Year in Review – 2018

2018 was a good year for me. I took two big trips, my brother and his family came out for Christmas, and I kept myself busy with touch table conversions, reading and movies.

Trips

In July I went to Scandinavia with my parents. I enjoyed seeing some of Scandinavia and learning about their history, art and food. I really like the art by Munch and Vigeland and was surprised by how much I liked the scenery in Norway.

In September I went to Cape May and Philadelphia with my parents and my brother’s family. Highlights from that trip were time on the beach and the Barnes museum.

My brother and his family came to Colorado for Christmas and we spent the week at my parent’s house. It was fun to spend time with my niblings again. The youngest is 2 1/2 and I was impressed by how much he had changed since this summer.

Programming

I made seven games for the touch table this year: Notre Dame, Azul, Medici card game, Automobile, Settlers of Catan, Between Two Cities, and Galaxy Trucker. Automobile is probably the most fun that I’ve had doing any conversion, and I’ve also enjoyed doing some larger games this year. As we make more games for the table, each game gets a little less play. Automobile and Settler’s of Catan in particular are games that we were basically done playing before they were converted.

Bill also made a few touch games this year:

  • Caylus – Strategy game where players compete to build a city and castle
  • Stop, Squat and Roll – A territory claiming and press your luck game also know as “Claim It”
  • Codenames – Players compete to get their teammates to pick the correct pictures based on a one word description.
  • Ocean Raiders – A press-your-luck style treasure hunting game

Activities

In March I was lucky in the ticket lottery and got to see Hamilton in Denver. Even after all the hype I was still surprised by how good it was. It is the best musical that I’ve been to by a decent margin.

Also in March our residential Solar panel installation was completed. This really hasn’t changed anything, but it has been fun to see how much time-of-year, time-of-day, clouds and snow change the power generation.

We took the touch table to two events this year: The FoCoBoCo in Fort Collins and the B-Con in Denver. It is always fun to show the table to new people and get their reactions to the game conversions.

We got a Cricut paper cutting machine in September and Bill has spent a lot of time making decorations and cards for friends and family:

I went to a few other cultural/arts events this year

  • A friend introduced me to the Kirkland museum, and I highly recommend it. It is an art and design museum packed with very fashionable and artistic household products.
  • I went to a couple of the “One painting at a time” discussions at the Clyfford Still museum. They were just OK, but I really enjoy the museum itself.
  • My brother got me season tickets to the opera and I really enjoyed La Traviata. Their second show will be Marriage of Figaro in May.

Other

Creating touch games is how I spend most of my free time, but I still only spent 650 hours making games this year (not including bug fixes or updates to old games). The rest of my free time is divided between computer games, books, Netflix and Violin.

I played quite a few computer games this year: Opus Magnum, Stardew Valley (again), Surviving Mars, Far Cry 3, Heat Signature, Sniper elite 4, Superhot, Pillars of Eternity, Bomb Squad Academy, and Wing Commander (again). Like the past few years, I’m spending less time on computer games than I once did. I still enjoy it, but games don’t hold my attention like they used to. The best games that I’ve played lately are Stellaris, Witcher III, Heat Signature and Stardew Valley.

I did more reading this year. I get e-books from the Denver library. The wait list is usually long, but it is super convenient. My favorite books this year were the Mistborn series, A Prayer for Owen Meany, Rebecca (my grandmother’s favorite book) and Little Fires Everywhere.

I also watched a lot of Netflix. Some favorites from this year: The Good Place, Infinity Chamber, Anomolisa, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Brigsby Bear, Personal Shopper, Bojack Horseman, and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. In particular Bojack Horseman has made some of my favorite episodes in any series. One episode this season made it into imdb’s top 10 episodes of all time. Unfortunately, you really have to watch the whole series to enjoy it, and some of the episodes are weak. The Good Place is also both funny and well made. Here is a fun video about why it’s such an interesting show.

I continue to work on learning violin. I played for 310 hours this year – basically an hour a day when I’m home. But I don’t feel like I’m making as much progress as I used to. Part of it is that 300 hours isn’t as big of a percentage of my total time as it used to be. But I also feel like my progress has slowed since I stopped taking lessons, and that if I wanted to improve I’d need to spend more than an hour a day practicing. I spent the first half of the year working on Suzuki book 9 and the second half on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. I’d learned Spring and Summer before, so this time I tried to be more accurate and faster. I’m currently about 2/3 done learning Autumn which is harder than Spring or Summer. Sometime in 2019 I’ll hit 5000 hours of violin. Here I’m playing the last part of Four Seasons – Summer:

2019

I don’t have many solid plans for 2019. We’d like to make a trip to Mexico and will probably sell the house there. We might also make a trip to New York to visit my brother.

I’m tentatively planning to do the “Tour De Vineyards” bike ride in Palisade CO this year. I’ll need to get road tires for my bike and find out if my time biking in the gym translates into road biking stamina.

There is a chance that my family will travel to South Carolina or Illinois, but that will depend on my brother’s schedule and my dad’s health.

I received a Fitbit fitness tracker for Christmas. I’m enjoying it so far. The biggest improvement over my old Jawbone is having a watch and getting notifications from my phone. So my first programming project for the new year will be getting Fitbit data into my Timeline program.

I don’t really have any big resolutions for 2019. I want to continue spending my time the way I have been in 2018 with maybe a little more effort toward hiking/biking this summer and a few more trips downtown for a symphony or other show. The light rail line to Union Station has made trips downtown much more enjoyable for me. I always hated finding and paying for parking.

Trip to Cape May and Philadelphia

I took a trip to Cape May New Jersey and Philadelphia with my parents and my brother’s family. Like our trip to Montreal last summer, the primary purpose of the trip was to spend time with family. We stayed in two AirBnB houses, had some time on the beaches and saw some sites in Philadelphia.

Follow this link to see the rest of the photos. Continue reading “Trip to Cape May and Philadelphia”

Trip to Scandinavia

My parents and I took a trip to Scandinavia this summer. We visited Sweden, Denmark, and Norway with a tour group. The trip was a lot of fun. We saw some beautiful scenery in Norway, learned about Scandinavian history and saw a lot of art.

You can see the rest of the photos in the gallery.

Continue reading “Trip to Scandinavia”

Wing Commander and retro gaming

Wing Commander came out in 1990 and, along with Doom, was one of the first great PC action games. The game required a 12 MHz CPU, 640 KB RAM and supported 256 color VGA graphics at 640×480. I played it on a 386 25 Mhz. It’s been a long time and I’m no longer sure about this, but I believe that I bought a sound card and joystick mostly for this game and Wing Commander II.

During the latest GOG sale, I re-purchased the whole series of games for $14. The game will still play on a modern computer mostly thanks to DOSBox which is software that emulates an old PC running DOS. Playing games in DOS was not quite as simple as gaming today and I remember struggling with the MS-DOS extended memory manager (EMM386.SYS) so that the game could use all of my 2 MB of memory. DOSBox and GOG hides all of that and the game runs with minimal effort.

Playing Wing Commander on my modern computer (i5-8600K, 16GB, Windows 10, 4K display) is a reminder of how much computers have improved in the last 27 years. Here is the game running in a 640×480 window on my desktop:

It is a little hard to see, but the game, running in a emulator, is taking 0.9% of my CPU and 0.4% of my memory. 640×480 is 4% of my 4K screen. In most ways, computers today are 100-1000x better than computers in 1990, so this shouldn’t really be a surprise.

One thing that I’ve really enjoyed about playing Wing Commander again is using the Roland MT-32 sound. The earliest PCs just had a PC speaker which could play a single (square wave) tone at a time. My first computer was a Tandy, and one of its big advantages was that it had a three tone speaker. A few years later, you could buy dedicated sound cards from Adlib or Soundblaster. These had multiple channels and could play 8 bit (square wave is on/off, 8 bit allowed 256 levels) sound. The Roland MT-32 was the holy grail of sound quality at the time (and at $550 it was much to expensive for me to justify). It is a MIDI playback device and had built in high quality samples of instruments that the software could play. So for the game, it was kind of like providing sheet music to the Roland.

Today there is an emulator for the Roland MT-32 called Munt which  supports DOSBox. Here is a video comparing the sound quality of Wing Commander II with the Roland and a high end Sound Blaster card.

4K Touch Table project

We built a new touch table last year. We had three main goals with this project:

  1. A larger table to give players a bit more room – especially for our 7+ player games.
  2. A 4K screen to make our game’s graphics look better.
  3. A table that is easy to disassemble and transport.

This project was quite a bit harder and took much longer than we had anticipated, but it is finally done!

Continue reading “4K Touch Table project”

Year in Review – 2017

2017 didn’t feel as busy as the last couple years have been. We didn’t have any trips that required a lot of planning like in 2015, and I created fewer touch table games than in 2016.

Trips

We spent March in San Carlos. We spent a lot of time reading, went to the beach regularly and ate a lot of good food. It was a very relaxing trip. We also got a gym membership and went most days. We took a lot of walks and a couple hikes, one in Nacapule canyon and another to the top of Tetekawi peak. The Tetekawi hike was challenging; we got a very early start, but it was still a hot, difficult climb.

I enjoyed this trip more than I expected to. I was worried that I would run out of things to do and be bored. But it was nice for the month. Life just had a slower pace- like actually being retired. If we were going to spend longer there, I’d bring a computer to use for programming. On the way back from Mexico, we went to the White Sands Monument.

In August we spent a week in Montreal with my brother’s family and my parents. I enjoyed the city and spending time with my family. We went to Notre Dame, the Archeology Museum, the Biodome and Botanical Gardens. We ate out at “Au Pied de Cochon” (Foot of the Pig) where we had some of the richest, fattiest food I’ve ever eaten.

We got back from Montreal just in time for the solar eclipse. We drove a few hours north with a group of friends to get into the total eclipse path. The eclipse was spectacular and well worth the awful drive home. I’m definitely planning to see the next one that crosses America in 2024. The atmosphere at the park was interesting. People were a bit more nerdy and friendly than usual. When totality happened people cheered, shouted and let out exclamations of surprise. I was shocked by how much the temperature dropped and how crazy bright even a tiny sliver of the sun is.

Programming

I made three games for the touch table this year. Village and Broom Service were standard board game conversion projects. I enjoyed both and am getting more comfortable adding slightly nicer graphics, sound and animations to my games.

I also created a tutorial about how I convert board games for the touch table. I made a series of blog entries and accompanying YouTube videos describing the process. For the tutorial, I converted a very simple board game called No Thanks. The tutorial took a lot of time and I probably spent more time creating it than people will spend reading and watching it.

When we first retired, I wrote software to simulate our finances and predict if we had enough money saved. This fall I spent time updating that software to be more robust and user friendly with the plan to release it. I finished it right at the end of the year and released it as SimRetirement.

Bill made several games for the touch table this year:

  • Murderdrome – A real time robot programming game
  • Nexus – A conversion of a competitive strategy card game
  • Starship Factory 2 – A conversion and re-theming of “The Builders”
  • Fighter’s Empire – A cooperative space combat action game.
  • Dungeon Raiders 3 The Escape – A conversion of the real time board game Escape: The Curse of the Temple

Other

I played a few computer games this year: Doom, Cities Skylines, South Park, The Witcher 3, Shenzhen.io, Stellaris, Infinifactory, Stardew Valley, and Ashes of the Singularity. I’ve had a harder time getting into computer games lately and haven’t spent as much time playing them as I used to.

2017 was also an inventory year. Every four years we take a full inventory of all the stuff we own. It takes a while to update the inventory because we take pictures of everything new. It is kind of fun to see what has changed and the photos are surprisingly interesting to look at after several years.

I sold my Insight, so we are down to one car. So far it hasn’t been too inconvenient.

We built a new 55″ 4K touch table. Building the table took a lot longer than we expected it to. Every part of the process had issues. The bezel on the TV didn’t look very big, but it was big enough to make it hard to quickly tap multiple times. Fortunately Bill was able to take the TV apart and remove it. We also struggled to get reds to display properly which turned out to be a flaw in the old video card I was trying to use. We bought the touch frame from the same company that we used for our first table; but we had lots of problems getting the touch working well. We spent many hours working with the company’s tech support to get the frame to not have any dead spots and also not detect extra touches. For the enclosure, we wanted a flat pack table like the ones Mesa Mundi demoed at PAX. After contacting at least five different CnC design companies in town, Bill finally found someone through Craigslist who was able to do the design and cutting. We’d intended to have the new table built shortly after returning from Mexico in April and we finally got everything working early December.

Bill created an in-home puzzle room for me and our friends, The puzzle room was a huge amount of work that provided a very exciting hour of problem and puzzle solving. It was a great success: the puzzles were a good difficulty, we were never stuck for long and there were enough different things to keep everyone occupied.

When we got back from San Carlos I got a gym membership and have been exercising most days. I’ve had more energy, had an easier time sleeping and possibly been a little happier.

I’m still playing violin. I spent most of 2017 working on pieces in Suzuki book 7 trying to play them at full speed. In 2018 I hope to make it through Suzuki book 9.

SimRetirement update and release

When I quit my job in 2011 I wrote a program to simulate retirement and give me a feel for the odds that we would be able to survive on the money we’d saved. The program used a Monte Carlo approach to simulate thousands of possible market scenarios and had logic for how we would spend money, collect social security, pay taxes, etc. At the time the program said that we had an 85% chance of outliving our money. That was good enough to quit; knowing that we could go back to work if we had to.

Since writing that program I’ve come back to it every few years to put in more recent data and make improvements. Once my spouse and I got married, I took out a bunch of code that split expenses and taxes between the two of us.

A few months ago I decided to give the program a full makeover and add features to make it useful to more people. The original program was very specific to our situation and didn’t handle account types, expenses, and investments that we didn’t have. Along with adding new features, I needed to make the program much more user friendly and error tolerant.

I’ve completed this project, and the program (and source) are available for download. It still doesn’t handle nearly as many situations as I’d like, and it has very little support for people who are still working, but it is good enough to release.

Continue reading “SimRetirement update and release”

Ending my beef ban

Some time ago (maybe 2004-2006), I decided to stop eating beef and pork. There were several reasons; the treatment of animals, the effect of red meat on my health, and the effect of meat production on the environment. For beef, I was also concerned about mad cow disease. And for pork, I was concerned about intelligent pigs.

I’ve made some exceptions over the years (mostly at nice restaurants), but for the most part I have stuck with my ban. In fact, I’ve ended up being a little more strict than I’d originally intended – mostly because it is easier to have a hard-and-fast rule than to always have to make a decision.

I’m still not going to eat pork, but, in my opinion, the health effects of eating beef have become less clear. Mad cow disease hasn’t been a problem in the US, and the negative effects of saturated fat may have been overstated.

Even with that new information, my other reasons for excluding beef are still enough for me to avoid eating beef at home (a hamburger creates the same amount of greenhouse gas as a chicken sandwich plus burning a quarter gallon of gas).

Beef production releases 27 lb CO2 equivalent per lb of meat (includes CO2 from fertilizer and transport of grain to feed the cow plus the methane the cow produces). Chicken produces 7 lb CO2 equivalent per lb of meat. So a quarter-pounder generates 5 lb more CO2 than a 4 oz chicken sandwich. Burning a gallon of gas produces 20 lb of CO2.
Along with the greenhouse gas difference, a pound of beef requires an extra 1500 gallons of water and 28 times as much land as chicken.
Switching to a vegi-burger probably doesn’t save much. Beans and grains are only 2-3 lb of CO2 per pound of food, but the extra effort to make and package the vegi-burger reduces that savings.


But while I wont be eating much beef, I no longer feel like it is worth avoiding altogether. I will order beef at restaurants where there aren’t other good options. And I will eat beef at friend’s houses. I never wanted my beef/pork ban to be an inconvenience for friends, and hopefully this change will make it a bit easier.

Summer trips

We made two trips this summer. One to Montreal with my family and one to Wyoming to see the eclipse. Photo galleries: Montreal Eclipse

We went to Montreal in mid-August and stayed near Mont Royal in an apartment through airBnB. Montreal is a nice city, but the main point of the trip was to spend time with my family and see my niece and nephew. The apartment worked well for having time with the kids and for take-out meals and breakfasts. One morning my sister-in-law brought back pasteries (Kouing Aman I think?) that were incredible. My favorite site was the cathedral. It was built in the 1820s in the Gothic style. It has a blue color scheme and some nice wooden sculptures.

A few days after getting back from Montreal, we went to Wyoming to see the total eclipse. We didn’t plan far enough ahead to have a hotel room so we left at 3am from Denver and arrived at Glendo state park (without too much traffic) at 7am. The park was nice and we spent quite a bit of time walking around. The eclipse itself was spectacular and something that I still think about two months later. I’m definitely planning to see the next one in America in 2024. Unfortunately, the drive back from the eclipse was awful. Traffic in the park didn’t move at all for a couple hours. We actually waited till 6pm to leave and the 3 hour drive took 6 hours. Next time I am going to plan much further ahead and get a hotel.