Saturday, April 28, 2018


I was talking about the relatively new-ish notion of "Legacy Games," such as the enormously popular Pandemic: Legacy, or the newer (but maybe even hotter), Gloomhaven.

"I know what a legacy game is!" the conversation went, continuing, "it's a game that nobody plays anymore, like Myst."

Indeed, there is an Old Joke around Old Programmer Circles, that goes something like this:

What is the definition of legacy software?

It's software that works.

(The joke being, at least partly, that once a program finally starts to work and does something useful, nobody wants to change it anymore; they just want to keep running it, so it can do its job.)

A legacy board game, however, aims for a different interpretation of "legacy".

In a game like Pandemic: Legacy, or Gloomhaven, when a player character progresses through the game, the game is fundamentally changed by the passage of the character. Paths once taken, cannot be taken again. Events that occurred before, shall not happen afterwards.

Mechanically, the games accomplish this by simple measures: pieces are removed from the game; the game board is altered; new pieces are introduced; rules are altered in minor, but meaningful ways.

It's a beautiful use of the word "legacy," and reclaims it, I think, from those snarky computer programming types, with their bitter insinuation that the old is to be discarded, ignored, forgotten, consigned to the category of "boring: it works."

Instead, "legacy" is properly restored to its original, better meaning: "that which you changed, because you were there."

I've been thinking about legacies a fair amount recently, as I've reached That Age, the point where people that you strongly identify with start to disappear from your life, in a permanent way.

And it seems to me that a person's legacy is a beautiful thing.

We don't just exist; we don't just occupy space. We act, we alter, we influence, we engage, we cause.

The future, whatever it may be, is different, because It Came After Us.

It may be good, it may be bad (oh, let us, surely, strive for the good, whenever we can, hard though that is!).

But, one way or another, each of us leaves a legacy.

And I applaud the creators of games like Pandemic: Legacy and Gloomhaven for restoring "legacy" to its rightful place of honor.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Magpie Murders: a very short review

Magpie Murders is by Anthony Horowitz, who is not well known to me as an author, although apparently his young adult "Alex Rider" series is tremendously popular.

However, as a screenwriter, he wrote the beyond-wonderful Foyle's War, which by itself would be the accomplishment of a lifetime.

(And before that he adapted Caroline Graham's Inspector Graham series into Midsomer Murders! What a resume!)

Magpie Murders is a delightfully-executed showpiece of a murder mystery. Its hook is that it's a book-within-a-book, in which our heroine is the editor at a small independent press which publishes a series of cottage mysteries set in rural 1950's England. She has just received the latest in the series, Magpie Murders, only to discover that it is the last, for the detective Atticus Pund has been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Only then it turns out that the author of these mysteries is himself rather a mystery; soon there is plot and intrigue both within and without the book, as our heroine tries to figure out what clues the book itself reveals about its author and his circumstances.

Without giving too much away, it turns out that our (fictional) author, who has become quite wealthy by making a career of writing murder mysteries, fancies himself a author of serious talents, and is disappointed that his attempts to write "literature" have been unsuccessful. Perhaps this is actually a book-within-a-book-within-a-book?

Along the way there are twists and turns, there are a delightful cast of characters both within the murder mystery and without, and there are entertaining sequences both in England of the 1950's as well as in England of present times.

And, this being an English murder mystery, there is wordplay, there are artifices, and, of course, there are castles, moats, and a vicar with a squeaky bicycle.

The endings, both of the book, and of the book, are quite cleverly arranged and delivered, and are very satisfying.

It's all truly delightful, even if it does seem rather like something you should be enjoying with your blueberry scones, clotted cream, and a nice pot of Earl Grey.

Recently my thriller diet has been considerably more gritty; mild disputations between the groundskeeper and the assistant at the surgeon's office are a fair bit afield.

Still, Horowitz is an author of tremendous skill, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Up, up, and away!

It's Earthquake Day today, so there's lots in the media.

Here are a few very interesting links:

  • San Francisco’s Big Seismic Gamble
    San Francisco lives with the certainty that the Big One will come. But the city is also putting up taller and taller buildings clustered closer and closer together because of the state’s severe housing shortage. Now those competing pressures have prompted an anxious rethinking of building regulations. Experts are sending this message: The building code does not protect cities from earthquakes nearly as much as you might think.
  • The HayWired Earthquake Scenario
    The HayWired scenario is a hypothetical earthquake sequence that is being used to better understand hazards for the San Francisco Bay region during and after an earthquake of magnitude 7 on the Hayward Fault. The 2014 Working Group on California Earthquake Probabilities calculated that there is a 33-percent likelihood of a large (magnitude 6.7 or greater) earthquake occurring on the Hayward Fault within three decades. A large Hayward Fault earthquake will produce strong ground shaking, permanent displacement of the Earth’s surface, landslides, liquefaction (soils becoming liquid-like during shaking), and subsequent fault slip, known as afterslip, and earthquakes, known as aftershocks.

    The most recent large earthquake on the Hayward Fault occurred on October 21, 1868, and it ruptured the southern part of the fault. The 1868 magnitude-6.8 earthquake occurred when the San Francisco Bay region had far fewer people, buildings, and infrastructure (roads, communication lines, and utilities) than it does today, yet the strong ground shaking from the earthquake still caused significant building damage and loss of life.

  • News from the HayWired fault
    Today, though, I wanted to provide some details from the original quake. In 1868 a committee was convened to create a report on the event, but it never finished a report, so whatever work they did was lost. We only know as much as we do because after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, the commission set up under UC Berkeley’s Andrew Lawson to investigate it decided to add a chapter on previous earthquakes. There were enough survivors of 1868 at the time to record quite a bit of detail. So here are some tidbits from the famous Lawson Report of 1908 about the Hayward quake of 1868.
  • The California earthquake of April 18, 1906. Report of the State Earthquake Investigation Commission
    The fact that the California earthquake of April 18, 1906; occurred a little after 5 A. m., before people in general were up, is one cause why we have so little reliable information regarding the exact time at which it occurred. In answer to questions sent out by the Earthquake Commission, a very large number of replies were received, but it is quite evident, from the variations among them and from the fact that many only gave the time to minutes, that these times are very unreliable. The general descriptions show that the earthquake began with a fairly strong movement which continued with increasing strength for an interval variously estimated, but which really amounted to about half a minute; then very violent shocks occurred, and quiet was restored about 3 minutes later.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018


As this afternoon's ferry was approaching the dock, the captain came on the loudspeaker and said:

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. The ferry is approaching the dock and we will be docking soon. It looks like the two whales are still out by the day mark near the dock.

We couldn't see much from the windows of the ferry itself, but once we were on shore and looked out to the day mark, sure enough, there were indeed whales! Swimming about and spouting spray from time to time!

Thirty years in Alameda and that's a first!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Happy 90th Mr. Lehrer

Here's a nice tribute from Ken Regan: Tom Lehrer At 90.

It's got some nice links, too, including:

I have to admit I heard most of my Tom Lehrer songs on Dr. Demento, but I don't think it matters how you got to Tom Lehrer, as long as you got there.

Why, we had a great discussion at the office the other day about I got it from Agnes, which I was rather red-faced to admit went totally over my head when I listened to it as a precocious 12-year-old in the early 1970s.

Faithful Place: a very short review

The third in Tana French's superb Dublin-based mystery novels is Faithful Place.

French's approach to the series is quite unusual. A supporting character in an earlier novel becomes the main character in a subsequent one, and, over time, we get to know a variety of characters who are interconnected in various ways.

But one thing this means is that the books are different, because the characters are different. When you read, for example, a Sue Grafton novel, at some point you knew what to expect.

French's books don't have that quality. Each is different, and stands on its own (though I'm going through them in order, as I think she probably expects readers to do).

Faithful Place is different from the first two works in several ways, but the most notable one is a matter of style. Whereas the earlier words were lyric, moody, enigmatic, Faithful Place is like a truck on a highway: straightforward, blunt, powerful.

There isn't, really, much of a mystery here, in a way. The mystery is more about subtler things, involving how families manipulate themselves, how grudges and hurts thought to be long overcome are still alive, and how people often struggle to do the right thing about those that they care about the most.

It's gritty, it's harsh, it's blunt, and I roared through it like that proverbial truck on a highway, pausing only briefly for rest and refreshment before moving on.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Life moves along

Does anybody know of a way that I can find out the names of the people in this amazing picture?

I recognize some of the most obvious ones: Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young, Coretta Scott King and her children, Ralph Abernathy, John Lewis (?), Julian Bond (?), but I'm sure that somewhere, there must be a copy of this picture with everyone tagged? I'd love to know more about the picture, and more about the people in it, besides those who are of course well-known to us all. The best I found was this, which is fascinating but I was hoping for even more.

Meanwhile, in other completely unrelated, but interesting to me, news:

  • It was just as big a storm as predicted: Record April Rains Raise Rivers And Flood Concerns
    Yosemite National Park closed campgrounds and lodging in its busy Yosemite Valley because of flooding concerns, with the Merced River there expected to peak 5 feet (1.5 meters) above flood stage on Saturday.


    Bodega Bay in the county received nearly 6 inches (15.2 centimeters) of rain for the day


    Lake Oroville has been filling up all winter, and more water was coming in than flowing out Friday. The water level Friday night had topped 793 feet (242 meters). If it reaches about 830 feet (253 meters), water managers said they may open the gates to the spillway.


    California officials say they hope to avoid using the main spillway but are confident it can safely function.
  • Test Drilling Launched at the Sinking Millennium Tower
    Crews have quietly launched a $9 million exploratory drilling project at the Millennium Tower to evaluate a planned fix for the sinking and tilting structure, NBC Bay Area has learned.

    The project started earlier this month on Beale Street and involves drilling holes between 200 and 300 feet down to bedrock. The goal is to see whether the method will stabilize the troubled foundation.


    The so-called micropile strategy is not new; it was used to shore up the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas, which sank some 18 inches during construction before being stabilized by more than 500 micropiles.

  • Micropile Underpinning of the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino
    The approach was to drill and install micropiles through holes cored into the mat and not bonded in the mat, so that the piles could be jacked into the ground and maintain the building at a desired level. Then structural beam supports would be installed to act as permanent attachments and jacking frames. The entire system had the capacity to lift the center of the tower if that proved to be necessary. In order to support the center core, a layout consisting of 536 micropiles (Pin Piles) was developed by the structural engineer, Lochsa Engineering. Due to the limited plan area and the fact that it would be impractical to delay elevator construction to drill inside the shafts, all piles were located outside of the shafts. The resulting system was designed to support the core as if it was one very large pile cap. All the micropiles used to support the hotel core were 200 feet deep, were fully bonded with grout to the various soil and caliche layers and were isolated from the mat. The decision to drill 200 feet was based on a fairly substantial caliche layer being encounter at the depth in a preliminary methods hole and subsequent boring also often encountering a similar layer.
    On February 2, 2018, Mr. Somorjai sent an email to Mr. Schott requesting a meeting to discuss various commercial matters, including joint business development ideas.


    On February 26, 2018, Mr. Schott met with Mr. Benioff. During the course of this meeting, Mr. Benioff described the importance of an integration platform to Salesforce’s strategic plans, and observed that MuleSoft’s products could be the foundation of Salesforce’s integration platform. Mr. Benioff asked Mr. Schott if the MuleSoft board of directors would be open to the possibility of considering a combination of the two companies. Mr. Schott responded that, although MuleSoft was not for sale, the MuleSoft board of directors would consider in good faith any reasonable offer it received from Salesforce.


    Between the afternoon of March 18, 2018 and the morning of March 20, 2018, representatives of WSGR continued to negotiate and finalized the draft definitive merger agreement with representatives of Wachtell Lipton.

  • SPRING EDITION: March 2018
    Ridership on WETA’s San Francisco Bay Ferry has increased by 94 percent since 2012 to more than 2.7 million riders annually. The demand for ferry service has grown across all four service routes


    WETA has already been modernizing and expanding its fleet, investing in infrastructure improvements, and planning for new service:

    • Two of four new 400-passenger, 27-knot vessels have already entered service, with the third entering service in May and the fourth in December.
    • Three new 445-passenger, 34-knot vessels for the Vallejo/North Bay services are expected in late 2018 and 2019.
    • The North Bay Operations and Maintenance Facility in Vallejo opened in 2016, and the Ron Cowan Central Bay Operations and Maintenance Facility in Alameda is scheduled to open in Summer 2018.
    • A major expansion of ferry landing facilities at the San Francisco Ferry Building is currently under construction with two gates scheduled to open in November.
    • A Richmond ferry terminal is under construction and new service from Richmond to San Francisco is scheduled to start in Fall 2018.
  • Alameda’s Ferry Nightmare
    The city downsized parking for the ferry terminal after area neighbors complained. “We protect our property values and make sure that this is a safe place for residents and homeowners,” said Dawn Jaeger, executive director of the Harbor Bay Isle Association.

    Under the city’s new rules, four homeowners associations received parking permits for residents of the area. Ferry commuters aren’t allowed access to the permits.

    The city’s decision on ferry parking comes as the Harbor Bay ferry has been experiencing a surge in popularity. The ferry’s ridership has surged by 68 percent in the past five years, according to a city report last fall.

  • Raising the Speed Limit on Future Growth
    The final and perhaps most critical issue I want to highlight also relates to skills: We’re not adequately preparing a large fraction of our young people for the jobs of the future. Like in most advanced economies, job creation in the United States is being tilted toward jobs that require a college degree (OECD 2017). Even if high school-educated workers can find jobs today, their future job security is in jeopardy. Indeed by 2020, for the first time in our history, more jobs will require a bachelor’s degree than a high school diploma (Carnevale, Smith, and Strohl 2013).

    These statistics contrast with the trends for college completion. Although the share of young people with four-year college degrees is rising, in 2016 only 37% of 25- to 29-year-olds had a college diploma (Snyder, de Brey, and Dillow 2018). This falls short of the progress in many of our international competitors (OECD 2018), but also means that many of our young people are underprepared for the jobs in our economy.

  • Crossword
    This puzzle is a collaboration by the singer/songwriter Weird Al Yankovic, working together with Eric Berlin, a writer and puzzle editor from Milford, Conn.