Robots Playing Video Games???

January 13, 2019 12:50pm
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This is a really cool video of Super Mario World, and not just because it’s an incredibly fast speed run featuring all sorts of exploits that I’d never seen before, but also … the game is being played entirely by a robot!!!

So apparently what they’ve done here is hacked the SNES controller so that instead of sending inputs to the SNES via physically pressing buttons, they can have a computer send the commands … which is obviously much faster and can enable some pretty neat exploits that are (usually) too quick for a human to pull off.

For example, and I thought this was super interesting, apparently the fastest way to move Mario in Super Mario World is to rapidly change the direction that he’s facing as you move (i.e. pressing left, then right repeatedly). And we’re talking within a single frame of the game, so it’s not exactly something that a person could do, but when its just a computer sending signals to the console, it’s just another command.

Now as far as I can tell (and please correct me if someone reads this and sees that I’m wrong!), but the computer isn’t necessarily reacting to changes in the game – it’s essentially running a script that the designers have testing out and tweaked to get the best possible outcome, whether it’s triggering a Level Complete action before the level is actually complete by playing to an exploit in the game or defeating bowser at the end.

One of the reasons I’ve always enjoyed watching speed runs is because I think it’s incredible to see people play that have such a mastery of a given game that they not only know where every last item or power-up is, but also things like which order to kill monsters in because they understand how the game tracks those kills and determines what power-ups to drop next. So to then be able to take it another step and know what location in memory various statuses get held so that they can exploit weaknesses to make the game do things that it’s not supposed to – just wow!

Just one more example – here’s a glitch in Super Mario World that somehow triggers the end credits less than a minute into the game…

You can read the link above to explain the glitch better than I can, but it’s pretty cool stuff. 😉

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In my ongoing attempt to make 2019 my best and most productive year to date, one of the ideas that I’ve been exploring is how I should best spend my time.

I’ve already written about the downsides of social media, and that’s definitely something that I’m trying to curb in search of this new me.

But at the same time, sometimes I struggle because not everyone online is bad – in fact, that’s been a major concern whenever I distance myself from social media is that I’m going to lose track of the people who I really do want to follow in the process!

So one thing that’s helped is taking a look at each of my interests and thinking about whose insights and opinions I really value in those areas. And those are the people who I’m primarily following, on social media and elsewhere.

Because I figure if I’m going to spend time reading stuff on the Internet, why not steer clear of the random strangers and drama queens and instead devote my time to people who I actually care about?!

Here’s my list so far…

These are all people who inspire me, they make me laugh, and the things that they do make me happy, so if push comes to shove, I’d rather kill a few minutes checking out something new that one of them did than arguing with some random stranger on Facebook. 😉

Magic for Sale

January 6, 2019 10:10pm
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Some bittersweet news – last week I sent a bunch of Magic cards to Card Kingdom and today they confirmed that they’ll give me over $500 for them!

It’s a little sad because I spent a lot of time as a kid trying to collect a full set and many are barely worth pennies now, but on the upside, I’m going to use the money to start college funds for David and Matthew, which at the end of the day is probably better than them just collecting dust in the closet.

For what it’s worth, at least they priced a bit higher than when I had done this same exercise a couple of years ago, but never got around to mailing them off – apparently back in 2015, the dual lands that I had (Underground Sea and Plateau, revised edition) were running $180 and $40, respectively, whereas three years later they were offering $295 and $65 for them!

It was definitely a little unsettling adding cards to the cart that I thought should’ve been worth more, but came in at only a few bucks or less. I basically set my limit at $1 or more, and then added in a handful where they were offering pocket change, but I happened to have a handful of them.

It’s not like they’ve been doing anything at all sitting in my closet for the last umpteen years…

And honestly, I was really impressed by the turnaround – I believe I shipped them Thursday via priority mail, Card Kingdom received them yesterday, and then this evening they had already graded them and confirmed the final selling price.

Their value if everything had been perfect was $595 and I ended up with $514, so I guess that’s not too bad for a stack of playing cards that I literally have had since the mid-90s! Granted, there were a ton that they didn’t even want – anything common or uncommon, plus some rares that they’d only take in bulk which probably would’ve cost me more to ship than I’d have made back.

Thanks again to Card Kingdom for making the entire process surprisingly easy! I think I’d actually heard about them years ago when they were featured on an episode of Kris and Scott’s Scott and Kris Show, so when they showed up on my search for places buying cards via mail and their website was super simple to work with, I was sold.

It makes me wonder what kind of a total I’d have gotten if I’d held onto more of those dual lands that I used to have because back before I started selling off my cards to buy music stuff instead, I’m pretty sure I had a full set of them! Oh well. 😛

Today was a great day!

Historically I haven’t really been much of a Busch Gardens fan because A) I’m scared shitless of “real roller coasters”; and B) I tend to spend half the time comparing everything to Disney and just being perpetually disappointed.

That said, somehow the stars aligned today and what was our first of likely many visits in 2019 was actually pretty great. Granted, it certainly didn’t hurt that admission for our family of 5 only cost us about $120 … for the entire year! … thanks to a buy 1, get 1 free offer on their Fun Cards that they offered for Black Friday last year coupled with free preschooler cards for all of our kids.

We pretty much spent the entire afternoon just walking around, looking at animals, and the boys absolutely LOVED it!

I ended up with Christopher and David because Matthew was cranky and Sara was trying to get him to fall asleep, but it was pretty awesome just how engaged they were with each and every new animal that we came across – whether it was something big like the giraffes or lions or even smaller stuff like lizards and snakes and whatnot. We took a little time to learn something new about each one, and I think they really liked being able to call the shots by picking which animals we were going to check out next…

…even if I did have a hell of a time actually finding some of them!

If I had to rank our favorites, I think it might look something like this:

  1. Hippo
  2. Elephants
  3. Gorillas
  4. Flamingoes
  5. Duck fishing in the Hippo pond

After our animal hunt, we ended up over in the Sesame Street area, which I absolutely loved the last time we were here because I think that Busch just did a really great job of making it so fun and colorful and interactive for the kids.

David was still a little nervous going on rides, but he really enjoyed the ones that he could do with Christopher.

Christopher, on the other hand, would’ve lived there if we’d given him the chance, and one ride in particular was pretty amazing. He and David were going to ride their Snuffleupagus version of a Dumbo ride, but it turns out that while they were both tall enough to ride, Christopher wasn’t tall enough to supervise his little brother on the ride, so he rode by himself while David rode with Sara.

Watching that kid slowly realize that he could make the elephant go as high or low as he wanted all by himself was absolutely wonderful, even if it felt like he was literally growing up before my very eyes!

I wish I would’ve gotten a better picture of the GINORMOUS SMILE on his face, but darkness + spinning ride doesn’t make for good pictures… 😛

It was almost the same with their last ride of the night – the two boys were able to drive a car for The Count together, and boy, do I wish that I could’ve had a GoPro strapped to the dashboard to catch a glimpse into that little joy ride! 😀

On our way out, we got to enjoy the lights and Christmas decorations during their final weekend, which was a nice way to wind down the evening as we slowly headed out to the car. The kids split a couple of giant cookies, Sara and I each got to indulge in some holiday-themed desserts, and before we had even pulled out of the parking lot, two of the three kids were already fast asleep in their car seats…

Ultimately the weather was great – a bit chilly with the wind, but nowhere near spring or summer heats that make theme parks more challenging, the kids were amazingly well behaved, and it’s nice that we’ve got another option to entertain them that’s a little closer than driving all the way over to Disney World.

And I didn’t have to go on a single roller coaster!

I wanted to share a couple more links that I enjoyed while I was reading about productivity and best catering to your employees’ potential last night.

I’ve got to say that more and more, I’m finding myself becoming a real proponent of asynchronous communications – maybe it’s because it’s starting to feel like real time communications and this on-demand mentality are kind of, well, exhausting … to the point where it makes me wonder what kinds of changes an organization could see simply by moving away from the constant fire drills and everything is urgent mentality and instead allowed for the time needed for everyone on their teams not only to just breathe, but also to frankly put a little more thought into their decision making process that only not being rushed really allows.

I know that I can definitely think of some examples where I’ve been up super late working on code because I was in the zone, being super productive … only to have to deal with the fallout the next day when someone was looking for me first thing in the morning when they got in and didn’t care that I’d been kicking out some of my best work at 3am while they were long asleep!

Sure, it can be hard to break free from the mindset of “I have a question that’s holding me back and I need it answered now!”, but for me it’s really just a matter of remembering that everyone else has jobs, too, and they’re not typically waiting around for the phone to ring or an IM or email to pop up begging for on call assistance. 😉

It was only a few years ago when I finally decided that I wasn’t always going to answer my phone the moment that it rang, particularly if I was deep in the middle of something. And honestly that came from sitting back and realizing that pretty much 9 times out of 10, they were almost always calls that could either be answered via five minutes of research using tools that my team had already provided, or they were follow-ups to explain an email that they’d just sent to me minutes earlier!


Anywho – here’s some more food for thought on this topic that I found intriguing. Happy reading!

Why Focus Is Your Greatest Competitive Advantage at Work (Plus 19 Ways To Actually Do It)

Managing a Remote Team: Best Practices from Doist’s Head of Marketing

Why We’re Betting Against Real-Time Team Messaging

I stumbled across this post this evening and it really got me thinking about the 40-hour work week that’s expected in America, along with other employment standards that are surprisingly unique to our country, and how businesses might be able to differentiate themselves from the pack by steering away from them…

Through working with colleagues from all over the world, I find it really interesting … albeit also a bit disappointing … to learn how much better their workplace customs are than the ones we’ve come to accept here in the States.

Maternity Leave – Because let’s be honest, FMLA isn’t maternity leave … at least not unless you’re able to survive on 60% of your income during it.

Paternity Leave – I really wish this had been a thing when my wife and I were struggling after pregnancy with kids in the NICU…

Vacation Rollover – Here in Florida I’m allowed to rollover 1 week of unused vacation time to the new year, yet my colleagues in India are legally allowed a month of time!

Vacation Days in General – Don’t even get me started on this, comparing US holidays to the rest of the world… 😛

It’s pretty obvious when you look across the board that most US companies subscribe to the mentality of toeing the line instead of really getting creative and offering environments that foster happier employees, and in turn better output, than just the same old, same old that every firm down the street is doing as well.

How would your work week change if you suddenly shifted to a 30-hour work week instead of 40?

Or what if you were allowed to pick whatever hours worked best for you, even if they weren’t necessarily all in a row?

Or what if instead of even having an office at all, you and your colleagues all worked remotely and got together in Paris or London or San Francisco or Australia once a year to get to know each other better and collaborate, like Automattic does?

In a lot of ways, I feel like we’ve become experts at working harder, but not necessarily smarter here, whereas I think an employer would be amazed at what their employees could do if they invested more of their efforts into making the American work culture the envy of the world instead of being those schlups who answer the phones all summer while everyone in Europe is off on holiday for a month at a time!

I know that where I’m at personally in my life, anything that can be done to save me time is a welcome force – whether it’s by shortening my time spent juggling meetings at the office or making sure that I get to actually both take and enjoy the vacation time that I earn each year.

And if we were to really drill down into productive vs unproductive time at work, I’d be willing to bet that giving everyone 10 hours a week back from their daily grind would make the rest of their time spent less burdened by distractions and errands and ultimately result in more output in the quality aspect instead of the current default of the quantity, anyways.

So what if an employer strived to get less hours out of their employees instead of more???

After putting together this column the other day about prioritizing me in the new year, I still had this list leftover of random stuff that I’d like to do that don’t necessarily fall under the heading of “resolutions,” per se…

2018 Holiday Advent Blog – Merry Christmas!

December 25, 2018 9:00pm
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  1. Look at the Christmas!
  2. Merry Plex-Mas!
  3. A Funko Pop Christmas
  4. The Great Hot Chocolate Quest
  5. The Gift of Water Safety
  6. It’s About Freakin’ Time…
  7. Mickey’s Very Merry Monorail Ride
  8. The ABCs of Christmas
  9. The Truth About Santa Claus
  10. Holiday Hospital
  11. Caroling a la Car
  12. Strike a Family Pose
  13. Once Upon a Christmastime at Christmas
  14. Dinner with Mickey & Friends
  15. At Home with the Animals…
  16. The Great Santa Wait!
  17. The Gift of Date Night
  18. You’d Better Watch Out…
  19. Glittery Porch Pirate Revenge
  20. How to Celebrate Without Going Crazy
  21. Best. Christmas Special(s). Ever.
  22. The Sevener Family Christmas Card
  23. More Family Christmas Pics…
  24. Putting the Band Back Together…

Christmas Day is here again.

All in all, I think we had a pretty good day. There were definitely some stressful moments, which probably should’ve been anticipated given our house with three toddlers and their tendency to fight over toys and whatnot, but there were also some really great moments where sharing surprised us, so that was nice!

It was definitely a real treat watching Christopher unwrap his brand new monorail because that kid has been looking forward to that thing all year long. We actually talked about whether to make it wait until last, but I just couldn’t do that to him after how much he’s been anticipating it, and to be honest – the kid was on cloud nine the second he started tearing the paper away…

The monorail was definitely the toy of the year for 2018 and hopefully it’ll stand up to being fought over for many months to come.

Otherwise, we just kind of hung out around the house all day with no particular place to go, so it was a nice bout of family time that we all probably needed.

With any luck, maybe next year’s festivities will be marginally less stressful, but thankfully we’ve got another 11 months at this point before we find out.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and be sure to have an extra piece of gingerbread for me!

I definitely get attached to things, but at the same time I try to remind myself that toys are made to be played with and that sometimes they’re going to get broken.

Granted, I don’t necessarily think that Hallmark created this set expressly as toys, but what can I say? When you’ve got a house full of toddlers, pretty much everything becomes a toy at one point or another…

So as much as it pains me to think that these fine musicians are probably going to get tossed in the trash once this Christmas season is over, knowing how much fun the kids have had playing with them … particularly Matthew, who was known to walk around with Donald’s dismembered torso in his mouth while it still tried to play music (?!) … well, I suppose in the end that’s all that really matters.



(Donald Duck on guitar, Missing in Action; also Daisy’s head, Mickey’s nose, and both of Goofy’s arms)

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