember seeing her in the hospital when it started…
            the dying
                        …and I couldn’t believe how much smaller she looked. It wasn’t right. Lying there in that tiny bed struggling to breathe, fighting to stay awake, wishing for an end to the pain, the fight, the weight of it all. And when they moved her to hospice care, I couldn’t believe it. Not my grandma. She doesn’t give up.

Even when she had the procedure to remove fluid from her lungs and she bounced back, we were all told repeatedly that it was only a matter of time. Her strength returned, and with it came her personality and a small portion of her appetite. She was still tired, though. Oh so tired. But each visit made her face brighter…
            but tired
                        …and her mood lighter. We could almost forget the dark cloud hanging over us all. Almost.

Saturday, it started to rain.

There was a complication. She had options, but none good. The family had a day to say goodbye while she was still lucid and then her medication would be changed to take away the pain. She held on long enough to give us a sense of closure. Selfless to the last.

This morning I was thinking about work. I was thinking about breakfast. I was thinking about my stuff and my problems and my day. I wasn’t thinking about the woman who took me to church camp and let me run wild; who always wanted to hear what I had to say and always made me feel loved and valuable and smart and important; who went out of her way to tell me how much she loved my wife and what an amazing family I have; who reminded me every time I saw her how lucky I was.

And now she’s gone.

It’s not fair and it’s not right and it’s how the world works.

But there’s a hole in it now that will never be filled.

At 8:26 am Central time, the world lost an irreplaceable piece of my heart, and the only way I know how to mark the occasion is to write this stupid little blog post. Because as insignificant as it is, everything else seems less.

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The Shepherd is coming…

“It’s a dangerous world, son. One that should not be traversed lightly. When the sun goes down, you best be home. Safe inside with doors locked. There are few places left of peace. Bright pinpoints of light in the darkness. Best to be in one when the darkness comes calling. But even those places are fewer and farther between than they once were. The world is changing. Growing cruel and dark. You must be strong. But not yet. Not yet. For now, you must be safe.

Don’t worry, son. The darkness won’t come here. There’s a tale, you see. An old tale. There’s a reason that bright places like Homewood still exist. A very special reason. For centuries, they’ve watched over us. The grey sentinels. Watched over us and kept the darkness at bay. You remember that. When all hope seems lost and the gruekin come scratching at your door, the grey sentinel will save us. The Shepherd protects his flock.”

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Get seven of Stanley Kubrick’s best films for only $40 on iTunes

For the last couple days, iTunes has been selling a seven-film collection of Stanley Kubrick movies for only $40. In HD. That’s less than $5.72 per film. Hell, A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey are worth $40 alone. Why are you still reading this? Go buy these!

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Room 12 Studios: Official game developer of games and other game-type things


It’s been nearly a year since the first prototype of Ecliptic showed up on my phone and now, after a lot of work, a fair amount of luck, and an egregious amount of procrastinating, it’s live on the App Store.

The bulk of the development was handled by my cousin, Alex (who wrote up a nice little blog post about the app, as well). But, as with all Room 12 Studios projects, the whole project is a group effort. Between beta testing, hiring a real composer, and pushing each other to get stuff done (all while working full-time jobs and/or raising children), it was a pretty interesting experience.

But enough about the boring stuff, let’s talk about the game.

It’s not fancy. It’s not groundbreaking. It’s not even award-winning (except for the award for Best Game Currently Released by Room 12 Studios). But it is fun. It’s great for kids. And the music is pretty awesome. Plus, it’s free (as in beer). And if you like the app and want to support what we’re doing, you can buy the Theme Pack as an in-app purchase for the low, low price of <insert the cheapest paid value available on the App Store in whatever country your account is located>. The entire game is entirely playable without paying a dime, however. And there are no ads (unless you count links to our other apps, in which case, I’m a liar).

Speaking (sub-consciously typing) about our other apps, be sure and check out iPredict, as well, if you haven’t already. It’s a quirky little fortune teller with an attitude. It received an update today, as well, which added some beautiful new animation and support for 4-inch iPhones and retina iPads. Be sure to check it out.

(also comes in a Lite version, with 100% fewer calories)

So go, download Ecliptic, and tell us how awesome it is. Or don’t. But share it with your friends, anyway. Especially if any of them decide to take pity on us and keep us as pets. We’re really tired of working for a living.

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Clark Fork: The Endless River That Waters The Mouth of Hell

This weekend, we visited family up at Priest Lake (it was awesome, and if I make time, I’ll write more on it later).

Heading home on I-90, we kept driving over Clark Fork in the middle of the night. So often, in fact, that my wife started cursing the signs as an indicator that we were trapped in an endless loop of horror.

Our fears were confirmed this morning when we passed another Clark Fork sign and then, immediately after, a building that said Hellgate Fire Dept. Montana No. 502.

If anyone sees this message, please send help.

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Dust off that French Maid outfit, it’s time to play Tanto Cuore!

I’m not sure why—maybe it’s because it’s Friday the 13th; maybe the full moon has got the world’s blood up—but whatever the reason, several iOS app developers have decided to throw an impromptu sale on the App Store. This is good news for the rest of us, though, as some really great games are on sale for just a dollar each.

As you may have guessed from the title, one of the apps is none other than Felicia Day’s favorite card game, Tanto Cuore. In this game, you play as the master of a mansion and you collect maids. Or something. I really don’t know, because it seemed confusing and I was only half paying attention to the episode of Tabletop in which they played the game. But it looked like a pretty good deck-builder, so if you’re into that sort of thing and like anime French maids, then this game should be in your wheelhouse.

Continuing with the tabletop gaming theme, the Euro-style board game Agricola is also on sale. If you’re a fan of the game, this is an excellent adaptation into a digital form. If you’ve never played it before, the game has an excellent tutorial system to get you started while playing your first game. The entire goal of the game is to build your farm from a 2-room hut to the most profitable farm in Europe, saving countless starving villagers.

And at this point in my post, I’m realizing that most of the great games on sale today are all Playdek titles. The one I’m most excited to start playing is D&D Lords of Waterdeep. This game was also featured on an episode of Tabletop, and it’s an interesting take on the Dungeons & Dragons universe. Instead of controlling a group of heroes as they quest for gold & glory, you join a shadowy group of powerful men & women secretly controlling everything that goes on in the city of Waterdeep. It’s sort of like Monopoly but with more backstabbing and less parking.

And finally, the only non-Playdek title on my list is a Disney title. Now, I heard you groaning back there, but hear me out. It’s for Star Wars Journeys: The Phantom Menace. No, wait! Come back! Seriously, I know that the movie is not for humans everyone, but this is a far better way to experience the story than watching the movie. Most notably because George Lucas wasn’t involved. Plus, it has a podracing game! Anyway, check it out. It’s only a dollar. What do you have to lose? I mean, aside from your self-respect.

Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s continue on the sci-fi trend we’ve got going here. If you’re a fan of Star Trek and you enjoy strategy games, you’re going to love Star Command. Set out on a mission to save the galaxy and try your best not to lose any of your crew. But good luck, because space is dangerous and humans are fragile. Assign your crew to Command, Science, or Engineering teams and give them jobs. Firing your weapons is a minigame in and of itself, but watch out for invaders on your ship. And hope you don’t get a hull breach, or else anyone nearby will be lost forever.

Bringing it back full circle to the fantasy and tabletop gaming of the start of this post, Warhammer Quest is also on sale. To date, Warhammer Quest is still my favorite tabletop dungeon crawler and it seems unlikely that any game will ever supplant it. While the iOS game is not as great as the actual board game, it’s still pretty fun and provides a heck of a lot of value for just 99¢. Plus, there are several expansions that add all new heroes and environments to explore. Happy treasure hunting!

That’s the last of the $0.99 sale titles that I felt were worth sharing, but there is one more title you should check out, because it’s free. Ridge Racer Slipstream may be just another Ridge Racer title and is not even close to the best racing experience on the iPhone and iPad, but it’s still a fun arcade racer and you can’t beat the price. So pick it up while it’s free, at the very least.

So go buy games and have some fun this weekend. Besides, what else were you going to do with that six bucks?

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No, you’re wrong; Nintendo should NOT exit the hardware business

With Nintendo reporting a loss of $456 million dollars last year, armchair-CEOs have once again begun clamoring for Nintendo to “get out of the hardware business” and start making games for iOS, Android, and PCs. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating:

This is the wrong solution.

Nintendo is not Sega, the last great console-maker to exit the business and focus solely on software (something which has led to rather pronounced decline in the quality of games from their studios, though correlation or causation depends on the data, which remains scant). But, they do need to either create hardware capable of playing the games that “core” gamers want (such as Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, Elder Scrolls, etc.) with all the bells and whistles and fancy lighting and super-pixels or whatever, or else aim for mass-market appeal with devices that cost less monies, increasing the likelihood of families being interested in purchasing them for the home.

The Wii was a smash hit because it was cheaper than the competition and it provided a gameplay experience that was easy-to-learn and encouraged community (not in the online way that Xbox Live does, but in the actual face-to-face way). The Wii U is a step backward from that, thanks to its higher price tag and poorer selection of games. The Wii may not have had all the shooters and hardcore action games that the last-gen systems had, but it got pretty much everything else and massive numbers of other great games that embraced the physical nature of its control system (Boom Blox is a prime example of this).

Nintendo makes amazing games, it’s true, but what allows them to do so is the fact that they control the entire experience, just like Apple does with OS X and the Mac or iOS and the iPhone/iPad. But people don’t buy game systems the same way they buy computers and smartphones, and most casual gamers aren’t compelled to upgrade to the new system when the old one still works fine for everything they used it for (Wii Sports, Netflix, Virtual Console).

But putting their greatest assets (in this case: Mario, Link, Samus, and Kirby) onto other people’s platforms will reduce them to a shell of what they are now. You won’t see amazing games like Super Mario Galaxy on those systems, because Nintendo won’t have the advantage of developing the hardware and software in tandem to create new and unique gaming experiences.

What we want Nintendo to do and what Nintendo needs to do are not the same thing. I’d love to play Zelda on my iPhone, but not at the cost of the most influential gaming house the world has ever known. Instead, I want Nintendo to focus on creating affordable systems and valuable software. Let us buy Virtual Console games on the Wii U and play them on the 3DS (and vice-versa). Provide us the opportunity to purchase games once for all the systems we own (instead of requiring us to buy three copies of one game so that we can play it with our kids). Bring us new, big Mario and Zelda games every few years, but also give us more games like NES Remix that provide incredible gameplay at prices that scream “Value!”

If Nintendo can stop trying to retake the number one spot and instead focus on providing the best games at a price people are willing to pay, they’ll do well for themselves. But to throw all their control away to make a quick buck on iOS and Android is a fool’s errand.

In your future (“you” being the iOS/Android cage-rattlers), customers will clamor over every release of a classic title they loved to play until Nintendo runs out of classic titles. And they will run out of classic titles eventually, because they won’t be making another new title worthy of becoming a classic.

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Get 100GB of online storage for only $1/year – No, really, only $1/year

IDrive is doing a special deal right now for 100GB (50GB for backup/50GB for sync) of storage for only $1/year. You can only get the subscription deal through the iPhone/iPad/Android app, but you should sign up through this link first to get an extra 1GB of storage for free. And according to IDrive reps, this is an on-going deal, not just a one-year special.

If you don’t already have an account, sign up here to make sure you get your free extra 1GB. Then, download and install the iOS app. Once you sign in, there’s a little banner at the bottom of the front page that takes you to a screen where you can tap “Upgrade to iDrive Pro 50GB ($0.99)”. It’ll prompt you for your iTunes password and a purchase confirmation.

To get the extra 50GB for sync, you just login to the website and turn it on. Plus, it lets you set your own encryption key if you want to make the data extra secure. Of course, if you do that, you can’t share files/folders with other people and if you lose the encryption key, your data is gone.

So go get your cloud storage on! That’s a thing the kids say these days, right?


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On Facebook and the Oculus Rift

So, if you haven’t heard yet, Facebook announced today the purchase agreement of Oculus VR, Inc., the company behind the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. Many people are worried about what this means for the device, others are concerned (as always) with privacy issues, and still others are just puzzled as to why Facebook would want it in the first place.

I’m not terribly worried about Thing 1 and Thing 2, but that’s just me. I’m sure the Oculus Rift will still come out and be much the same device as we expect it to be now. As for privacy concerns, the Oculus Rift is designed heavily around gaming and a lot less around “3D Facebook”, so the data it can gather from users will be quite different (though some of it could be a pretty big deal) than what Facebook is typically after. Surely there will be data worth mining, especially if Facebook decides to try and take on Google in any aspects of its business again in the future. But, for the most part, tracking which games you play doesn’t provide nearly as much critical data as what websites you visit, what you buy, and who your friends are (and what websites they visit, etc.)

As for why Facebook would want the Oculus Rift, I find that a much simpler conundrum. I can think of three key reasons for Facebook’s desire to own the VR company.

  1. If Facebook owns Oculus Rift, Google doesn’t. It’s a no-brainer that Google would be interested in Oculus Rift. Their Glass project focuses on augmented reality rather than virtual reality, but there is still a great deal of overlap. Plus, since Oculus Rift is self-contained hardware designed for playing games and watching media in 3D, it appeals to a different subset of tech culture. A Glass-powered Oculus Rift would give Google all the same data that Facebook likely wants, but it could also be paired with an Android smartphone to give Google more access and ecosystem control. Facebook has more money than it needs and buying up a company simply to prevent Google makes business sense. Especially if Facebook already has an idea on what to do with Oculus Rift.
  2. Facebook is looking to a future without Facebook.com. No, Facebook’s social network isn’t going away, but it almost certainly could one day. MySpace was unstoppable until it wasn’t. Facebook could simply be trying to make sure that if and when that day comes, they’ve got additional revenue streams to keep things going. Wearable tech is shaping up to be a big part of the future and Facebook is trying to get in on the ground floor, rather than waiting until it’s too late to carve out a niche (like they did with the Facebook phone). By selling hardware that could be the definitive way to play games and watch movies in the future, Facebook is positioning itself to move away from social networking and to become an ecosystem of its own. Which brings me to…
  3. Facebook is starting its own gaming platform and network. Right now, if you ask a console gamer if they’re on Xbox Live or PSN, you can’t be certain of the answer you receive. But, if you ask a PC gamer if they’re on Steam, you almost always get a “Yes.” There are other alternatives to Steam out there, but none with the clout and popularity of Valve’s little digital store that could. Considering that Steam is making a play for the living room, Facebook could have seen the Oculus Rift as a way to get a foothold there, as well. Sure, they could just try to work side-by-side with Steam and other PC developers to make sure their hardware is the definitive virtual reality headset, but Facebook could also be planning to simply build their own Steam alternative. And why not? They already command the largest curated list of friends online. Their social platform has been used to effectively leverage mob tactics to generate a large amount of revenue for a number of web-based games. Imagine turning that power loose on Borderlands 3 or Grand Theft Auto Eleventy-Five. Steam has already integrated Facebook to make it easier for players to find their friends. But that requires players to link their Steam and Facebook accounts. Facebook could find all your friends instantly and tell them what games you’re playing lately.

Of course, there are major positives and negatives to Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift. What looked like promising tech that could change the face of PC gaming might now become just another tool to harvest personal information. Major players may decide not to support it for fear of alienating gamers that don’t trust Facebook with their personal data. Sony now has a major opportunity, though. Project Morpheus will likely be a PS4 exclusive at release, but it will almost certainly find its way to PCs via third-party drivers. Sony could even release official drivers if they felt they could make enough money on the hardware to justify not controlling the profits from games (or to prevent Microsoft or someone else from doing the same).

I will be keeping an eye on Oculus Rift and the VR market, in general. Things in this space are just heating up.

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