My journalism school classmate Clay Wirestone has a fantastic series at the Concord Monitor, describing the stories and struggles of gay and lesbian parents as they adopt and raise children. It starts with the story of his own adoption, with his husband Max, of their now 2-year-old son Baxter. Other entries in the series examine how the legal landscape of gay parenting has changed in the last 20 years; the issues of language, word choice, and gender that GLBT families deal with; and the diverse stories of other families. Read the rest
Reuters has a travel guide to how to spend a weekend in Minneapolis and St. Paul. It's supposed to be an enjoyable weekend, I think, but that's not entirely clear. Beginning with a stop in the airport restrooms (no mention of Larry Craig) the travel guide recommends eating at generic chain restaurants, spending a Saturday in the Mall of America, and taking in a baseball "match" (which, readers are warned, can last as long as 3.5 hours, not counting the possibility of overtime). The guide is correct, though, on one thing. A view of the setting sun and skyscrapers from Target Field would be impressive — especially considering the fact that the skyscrapers are decidedly to the South and East of the stadium, and not much of the seating faces West, anyway. Read the rest
Back in February, a Texas forensic scientist announced that she'd identified a DNA sample from Bigfoot and had sequenced the creature's genome. Now the sequences have been released for wider scrutiny and Ars Technica's John Timmer had a chance to dig into the data and speak with the discoverer of the possible Bigfoot genome. This is a story that, I think, everybody can enjoy — a skeptical analysis that's respectful to the Bigfoot researchers and genuinely interested in understanding where the DNA in question came from and what the genome sequences can tell us. Read the rest
The Optimist is a new alternate reality game from Walt Disney Imagineering R&D. It's a six-week story that plays out across social media and across the LA area, culminating with the D23 Fan Expo in August. Here's the setup: "Amelia, a young filmmaker, has stumbled upon a revolutionary secret...and she needs your help." Go! Read the rest
Ramin Shokrizade's "Top F2P Monetization Tricks" shows how the free-to-play world deploys practical behavioral economics to convince players to spend more than they intend to, adapting to players to hook them and then pry open their wallets wider and wider. I was very interested to learn that some games look for behaviors that mark out "spenders" and convert themselves from "skill games" (win by being good at them) to "money games" (win only by spending):
Read the rest
A game of skill is one where your ability to make sound decisions primarily determines your success. A money game is one where your ability to spend money is the primary determinant of your success. Consumers far prefer skill games to money games, for obvious reasons. A key skill in deploying a coercive monetization model is to disguise your money game as a skill game.
King.com's Candy Crush Saga is designed masterfully in this regard. Early game play maps can be completed by almost anyone without spending money, and they slowly increase in difficulty. This presents a challenge to the skills of the player, making them feel good when they advance due to their abilities. Once the consumer has been marked as a spender (more on this later) the game difficulty ramps up massively, shifting the game from a skill game to a money game as progression becomes more dependent on the use of premium boosts than on player skills.
If the shift from skill game to money game is done in a subtle enough manner, the brain of the consumer has a hard time realizing that the rules of the game have changed.
My friend Marc Weingarten co-edited a book with Tyson Cornell called Yes Is The Answer (and Other Prog Rock Tales). I haven't read it yet but it sounds excellent:
Progressive rock is maligned and misunderstood. Critics hate it, hipsters scoff at it. Yes Is The Answer is a pointed rebuke to the prog-haters, the first literary anthology devoted to the sub genre. Featuring acclaimed novelists, Rick Moody, Wesley Stace, Seth Greenland, Charles Bock, and Joe Meno, as well as musicians Nathan Larson, and Peter Case, Yes Is The Answer is the first book that dares to thoughtfully reclaim prog-rock as a subject worthy of serious consideration.
Wired reporter Kevin Pouslsen has had a major victory in his legal battle against the US Secret Service over Aaron Swartz's files. The Secret Service refused to release the thousands of pages of files they had compiled on Aaron, but yesterday, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ordered them to "promptly release to Plaintiff all responsive documents that it has gathered thus far and shall continue to produce additional responsive documents that it locates on a rolling basis." The Secret Service has until August 5 to produce a timetable for the documents' release. Read the rest
The Hy-Rel 3D is a 3D printer with four extruder heads that prints with play-doh, Sugru, plasticine, and other pasty substances. Here's a demo of the printer running four different colors of Sugru -- a great, fast-drying, dishwasher safe fix-everything putty -- to print out a (fairly low-rez) semi-sphere. The Hy-Rel was funded through a successful Kickstarter, and now sports "emulsifying extruders" that are the basis for this demo.
Heritage Auctions is having another one of its fabulous illustration art auctions. In addition to work by great artists like Gil Elvgren, Norman Rockwell, Alberto Vargas, and Frank Kelly Freas, there are oddball pieces like this one: Safety First, by Robert A Heuel II. Opening bid is $1! Read the rest
Matthew says: "A Detroit man was arrested for driving an armor-plated military vehicle equipped with a World War II .50-caliber machine gun that had been converted to fire compressed gas." Read the rest
Zack sez, "For a starting bid of a mere $40,000, you can own the adorable Roddy McDowell-voiced robot from the eerie, somewhat incomprehensible 1979 Disney SF flick THE BLACK HOLE. The full-sized model includes lights, an internal motor to make the robot's head move, and a certificate of authenticity from the Disney Company. Sadly, there is no word on the availability of Old B.O.B. or Maximillian."
Restoration Hardware's "1920s German Light Bulb Voltage Tester Bar" sells for $2000. It's a replica of a century-old refitted German lightbulb voltage tester salvaged from a German factory, and it oozes Weimar decadence. It weighs 265lbs.