Sunday, December 14, 2014

Spontaneous but Useless Song Ideas

A few weeks ago I was playing with little animals with my daughter. I was there for quite a while, so when I stood up, my legs got all wobbly, causing me to feel old. I commented to my wife, “My hips might not lie, but they also don’t work.”

Now tell me that wouldn’t be an inspired song, sort of a Shakira / Weird Al thing. “Hips Don’t Work.” What a missed opportunity.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Mario 3

Super Mario Bros. 3 was the first video game I ever had, and it was my favorite for a long time. The nostalgia actually goes back to before I got it; a couple of friends of mine had the strategy guide, which I think I read cover to cover before I actually played the game. The themed worlds were cool, and the enemies were even cooler. Mario himself isn’t the most intriguing character, and the game isn’t rich in awesome tunes like Mega Man games are (although I hadn’t heard of Mega Man at this point), but the world and characters and the epic feel to the whole thing made up for all that.

I don’t think I ever expected to actually beat the game when I got it, but after I beat Mario 2, I decided to give it a shot. I was very methodical about avoiding the dangers of Dark Land – my strategy was to collect as many P-wings and Jugem’s Clouds as I could so I could skip most of the final world. (To be specific, I’d get P-wings from the white Toad’s house in World 1 and the airship of that world, and a Jugem’s Cloud from World 2. Then I’d get the frog suit near the start of World 3 and warp to World 5, where I’d get a bunch more items. Then I’d warp to World 7 and pretty much immediately to World 8. [I didn’t realize you can warp from an early area of the warp zone to World 8 directly.] This way I could fly over the Dark Land airships and level 1, and use the Jugem’s Cloud on the mini-fortress. The frog suit was to make it easier to swim under the boats.)

Once I beat the game, I eventually went and explored the other worlds. I had actually never been to Giant Land until after beating the game, so that kind of thing added replay value. One time I actually beat the game straight through, without warping. It took a very long time though; level-wise, I think Mario 3 is still the longest Mario game (although some of the levels are very short).

I had some time on my hands last week, so I decided to play through the game again, start to finish. I decided to beat every level, and to avoid using any P-wings or Jugem’s Clouds. And of course no Game Overs. (This was on an emulator, so I play it over several days. I still have my licensed copy of the game, though.) It was fun. I got to re-discover some things I had forgotten, although I did remember a lot of the tricks. Here are some notes from the experience:

  • It was definitely easier than I remember. I did the trick in World 3 where you rack up 99 lives by bouncing a Koopa shell between two Bullet Bill Blasters. This is a good idea for a “new explorer”, but in my case I think it was a mistake. It was a long time before my number of lives dropped below 95, which means the extra lives I earned in-between were wasted and not satisfying at all. (You can’t get more than 99). The last two worlds were still tricky, and I ended with 75 lives. I’m quite certain I would have gotten the number up past 30 before that, though.
  • Speaking of easy, I ended up not using items on the map screen very often either. Maybe a more interesting challenge would have been to beat the game without visiting any Toad’s Houses or N-spade games, although the rare suits are fun. (You can get them in some levels, but holding onto them is really hard.)
  • I think I might have found a more optimal “safe” path through the game than what I was doing before. After beating World 2 (which isn’t very hard for someone taking on World 8), I might warp to World 4, where you can get a P-wing and a Jugem’s Cloud early on from the Sledge Brothers. Then you could use the remaining whistles to go to World 8, or maybe World 7 for another easy Toad’s House. Of course you could also just beat that world and get some more items from World 5.
  • This was the original NES version, of course. The Mario All-Stars remakes are cool, but I don’t think you would appreciate them without knowing the originals, especially since the Super Nintendo graphics themselves look out of date by today’s standards.

Final note: Mario 3 has a really epic-feeling ending song – still my favorite from any game, I think. It ties in the feel of the whole game while you see a brief review of the different worlds, leaving you with a sense of having accomplished something big, mixed with a bit if wistfulness that it’s over. (Contra does a great job of that too, but Contra isn’t nearly as cool.)

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Chicken or the Egg?

I would like to announce that I have solved the chicken-or-the-egg problem:

An egg is a chicken.

Think about it. A fertilized egg is a single cell with complete chicken DNA. When a chick breaks out of its egg, it’s really just shedding a layer of itself, the way scorpions molt from their old skin.

(Of course, this still begs the question of whether the first chicken appeared as an egg or an adult, or something in-between. But putting it that way is not nearly as compelling.)

Sunday, November 9, 2014

People's obnoxious questions about children

A while ago my wife and I were leaving a store with some of our kids, and someone commented, "You've got your boy!" I thought that was weird – I mean, why would we leave him behind? But then my wife explained that the lady had probably meant, "You had some girls and then stopped because you had the boy you were hoping for." Apparently my wife gets comments like this all the time. I was shocked. And actually, this is just a slight variation on a whole category of questions, comments, and assumptions that people throw out about other people’s families, none of which I understand. I would think it would be common sense to avoid this kind of thing, but evidently not, so as a public service announcement, here are a few.

  1. “Are you pregnant?” Come on people – Weird Al even makes fun of this kind of thing. (See the lyrics of “Tacky”.) If a woman wants you to know, she will tell you. I seriously doubt any woman has ever gone around thinking “Why don’t people ask me about the shape of my abdomen?”
  2. “Do you hope it’s a boy or a girl?” This may sound innocuous, but think about it: If you don’t get what you told someone you were hoping for, then that makes it look like you’re disappointed about your child. And if your child ever found out that you had said something like that, (and remember, anything online is there forever,) how are they going to feel?
  3. “So are you done?” or “So are you having more after that?” or even “When are you planning to have another one?” This kind of question is wrong for at least two reasons:
    1. It’s pretty much the most personal issue you could ask about.
    2. Just like the previous example, your response could be incriminating. If you say you’re done, and then you have another child, then that child could end up thinking that he/she was unwanted. And if you say you’re not done but then don’t have more kids, your youngest might end up feeling somehow inadequate. Not that such feelings would make sense, necessarily, but they happen.
  4. Then we have the cases where people assume you were waiting for a boy. (This is perhaps the worst of the lot.) If a couple really has this mentality, that’s like viewing daughters as mistaken attempts at a son. It would be a very sick way of family planning, and it amazes me when people imply that I would think that way.

I know it’s natural to be curious, but some issues are just off-limits unless someone volunteers information.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Peanut Butter and Jelly/Jam

First of all, watch this skit if you haven’t seen it already:

This has caused me serious doubts about how I make peanut butter and jelly/jam sandwiches. I should state up front that I don’t actually like them; I just eat straight peanut butter on bread. But maybe that’s because I’ve been doing it wrong. I’ve always made them the Whitney way, with peanut butter on one slice and jam/jelly on the other. But Jason’s logic is very strong. I guess as long as my kids aren’t complaining, I’ll just keep doing it the old way though, because it’s easier and seems to have a good balance of ingredients. (Matt’s way gets both ingredients on the knife at the same time and could corrupt the jam jar.)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Faith is Not a Verb

I totally get what people mean when they say that faith is a verb. Faith motivates action; faith without works is dead. No problem. But just because a word describes something that is related to action, that doesn’t make it a verb. “Let’s go faith something today.” “Come on dude, it’s time to faith.” Nope.

And then some people go so far as to say that it’s an action verb. As opposed to what, a helping verb? “I faith going to the store.” “I faith made cookies.”

So while people wiser than I have said that faith is a verb, it’s just not.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Plasma Shadow

shadow3Thanks to some nifty cover art from my sister-in-law Christina, I published the sequel to The Plasma Master last night. Book three is almost done, but progress is slow due to actual stuff going on. But early reviewers agree that the sequel is better than the original, and I’m excited to be moving toward the conclusion of the series. (Even though the first book stands on its own, I kind of feel like I’ve paused a movie right before the end and left it that way for years.)

Links are on the book page.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Star-Spangled Banner - modern version

My sister-in-law and I were talking about how the national anthem uses phrases that don't really work anymore, like "oh say". It kind of went downhill from there.
Here is the modern version of The Star-Spangled Banner:

Hey dudes, check it out -
Like, this stuff is tots great!
Hashtag USA
LOL, I like our flag.
Here are pics of my cat
and a YouTube debate
between Obama
and the right wing, set to rap.

I don't always fight wars,
but when I do, I win.
Hold on for a sec,
while I take a selfie.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Enough with the “an historical” bit

I hate it when I hear things like “an historical moment” said in an American accent. I hate it more when people actually cite those instances as an exception to the “a-an” rule. The reason why you see “an” in front of words starting with “h” is that in British English that “h” is silent. That’s it. If you’re reading something out loud, you can say “an historical” or “an happy” or whatever. I guess. Otherwise, stop it! (And to be honest, I try to read those things with a British accent. “an ‘istorical”. “an ‘appy’'.)

There. I feel better now.

Understanding People

I've heard from various sources that men can't understand women. I've always had trouble believing this. In fact, I have a hard time believing any generalization about "men are like this" or "women are like that", even though I know that there are some actual differences. The thing is, there are more differences within a given gender than there are between genders. I suspect that the source of most of the perceived barriers of understanding come from the fact that people are more likely to care about relationship issues with the person they're in love with (or attracted to), and they just assume that the issues come from a gender difference. In reality, I think these issues come simply because they're two different people with different perspectives and values.
So in other words, women aren't hard to understand. People are hard to understand. Men just don't feel the need to understand other men as well.

As an example, my wife and I were recently talking about the stereotype about men always wanting to fix things. We both decided that both men and women can be prone to that, and that it’s a natural extension of caring about someone. You hear about a problem that someone has, and you want to fix it. I think the issue here is understanding what the problem is. If someone expresses a problem that they want a solution for, they’ll generally state it as an actual problem. But if they express it in terms of what they feel about it, there’s a good chance that they’re looking for validation of that emotion. They’re unhappy, and they don’t want to be alone in facing the challenge. They might already have a solution in mind, or they might be holding back details of the situation for simplicity – details that would be essential in coming up with an actual situation. Either way, someone looking for validation isn’t going to have any use for a quick solution tossed out there, whether you’re talking about a man or a woman.

So how do you come to understand someone else? I think it comes down to two things: love and communication. If you don't like someone on some level, (and if you don't respect them at least), you won't be invested enough to see the world from their perspective. And if you don't talk about how both of you feel and why, you're not going to understand each other. We send a lot of nonverbal communication, but it's very easy to misinterpret. You have to speak to really communicate. And of course, in order for communication to work, both people have to be introspective enough to understand themselves - what their rational and emotional reasons for doing things are. This does not come naturally to everyone, but it is very important. (Incidentally, it's one of my favorite things about my wife.)

So there you have it. I heretically declare that anyone can understand anyone if they both have a good understanding of themselves, and if they’re willing to communicate openly. (Granted, that’s a lot like saying that anyone can achieve space travel as long as they have a way to warp space-time and a way to power the thing. But not exactly like that.)

Saving Nayru & Din (again)

Since I wasn't prepared to buy a Nintendo 3DS just to get the new Zelda game, I decided to replay Oracle of Ages last Christmas, and later I played Oracle of Seasons as well. I just finished it, so it’s time to vent sentiment.

I've long said that Ages was my second favorite Zelda game after A Link to the Past, largely because of its clever items and very classic Zelda feel. I definitely enjoyed it the second time through, but I noticed that I enjoyed the dungeons (levels, whatever) a lot more than the overworld; I actually found myself sort of rushing through the overworld stuff to get to the next level.

And strangely, I may have actually enjoyed Seasons more this time through. Part of this is because it's even more classic than Ages is; Seasons has all the bosses from the original Legend of Zelda for instance, for instance. And while I remembered Ages for its clever items, Seasons has some pretty unique ones too. The other thing is the map: Ages has essentially double the regular map size, because you can travel between the present and the past. And one of the items expands on a huge part of the map even further, in both times. So I was a little disappointed to find that Subrosia, the “map extension” area in Seasons, is much smaller than the main map. The thing is, though, that the main map is larger in Seasons, and it’s more varied since it’s not just two copies of the same terrain. So there might actually be more to explore in that game.

My final sentiment is about the games’ rings. When I first played the linked game, I carried the Blue Ring (which cuts the damage you do in half) over from Ages, and I used it all throughout Seasons. This time through I completely ignored all of the item-transferring stuff between games. It went okay, too, until the last set of battles. I ended up having to go get the Red Ring (which doubles your attack power) in order to make those battles reasonable. What I’m saying is that the difficulty level spikes pretty drastically at the end.

Both games are very good, and I’m still psyched to play A Link Between Worlds eventually. Let’s hope I finish The Plasma Storm before then, though, because there’s such a thing as too much awesome, at least in terms of time management.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Ice Cream Cones

I’m afraid I’m rather proud of the following.

Ice cream cones don’t taste good. I’m not talking about waffle cones; I’m referring to the normal kind that are basically puffy paper. When you’ve eaten the ice cream above the cone, you want to get the rest, and unless you have a spoon, you condescend to eat the cone down as far as it takes to be able to get at it. There has to be a better way, right?

Yes. There is. And tonight I discovered it. Now, I’ve only done this once, so this might not be as consistently useful as the cupcake trick I mentioned earlier. And it might only work with soft serve, not regular ice cream. But check this out: the top of the cone screws right off!

Ice Cream Cone

Thursday, May 1, 2014


It bugs me when I buy something and the cashier asks if I want a copy of the receipt. The thing they give me isn’t a copy of the receipt. It’s the receipt. By definition, a receipt is something the customer receives.

(And yes, I realize that tracking purchases by fishing receipts out of my pocket at the end of the day makes me an old man.)

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A wise man once built…

Here’s a thought from a recent lesson I taught to the young men at church.

There’s a well-known parable the Savior taught about the wise man who built his house on a rock, and the foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain came and washed away the house on the sand. This emphasizes the importance of building your life on the gospel.

The commonly-used version of this is in Matthew 7. When I first heard this story (and the children’s song based on it), I pictured the foolish man building his house on the beach, and the wise man building his on a cliff overlooking the beach.


This works, I guess, but it kind of evokes the sentiment of “you guys down there are morons; I’m staying up here.” That, of course, may be taking the metaphor too far, but there’s an alternate telling of the parable in Luke 3, which has some interesting differences:

Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like:

He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock.

But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great.

The words “and digged deep” change the whole picture. In this version, I see the two houses as being right next to each other. The area has a layer of dirt over bedrock down below. The foolish man just builds the house, and the wise man takes the time to dig down to the bedrock, where he builds a foundation.


In this version, the two finished houses would look identical from the outside, with the only observable difference being that the wise man’s house would have taken much longer to build. It’s only when the flood comes that the structural difference becomes clear.

I like this interpretation for a couple of reasons. First, it emphasizes the importance of not only building your personal “foundation” on Christ, but also of doing the work that it takes to build that foundation. You can’t just decide to build on the rock; you have to “dig deep” and “lay a foundation” first. I think that refers to what are often called the “seminary answers” – daily prayer and scripture study, weekly church attendance, and consistently living the gospel. When trials come, if you’ve been doing those things, you will already be close enough to the Holy Spirit to receive the guidance and help you need. If not, it isn’t too late to start, but it’s never easy to build something in the rain.

The other thing I like is that it also emphasizes that you don’t necessarily get to pick the location of your metaphorical house. We all live in the same world, and that’s a good thing. There are people around us who need our help; running and hiding from the world isn’t the same as living the gospel. What’s important isn’t where you live; it’s how.

I guess this shows one other thing: no matter how much you’ve read the scriptures, there’s always something else in there to learn. Hence the importance of consistent study, I guess.

Sunday, January 12, 2014


I have mixed feelings about cupcakes. I’m not that much of a cake fan generally, and the best cakes have layers of frosting so that you don’t ever have to get too much unfrosted cake in a single bite. Cupcakes go against that, with no frosting on the sides, and a disproportionate amount on top. Here’s my workaround for this problem: rip off the bottom half and stick it on the top.


If the frosting is really tall, it’s also valid to just scrape some off onto the bottom half and eat each half as a short but individual cupcake.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Plasma Storm: Drat

I’ve been working semi-frantically in my sparse free time to finish The Plasma Storm. You know, the sequel to my e-book. I’m very happy with how it starts, and I’ve gotten hung up a bit at what I was hoping was something very close to the end. But what I have so far is already much longer than I expected, and I keep feeling like I need to rush through the rest to get to the end, which doesn’t sound like a very good idea. I’m afraid that the solution may be to split it into two books and make a proper trilogy. Which means that instead of approaching the end I may have to actually add content to deepen the stuff remaining. None of this is necessarily a bad thing, but it means I might not finish as soon as I had hoped. Alas, willy-wally, and all that.

I’m still shooting for the end of this year to publish.