Austin Central Library Picked By TIME As One of the World’s Greatest Places

We’re all proud of Austin Central Library. It’s an impressive structure right by Town Lake in the heart of downtown, with a lot of great books, an event space, a rooftop butterfly garden, a “tech petting zoo” where visitors can try out new gadgets, and even a world-class collection of self-published lit with a focus on Austin ‘zines.

And get this: TIME Magazine has chosen it as the only American library to be listed in its 2018 “World’s Greatest Places.” Pretty cool.

There are only two places in Texas on the list. (The other is Morgan’s Inspiration Island in San Antonio.) Here’s the page for the library:

If you haven’t visited our local oasis of words, get down there ASAP. Any good game writer should of course be just as enamored with the written word as with digital entertainment.


Cheap Batteries? Are The Best Rechargeable Batteries In Your Trash?

cheap-batteriesI Found An Unlimited Supply of Cheap Batteries at the Library

Rechargeable batteries aren’t cheap. And buying and trashing batteries ain’t cheap either. But I think I’ve found a limitless supply of cheap batteries and I bet you can too.

The key is that most battery chargers don’t charge alkaline batteries, the most common kind of battery, the cheapest, and the kind that most often ends up in the trash. When people think of rechargeables, they think of NiMH (nickel metal hydride), NiCd (nickel cadmium), and Lithium batteries. And these rechargeables aren’t cheap.

Step One: Get a Charger That Recharges Cheap Alkaline Batteries

That’s right: this is an inexpensive battery charger at Amazon that costs less than $30 and recharges NiCd, NiMH, and alkaline batteries. It also has smart circuitry that recharges them appropriately for their chemistry and doesn’t overcharge them blindly. I’ve been using this charger for years with almost no problem. (The LCD display is a corroding a little.)

Step Two: Find an Unlimited Supply of Cheap Batteries

You might already have a lot of spent or half-spent cheap batteries lying around the house. If so, you know what to do.

If not, search the web for battery recycling locations in your area. Hardware stores, electronics stores, and libraries often have battery recycling as a public service.

For me, the motherlode was the public library. There are all kinds of goodies in that bin, and fortunately it’s just a little blue recycling trash bucket that I can easily sort through. (You may want to pick your cheap battery source carefully so you won’t have to dig into anything awkward.) I found not only tons of alkaline batteries of all sizes, but also some nice NiMH rechargeables.

Of course, there are some caveats. Some of the batteries in the bin can be falling apart, and some may look new but have faulty chemistry so they don’t hold a charge. Make sure to inspect your new cheapo batteries carefully to ensure they aren’t cracked or discolored; those aren’t worth taking home to recharge. Any dark spots in the casing are indications that the guts are leaking through a crack. Leave those behind to be recycled as God and the engineers intended.

Step Three: Charge and Enjoy

You are now living large as a card-carrying member of the electrified elite. No more buying pounds and pounds of batteries at Costco and feeling guilty about contributing to the death of the planet. No more thrashing around looking for an elusive live AAA battery for a new device. Congrats!


How to Harvest LR41 Watch Batteries from Junk Mail

In the Geek Skills category of Game Writer Central, I’m happy to announce this new lifehack: converting junk mail into value…!

LR41 Watch Batteries in Your Mailbox

free-watch-batteriesIf you’re in the right neighborhood, you’ve been getting an occasional giant postcard with a little plastic “sweepstakes” gadget attached, like this one. Mine comes from my local generous Nissan dealer. In theory, you pull out the tab from the gadget and it’ll show you your winning sweeps number or whatever.

If you’re like me and you don’t want to buy a new car, you are tempted to pitch this advertisement. Don’t!

The Gadget Is Junk

Admittedly, the gadget is not even the secure electronic device it’s designed to emulate. The digital display is actually fake; there are no LED digits and the number is the same for every single recipient.

free-watch-batteryHowever, it is a lighted display and the little unit does have an LED light to illuminate. And that display is powered by two shiny new LR41 watch batteries.

If you get one of these ads, don’t pitch it until you pry the gadget open and salvage those nice batteries…! Ordinarily these sell for about $1 to 3 each. If you can’t use them, give them away to friends or on Craigslist. Enjoy!


Chrome Doesn’t Trust Google

A few days ago I tried an innocent Google search in Chrome — “master lock 141q” — and Chrome told me that presented a certificate issued by an mysterious entity (the Elder Gods, I assume) that is not trusted by my operating system, aka Android.


Essentially, Chrome doesn’t trust

Chrome, please help me understand.


Hilton Hhonors Royally Botches Password Security

password-resetHow Not to Handle Password Security

Recently Hilton’s Hhonors loyalty program asked me to reset my password in their attempt to increase security. Makes sense, after high-profile security breaches at several online websites like They dangled a 1000-point reward for early action so of course I hopped over and reset my password.

Today I had need to log in to Hhonors and found that my password (saved via a password assistant, so definitely correct) was not accepted. I requested a password reset email, completed the process properly, and got a failure message. So I had to call customer service.

They informed me that the new passwords have to be exactly eight characters, only one capital letter, only one number, and no special characters. Their new “system” didn’t work with any variations, or longer passwords. Not only that, but the password reset screen is inaccurate; it tells customers that it accepts a much wider (and more secure!) set of password variations, including 8+ characters and special characters.

No One’s Happy

This is a total fail. Hhonors is forcing everyone to choose insecure passwords; eight letters plus one number is an easy password to crack. Customers who use more secure passwords are then locked out of their accounts. Customer service is bogged down with unnecessary calls, having to tell customers about password rules that aren’t even on the password reset page.

So in short: Less security. Unhappy customers. Unhappy customer service. And an inaccurate website that wastes my time.

In my opinion, any public system that doesn’t accept special characters or long passwords is run by an incompetent CTO. Period. In 2015, there is no excuse for forcing your customers into less-secure accounts.


I For One Welcome Our New Tolkien-Savvy Late Night Overlord, Stephen Colbert

stephen-colbert-tolkien-overlordAll Hail Stephen Colbert, Tolkien Overlord

Stephen Colbert is a walking, talking Tolkien robo-freak? Who knew?

I mean, he is the epitome of the talented, charming uber-nerd, but I for one had no idea his credentials were quite so authentic. Colbert turns out to have major Tolkien cred, although sadly his secret supergeek origin story is not particularly cheery: Colbert reportedly immersed himself in Tolkien and D&D after the tragic death of his father and two siblings in the crash of Eastern Airlines Flight 212.

So on to the actual details: firstly, if you have a Tolkien research project, Stephen Colbert is your dream encyclopedia, being comprehensive, witty, and decidedly random-access. Says Peter Jackson, “I have never met a bigger Tolkien geek in my life… I have to say, his encyclopedic knowledge of Tolkien is spectacular, and points to a deprived childhood in some respects.” Apparently he bested Jackson’s resident Tolkien expert in a Tolkien trivia contest.

And secondly, after a visit to the Peter Jackson set, Colbert was invited back to cameo — along with his family — in Desolation of Smaug.

Congrats to Colbert, who of course will soon be replacing Letterman as one of the major stars in the late night firmament.

And a Semi-NSFW Videogame Thread You Must See

Appropos of nothing, I stumbled across this ridiculously funny thread on Giantbomb recently where various gamers describe their sex lives using the titles of various videogames.

Some of these are gutbusters, including “World of Goo” (!!!!!), “Super Meat Boy,” “Alone in the Dark,” “Petz: Horse Club,” “Touch My Katamari,” and “Half-Minute Hero”.

That’s what she said, indeed.

Oh wait — I am indeed genius because Stephen Colbert was Steve Carrell’s friend and understudy at Second City. Appropos of Colbert, baby!


Bing Wants You To Eat a Motsu Pod

motsu-podAs some of you know, I do a fair amount of work in the world of Local SEO or “LSO”. That is, I help clients optimize their data so that they appear in map search engines for phrases like “Detroit florist.”

Today I was greatly amused by some of the categories Bing provided for businesses to self-categorize. (For you LSO geeks out there: they now accept a bulk feed, by the way.) You may not know what a motsu pod is, much less have a yearning to sink your teeth into one. Google doesn’t know what it is, and neither does Wikipedia. However, if you have a motsu pod restaurant, Bing has a business category just for you.

Here are some other categories that you could dominate on Bing:

  • Shabu shabu restaurant
  • Oden restaurant
  • Ship restaurant (is this a restaurant on a ship? a restaurant shaped like a boat? an obscure cuisine? or just a restaurant that serves planks and rigging?)
  • Andhra restaurant
  • Beef tongue restaurant.

Don’t get me wrong — I do enjoy beef tongue. It’s probably my second-favorite choice at the local burrito place. But have you ever seen a restaurant that specializes in beef tongue? What would such a restaurant be called? Cow Tongue Muscle Garden? The Cattle Lick? Bessie’s Busses?


Back Up Wordpress to Google Drive? Careful!

back up wordpress to google drive

Just a quick little rant about backing up your Wordpress blog to Google Drive.

I love this idea, but at the moment it’s an example of why you can’t always trust what you read in a quick Google search. Dig deeper, my geeks.

There are two Wordpress plugins that you’ll see scattered around in the top search results for this topic: Google Drive for Wordpress and the simplistically-named Backup. However, look a little closer at those pages on that describe the plugins.

Users rated GD4WP as a 3.6 out of 5, which is by no means stellar. 0 out of 1 of the most recent support threads have been address, and if you visit the support forum, you’ll see that most of the posters are angry or confused users posting responses to other angry or confused users. Backup is even worse, rated a 3.4 with a brutal 0 out of 5 support threads resolved.

I, for one, am about to install the much-less-touted UpdraftPlus Backup, which I found simply by searching plugins for “google drive” and ignoring unrelated plugins and the other two plugins mentioned here. I’m optimistic; it’s rated a 4.7, 60 out of 64 support threads have been resolved lately, and it’s got tons more downloads than the other two. If you guys want an update in a few weeks, let me know in the comments.


PS3 Controller Problems

Game Industry Denizens – Not Immune to PS3 Controller Problems

My PS3 controller’s started to cause me problems lately. It’s the “random dpad button presses” problem. I’m putting along, just trying to destroy digital things in my little fantasy worlds, and suddenly my avatar is changing weapons like a dervish and insulting all of my teammates in Fat Princess. I went from “least likely to be remembered” (well, except when I capture the little tower in front of the enemy castle, hee hee) to “that guy who won’t shut up” in about 30 seconds.

Ah, but the savvy consumer knows that Youtube is the place to go with your PS3 controller woes. Thanks to playstation2bigs and a fair amount of noodling with a thin Phillips-head screwdriver, my controller’s back in action. Although there were a few cat hairs inexplicably trapped inside the casing, my PS3 controller was pretty clean. I think the main problem was just bad design. As shown in the video, the contact between the dpad and the controller’s motherboard is quite delicate: it’s made by two plastic strips with copper contacts, pressed against each other. I’m amazed that more people don’t have problems, especially in humid areas or in sweaty little hands.

I didn’t even bother with the sticky tape as depicted by playstation2bigs — I simply folded up a little piece of paper and shimmed that connection with it. Bingo.

Note that the final re-assembly is a little dodgy too. The shoulder buttons may not want to sit properly when you fit the case back together, and if you force it, your shoulder buttons won’t spring back like they should. Just jimmy with it, making sure that the buttons have full clearance before you screw it back together. Best of luck to ya!


Newsflash: The Earth Isn’t Round

Hey, Somebody Sat On My Planet!

Kids, today we’ll talk about things astronomical, because videogame writers are such geeks.

First up, take a look at this lumpy dumpy planet we live on! I mean, I never expected Earth to be a perfect sphere, but this is an abomination. Newsflash: the earth isn’t round or square. Instead, it looks a bit like a mutant melon after a head-on encounter with a rampaging herd of bison.

I certainly expected the Andes to be tall and the Marianas Trench to be deep, but to see these elevations on a global scale is a bit disconcerting. I mean, the Pacific Rim sticks out like the world’s great schnozz.

This model was created using data from the European Space Agency’s GOCE mission. Pretty cool. You can see another version of the model on Youtube, which looks a bit more realistic but also lacks the cool angles of this video.

And of course you need to twiddle a bit with the brilliant Scale of the Universe animation. Humbling to see the sizes of everything compared on a simple slider that goes from .0000000001 yoctometers (!) to 900 Yottameters, aka the whole universe. And it’s all set to a lovely little musical score.