Life is Strange – Episode 2

I wasn’t completely taken with the game Life is Strange. I played the first episode back in December, and thought its time travel gimmick was clever, but wasn’t sure if I could stomach the high school drama. The time travel mechanic allows you to rewind time after difficult choices and see the immediate consequences of either action and then make a decision about which one you want to make permanent. It feels like you are peeking behind the curtain a little bit and makes the choices a little less stressful.

I just finished the second episode and it pulled off a brilliant magic trick. The climax of the episode is that a girl has just thrown herself off the roof of the school, and the main character Max tries to reverse time to stop it. The power is taking a great toll on her body, but she unleashes a new power to freeze time and rush up to the roof. As she stands up there, nose bleeding profusely (always a bad sign when it comes to time travel), Max realizes she can no longer reverse time. The next conversation, the one where she needs to talk a girl off the ledge, is now suddenly very permanent.

Having that ability ripped away at such an important time completely amps up the tension of the scene. Max was then judged based on all sorts of actions taken over the last two episodes, and questions tested your memory and how well you explored various scenes. And I really didn’t want to mess up. The post game wrapup confirmed the permanence of the choice. Only 67% of players managed to save her.

I’m still not onboard with the high school drama. Max’s friend Chloe is an embodiment of terrible choices and influence, and I’m frustrated by the way Max seems to go along with it. But I’m excited to see more tense and suspenseful scenes as the game toys with its mechanics and the player.

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Far Cry Blood Dragon: First Impressions

I’ve never played a Far Cry game, but dived into Far Cry Blood Dragon anyway. The game is infused with an 80s action movie vibe that I especially like in the user interface. The loading screen resembles a VHS tape that is having trouble playing. From the opening sequence, I found the helicopter attack sequence to be bizzare. The game hands you a gatling gun and you can shoot at things, but there doesn’t seem to be much point to it. It felt like they were afraid you might get bored and wanted to give you something cool to do before dumping you into the tutorial. The tutorial itself was woven into the narrative as a practical joke that got activated and the protagonist keeps complaining about how stupid it is. As far as tutorials go, it was intended more to make sure you know the controls, but (probably) presumed you were familiar with Far Cry because I managed to die a few times before figuring it out. And then you attack a base with a sizable arsenal of weapons, and I realized that this was meant to be the part where they show you how cool everything is. After this opening mission, I lost all my weapons. We’ll see if I give it another try.



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Infinifactory – Just make it work

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I was feeling really good about this level in Infinifactory. It’s the Anti-Javelin Battery. I had to salvage pieces from an existing object and turn it into a new one. I created a really slick system to salvage those pieces and reassemble them, but quickly realized that I didn’t have any way to actually wield these things together. I ended up having to connect everything in a very different way adding a lot of complexity and paths to my factory.


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Oh well. Even the most ridiculous solutions are still very satisfying to accomplish. I’m still hoping to finish this game, even if these later levels are taking me a really long time to figure out.

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A recent email message caught my eye


Besides the silly mistake of messing up the subject line, it reminded me of the urgency that was in the previous emails. The first email promised that they would only be available for a limited time. About a month after graduation I received this gem:


But in truth, I have received 13 emails about my photos. It seems like after the first year, the slowed down to once every six months. But, I don’t think I can take their threats seriously. At this point, after four years, I don’t think they would ever delete the photos. It would probably cost them more to find and delete the older photos than to just hang on to them. I don’t know if I will end up buying the photos, but I’m curious how long they will continue to email me, and if they will continue to threaten my photos.


It may be my last chance, but I’ll probably hear from them again in six months.

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Today at stake conference, our stake president spoke on adversity. It brought to mind a lot of memories. I heard a snippet of short story on the radio about a man’s memories of a chess teacher. 1One quote that stood out was that chess was only interesting when it was challenging.  I don’t normally think of a game as adversity, but it’s a useful metaphor for why having adversity in life is desirable.

It also brought to mind another stake president’s talk about adversity that I had seen adapted into a play.2 What has stuck with me all of these years is how in a single specific instance of tragedy and adversity, blessings and growth can still be found. I fear such tragedy, but take comfort in knowing that others have weathered it.

Finally, I look at Lehi’s teachings in 2 Nephi 2 a little differently than I used to. “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.” This opposition isn’t just punishment for sin, but I think it also refers to the adversity that Lehi mentions in the first verse. Bad things that happened as a result of being in the wilderness, and suffering at the hands of Laman and Lemuel.

We often imagine how nice life would be without adversity; but every so often we should pause to imagine how vapid life would be without it as well. It would be life without happiness or misery. The only reason such a life sounds happen is because we’d be carrying with us the memories of the adversities we’ve already overcome.

  1. Stephan Enter’s “Resistance” which aired on NPR’s Selected Shorts on March 8, 2016
  2. The talk was ‘The Uses of Adversity” by Carlfield Broderick and the play was Maror by James Goldberg
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General Conference Study Plan

One of the ways I like to study the gospel is through General Conference. The talks are often based on the scriptures, but the focus is usually on applying the gospel in our day-to-day lives. Because the greatest value lies in studying the most recent words of the prophets and apostles, I had been reading a talk a day from the latest conference. I didn’t enjoy reading the talks in the same order over and over, and I wanted a way to incorporate older talks in a way that didn’t overshadow the newer ones.

I wrote a compute program that will give me a list of talks to study. I broke the six months between conferences into three distinct period. During each period, I want to study each talk from the latest conference once and fill in the rest of the days with older talks. Since my database goes back to 1970 and I still prefer newer talks, I used a weighted random number generator where the each conference is twice as likely to be selected as the one before it. I then shuffle these lists and print out a plan.

I figured other people might find such a program useful, so I released the code on GitHub with an open source license. But I also recognized that plenty of people would want to have such a plan through a website. So I hooked the program up to webserver and created a website at (source on GitHub). The website still needs some design work; I’m not sure what I want it to look like yet. I’m hoping to pretty it up in time for the April General Conference and hope that some people find it useful.

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A recent Facebook conversation caused me to rethink the legality of the streaming service VidAngel. I won’t be considering the filtering aspect of the service, because my concern is that the underlying streaming is not legal.

Their sales model is a little convoluted since you actually buy the movies for $20 and can then sell them back for $18; they explain that you need to own the movie to be able to filter it. Essentially rentals are $2, which is half the price of rentals from Google or Apple. I had assumed that they were selling streaming licenses and had direct relationships with the major movie studios. However, what they actually sell you is a DVD.

“VidAngel provides a service that allows its Users to buy or sell physical media, such as DVD and Blu-ray discs. While a User owns any physical media purchased from VidAngel, VidAngel will provide streaming services to permit the User to stream the Video Content associated with that physical media as many times as desired…Using the VidAngel Services, a User may purchase physical media from VidAngel, whom then stores the physical media in VidAngel’s physical media vault.” (VidAngel Terms of Service 5.2)

Their whole business model reminds me of a site that does something similar with video games. Console Classix lets people pay a monthly fee and then borrow any game that is available. They keep track of how many copies of the game they have, and only allow those copies to be played. They’ve been around since 2001, and almost instantly were contacted by Nintendo. They claimed that they weren’t just a rom downloading site, and have probably stayed small enough that Nintendo never bothered to launch a stronger legal assault. It always seemed like a neat way to combine a library with a reason to preserve the decaying cartridges.

Is it legal?

Does selling you a physical disc entitle VidAngel to stream the content to you? I doubt it. All you really get is a disc that you can play in a DVD player. Amazon’s closest version of this feature is a “Read While Your Book Ships” that lets you read a small sample of the eBook. This may be the same sample Amazon already provides for free.

How does VidAngel get their digital copies? Presumably they use the physical copies that they own. However, ripping DVDs and BluRays is mired in controversy. Even if backing up a movie for personal use can be claimed as fair use, does that protection extend to a company producing digital copies to stream to customer?

They do adhere to inventory control, where they only rent out as many copies as they have physical discs. Their FAQ mentions that some movies may appear to be out of stock.  

I’m worried that this amounts to VidAngel being sued for massive copyright infringement.

Is it ethical?

I think so. Their service is essentially the same as RedBox, without the need to actually visit a machine and retrieve a physical disc. The experience that the customer has is exactly the same. 

What’s in store?

VidAngel hasn’t been sued yet, and I think it’s because they haven’t been noticed yet. That lawsuit is coming. But if they can shake that off, they will have other problems. As they grow bigger, they will run into problems acquiring enough discs to meet customer demands. Redbox had the same issue and couldn’t get enough stock from Target and Wal-Mart. For their pricing model alone, they will face the same problems that RedBox had getting established

I’ll continue to use VidAngel because of the price and the convenience. (I’m not sure how I feel about using the filters, but I can just ignore them for now). I wouldn’t buy any stock in the company though.

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Free To Play

I’ve been playing a Free To Play game recently and thinking about a lot of the issues surrounding it. I’m playing Pokemon Picross, which I was excited about because I like Picross puzzles and thought the Pokemon theme looked interesting.

My main gripe is the pricing. The game is free, but you can spend money on an in-game currency that provides a variety of effects. The problem is that the pricing is very excessive compared to the other Picross games you can buy. The most recent one “Picross e6” sells for $6 and includes over 300 puzzles. By contrast, $6 gets you enough currency to unlock around 40-50 puzzles. That knowledge means that before I can even think about spending a few dollars on Pokemon Picross, I have to realize that I’ll get a much more complete and full experience for the same price. The free to play monetization means that they charge more for a lot less content.

My second gripe is an extension of the first. The mechanics of purchasing and spending becomes a tedious exercise of value. The most important thing you can do with the ingame currency is unlock new content, but the game also lets you spend it on less important upgrades and fleeting consumables. If you were to spend the currency on recharging power ups or filling up your energy bar, you’ll have gotten even less to show for the money you have spent. It’s feels like a store where some of the items are grossly overpriced, and the merchant hopes you won’t notice. These microtransactions makes it really easy to completely waste your money.

Now in Nintendo’s defense they are explicitly not trying to exploit anyone. There is a hard cap on how much money you can spend on microtransactions. After spending around $32 the shop will close and simply grant you as much of the in game currency as you want. In a world where free to play bases their entire business model on the ‘whales’ spending thousands of dollars a week, this feels incredibly refreshing. But it still feels like they are seeing what they can get out of people. Can they get away with charging $32 for an experience that they value at $6 if they don’t charge someone all at once? Maybe that’s the appropriate trade-off considering that patient players can eventually unlock all of the content by spending a few minutes each day for over a year. Overcharge some players in order to let others play for free.

What is my role in this? I can’t bring myself to spend money on the game, considering I’d much rather pay a one time price for a complete game. And I don’t buy one of the other games because I don’t really want Picross that badly. I’ve been doing the free daily challenges because they only take a few minutes out of my train ride. But… my 3DS is constantly advertising to other people that I’m playing Pokemon Picross, serving as a walking billboard for the game. At least I can take comfort knowing that I won’t lead anyone into spending thousands of dollars on a simple ‘game’.

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Curtis’s Train Adventure

My son Curtis loves trains. Some of that he gets from me. When I was a toddler, I could see train tracks from outside the apartment and would always rush to watch the trains go by. I got a train set for Christmas that year, a train set that Curtis has also loved playing with.  I think I passed this on both genetically and environmentally.

When I would watch those trains go by, I really wanted to ride on one. Sadly, this dream wouldn’t come true until I was nearly five. I wanted to spare Curtis this disappointment, so I’ve been plotting for weeks to find a time to take him on a train. Finally, it all came together last weekend. To prepare Curtis for the day, we found videos online of BART trains pulling into stations. Our plan was to take the train a few stops away, have lunch, and then ride home. By the time we were in the car, Curtis was bouncing in his car seat repeating “Train! Train!”. He saw a train go by as we drove over. “TRAIN!! TRAIN!!”. He was jumping with excitement when we got out of the car. “TRAIN!!!”


Heading to the Train Station

Heading to the Train Station

Getting tickets

Getting tickets

Using the Ticket

Using the Ticket

Waiting for the train

Waiting for the train. Curtis liked seeing the tracks, but wasn’t fond of the loud highway traffic or the wind.

On the Train

He was quite loud, so it was a good thing the train was almost empty.

Mischief Managed

Mischief Managed


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People Need Love

I really enjoy listening to This American Life. It took me a few episodes to figure out why; it’s because I really like hearing people’s stories. Since I’ve been listening to so many people’s stories, another theme has emerged. It’s that everyone needs someone to care about them.

The first story to illustrate this point was one about men who had signed up for this correspondence service with women. As it turns out, the whole thing was fake. Form letters were photocopied and sent to thousands of people with gifts and donations being extracted from these men. The fascinating thing about the story was that the men weren’t all the upset when they discovered the whole thing was a sham. All the details of the story aside, I think it speaks to a fundamental need that we have to love and be loved. Some of the men were described as very lonely, and that these letters were a highlight of their weeks. The act of receiving and writing these letters helped them through some rough times. And so, the love that we can show to those around us really does make a profound difference in people’s lives.

The second story illustrates this same point in a different way. It was about a marketing firm hired to demobilize Colombian guerrillas. Some of the campaigns they found to be most successful were to remind people of Christmas and of their families. Listening to stories of people laying down their weapons because of this love was a real world example of something I read in Alma 31:5

And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.

It’s one thing to hope that the power of God, or even just our best attempts at loving can influence people. But seeing it happen, especially in a circumstance that I would have thought to be too extreme is inspiring.

Both of these stories, and many others I have heard, inspire me to be kinder and more compassionate to those around me. I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to do it. I imagine it will be the topic of many future blog posts.

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