Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Series Trilogies

The Nancy Drew Girl Detective (and the Hardy Boys Undercover Brothers series) decided to switch to a trilogy format. No more standalone books! From here on out, every book is part of a trilogy!

This ended up being a bad idea, for two reasons. One, it's obvious that none of the ghostwriters were in contact with each other. It's hard to write a good entry in a trilogy, when you haven't read the other books in said trilogy. Two, the stories were not made for trilogies. They were generally two-book stories, which were stretched out into three books, by means of long recap, filler and repetition.

It seems that Sweet Valley High also decided to switch to a trilogy format, towards the end of its lifecycle! Except it was a "miniseries" format, not a "trilogy" format. The first one is about a serial killer, which ran for five or six books. The second one is also about a serial killer, which ran for five or six books.

I read the last two books in the first miniseries, and oh man. It is Filler City! This miniseries should have been three books, two books if the author was really on task, but it was stretched out into six. I can kind of understand why; they wanted the grand finale to be Book #100. But still, there is no way the story should have gone on so long.

I have hope that the miniseries format won't turn out to be completely awful. The publishers must have gotten the message that "stretch the story out as long as possible" is a bad idea, because afterwards, the miniseries are either two or three books long. After my experience with Nancy Drew Girl Detective, I'm happy about the idea of not stretching a two-book story out into a trilogy.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Changed Refund Amounts

People call the IRS, when the refund they got wasn't as much as they were expecting. Why does this happen?
  • You owe the IRS money. If you owe the IRS anything, they will take it out of your refund and pass the remainder onto you.
  • You owe the government money. If you owe the government money--usually state debt, student loans or back child support--the government will take the money out of your refund and pass the remainder onto you. These debts are handled by the Bureau of Fiscal Services, not the IRS.
  • Math error. If the math is wrong on your tax return, the IRS will fix it for you.
  • Bad social security number. If you put down the wrong social security number for someone on your return, the IRS won't accept it. The person will be taken off the return, which can have a cascading effect on your taxes.
  • Tax preparer fees. Some tax preparers will take their preparation fee, out of the refund. Some taxpayers will forget (or not know) that they agreed to let this happen.
  • Missing payment. If you tried to send the IRS a payment, but they didn't get it, they're not going to apply that payment to the taxes you owe. Same if you sent a payment, but it was applied to the wrong year or person.
  • Questionable item on your return. If one part of your return is questionable, but the rest of it is fine, the IRS might decide to send good part of the refund out, but hold onto the rest, pending further inquiry. Normally, this happens if there is good reason to believe someone is claiming a child that they shouldn't.
  • Computer error or processing error.
I could write a full blog entry on any of these things, but I figured it'd be better to keep it brief, rather than talk about IRS stuff for weeks on end.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Late Refunds

Why would an IRS refund be late? There are a few reasons.

1. Identity theft. That's the most common reason. Even potential identity theft can take a long time to resolve. If you're hit with identity theft, please be patient.

2. Manual refund. Sometimes, the IRS can't send out a refund like normal, and someone has to do it manually. That takes a while. This happens most often when the taxpayer is deceased, and therefore, the check has to be written out in someone else's name. "Someone requested a check be written out to someone other than the taxpayer" is a huge red flag for identity theft, as you'd expect. Also, as you'd expect, widows and widowers don't like having to wait extra time for their refund.

3. Computer error or processing error.

4. Your refund is super high. Congress has a special group, which oversees the release of huge refunds. I think the threshold is 10 million dollars or so. I guess it makes sense that Congress takes care of those refunds themselves, rather than letting the IRS do it.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

IRS Processing Times

Now that I'm not working for the IRS anymore, I guess I'm free to talk about what I did there! I worked in what you might call "the refund department". If your refund was late or different from what you expected, I would be the guy to call.

The IRS takes three weeks to process an electronically-filed return (sent through a computer), and it takes six weeks to process a paper return (sent through the mail). You can check the status of your return through the IRS website, the IRS mobile app, or the automated refund hotline. I have all this information memorized, because I probably had to say it six times a day.

IRS phone people aren't allowed to go into your account, until the processing timeframe has elapsed. That's because, 9 times out of 10, there's no information to see. It's a waste of time to verify someone's identity and go into their account, only to see absolutely nothing.

People will sometimes lie about when they filed their return, just to get the phone person to access the account. That doesn't work. If the phone person sees your return was received less than three weeks ago, they're not allowed to give out any information. Even if the information is something simple, like "we got your return 18 days ago, it's finished processing, and it goes out tomorrow." Nope! If that's the case, the phone person has to say, "we got your return 18 days ago, please wait three full weeks for processing."

I always felt bad for the people who mailed in returns, then called to make sure we got them. Sorry, but unless the six weeks have expired, the phone people aren't allowed to go into the account and check to see if a return was received. Like I said, 9 times out of 10, there's no information for the phone person to see. It could totally be the case that the IRS got the return and is processing it, but it still isn't reflected in the computer systems yet because it's only been five weeks.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Chicken and Dumplings

I decided to cook chicken and dumplings! The recipe is from Laura Howell, from Ashley Township High School, in Ashley, Illinois. Of course, this cookbook is from 1969, so I imagine she's no longer in high school.

The recipe says to simmer the chicken in water seasoned with salt, until it is tender. Simple enough.

In the meantime, you make dumplings. You sift 2 1/2 cups flouter, a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of baking powder. Then you cut in a 1/2 cup of shortening. I'm not sure what it means to cut in shortening, but I cut it into little cubes and got my hands super gross. In a separate bowl, you mix two beaten eggs with a cup of milk. You combine that with the other stuff. The recipe says to stir it, but I didn't notice that, and I mashed it all together with my hands. I got my hands super gross again. Maybe I used too much flour, because there was a fair amount left over, even when I combined all the wet material.

You flatten out the stuff on a board and cut into squares. Then you let it dry for 30 to 40 minutes. I'd recommend separating all the squares, so they don't get stuck to each other and form rows of dumplings. That's what happened to me.

The recipe then says to remove the chicken, then put the dumplings into the boiling broth. Whoa. What? The chicken was supposed to be boiling? The recipe said to simmer it!

So I boiled the water with the chicken inside as fast as I could, and I'm realizing just now that I was supposed to boil the water, then put the chicken in to simmer. Oh well. I let it simmer for 25-30 minutes, at the same time the dumplings were drying.

So you put the dumplings in boiling broth. Cook for ten minutes uncovered. Reduce heat to low, cover, then cook for ten more minutes. After that, you put the chicken in the pot again, and heat it whenever you're ready to serve it. The recipe ends there, but I'm sure you're supposed to drain the meal. I didn't, so it was kind of hard to get the food out. The recipe recommends 4 quarts of water, but I don't have a pot that big!

The recipe ended up okay. I mean, the chicken was fine, and the dumplings tasted like dumplings. So it was a success, despite all my little mistakes. If I ever cook it again, I'll know the right way to do it. And maybe I'll just make simmered chicken on my own. That was pretty good.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Cracker Barrel

The first Cracker Barrel on the west coast opened recently! I'm told it's a popular food chain in the rest of the country, but they don't have them in Oregon. Just like T.G.I. Friday's, Steak and Shake, Bob Evans, White Castle, Waffle House, Culver's, that place with the ice cream...

But hey, Cracker Barrel is no longer on the list! It must be popular with the rest of the country, because it was packed with out-of-staters. The restaurant has its own gift shop, which strikes me as a little tacky, and it has Southern-style cooking. I've never had Southern-style cooking, myself. The closest I've come to the South is Texas.

I normally get burgers wherever I go, but I went with the sampler platter. It had chicken and dumplins, which are like square noodles. Have you have chicken noodle soup? Dumplins taste like those noodles, except they're square and about the size of a half dollar. They also had grits, which looks like porridge and tastes like gravel. It's rough and has tiny pieces everywhere. I guess the idea is that you really have to chew it in order to eat it.

The rest of the meal was things I've had before. Meatloaf was good, although I'm the boring guy who likes bland meatloaf. As in, nothing in the meatloaf but meat. That's the way my mom made it. The ham was fine, and the cornbread was just like the cornbread in the Nancy Drew cookbook: no sugar. So I guess I have had Southern-style cooking before after all!

Overall, the restaurant is fine. I'd wait several months before going back, at least until the crowds die down.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Three Things Thursday

1. Last week, my main project was doing those book reviews. I did about sixteen! That's good progress, although obviously it'd be better if I did all of them. Going from twenty reviews left to four reviews left is great, though.

This week, my main project is finishing all the walkthroughs that have been recorded, but aren't ready to be posted. I finished Agatha Christie: Death on the Nile, which was the easy one; all I had to do was watch the videos and write descriptions. Captain Warlock and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Harbinger are much the same. Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance Nuzlocke and Phoenix Wright 6 case 4 are going to be harder; I have to do video editing and cropping for that.

2. I woke up early on Tuesday and wrote a walkthrough for Pocket Politics for GameFAQs. Great, now I don't have to remove "GameFAQs writer from 2000 to present year" from my resume!

3. I haven't read The Handmaid's Tale, but apparently they made a TV series out of it recently. I've seen some bigots use the series as the excuse to go on anti-Catholic rants, saying things like "all religion is evil" and "Christianity should be outlawed". As a Catholic, I'd like to respectfully disagree. In fact, I really like the theocratic government that Pope Francis runs. It appears to be doing much better than the democratic government that President Trump runs. Perhaps when the two of them meet this week, Pope Francis can give President Trump some pointers.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Old Clock Speedrun Planning 20

The first conversation with Emily in the game goes like this:

Emily: Nancy, hi! Welcome to the Lilac...a lot to me.
Nancy: (Generic nice statement. .3 seconds faster to mention Helen.)
Emily: You and I may not...people I know.
Nancy: (Generic nice statement. .7 seconds faster to say "thank you")
Emily: That's why I'm and your dad.
Nancy: (Asks about her dad or what kind of favor)
Emily: Your father has a safe, right?
Nancy: (Asks for more information. 1.6 seconds faster to ask a question.)
Emily: See this jewelry? (Shows it off to Nancy.)
Emily: I was hiding it...lock it up in his safe.
Nancy: (Asks about Jane or the situation in general)
Emily: Strange things have been happening...
(Conversation is interrupted)

There are only two points where the conversation diverges. First, when Nancy can say "My dad?" or "What kind of favor?". If you say, "My dad?", Emily says, "Helen says he's a lawyer.", then she shushes Nancy. If you say, "What kind of favor?", Emily shushes Nancy immediately. That's the faster option, by one second.

Second, Nancy can ask about Jane or the situation in general. If you ask about Jane, Emily says she doesn't want to get Jane involved, then she says "strange things have been happening...". If you ask about the situation in general, Emily talks about the strange things immediately. That's the faster option, by about 4.5 seconds.

So overall, you can save 8.1 seconds by picking the faster conversation options.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Old Clock Speedrun Planning 19

The boring part of speedrunning is doing the same conversations over and over again, to find the fastest way through them.

Nancy starts the game by talking to Jane. Jane says, "I bet my bloomers you're Nancy Drew." If Nancy says, "That's right. Are you Emily's guardian?", Jane says, "You got it. I'm Jane Willoughby." If Nancy says, "Emily told me your name. It's...", Jane says, "I'm Jane Willoughby." It's about a second faster to pick the second option, the one where Jane says less.

Then Jane and Nancy talk about pies and Nancy's father. Jane says Emily didn't say anything about Nancy's arrival. Nancy can ask, "Is it okay that I'm here?" or "She didn't?". Jane's response is the same either way. So again, it's about a second faster to pick the second option.

The third choice is trickier. If Nancy says, "Is she all right?", Jane responds with, "Well, now, that's hard to say. She misses her mom...". If Nancy says, "Maybe she's know, still thinking about her mom.", Jane responds with "She misses her mom...". That is, Nancy's shorter option is paired with Jane's longer response, while Nancy's longer option is paired with Jane's shorter response. It's about 0.4 seconds faster to pick the first option, where Nancy says, "Is she all right?".

With the fourth choice, Nancy can ask about Emily's father, or say "It was nice of you to say yes". It's about three seconds faster to say, "It was nice of you to say yes," because otherwise, Jane talks about Mr. Crandall for three seconds.

With the fifth and final choice, Jane's response is the same either way. She ends the conversation and tells Nancy to go upstairs. It's about 1.5 seconds faster to pick the second conversation option, "Help her do what?".

So overall in this conversation, there are two places where it doesn't matter which option you pick, because Jane has the exact same response either way. There are three places where Jane has the same response either way, but she says an extra sentence if you pick a particular option, so you have to pick the option that avoids the extra sentence.

Does that make sense? The fastest way through the conversation is to avoid having Jane say extra sentences. If you've got a place where she doesn't say extra sentences, then pick the option which is shorter.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Old Clock Speedrun Planning 18

Nancy's father calls her in this game, to ask her to visit the telegraph office, and to talk about the mystery. You can call him at the very start of the game, when you haven't met Emily yet. It's impossible for Nancy to talk to him about the mystery at this point. Does that save time?

Let's see. If you call at the start of the game, there are two breaks in the conversation. First, Nancy can say, "The car ran like a top" or "I thought I'd call you first". It's 4-5 seconds faster to select "I thought I'd call you first", because Dad has a shorter response to that.

With the second break in the conversation, you can choose "not yet" and "I wanted to call you first". Dad has the same response to both. So the only difference between the options is how long it takes Nancy to say them. "Not yet" is shorter, by less than a second.

Overall, if you pick the fastest options, the conversation takes about a minute and twenty four seconds. Maybe faster, if you can click on the phone and put money into the slot very quickly. If you do call him, Nancy will mention this in her opening conversation with Jane. That is, when Jane mentions Nancy's father, Nancy says, "I already talked to him, but thanks for the message." So that's about another three seconds added if you call dad first, bringing the total time to 1:27.

If you let Dad call you and end the conversation as soon as possible, the total time is around 1:24. So it's about three seconds faster to not call Dad. Plus, you save some money!

Well, boo and bullfrogs. If you call Dad first, the conversation is faster. But the time you save is cancelled out by the time spent waiting for the operator to connect the call and the time spent talking to Jane. So

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Old Clock Speedrun Planning 17

It's been about a week since I last worked on this game, although here on the blog, it's only been a day! The wonders of writing blog entries in advance. Well, here's everything I found out today.

1. You have to have the trivet, in order to open Josiah's journal. I figured as much. It would have been a big timesaver, if you didn't HAVE to get the trivet.

2. You can look at the sewing machine at any point in the game, but in order to zoom in on the sewing machine--and notice it needs a needle--you have to have the dress in your inventory. So looking at the sewing machine earlier doesn't really save time.

3. If Nancy runs out of gas, then she's transported to Zippy's, where she has to do a sorting puzzle. It was long and complicated, and there's a conversation between Nancy and Zippy the precedes it. In the interest of beating the game quickly, I'll try to avoid this. The good news is that you can't run out of gas, during the endgame challenge.

4. Nancy's dad will automatically call you, if you ignore him long enough. You can also call him at the very start of the game, before meeting Jane and Emily. If you call him early on, the conversation is shorter; Nancy doesn't talk to him about the mystery or the characters, because those things haven't happened yet.

So I guess I have to test out those two Dad conversations and figure out for sure if one is shorter than the other. I bet when you call Dad also affects a few dialogue options with other characters, like when Jane tells you to call Dad. Maybe?

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Old Clock Speedrun Planning 16

Getting close to the end of the game now, I realized I forgot all about getting the cue for Bottom.

I tested it out. What you need to do is look at the picture, from Jane's podium. No big deal, you have to do that anyway, to get her to reappear after solving the pie puzzle. Once you've seen the picture, you can pull a lantern in the hidden passageway. That leads to Emily's room, and Emily isn't there anymore! You can then break into her room and read the note with the cue.

Obviously, I've got to put this into my speedrun route somewhere. Maybe right after finding the picture? That way, you go to Emily's room for sewing and note stealing.

Or I could completely reshuffle everything around, so that trip to the hidden passageway happens at the same time I do my initial trip to the hidden passageway. So that'd be...

1. Go to the upstairs carriage house. See clue for Marcel.
2. Get key from Marcel. Go to Jim Archer and use the key to trigger the sewing challenge.
3. Go to Lilac Inn. Learn you need a sewing needle.
4. Talk to Jane. Get assigned the pie puzzle.
5. Once you solve the pie puzzle, check the podium.
6. Enter hidden passageway for the first time. Learn it leads to Mr. Topham's, take money from the piggy bank, solve Creepy Corner's puzzle for a record AND spy in Emily's room to make her disappear.
7. Get needle from Jane.
8. Go upstairs. Sew, listen to the record and see the cue for Bottom.

Oh, wow, that would be combining a lot of things. That's super efficient, compared to my original plan of combining "find hidden passageway in den" with "find mirror in bird clock in den". Then again, you have to do all these things anyway, so maybe it only saves five seconds (or however long it takes to enter the hidden passageway and go back upstairs.) Either way, I'm making this my new route!

...Which means I have to go back and double-check everything along the new route. The joys of speedrunning!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Old Clock Speedrun Planning 15

I played some more of Nancy Drew: Secret of the Old Clock this morning. Here's what I discovered:

1. You do NOT have to ask Jane to sew the dress. Hooray, a minor timesaver!
2. After doing the pie puzzle, you have to go back inside and get the picture from Jane's podium. Go out the front door and immediately go back inside to have Jane reappear.
3. In order to ask Topham for the Shakespeare book, you have to read all pages of Josiah's journal (after using the trivet to open it)
4. You need to spy on Topham in the hidden tunnel, before you can break into his house and steal the Shakespeare book.

So, not much to say. You pretty much do this portion of the game, as the game designers intended. I've got a few more things to check, but I'm fairly sure. I have the route down. Now that I've been posting about it for two solid weeks, you understand how speedruns can be tough to route, right?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Cadenza: Fame, Theft and Murder

Here's my video walkthrough for Cadenza: Fame, Theft and Murder. It's a fun game, with a pretty neat premise. Your character is a famous rock star named Mike Valance. An evil culprit switches bodies with Mike. Can Mike stop the culprit and get his body back?

The game first came out on March 5 this year. So that's recent! I recorded the walkthrough on Saturday, April 29th. Basically, I convinced my wife to give me the whole day off, so I could play through the game multiple times and do the walkthrough. It worked, and I dunno. Maybe that's how I'll have to do walkthroughs from now on. Recording 1-3 videos in one sitting doesn't seem feasible right now.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Books to Review

I have a Kindle Unlimited subscription, which ends in early July. Only 53 more days, before it runs out!

According to my count, there are 37 or so books on there, which I can't get for free from a library. I'm pretty sure I can't read them all in time, so let me know if any stand out to you, so I can prioritize them. So far, the only ones people have requested are The Evil Twin and A Date with a Werewolf.
  • In Love With A Prince (Sweet Valley High Book 91)
  • Are We In Love? (Sweet Valley High Book 94)
  • Beware The Babysitter (Sweet Valley High Book 99)
  • The Evil Twin (Sweet Valley High Book 100)
  • A Date With A Werewolf (Sweet Valley High Book 105)
  • Jessica's Secret Love (Sweet Valley High Book 107)
  • Double Crossed (Sweet Valley High Book 109)
  • Death Threat (Sweet Valley High Book 110)
  • Jessica Quits The Squad (Sweet Valley High Book 112)
  • "V" For Victory (Sweet Valley High Book 114)
  • The Treasure Of Death Valley (Sweet Valley High Book 115)
  • College Weekend (Sweet Valley High Book 118)
  • Jessica's Older Guy (Sweet Valley High Book 119)
  • The High School War (Sweet Valley High Book 121)
  • Meet Me At Midnight (Sweet Valley High Book 124)
  • Tall, Dark, And Deadly (Sweet Valley High Book 126)
  • Dance Of Death (Sweet Valley High Book 127)
  • Kiss Of A Killer (Sweet Valley High Book 128)
  • Cover Girls (Sweet Valley High Book 129)
  • Model Flirt (Sweet Valley High Book 130)
  • Fashion Victim (Sweet Valley High Book 131)
  • Once Upon A Time (Sweet Valley High Book 132)
  • Happily Ever After (Sweet Valley High Book 134)
  • Fight Fire With Fire (Sweet Valley High Book 137)
  • What Jessica Wants… (Sweet Valley High Book 138)
  • Please Forgive Me (Sweet Valley High Book 140)
  • A Picture-Perfect Prom? (Sweet Valley High Book 141)
  • The Big Night (Sweet Valley High Book 142)
  • Party Weekend! (Sweet Valley High Book 143)
  • CALIFORNIA DIARIES 8. Maggie, Diary Two
  • CALIFORNIA DIARIES 9. Amalia, Diary Two
  • CALIFORNIA DIARIES 10. Ducky, Diary Two
  • CALIFORNIA DIARIES 11. Dawn, Diary Three
  • CALIFORNIA DIARIES 12. Sunny, Diary Three
  • CALIFORNIA DIARIES 13. Maggie, Diary Three
  • CALIFORNIA DIARIES 14. Amalia, Diary Three
  • CALIFORNIA DIARIES 15. Ducky, Diary Three

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Written Book Reviews

I have some book reviews that have been written, but not recorded!
  • California Diaries 1: Dawn
  • California Diaries 2: Sunny
  • California Diaries 3: Maggie
  • California Diaries 4: Amalia
  • California Diaries 5: Ducky
  • California Diaries 6: Sunny, Diary 2
  • California Diaries 7: Dawn, Diary 2
  • Little Sister 107: Karen's Copycat
  • Hardy Boys Undercover Brothers 1: Extreme Danger
  • Hardy Boys Undercover Brothers 2: Running on Fumes
  • Hardy Boys Undercover Brothers 3: Boardwalk Bust
  • Hardy Boys Undercover Brothers 4: Thrill Ride
  • Hardy Boys Undercover Brothers 5: Rocky Road
  • Hardy Boys Undercover Brothers 6: Burned
  • Hardy Boys Undercover Brothers 7: Operation Survival
  • Hardy Boys Undercover Brothers 1: Ocean of Osyria
  • Hardy Boys Undercover Brothers 2: Identity Theft
  • Hardy Boys Undercover Brothers 3: Mad House
  • Hardy Boys Undercover Brothers 4: Malled
  • Hardy Boys Undercover Brothers 5: Sea You, Sea Me
  • Hardy Boys Undercover Brothers 6: Hyde and Shriek
The California Diaries series started, at the same time as Baby-Sitters Club Book 110. I'm not sure if I should post those reviews now, or hold off on them.

I also have no idea when to start the Undercover Brothers review series. I've got enough review series going on, as it is. I'd like to finish some before starting others.

There were two Hardy Boys Undercover Brothers series that ran at the exact same time. One was normal books, the other was graphic novels. I think they should have come up with different titles for these two series, just to avoid confusion.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Recorded Book Reviews

Here's a list of the book reviews that I've written, but not turned into videos. I recorded the audio for them. The next step is finding pictures for my glorified PowerPoint presentations.
  • Baby Sitters Club 37: Dawn and the Older Boy
  • Baby Sitters Club 38: Kristy's Secret Admirer
  • Baby Sitters Club 39: Poor Mallory!
  • Baby Sitters Club Super Special 5: California Girls
  • Hardy Boys Casefiles 6: The Crowning Terror
  • Hardy Boys Casefiles 17: The Numbers File
  • Little Sister 11: Karen's Prize
  • Little Sister 17: Karen's Brothers
  • River Heights 9: Lies and Whispers
  • River Heights 10: Mixed Emotions
  • Sweet Valley High 51: Against the Odds
  • Sweet Valley High 52: White Lies
  • Sweet Valley High 53: Second Chances
  • Sweet Valley High 57: Teacher Crush
  • Sweet Valley High 59: In Love Again
  • Sweet Valley High 67: The Parent Plot
  • Sweet Valley High 79: The Long-Lost Brother
  • Sweet Valley High 81: Rosa's Lie
  • Sweet Valley High 83: Steven's Bride
As you can see, I put an emphasis on doing the Sweet Valley High reviews. Which of these should I focus on finishing first?

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Finished Book Reviews

Since I've been watching Rosie, I've gotten pretty far behind on doing book reviews. Here are all the reviews I currently have finished:
  • Sweet Valley High 45: Family Secrets
  • Sweet Valley High 50: Out of Reach
  • River Heights 7: Cheating Hearts
  • River Heights 8: The Trouble With Love
  • Little Sister 8: Karen's Haircut
  • Little Sister 9: Karen's Sleepover
  • Little Sister 10: Karen's Grandmothers
Which, if any, do you want me to upload? They're basically done. I just need to upload them.

(As a heads up, I'll be writing about book reviews for the next three days.)

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Rosie Sleeping

I got some victories with Rosie sleeping this week! On Monday...

Uh oh, there's a grammatical error in that Tweet! ("to the first time"?) Why didn't anyone tell me about that silly typo?

Well, the book review I did was Sweet Valley High 83: Steven's Bride, which is an awful book where Steven and Cara decide to get married for bad reasons, and they decided to stop the wedding, for more bad reasons. Also, everyone ignore the fact that the plot is impossible, because Cara is 16 years old, too young to get married.

On Tuesday, I got Rosie to fall asleep in the front pack, after dropping the other daughter off at school. I can work at the computer with her sleeping in the front pack, but I have to semi-constantly sway back and forth, to simulate movement, otherwise she wakes up. She wakes up after about an hour, no matter what. Still! Getting one hour or so to do work is better than nothing!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Midnight in Salem

As I said earlier this week, it seems like people have been asking about Nancy Drew: Midnight in Salem recently. Maybe that's because a week from today is the two year anniversary of the previous game in the series.

Well, Her Interactive posted about the game on their Facebook page. Let me quote the post verbatim:

Despite our best attempts to answer everyone's emails, posts, tweets, blog posts, etc. about Nancy Drew: Midnight in Salem...we admittedly do miss some. And hey, we’re only human, so sometimes we inadvertently miss responding to a post. Hence, we felt it would be appropriate to post the attached message. Our goal is to have a more substantial update for you very shortly. We appreciate your patience during this unprecedented shift at HeR Interactive. Please know that we are not ignoring you but we are a very lean team and simply can't respond to everything. We are doing the very best we can. Also, please know that just because we offer a new Nancy Drew puzzle or start a new Nancy Drew contest, that it has no impact on the development and progress of our next title. Our fans mean the world to us and we appreciate you sticking by us during this longer than usual wait time between titles. As always, we thank you for your support and stay sleuthy!

This came along with a picture which reads:

Dear fans--

Please know we are still in the process of developing Nancy Drew: Midnight in Salem but do not have any additional news or a release date to announce at this time.

We apologize for this delay, as we are updating the game engine, UI, graphics and more to improve the overall quality of the games. We thank you for your patience.

Stay tuned!

Her Interactive

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Randomly Generated Visual Novel

Yesterday, I came up with a general template for Sweet Valley High novels. My friend Paul tells me that the videogame equivalent of this is called "procedural generation". Some computer games work like that. They have a basic template with different options, and the computer randomly picks which options pop up. That way, the game is different each time.

A simple example is the password to open the gate in Nancy Drew: The Final Scene. It's randomly determined. Each time you load the game, you get a different password. There are something like 350,000 possible variations.

I haven't seen a visual novel try something like that, probably because it'd be difficult! But I was thinking about writing a visual novel called Love on the Oregon Trail a while back. Is there some kind of template I can make for that? Like...
  • The man is [widow/single] and the woman is [widow/single]. They are [same age] or [man/woman] older by [1-4 years]
  • They [want to be together and are kept apart by circumstances/are total strangers who are forced together by circumstances]
  • The villain is [man's relative/woman's relative/third party]
  • The villain wants to keep them apart because [they are nasty in general/they think the other person isn't good enough/they want to date the other person themselves]
Some of the circumstances can be Oregon Trail specific, like "lack of food", "wagon accident", "crashed while trying to ford a river". Going through the list of storylines from the Oregon Trail romance books I looked over, it seems "hero wants to escape a bad marriage" is the most common circumstance to bring the strangers together, followed by "tragic disaster".

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Sweet Valley High Special Episode Books

I'm reading Sweet Valley High books right now. I don't know why, but I seem to be getting all the "special episode" books. That is, all the books which deal with heavy topics, like racism, drugs, alcohol, runaway teens, criminals, and others. This is opposed to the series' standard faire, which is high school dating and drama.

After reading enough of these books, I've come to the realization that they're all basically the same. A few of the details get changed around, but they're mostly identical. They're so much alike, I could make a template. Just like this:

The main character is a [boy/girl] who is a [junior/senior] and [new in town/a longtime local]. They have a [good/bad] [boyfriend/girlfriend/crush]. They are hiding a secret about [themselves/family member/friend/romantic interest]. They spend five chapters, lying about the secret over and over again, until things reach the breaking point. The secret is revealed, and there is a big fallout. The character has a change of heart, and a happy ending ensues.

The character's age determines which of the main cast members they'll interact with. If the romantic interest is a good crush, the happy ending is them becoming a couple. If the romantic interest is a good boyfriend, the secret reveal results in a temporary breakup, which is resolved at the end. If the romantic interest is a bad boyfriend/crush, the happy ending is the hero breaking up with them or telling them off.

Not EVERY special episode book follows this template, but enough of them do for me to notice it. If I had more time, I could probably make up a simple computer program that randomly generates a storyline based off this template. There's something like 100+ combinations here, especially if you add more details like "main character has [zero/one/two] siblings and [divorced/married] parents."

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

First Week with Rosie

What did I do on the first week as a stay at home dad? I'm already starting to forget. Mainly, I'm forgetting due to lack to sleep. I haven't sleep the whole night through in a long time now.

Rosie doesn't have a regular sleep schedule. On Monday/Tuesday, she woke up around 7:45, which was great. I was able to do a little bit of computer work before she woke up. But the rest of the week, she woke up at 6, and didn't go back to sleep again. Like, at all. She'd fall asleep for ten minutes, at most, which is just long enough to trick me into thinking she's taking an afternoon nap. But no! She wakes up again.

Katie says Rosie is pretty good about falling asleep in the front pack, provided that you're walking around. If you sit in place, she wakes up. She's like that with her car seat, too. She'll sleep in the car, but when we get home and put the car seat on the floor, she quickly wakes up. I'm going to try walking and reading, with her in the front pack. Maybe that'll work! Pacing while reading seems odd, but if that's what it takes to keep the baby asleep...

She fell asleep on car rides, when I did errands. That's the worst. She has nap time, when I am physically unable to get any computer work done. Oh well.

We had some plans to make the week easier on me. In addition to "microwave lunch every day", I got Tuesday night off, and Katie did all the cooking. Only it didn't work out that way. Katie's bus was 45 minutes late twice, so I ended up doing the cooking after all. And on Tuesday, my night off was cancelled, when I had to take the other daughter to gymnastics class, because Rosie was busy eating.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Being Mean to People

Yesterday, I said being mean to people for something they have no control over doesn't help anything. Boy, is that true!

It happened to me all the time, when I was in training to become a priest. People held me personally responsible for everything the Pope/Bishops said or did. It wasn't me! Don't yell at ME because you dislike the Pope! And hypothetically, let's say I agree with you. So what? I can't change Catholic doctrine, because someone on the street yelled at me.

The same thing happened when I was at the IRS. I got blamed for both President Obama and President Trump, as if I personally swore them into office. Okay, so you don't like the President. Yelling at me about the President doesn't help the situation. That doesn't change any tax laws! And besides, the IRS doesn't make tax laws, to begin with! If you don't like the current tax laws, contact your Congressman and tell them to write some new ones!

The silly part is that we pay taxes a year behind, and Congress makes laws in advance. So all the new laws that went into effect this tax year? They're from the PATH Act (Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes), which Congress came up with in 2015. Blaming prominent politicians from 2016 is not only pointless, but factually inaccurate.

Are there people who do this all the time? Like, they yell at strangers when things don't go their way? Do they yell at the McDonald's drive-thru and expect that McDonald's is going to change their recipes? Do they post angry things on Twitter, and expect celebrities to quit? Do they write passive-aggressive blog posts months after the fact, and--uh oh, I've become one of them! Noooooooo!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Midnight in Salem

I've gotten an uptick in questions about Nancy Drew: Midnight in Salem recently. By "uptick", I mean three questions about it, in the span of a week. There hasn't been any information released about the game. Some people are worried, some people are confused, and some people are angry.

I understand and accept Her Interactive's decision not to release any information on the game, until it's almost ready for release. I feel like, if they did anything else, that would be stirring up the hornet's nest.

There's also the fact that the art and dev is being outsourced, so maybe they just don't have day-to-day updates. Sort of like with the game I'm making now, The Pizza Delivery Boy Who Saved the World. My status update is "I sent everything to Paul the Programmer, and I'm waiting for him to finish". That's been my status update for a few months now. I guess I could bug him for daily statuses like "today, I tested out all the variables in the map puzzle", but that wouldn't do much besides annoy Paul and hinder his progress.

Speaking of Paul, we do a monthly podcast on gamedev! Check it out!

There's also the fact that the people who interact most with the fans are from the marketing department. You know, not the people who are directly responsible for making the game? Hassling them about the game is like hassling the finance department for the way the website looks. Being mean to the people about things they have no control over doesn't help anything.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Being a Parent

I was going to write more about President Trump's tax plan, but I'm pretty angry and frustrated with politics right now. Too many news reports from people who a) are clearly biased and b) don't know much about the topic they're discussing. So I'll do something different! Here's a comment I got on my blog:

What surprises you most about being a parent?
What surprised you most about Rosie?
What brings you the most joy about Rosie?
What is the most difficult part?

1. What surprises me most about being a parent is the way other adults treat you. Other parents will treat you differently, if you're a parent. I got a little bit of that, when I became a stepfather, but when I became a biological father, it was a huge change. It's like I'm a cool kid, a member of the exclusive adult club, someone who gets to sit at the adult table on Thanksgiving.

2. Rosie's eyes surprise me the most, to be honest. I don't know who she got them from.

3. The most joyful thing about Rosie is her smiles. She is very social and quick to give smiles. She only did a little bit earlier, but now she does it all the time. It's great!

4. The most difficult thing about raising Rosie was this past Monday. I started being a full-time stay-at-home parent this week. If I can, I'll write a blog series about it. Maybe? I don't have free time to write much, anymore. Maybe a vlog series would be more appropriate. Anyway, Monday was my first day on the job, and it was the worst, because Rosie now has to get used to drinking from a bottle full time. The entire day was this, repeated on endless loop:

Rosie: I'm hungry! Feed me! Waaaaah!
Me: Here's some food.
Rosie: Bottle food? Ew! No thanks!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Trump's Tax Plan - Part 2

Some people are saying Trump's tax plan will eliminate the "Head of Household" filing status. Some say it won't.

In general, I don't think "Head of Household" is the best term to use. That phrase has implications which have nothing to do with taxes. A lot of people think "head of household" means "who makes the rules in the house" or "who makes more money". Nope! Neither of those definitions have anything to do with whether or not you're a Head of Household.

So there are a lot of people who falsely claim to be "head of household", simply because the term doesn't mean what they think it means. For tax purposes, "head of household" is more like "single parent". It's for someone who's single and who paid over half the expenses for a qualifying person that lived with them. At least, that's the general idea. The rules are way more complicated than that. It's the most complicated of the five filing statuses, for sure.

The most common abuse of Head of Household status is a married person claiming Head of Household, or a single person claiming a child that never lived with them. I personally would want to keep this filing status, because it's good for us as a society to support single parents. However, I would try to do something to cut down on potential abuse.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Trump's Tax Plan - Part 1

I know I just did a long series about speedrunning "Nancy Drew: Secret of the Old Clock", but would you mind if I wrote a series about President Trump's tax plan? I feel like I actually know something about the topic of taxes. Maybe?

One of the ideas is to double the standard deduction and get rid of dependents.

The way taxes currently work, you have to figure out how much money you made that year. Then you subtract $6,300 for yourself, and $6,300 for your spouse, if you have one. Then you subtract $4,050 for every dependent you have. That gets you the amount of money you pay taxes on.

The proposed plan is that you figure out how much money you made that year. Then you subtract $12,600 for yourself and $12,600 for your spouse, if you have one. That gets you the amount of money you made that year.

The good part of this plan is that it makes the math much simpler. Also, getting rid of dependents would reduce a TON of headaches. There are a lot of divorced or separated couples that have fights over who gets to claim the kids for tax purposes. Sadly, there are plenty of mean-spirited people who will claim a child they're not eligible to, just to cause problems for their ex-spouse. The IRS has procedures for what to do in this case, but they sometimes get ignored.

The bad part of the plan is that it doesn't work for everyone. If you do the math, a single person with two dependents ends up getting a smaller tax break. Same goes with a married couple, with four or more dependents.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Old Clock Speedrun Planning 14

Hey, the hiccup I had with Topham's logic puzzle ended up NOT destroying the speedrun. I just reloaded a save and tried it again.

Today I played for about 45 minutes, without making TOO much progress. I did the puzzle to get the trivet-journal from Jim Archer.
  1. Read the note about Marcel's band
  2. Ask Topham about Marcel
  3. Ask Topham where Marcel is
  4. Ask Emily where Marcel is
  5. Get key from Marcel.
  6. Take key to Jim Archer. He tells you to sew a dress.
  7. Go to Lilac Inn. Ask Jane if she will sew.
  8. Go upstairs. Discover the sewing machine has no needle.
  9. Ask Jane for a needle.
  10. Do the pie challenge. Leave and return.
  11. Get the needle from Jane.
  12. Sew the dress.
  13. Go to Jim Archer's for the trivet-journal.
And then I did the "open the journal" puzzle.
  1. Enter hidden passageway. Solve Creepy's Corner puzzle for a record.
  2. Play record in Emily's room.
  3. Open journal with the password "goodfellow"
I checked pretty much everything, and none of it can be skipped. Darn. I've got two more things to check, though! First, I need to see if you have to have the trivet, to open the journal. Most likely yes, because there's no way they'd make the long fetch quest optional. Second, do you have to ask Jane if she'll sew in Step 7 above? Because she says no, and you go upstairs to Emily. Maybe you can skip Jane and go straight upstairs to Emily. Minor timesaver!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Old Clock Speedrun Planning 14

You have to do a lot of driving in "Nancy Drew: Secret of the Old Clock". Not only is there the trivet fetch quest, but you have to visit Waddell's twice, Jim Archer's four times, and the endgame challenge is driving. My goal with the speedrun is to combine these trips as much as possible, that way you don't have to buy gas or do the lengthy telegram delivery puzzle.

Combining the Waddell trips with the Archer trips is easy enough, as they live next door to each other. With the trivet fetch quest, you visit a lot of spots. Titusville Telco is the only one close to Lilac Inn, and Twin Elms is the one farthest from Lilac Inn, so I'm thinking something like this:

First trip to town: Travel to Twin Elms to start the trivet quest, visit Waddell/Archer on the way to Titusville Telco. Go to orphanage twice, print shop, fishing, then print shop.
Second trip: Go to Titusville Telco, visit Waddell/Archer on the way to Twin Elms to finish the trivet quest.
Third trip: Archer
Fourth trip: Archer

In my practice run, I got to the point where I finished the first trip into town and got to the ham radio. But then my game came to a grinding halt, when I did Topham's silly logic puzzle of "dry up", "big cheese", "all wet", etc. I have the right answers, but Topham won't accept them. So I can't talk to him and progress. I'll have to restart. *grumble grumble*

Monday, May 1, 2017

Old Clock Speedrun Planning 13

I played more of "Secret of the Old Clock". It turns out that you don't have to solve Topham's logic puzzle, in order to search his house. You have to solve the puzzle, so you can talk to him. Well, you don't need to talk to him, until you need the quartz for the ham radio. So you can totally put off solving the logic puzzle for a while.

To trigger the trivet fetch quest, it looks like you can check the notebook at Topham's OR you can read the typewriter ribbon at Archer's. It takes about 13 seconds to get it at the notebook, and about 30 seconds to get the typewriter ribbon. That's mainly because Nancy reads every part of the note off the ribbon, where she just comments on the note off the notebook. And you have to open the notebook to trigger "ask Emily about her mother's middle name", anyway, so let's go with checking the notebook as the faster way to start the trivet quest.

I also learned you don't have to play the golf flag game! If you know the answer ahead of time, you can just input it into the clock in the carriage house.

When I finished my first trip into town, Nancy's dad called, and I could find the hidden passageway in the den. So maybe "get the mirror from Jim Archer" is the trigger for this. Or maybe "make a trip to town and back" is the trigger. Either way, I can put off solving the bird clock puzzle, until after the first trip to town. That way, I can get the mirror in the den at the same time I find the hidden passageway. I have to go into the passageway to get a dollar. The next step is testing the triggers for the Creepy's Corner puzzle in the passageway, to see if any can be skipped.