I flew out to Indianapolis again for my 3rd year in a row, to hang with Castor and enjoy the nerd festivities of GENCON.

The trip started on a difficult foot. I had trouble sleeping the night before my flight. I didn’t trust my alarm clock, and I had no backup, so I ended up with only about 4 hours sleep before departing for the airport. I spent that awake time packing and making sure I had everything I would need. I set off early, because I wanted to stop by my dad’s house and take in the empty trash cans. I got a Coffee Bean coffee, then headed over and took care of the trash cans. Then I got a 2-for-$4 deal on bacon burritos at Carl’s Jr. and rolled through traffic to the airport, where I was 2.5 hours early.

The flight itself was packed. Even though I checked in exactly 24 hours in advance, I was boarding at B42, which means near the end of the next-to-last boarding group. I found a window seat at the back and crawled over an old man to get to it. Behind me was a woman and her 9-year-old son, who she desperately wanted to sit next to on the flight, but there were no more open neighboring seats left by the time she got on. The flight attendants started asking if someone would give up their seat, but nobody did. They offered a free drink and still nobody did. I decided I would help, just as the flight attendant was offering 4 free drinks, and the old man next to me was lecturing the mother on the virtues of priority boarding. Fortunately for me, the elderly Jewish couple across the aisle let me sit in their window seat, and they compressed toward the aisle. When it came time to ask for drinks, though, I only wanted water. The flight attendant was disappointed because she wanted to reward me for helping out, but water’s free anyway.

Arrival was also smooth. I disembarked from the plane, walked over to baggage claim, saw my suitcase coming toward me on the carousel, picked it up, and walked outside. My phone needed to be rebooted after airplane mode, and I needed to walk a bit to get signal, but I was able to text Castor that I was ready for pickup. One minute later, I see his red Hyundai rolling in. I was loaded up and driving away from the airport within 5 minutes of leaving the plane. Fortuitous timing!

Castor’s house was no longer in a state of construction. They had their new bathroom exhaust fan installed and working, and the mirror reinstalled. They had even equipped the guest room with a desk for my computer. Nice!

Our first day at GENCON was Thursday, which we started at 9am on the field of Lucas Oil Stadium, where we played a DC Heroes deck building game with an expansion set. I didn’t know what was in the expansion set so I had no way of developing a winning strategy. My record dropped to 1-1.

After that we had Island Noodles with Chicken, consuming them while sitting on the carpeted hallway floor of the Indianapolis Convention Center. We were scheduled for a couple of writing seminars, but they were too far away and we were hungry. After that, we headed off to the Mariott Hotel for a Pathfinder game where we played Christmas monsters and tried to save Santa. That was pretty fun. Afterward, we went to Mikado for dinner and had a nice meal. Then we went back to Lucas Oil Stadium, where we played a Pathfinder tournament where we were tasked with playing villains and sent on several personal missions. That was a painful challenge. After that, we went home and slept.

Bright and early the next morning, Castor and I set off for the convention again. We had 3 hours of writing seminars with Drake. I realized I need to study the Hero’s Journey a lot more. Castor became excited about writing the Metaverse story again, and I had an idea to introduce an old and wise character to help my main character out when he gets too deep into trouble. We wandered the sales floor a bit after that and made a couple purchases before heading to World Market for lunch and then home for a nap. We got up from that to go to Matt’s house for Castor’s regular Pathfinder game, in which he plays a Paladin/Rogue. I played Mike Chambers’ Crane-style Monk. We did alright, but we didn’t leave there until 12:27am and got home around 1am.

We got up Saturday morning at 6am because Castor had all the tickets to the Pathfinder Society game we were playing at 8am. Mike, Alan, Isaiah, Castor, and I (and one other guy) did an intro to PFS adventure. I didn’t get a PFS number until afterward. Next time, though, I’ll be ready! Castor and I had lunch at Harry & Izzy’s, which is across the street from Mikado. It’s a fancy steakhouse with a famous shrimp cocktail with spicy horseradish sauce that burned your sinuses out. I had a hard time deciding between the chicken Caesar salad and the BBQ chicken, finally settling on the latter. After that, we bought some more stuff, watched a little bit of the cosplay parade, and went home. We went to Texas Steak House with Carla for dinner, and I got the Caesar salad I’d been eyeing for lunch.

Sunday was an easy day. We started slow, hit the convention center around noon, spent about 3 hours buying too much stuff, and then headed back home. Castor let me copy some of his media files. I played a little guitar. We talked until late.

Monday morning I was up early. Packed, showered, dressed, and ready by 6:30am. Castor cooked me breakfast and then dropped me off at the airport. Check in was a breeze, and I spent the flight sitting next to a cute little Chapman College student and her mom.

Getting back to my car was another story. It took 45 minutes for the shuttle to pick me up. I didn’t get my car out until after 1pm and it cost nearly $100. It’s almost cheaper to get a shuttle from my front porch. Then I had to drive home, and that took another couple hours due to a couple of major crashes on the 405 and 101. Got home, unloaded the car, and slept for 2 hours!

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Pathfinder 4

Got together at Greg’s place to finish up our first Pathfinder campaign. The guys charmed the shock troops, took out the chief, and hit 2nd level.

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I flew out to Indy to hang out with Castor for GENCON 50!

The flight out was nice. Direct on Southwest. I spent most of the time writing my thoughts on improvements to our sequencing algorithm to better take into account the information we have regarding the user’s learning strength for a particular item.

Castor’s house was in a state of renovation. Wet paint and no mirror in the guest bathroom, so I ended up showering in Castor’s shower for all but the last day.

GENCON was fun. On Thursday we wandered the vendor floor before finding our game, which was a RPG based on the old City of Heroes MMO. It was fun. I was “Tech Support” the tech tank. Whenever I entered a battle, I yelled “Tech Support is here. What is your Customer Identification Number?” and they’d all try to attack me. It was funny.

Friday was a free day. We again wandered the vendor floor, ate some Island Noodles, and in the evening we went to Castor’s boss’ house (Matt) for their regular Pathfinder campaign. I played a mercenary named Cevalla who was formerly a caravan guard but was laid off once the caravan hit town. The first couple hours were an exercise in shopping and trivia, and I was stunned by the lack of wisdom on display. My proudest moment was when I cracked a situational joke in character that cracked up the entire table. That felt good.

First thing Saturday morning, we went to another Pathfinder game. This one was an advanced Legends of the Shining Jewel campaign that we were definitely not qualified for, so they redirected us to the noob table, let us choose a premade level 1 character, and set us off to save the beer festival at the town of Brexton. It was simple and easy. We took more damage from our 2nd level fighter’s critical fumbles than we did from the enemy.

The rest of Saturday was spent shopping for stuff. Then we went home and I talked with Sangeeta, and she made me feel horrible. I didn’t want to go home to that tempest of chaos and pain.

Sunday was just a shopping day. Got coffee in the morning and felt so much better. My optimism returned. We left early and stopped by an authentic Mexican restaurant for lunch, complete with shrink wrapped TVs blasting Ranchero Pop, a bunch of shouting dirty local Mexican workers, an adjacent carniceria, and a real crawly cockroach crawling on the bar. We went back to Castor’s place and ended the day with a Dungeon Crawl board game, which Carla won (of course).

I left Castor’s house on Monday morning, had a moderately leisurely breakfast, made a quick stop at Starbucks for a coffee, spent a bit of time in traffic on the way to the airport, spent 20 minutes to check my suitcase, 15 minutes to get through security, and missed my flight by one minute.

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Last Wednesday I started feeling sick. I went home a little bit early. Thursday it got worse, but still not bad, but it was still worsening, so I took Friday off and stayed home. Good thing I did! Friday night was horrible, and when I woke up Saturday morning I felt like I was dying by choking on thick phlegm. It took me quite a lot of effort to feel like I had coughed it all up. I took Saranya to BJJ, where she was awarded her BJJ yellow belt. I went home and suffered, trying to distract myself from the awful congestion.

Saturday night was worse. I slept for an hour and woke up choking. I decided I was done trying to sleep at night. I stayed up and played Minecraft, Empire, watched Youtube videos, watched a movie. I was cold but I didn’t want to wake Sangeeta up by running the heater so I just wrapped myself in my bathrobe. I did get a couple hours sleep in the morning, but Sunday was another awfulness. Sunday night I got another hour of sleep.

Monday, again, no work. I slept 3 hours in the morning. Starting to feel some improvement in the congestion! Stayed up until about 8pm, when I finally crashed out. Woke up at midnight, still congested but not dying. Went back to sleep at almost 4am and slept until almost 8am, so that makes two stretches of 4 hours each.

So Tuesday morning dawns and I’m feeling slightly congested but rested and optimistic. The scale says I gained about 5 pounds during the cold, and I’m not sure what that’s about. Probably all the salt from soup and pretzels.

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Pathfinder day 2

It was supposed to be this terribly rainy day, a Winter deluge of biblical proportions, and it was supposed to turn Kegel canyon into a soup bowl. I bought new windshield wipers on the way over. John arranged for a paved parking spot in his driveway, so I took him up on it. Greg, knowing his Corvette would be no match for the mud, carpooled with me. Serina unfortunately had to study and couldn’t game, though that probably saved her from an uncomfortable ride in the back of my tiny yellow Hyundai. I put the wiper blades on while he went on a quick store run. Greg and I had a useful mutual complaints session on the way over, since both our lives have been difficult lately.

Our arrival preceded that of my brother Rob. He’s been trying to spend more time with his kids, or get a haircut, or do anything really to get out of gaming. Or so it seemed to me. He did do a good job of gaming, and he even requested that I bring Journey Quest season 3 over to screen for the group. I guess he’s just got higher priority activities than gaming (like kids and haircuts, for example).

Anyway, Greg and I settled into John’s house, got him started baking lunch pizzas, and set up for gaming. When Rob ambled in, we got coffee and launched back into our Pathfinder adventure.

This adventure (like the last one) took place in the Black Swan adventure book “Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands” and for sure I bought it because the name was similar to “Keep on the Borderlands” that Rob and I played as our first RPG adventure back in 1980. Of course it’s nothing at all like the old adventure – this one takes place as the adventurers discover and infiltrate an old, abandoned keep in what has become wilderness. Last time, they’d discovered and set off an alchemical fire trap that had burned Greg’s fighter to almost-death, so this time they recovered and set of to discover what was behind the chained-shut doors.

It turns out there were spiders in there, and stairs up. It also turned out that there was a whole other page of description of the room that I didn’t see because it was in PDF form, so I learned my lesson. Buy the paper-form modules to run the adventures!

After we got tired of gaming, we watched Journey Quest season 3 and then everybody went home. It was about 8:30pm.

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Kitchen Faucet, Cabinets, and Kings

While watching the LA Kings play the San Jose Sharks tonight, I was also stripping off the remains of the peeling laminate that covers my kitchen cabinets. It’s a weird black nylon/plastic covering that looks like it was mostly never glued on at all. The cabinets were purchased from Ikea and installed by the previous owner of the house, and they’ve been falling apart for some time. The doors and hardware are all very solid, but the covering of the fake wood keeps peeling and wrinkling and bubbling and looking awful. We visited Ikea to see if we could get them replaced, but not only do they not make them anymore, they no longer even have any of them left over to replace them with. Moreover, their new cabinet designs use a totally different set of measurements, so we’d have to replace all our counter tops if we wanted to swap out the existing cabinets for the new models. Nope.

So I decided that we should have them painted. Sangeeta knows a guy who does handy man work and he agreed to paint them all for $500.

He also installed a new faucet in the kitchen. The old one became so corroded that the swivel hinge at the base could no longer swivel, so turning the faucet from side to side forced the connector nut to loosen, and the whole thing began to wobble. The new one went in in about an hour and a half (including a trip to OSH to buy a hose adapter so the little connectors to the new faucet could mate with the big connector on the hot water valve under the sink) and it’s pretty sweet.

Anyway, I was stripping the nylon laminate while the Kings were losing 2-1 and time was running out. I didn’t want to watch the Kings lose, but they came back and surprised me by scoring the tying goal with 12 seconds left in the game. Then, with less than a minute left in overtime, Marian Gaborik lasers the puck past Martin Jones (former Kings backup goaltender) for the game winner. Had the Kings lost in regulation, San Jose would have pulled to within 6 points in the standings. Instead, the kings pulled a little farther away, opening their lead to 9 points in the Pacific Division. Sangeeta and I cheered so hard that we woke Saranya up. Oopsie. :)

EDIT: I forgot to mention that earlier in the game I had installed our new Epson printer. The old one died a mysterious death where it would simply error as soon as the power was turned on.

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On Monday night, our lab went to Everett’s new apartment in K-town for Mr. Pizza. Joel regaled us with tales of his adventure in Ibiza, and then we all walked over to a Korean karaoke establishment. It was much fun! I had 1 glass of beer the whole night, and then drove people home safely. I got home and crashed at about 3am.

Tuesday morning I woke up at 7am, expecting a possible call from Nepal. The call didn’t happen, so I tried to go back to sleep. I was very uncomfortable and finally decided it just wasn’t working and I should get up and get coffee, but when I looked at the clock it was 9am. I’d slept 2 hours and didn’t even notice.

Tuesday evening I got home from work around 8pm with a few groceries I’d picked up on the way home. While putting them away, I spotted a cockroach on my refrigerator. Immediately I went into cleaning mode, cleared all the bags and boxes and plates and trays from the top of the refrigerator, and wiped the whole thing down with a hot soapy rag. It actually cleaned up pretty well, but while I was washing some of the big plates we’d stored up there, I turned and saw that I’d disturbed some more cockroaches. Even as tired and as hungry as I was, I was more angry that these little bastards were invading my living space, and I was determined to exterminate them all. I even tried to move the old refrigerator to clean behind it, until I started worrying that it might break.

Anyway, after all that effort I went to bed with one more clean area in the kitchen, and creepy crawlies in my head. I laid awake for 3 hours in the dark before my consciousness time traveled to morning. 5am. Allergies had kicked in. Coffee. World of Warcraft for my jc daily quest. Then some mindless travel while reading the news on the web, drinking coffee, and generally being a zombie. By about 10am I was again tired and went down for another shot at sleep. This time the dreams came almost immediately, and I knew I was dreaming because Saranya jumped on my back and tried to poke me in the eye like she often does, while Sangeeta yelled from the other room telling Saranya to leave me alone. I thought “oh, this must be a dream” and then it changed into something less memorable. After an hour of REM sleep though, I feel much much better.

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Blogging for no good reason

Anyone reading this blog will notice that I haven’t been sick much lately, so I haven’t been posting anything. Today I’m taking the time to remind my future self what I was thinking about and doing way back in June.

Sangeeta is getting ready to take Saranya to Nepal for a month. She’s got a week left to get everything ready, her car is in the shop with a major intermittent coolant leak that they can’t seem to find, and she just got addicted to Korean soap operas so she spends all day sitting in front of the computer watching them and reading the subtitles.

World of Warcraft is holding less and less of my attention. I still log on every day to do my jewelcrafting daily quest, and sometimes I take a break and do some Argent Tournament stuff. Oh, and I have calendar reminders to check and renew my Mysterious Eggs on 5 different characters. I can do all this while only actually paying attention to the game for as little as 30 minutes per day. The rest of my time I’m either programming, reading about programming, reading literature on human memory models, or studying math/statistics.

I’m the only employee of Insight Learning Technology, Inc. who’s not on vacation. I’m using the time to take cars back and forth for repairs, and to rework, refactor, and modernize all my PLM server code. I had to fake object orientation before, but PHP5 lets me write code the way I’m used to thinking about it. We’ve got at least two big projects coming up this summer, so I’m scrambling to get some of this background work done and tested before I have to focus on deliverables. The hope is that all this will make later projects easier.

I’ve been studying Psychological journals to see what other people have been doing in the field. Phil Pavlik and John Anderson have a nice model that predicts forgetting and recall time, and I think I’d like to adopt a similar model. Our system has a couple of arbitrary parameters, and I need to figure out a system for making them less arbitrary.

Whenever we create a new module for adaptive training, we have to decide what sort of performance reflects sufficient learning that the learner will be able to correctly answer the item (or an item from the same category) after a delay. We also have to determine the parameters that tell us approximately how long to wait after an item is presented before we show it again. Right now, these parameters are arbitrary and independent, but I think we need to come up with a system for not only generating these parameters automatically, but for relating them theoretically. That’s a path we’ve been loathe to tread, but access to funding for research in the field lies down that road, and we need to show our feet thereupon before the monetary gates will be opened to us.

Then there’s math and statistics. I’ve been looking at performance data from an earlier experiment, and trying to find a pattern of accuracy following particular patterns of problem presentation. I guess I need to learn some data mining and regression techniques to figure out the relationships. My lack of statistics background is holding me back, so I think I’m going to try to sit in on some classes next year.

If I still have a job…

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My New Moon project has gone into its playtesting phase! Finally, after four long and difficult years of planning, coding, scrapping, stealing, cajoling, manipulating, testing, redesigning, crying, and a lot of drinking, it’s almost ready to go.

Hopefully no catastrophic flaw will show up to sink it all again. This is the 3rd rewrite and I don’t know that I’d survive a fourth.

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New Moon work

Though I can’t go into any details yet, I can say that the work I’ve been doing on New Moon lately has come to the point where the whole system is working and being tested by other creators. So far so good. Yesterday I had to redesign the way things were laid out, and it involved several edits to dozens of files, for a grand total of several hundred edits. It made the system better integrated into the game though, and that’s important. I worked my butt off yesterday and got it all runnung. I’m so proud. :)

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