Baba is You: good but hard puzzle game

David and I are finished with (see below) Baba is You, which is a pretty neat puzzle game that is also quite hard and seems unfair at times, although it isn’t.

The gist of the game is that you’re on a two-dimensional game board and the rules of the current level are laid out as words that you can move around. WALL IS STOP is a common rule, for example, that means your character can’t move through walls, but if you break up that rule then you can. (BABA IS YOU is another common rule meaning that you control Baba 🙂 )

It’s a neat idea for a game, and while the metarules are pretty simple, the rules themselves quickly get complicated due to the number of words that are introduced. For example, the order that rules get applied in matters, and there are so many rules that I found it hard to keep track of. (this may be one disadvantage to playing through games slowly, which is something we have to do right now because of kids and whatnot) Moreover, on the more complicated levels it really feels like there’s only one way to solve the level, which is kinda disappointing.

There are also over 200 levels, and David and I did maybe 120 or so before we finally decided to call it quits because it felt more like work than fun. But there were definitely some levels that I felt very clever about having solved them.

It’s kind of neat – when I started playing the game I thought “that’s a neat gimmick but being able to change rules doesn’t seem too powerful”, then after a few levels I moved to “Baba is like a god among men, how can this game ever be hard”, and then the game quickly showed me how to do so 🙂

Also kudos to the developer for making it incredibly easy to undo moves!

The MVP Machine: How Baseball’s New Nonconformists Are Using Data to Build Better Players review

The MVP Machine: How Baseball's New Nonconformists Are Using Data to Build Better Players

The MVP Machine: How Baseball’s New Nonconformists Are Using Data to Build Better Players by Ben Lindbergh

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a pretty interesting book about the data revolution in baseball. One of the main people it follows is Trevor Bauer, who as an Astros fan (and non-crazy person) I guess I’m obliged to dislike? But the stuff he’s done has been pretty interesting.

Honestly I should have liked this book more than I did – it covers a wide range of topics and it’s pretty well written – but I struggled to get through it. Maybe I’m getting tired of baseball books? But if you’re at all interested in modern baseball I’d recommend it.

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Beyond Behaviors: Using Brain Science and Compassion to Understand and Solve Children’s Behavioral Challenges review

Beyond Behaviors: Using Brain Science and Compassion to Understand and Solve Children's Behavioral Challenges

Beyond Behaviors: Using Brain Science and Compassion to Understand and Solve Children’s Behavioral Challenges by Mona Delahooke

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The main idea of this book is that when kids are having behavioral issues, adults tend to see them as “top-down” where the child is choosing to misbehave for some reason. But often, what’s happening is “bottom-up”: the child has something deeper going on and it comes out via misbehavior, and to really fix the bad behavior you need to address the underlying problem. Just trying to give stickers for good behavior and punishing bad behavior isn’t going to help anything! (this is also not a huge surprise given the rewards book)

He uses a color shorthand to categorize a child’s state of arousal: green means the child feels safe and connected and able to learn; red means the child is like the “fight” in “fight or flight”, often with a rapid heartbeat, sweating, etc.; blue means the child feels in extreme danger and may have a slow heart rate and breathing rate.

There’s a lot of useful stuff if you have a child with a problem – since I was reading it just for information it was a bit tedious to get through. I think the main takeaway is that kids (especially young ones) just don’t have much control over their emotions and actions, and you have to help them by making them feel safe instead of expecting them to be able to do something they just can’t. Which is valuable!

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Stories of Your Life and Others review

Stories of Your Life and Others

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got clued in to Ted Chiang’s work by watching the movie Arrival, which is an amazing(*) movie based on the titular short story in this collection. And these are quite good sci-fi stories of just the kind I like – what if was true, how would it change the world? How would we react and adapt to it?

Quick rundown of some “awards”:
– Best world-building: Tower of Babylon
– Weirdest: Seventy-Two Letters (Part of the premise was neat and the other part was, umm, pretty weird!)
– Most thought-provoking: Liking What You See: A Documentary

*) – full disclosure, I watched it a few months after the birth of my daughter so I was pretty sleep-deprived, but I’m pretty sure it’s still very good!

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The Mueller Report review, and the 15 pages you should read!

The Mueller Report

The Mueller Report by Robert S. Mueller III

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

OK! So I finally read(*) the Mueller report. I’ve seen some snarky takes about how you can’t trust Americans to read anything before. Folks, it’s 470 pages long and while it’s not full of legalese, it’s still not the easiest read. There are definitely some interesting parts but it was kind of a slog.

But, you don’t have to make my mistakes! If you want to read the most important stuff without slogging through the whole thing, here’s what I’d recommend:
Skip Volume 1 – Volume 1 is all about Russia’s interference in the presidential election and its interaction with the Trump campaign. There’s nothing terribly conclusive here, although if you’re interested you can read the executive summary (10 pages) which includes a summary about what Russia did.
Read Volume 2’s executive summary (10 pages) – Volume 2 is about obstruction of justice, and the executive summary briefly describes the 11(!) events that might be obstruction of justice. I don’t think there’s anything actually new here, but reading them all back to back had quite an effect on me. (also, kudos to the New York Times and Washington Post – basically everything they wrote about this stuff is confirmed here!)
Read Volume 2 Section 1A (5 pages)- this describes what is necessary for something to be obstruction of justice. Fun fact: it is not nearly as strict as I had thought! If you, say, tell your lawyer to fire the special counsel that’s investigating you, and he doesn’t do it, that can still be obstruction. Even if your conduct would otherwise be lawful, if your motive is improper that can still be obstruction.

Reading those two things back to back made me pretty darn convinced that the President committed obstruction of justice. You’re welcome to read more details about the stuff in Volume 2, or the long parts about the constitutional issues involved, but in retrospect it really wasn’t necessary.

Anyway, I’d really recommend you read at least those parts – I picked up a copy on my Nook for 99 cents, I’m sure there are ones for the Kindle, and there’s a free PDF if you’d rather read it on a bigger screen.

(*) – Fine, I actually skimmed the last 10% or so…

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The Witness: a good puzzle game!

David and I have been slowly playing through The Witness in our copious spare time, and we finally finished! A basically spoiler-free review follows:

It’s a good game! It is kinda Myst-like, in that you wander around the world solving puzzles, but solves some of the things that annoyed me about Myst – it’s mostly clear what are puzzles and what are not, and it’s usually obvious what solving a puzzle does. Now that I write those words you might say “but that doesn’t sound like Myst at all!” and, well, fair point. But it has that same sense of mystery and lonesome wandering.

The puzzles themselves are pretty creative – there’s basically one type of puzzle which a bunch of variations. The best part of the game is the fact that there’s no real tutorial; you get thrown into the game and get to use inductive reasoning to figure out the rules and what the heck is going on. The feeling of staring at a puzzle trying to figure out what’s going on and getting that moment of inspiration is really powerful!

Stepping back for a minute, a common trope in video games is getting the ability to do more things as you progress. Metroid in particular is the canonical example to me – you start out and you run into a door that won’t open without the ice beam, so you go a different direction. Later on, you find a chest with the ice beam in it, say “yay!” and eventually go back to the door and open it.

The Witness manages to do this but with knowledge. Your character doesn’t get any more powerful, but you learn how to solve more and more types of puzzles. Often we could guess the idea behind a puzzle but not quite all the details, and then once we did learn the rule we felt more powerful!

We only cheated a few times – one time we had used some incorrect logic, and there was one zone in particular that just went on and on and on (highlight for spoiler: *cough*underground part of the desert*cough*) But overall I was proud of us!

I will say that the meta-story behind everything was kinda disappointing, and if you do play and beat the game I would recommend you look at a walkthrough to make sure you get the “real” ending. But if you like puzzle games it’s a good one!

Positive Populism: Revolutionary Ideas to Rebuild Economic Security, Family, and Community in America review

Positive Populism: Revolutionary Ideas to Rebuild Economic Security, Family, and Community in America

Positive Populism: Revolutionary Ideas to Rebuild Economic Security, Family, and Community in America by Steve Hilton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was a gift, and when I saw the author was a Fox News host I was quite confused. But he grew up in the UK, so he’s a European-style conservative.

And to his credit, there are some pretty good ideas in here! Some of my favorites are: more local (i.e. neighborhood) control over things that make sense, a national service program, more help/resources for parents, serious antitrust enforcement, getting rid of noncompete clauses, and a living wage(!).

There are also some less-good ideas: in particular he’s proudly a nationalist (not a white nationalist, mind you), and he was strongly pro-Brexit when he worked in the UK. And he’s enthusiastic about “green/brown” zoning, which means that land is either zoned for nature (like a park) or for any sort of development. (I don’t really know how to feel about that. Maybe it’s good?)

The book has almost a verbal tic about “elites” – it goes on and on about how elites are trying to keep you, the people, down, and it’s a bit excessive and maybe even a little dangerous.

One amusing running thread is that in the introduction he talks about how liberals and conservatives are both wrong, and only by looking for pragmatic solutions can we find things that will benefit the people. This is the kind of thing that sounds great but breaks down pretty quickly. For example, in the section about health care he says that
– Democrats want universal coverage
– Republicans want competition and consumer choice
– There have been some scandals in England’s NHS (National Health Service); it’s not so great!
– But actually people in England are very proud of the NHS despite its problems
– And obviously people shouldn’t go bankrupt because of medical bills
– So clearly the pragmatic middle ground is the government paying for healthcare, but the healthcare itself is provided by private doctors.
And I was like…umm, great, but this is clearly a leftist/Democratic position! Have you met the modern Republican party? You should watch some of the other shows on your network!

Anyway, there are a lot of interesting ideas here and it was a fairly easy read. Would recommend, even though I don’t agree with all of his policy ideas.

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