36th birthday: Great Race Cake Wreck!
(29 Sep at 08:17)
Sunday was my 36th birthday, and this year it coincided with the Great Race 10k. Last time that happened I ran it carrying a tiny cake, a feat that I guess no longer seems that difficult to me, and so this year I needed to increase the size of the cake.
It took about a day and a half to make. The cake's skelebones are made of cardboard and its bone adhesive is hot glue. You can see the tab-style construction approach in this in-progress pic:
Cake skeleton in 'wheels-up' configuration
The cake of course also needed to have actual cake! Rose baked almost all of the 17 cakes that adorned it, a scene kind of like this:
Some were mild caketastrophes and we did some America's Test Kitchen stuff to figure out whether it was a good idea to reduce the amount this ingredient or that one in order to get the most pliable and sturdy cake skin, but we didn't keep any notes or nothin' like that. We also made 6 pounds of frosting, which was not nearly enough.
Due to lack of forethought, the cake cardboard was so big that I couldn't fit it out of any of the doors of my house except turned on its side (and then just barely). But thanks to midthought, I did that ahead of adding any cake, which would not have tolerated rotation, and assembled it in the garage. It looked like this:
I did have to use the ladder to put the candles in
How could 6 pounds of frosting not have been enough? The "imagine cake here" stuff I wrote on the cardboard as an insurance policy against the eventuality that the cake would fall off while running. I really didn't have a lot of confidence in the vertical cakes, which were just attached with string and frosting. And if I was just going to be running around in a dirty cardboard box, I wanted people to at least have some hope of puzzling it out after I passed, like "Wait—I think it said something about cake on it? What does 'erstwhile' mean?" But it turned out my cakestimate was off, and we wouldn't have had enough ingredients anyway, so the bottom layer went without cakes (I put some insulation foam down there which you can see in a later picture).
Which was probably for the better. The skeleton was already sagging under the weight and the butter soaking into its paper joints.
That night I barely slept due to cakemares. These were not performative fears, but two main worries: That I would wake to find the cake had collapsed under its own weight, yielding deflcakegate, or that an enterprising ant would have found its way up the sawhorse legs to discover the motherlode, and I'd wake to find the costume teeming with millions of ants. Third worry: both scenarios. But in the morning it was fine, a simple team-lift effort, using the knees and not the lower back, to get it on me. I immediately realized that I was going to need a mouth hole, which I cut from the inside out, since it would not be easy to get that thing off again.
I stepped on a bathroom scale before and after to weigh in. The edifice was 30 lbs.
No longer a need to smile for photos
Since it also wouldn't fit in a normal car, we walked to the start, about 2 miles up the hill known as Squirrel. We got there pretty early, and managed to get it off for 20 minutes while we waited for the race to start.
This was probably the worst first mile of any costume I've done. Most of the other costumes are things you might reasonably wear walking for a short distance, and just get hard because of how they destroy your body. This one was really hard to start, and I was trying to keep it from ripping apart, and of course had not spent any time thinking about race ergonomics, so it was just bouncing its weight on my shoulders with each step. The shoulders got sweaty, the cardboard got softy, and tore, and some people were like "Looks like it's time to give up the cake! Do you need some help getting it off?" and I'm like "I'm not giving up!!". I had a bunch of weird arm techniques like where I'd lean backwards into the cake with my head and neck and push my elbows into my belly so that my hands would be rigid tripod legs, or where I'd lift the whole cake onto straight-up arms to breathe for a sec (but then I couldn't see), etc. Eventually the head came off except for a small cardboard tendon, and I looked like this:
Oops, forgot that I needed to smile again
But the flip side is that as cake fell off, it became lighter and somewhat easier. I decided to make a point to not actively shed cake, but when it did fall of of its own accord I was fine with that. In the last half, more and more hit the street, and it became plausible again to put the head back on and hold the bottom of the costume up with my elbows or whatever.
By the end of the race, it was light enough that I could run almost at a pace that one would call "running". I'm in this video crossing the finish line at about 8:30. My official time was 1h21m55s, slow of course but not all that bad. There's also some humorous coverage in local news. I'm sore in pretty weird ways today!
This is the busiest time of year for me at work, so I haven't had much time to finish and projects, and I try to spend that energy on non-computer stuff. (Up now, to complement the wood work: Welding!) My NES emulator stuff is very nearly finished and about to pay off, though I'd be surprised if I have a video put together before November. One day I will have lots more free time. For now I am boring!
I do also unwind with video games, for which I have some short recommendations and non-recommendations:
Crypt of the Necrodancer Wow, I loved this game! The pitch sounds ridiculous: A cross between Dance Dance Revolution and dungeon-crawlers like Rogue. But somehow, it really works great. The music is not complicated; with a few exceptions you pretty much just have to take a step on every beat. And all but crazy people just play on a keyboard, not a real dance pad. It seems so daunting at first, but you start to learn how to use the items right, and the patterns of the enemies, and you realize it has a lot of depth and it's possible to be really, really good at it, and then that next achievement you thought you'd never even attempt starts to seem attainable. It's not quite as polished and balanced as Spelunky, but it might be half as good as that game, which is saying a lot.
Axiom Verge was a very good "Metroidvania" (I hate this genre name and like to call it "exploration platformer", but nobody knows what that means). It has great controls and gets loads of details right (like tuning and timing certain sound effects to the music). Some flaws, but about as good as, say, Metroid Fusion, which is impressive given that it was all made by a single person.
Inescapable, on the other hand was billed as the "best Metroidvania I didn't play", which as far as I know used to be true, but I played it and it was super disappointing. To give you some sense: There are only three different enemy sprites in the game, and two different types of environments; the rest is made up with palette switches. Not worth it.
Please, Don't Touch Anything Is a mostly straightforward single-screen clicky adventure to find all the endings. But it is short and charming and has great graphics and music, plus shout outs to a bunch of favorites of mine.
Battlefield: Hardline. I still play pretty much every first-person shooter that comes out, and almost always enjoy them whether they're good or bad. This one was only "OK"; some cute stuff but not nearly as impressive (neither technically or in art direction) as Battlefields 3 and 4. It was weird that you are supposedly a cop and can arrest people, or you can just shoot everyone you see, and never face any repercussions or even like personal regret. I only tried the single player. I banned myself from multiplayer in Battlefield and Call of Duty after I somehow found myself grinding for hours a day in order to get a service star (100 kills) for every weapon (75 of them). After I finished I promptly deleted the game in disgust and never looked back.
TIS-100 Is a strange game that I can't imagine anyone liking unless you're a programmer (and if you like it, you are a programmer and should consider also programming computers). But it is good programming puzzles on a weird computer. The main disappointment for me was that while programming for old limited architectures is really fun even in the modern era, using old software tools is not. Manually renumbering instructions instead of like using a symbolic assembler just felt like a chore. Still, recommended.
Some others I played recently and liked: The Talos Principle, La-Mulana, Kentucky Route Zero, Rex Rocket.
IN OTHER NEWS, The Great Race 10K is on my birthday again this year. Last time it was on my birthday I ran with a cake and last year it was balloons. I have a few candidate ideas, but nothing has quite stuck in my mind yet, so if you have suggestions, let's hear 'em!
In post #1116 I presaged a new danger: That I would get into woodworking and want to make all the furniture in my house. This seems to be happening. Currently up are speaker stands for my office, which are replacing stacks of CDs in milk crates. Here is a complete one in situ:
Sweet Max Payne mouse pad!
I found out that woodworkers consider screws to be cheating, because they aren't strong enough and they're too easy. I'm a big fan of considering things cheating, so what's new here is that this is all glue and joinery construction, specifically there are lovely looking finger joints:
Finger joints, also known as box joints, red oak
The different colors just come from the fact that the end grain stains differently than the side, which I am very happy with. Just glue and a very tight fit are holding those together, and it's strong enough to stand on. The fingers I cut with a home-made jig, of course, made out of scrap MDF. It looks like this:
Home-made MDF finger joint jig
There's a test piece clamped in there right now, but normally you'd have some nice oak board squared up with the surface, and then route out the finger gaps with a 3/4" router bit. The spacing is achieved with gage blocks (you can see them in the back, labeled 1–10). You can also observe my new sub-hobby, which is 3D printing adapters so that I can plug my crap shop vac into power tools for dust extraction. You can just buy a jig that makes finger joints but that's cheating.
Also in this project I have some mortise-and-tenon joints for the structural shelf in the middle. That looks like this:
The other side is even sloppier
The tenons, which do their jiggery pokery into the wood holes, needed to be rounded, since the router can only really cut round slots. I made a jig for that too. It looks like this:
3D-printed tenon jig
Here the router has a plastic guide bushing that follows the plastic template in order to cut the appropriate u-shape. It actually works much better than I thought until you get impatient and take too deep of a cut and the router kicks a little. I made a metal one for the next round, which may work better.
I know this is not impressive to real wood-workers, but I am having fun! And in the year 2025, you will be invited to visit my home and it will be decorated with autobespoke, rectilinear creations.
Next week is the ICFP Programming Contest, which I've marked off on my calendar this year, and in three weeks Ludum Dare #33, which I plan to do as well. I am still putting many hours a week into my Nintendo AI work, but it is slow going.
Ah, June, you so short! My free time is all tied up with secret projects, so not much fun to report there. One is the continuation of the NES AI work, which I'm happy has finally passed Alphabetical Star Wars in views on YouTube so is rightly back on top as my most popular artwork. I really do enjoy working on NES stuff, even though there have been like a hundred hours of slog on this particular boring piece. When it's done, which should be soon, expect several diverse artworks along those lines. I'm excited for that part.
What else? I guess I never mentioned here that my weird art game Entire Screen of One Game was part of an honest-to-goodness modern art show at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. (Here's the program for proof!) I happened to be traveling to Paris that week in April for the Marathon already, so I was able to attend the opening. Pompidou is really great; I think my favorite museum that we visited in Paris, and attending for an art show as one of the artists was pretty surreal. Here's my favorite photo:
Everyone agrees that this is art, and this stance affirms that one should not touch art.
Here we have some legitimate art critics and administrators (I think the one in the front is the former secretary general of France) observing my game just dropping rectangles hoping that someone will interact with it. No dice. This was common throughout the night, people contemplating it like I sometimes do when standing at a museum staring at weird art when people are being quiet and serious, but not doing the basic act that allows you to access the game's essence, which is to press the arrow keys. I found that amusing. There were some kids there who knew what to do, and to their credit, a few very well-dressed adults touched it. The curator was nice enough to talk to me for a long time, since he was the only one I knew there, and it was clear that he understood the "joke" (which is to say, the art). The exhibit ("The museum of bugs") itself was actually quite good, with some favorites I recognized (such as Peter Molydeux's excellent tweets) and some new stuff I hadn't seen. Two memorable ones included a live-action video of a technical jumpsuit-clad dude faithfully reenacting what I think was a Tom Clancy Rainbow 6 character moving in third-person through narrow corridors and drawing and holstering his gun, making awkward turns into walls, and making the uncanny valleyness of that kind of 3D game quite funny. I wouldn't have been able to keep a straight face; good job, guy. Another was a video of someone who drove off the road in some 3D racing game, and just kept going and going towards the horizon for ages, eventually driving through distant atmospheric effects and skyboxes, and then finally driving off the face of the earth and falling towards -inf forever. (Spoiler alert: The Earth is rectangular after all!)
More old news! Do you remember this eleven-year-old post? Of course not! Well, eleven years ago the Computer Science Department at CMU, where I was then a grad student, finally decided that they needed a logo. They held a contest and I submitted two designs. One was "Star Wars" which after a short passage of time I decided was ugly and regretted (the idea is not too bad, but the lumpy S is revolting). The other was "University Style," which is far superior:
CMU Computer Science Department logo
This one is austere and has and plenty of CS appeal: You've got the fact that it's rotationally symmetric; it teaches you a very efficient way to pack the letters C, S, and D, which could yield some kind of gang hand sign but you'd have to be careful that when you made it you do it backward from your perspective because despite the rotational symmetry you still want the viewer to be reading it as CSD and not CZD; it's got this interlocking plugs kind of thing, etc. However, when they finally did the voting, they only had the "Star Wars" one on the ballot. And then months passed and a winner was not announced (rightly so, in my opinion). END OF STORY. A LOGO WAS NEVER PICKED.
Just kidding: William and I replaced our paper office door sign that announced its contents with a slightly different one that was official-looking and used the favored CSD logo above. There may have been a few friends that did this too. It was there for about 5 years. Then when the department moved into the new CS building (I had just graduated) there were no signs for people's doors, and so someone (Rob? Michael Ashley-Rollman?) used that logo to make a template for the signs and basically everyone had the logo on their door; it became the official-ish one for another 5+ years. (BTW if you are looking for this logo, please grab the vector version.)
And now, a few months ago, I found out that the logo had been canonized during the process of redesigning the CSD web site, which has finally launched. So now it is basically the department's official logo! HAPPY END!