Is Family Tree Solitaire a good test for Presidential candidates?

I know what you’re thinking.  What a silly question.  After all, my new game Family Tree Solitaire is only currently played — so far — by about 100 people.  Many game players enjoy a challenge, but often they prefer playing something that is easy to learn at the beginning.  Family Tree Solitaire is perhaps a bit harder than that, but once you learn the rules and get the hang of it, you may find that it is a nice difference from other card games you have played.

With all the presidential debates, I’ve wondered why candidates for President are not tested — like many of us are to be qualified for college (SAT) or a job (interview quizzes, etc).  After all, many government jobs still require that job applicants take a qualifying test — Foreign Service job seekers, for example, take the FSOT.  But what would a test for President look like?

Consider that a candidate to be President of the United States campaigns seemingly 24/7 for the job for a couple of years.  On top of that the costs are enormous, so they have a monumental task of funding their campaign.  Debating is a very necessary skill, as is the ability to meet and greet millions of voters.  Achieving notoriety in politics or business or law or some other profession is also often a prerequisite.  These abilities are all extremely important prior to becoming President.

But candidates don’t take a test, as far as I know.  If there was one, what should it look like?  One company that is receiving buzz in terms of hiring and testing software is Aspiring Minds.  Their motto is “Employability Quantified.”  For example, they have something called AM Situations — “Assessing how a candidate will perform in a real-life working environment.”  Maybe something like that would be a good test for a candidate for President.

Although one can identify a number of skills that a President will need while in office for 4 or 8 years, it is impossible to know exactly what kinds of surprise and very difficult decisions the President will have to make.  That’s the main reason I thought of Family Tree Solitaire.  Once you understand the rules of the game and play it several times, you’ll see that there are some tricky situations and decisions to be made.  The more you learn how to handle those situations, the higher your score will be.

So while I don’t really think Family Tree Solitaire would make a good test for a candidate for President, I do think it might be an entertaining diversion for them.  After all, President Dwight Eisenhower played the card game of Bridge regularly while in the White House.



Can artistic style be cloned?

Of course.  Art forgery, according to Wikipedia, goes back more than 2,000 years.  Students learned from the masters by copying their works.  But what about using a artist’s style in another art form, such as a movie?

MIT Technology Review examined “Algorithm Clones Van Gogh’s Artistic Style and Pastes It onto Other Images, Movies” in a recent article.  While it is fascinating to see moving examples of what today’s computers and algorithms can do with an artist’s style, it is not clear how this new technique can be used.  My first thought is advertising, but I’m pretty sure we’ll see many other uses too.

But does this new algorithm take something away from the style that the artists worked so hard to develop?  In some ways it flatters the artist, but in others it takes away from the uniqueness of the technique.

Several websites — including Arts Law Centre of Australia — discuss whether an artist’s style can be copyrighted.  Most seem to indicate that style itself is not copyrightable, only the work.  But with algorithms like this new one, I wonder if this blurs the lines on what about style is copyrightable.

Science Fiction e-books update

Just a quick note to thank everyone again who has purchased one of my e-books.

“Science Fiction: Time Travel” continues to be my top seller, and I recently published “Science Fiction: Time Travel and Robots 2”.

Now that I recently completed a new video game — “Family Tree Solitaire” — I plan to get back to writing some new sci-fi stories.

More information on my e-books can be seen here on my website.


Family Tree Solitaire on the web now

Now (May 19, 2016) I’ve also posted quick/short rules for the game on my website in text format for printing.  There is also a pdf version of the intro video that you can print.

My latest video game, “Family Tree Solitaire”, is now also on the web for free on  You can also find links to the FREE Windows Store, Google Play,  and Amazon Store app versions too.

Get it on Google PlayGet it on Windows 10AvailableAtAmazon

The web version plays in most modern desktop or laptop browsers that support WebGL: Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge (WIndows 10), Mozilla Firefox, and Apple Safari — in my experience, it doesn’t seem to run on mobile browsers (phones or tablets) yet. It also will not run in Internet Explorer.

Family Tree Solitaire

Now (May 19, 2016) I’ve also posted quick/short rules for the game on my website in text format for printing.  There is also a pdf version of the intro video that you can print.

If you enjoy solitaire, poker, genealogy, and/or memory skills games, I think you’ll enjoy “Family Tree Solitaire”.  Unlike most solitaire games, the main goal is to produce a high score and beat the computer — or your own previous high score.

I have posted detailed rules on my website for “Family Tree Solitaire” in html and pdf format.   I am excited to announce that “Family Tree Solitaire” is available on the Google Play Store.  I hope you will enjoy my new game.

About a year or so ago, I decided to work on a game using Unity3d.  As a classic games developer who has made games for many devices that have come and gone, I like that it has a cross-platform engine.  I enjoy card games, and I wanted to experiment with a different kind of foundation for solitaire: a tree structure — very familiar to genealogists, programmers, and others.  The result is “Family Tree Solitaire”.

Family Tree Solitaire

 I will also be working on putting this game on the Windows Store and possibly a WebGL version.  If I get enough interest, I will also consider a version for Apple devices.

About studying game AI and physics

Recently Gamasutra — The Art & Business of Making Games — featured a couple of useful articles on “7 examples of game AI that every developer should study ” and “7 examples of great game physics that every developer should study.”  Both articles by Richard Moss.

As for the article on physics, the examples are good.  I’m surprised that “Angry Birds” was not in the list.  Perhaps this has already been talked about many times, but it has become a classic that all game designers and developers should understand.

While AI-driven path finding is always useful in games, and playtesting via genetic algorithm is an interesting technique, I did not find an example among the 7 selected which talked about AI in board game opponents?  Perhaps the author doesn’t consider this category to rank high on the list of AI in video games.  I do.

AI in checkers and chess drove my early interest in video games and game AI.  AI in the game of Go recently became a hot topic.  Games like Risk and Stratego continue to challenge AI programmers to produce top players and top video game versions of the board games.  I’m sure there will continue to be AI in board game challenges, as well as card games like Poker and other games that provide incomplete information.

And what about video games that produce new concepts in board and card games?  I will soon release a new kind of solitaire game that I don’t think has been designed before.  Whether it becomes popular or not, I don’t know.  I enjoy playing it.  But at the least I hope it will inspire others to want to make video card games — or board games — that don’t just mimic games we’ve already played many times or seen on toy store and retail shelves.  While my new card game can actually be played with a deck of cards, I do think it is much easier and more fun to play electronically.  More to come on this soon.

Finally, I might also add that serious games like protein folding have something to offer video game designers and developers about intelligence too.  Sometimes the intelligence in the game comes from the users, not the computer AI.  Take a look at what’s out there in serious games.  You might find some very good ideas.

Jewish genealogy research tips

JewishGen posted a list of Mythbusters, which is essentially tips in doing Jewish genealogy research.  I have found these to be useful in my endeavors to learn more about my family history.

One suggestion I might add.  New York arrivals before 1890 would not be to Ellis Island.  Arrivals to New York between 1855 and 1890 would likely be to Castle Garden, but not definitely.

Family Tree clip art

Is square root day political?

Since tomorrow is square root day 4/4/16 (month and day numbers 4 are both the square root of the last 2 digits of the year 16), I decided to propose a (sort of) math problem today. Everyone learns that the square root of 2 is IRRATIONAL (can’t be expressed as a fraction). But the square root of 4 is 2 (or 2/1 as a fraction), not IRRATIONAL.

So what is the square root of a politician? Perhaps it depends on the politician.

I used an online app to quickly figure the dates of the next 15 square root days starting with 4/4/2016, which falls on a Monday.  Using a couple of  online day of the week calculators, I got the following days for the next 19 square root days: 3 Mondays, 1 Tuesday, 3 Wednesdays, 3 Thursdays, 3 Fridays, 4 Saturdays, and 2 Sundays.  Saturday has the most square root days over the next 200 years.

When you look at election days around the world, this would seem to favor Australia, New Zealand, and some other countries where general elections tend to be held on Saturdays.  Also, perhaps interestingly, the next Thursday square root day isn’t until January 1, 2201.  General elections are generally held on Thursday in the U.K.

So is square root day political?  Maybe not over the next million or billion years — I haven’t looked at the distribution of days of the week for that long yet, though it might be fun to do so.  But for the next 200 years, the square root days of the week do seem to favor general election days in some parts of the world.

By the way, the next cube root day is 3/3/27, next fourth root day is 3/3/81, next fifth root day is 2/2/32, and next sixth root day is 2/2/64. And we won’t see another seventh root day until 1/1/01 (which is the year 2101).


Not all AI is having success

AlphaGo’s AI recently had a huge success in beating a world expert opponent in several games of Go.  The main programmer of AlphaGo is now researching using Google’s Deep Mind AI to conquer the game of Poker.

As AI scientists get more involved in teaching the technology to learn how to work with — or compete with — humans, the science fictional aspects of AI will become more of a real concern.  As with games like Chess and Go, some of today’s geniuses are already looking many moves ahead, realizing that AI is on its way to capabilities that we should already be considering today in the making of laws regarding bots and robots.

On the other hand, perhaps society has a built-in way of slowing things down until we’re ready to deal with technology.  Obviously, this didn’t happen with the use of the nuclear bomb, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t forces trying to stop its use or at least slow down its introduction.  An example today might be related in the MIT Technology Review article “Automated Anesthesiologist Suffers a Painful Defeat.”

Did the automated anesthesiologist fail to please doctors and nurses because it wasn’t adequate for their needs?  Or did it fail because they weren’t ready to trust that it was adequate for their needs?  This is a distinction that I don’t have the answer to, but the article clearly states “It’s not clear how much impact the history of animosity with some anesthesiologists had on the disappointing sales, but it probably didn’t help.”

Like the issues with automated cars and automated robot weapons, there are many legal and ethical implications to consider with automated anesthesiologists too.  If one or more humans die because of a mistake made by an AI, the cost and impediment to technological progress — not to mention the outrage — will be huge.

So while industry seems ready to use robots and AI more and more these days to reduce costs and assist human workers, perhaps professional workers are now pushing back the way industry use to.  Is it only a matter of a little time before that wall breaks down too, or will robots and AI be unable to break into many professional jobs — especially those that are related to human life and death — for many decades to come?

Ekg Signal clip art

PC gaming making a comeback

Though the mobile games market is huge, and games on PlayStation and Xbox have done well, much of that success has has taken a toll on PC gaming…until now.  Computerworld reports on “The triumphant, magnificent, and unexpected return of PC gaming.

As a long time video games developer, it saddens me to think of the many game platforms that have come and gone.  It’s nice to know that the PC is still hanging in there, possibly even making a comeback.

If you, like me, are interested in the history of video games, you might also like to stop by the National Video Games Museum in Texas near Dallas.  It just opened!

Tower Desktop Pc clip art

Indie games 2016

When I started developing games in the late 1970’s, every game was like an independent (indie) game.  Handheld games required at least 3 or 4 persons: typically a software engineer, electrical engineer, model maker, and instructional writer — sometimes an artist and mechanical engineer too.  Early video games for home consoles were mostly created by a single programmer, but artists, instructional writers, sound/audio designers, testers, and others participated as needed.  It took a few months to design and develop a game back then, and then a few weeks or more to tweak the design, debug, and test it before release.

Even in 1995 when I worked on a port of “Double Switch” to Windows 95, there were only 3 programmers involved.  It was probably in the mid to late 1990’s when game developer teams grew, and grew even more in the early 2000’s.

Though I enjoy seeing what’s happening in game design for both large and small games, I do have an affinity for indie games.  Not all, but many are still created by small teams.  This year’s nominees and winners at the 2016 Independent Games Festival continues this 40+ years’ tradition of creative individuals pouring their passion into making video games.

An artificial intelligence just won a major “Go” competition.  Perhaps in the next 25 years, we’ll see an ai that can create a video game knockoff.  But it may be a lot, lot longer than that before we see an ai create video games that match the creativity of human game developers.  Below are some of the nominees this year.

By the way, if you are interested in becoming a video game developer, you might want to check out the degree program at UC Irvine — my alma mater.

Eye on Pi 2016

It’s Pi Day 2016.  Take the first 6 digits of Pi and round off, and you go from 3.14159 to 3.1416.  That’s today’s date: 3/14/16!

My fellow software engineers might enjoy this Code Project article on “Calculating the Number Pi through Infinite Sequences.”  Some algorithms are better than others at quickly obtaining the first several digits of Pi.

Or you might appreciate another algorithm that takes much longer to calculate Pi, but there is beauty in its simplicity.  You may have heard of Buffon’s Needle problem, which asks: “Suppose we have a floor made of parallel strips of wood, each the same width, and we drop a needle on the floor. What is the probability that the needle will lie across a line between two strips?  Turns out the answer is related to Pi.

But have you heard of Buffon’s Noodle problem?  Turns out that even if you bend each needle as if it were a noodle, the probability is still related to Pi.

Finally, many of us know that n! — read n factorial — is n x (n-1) x (n-2) x … 1.  So 4! = 4x3x2x1 = 24.  But what is the factorial of a fraction, in particular the factorial of 1/2?  You guessed it, it’s related to Pi.  It’s remarkable, and I was tempted to say “related to Pi!”, but I thought it might confuse you.

Women in game design and development

This week featured International Women’s Day 2016.  Many women have been inventors, yet — as the Microsoft video below shows — many young girls do not know their names.  Similarly, I imagine that many video game players could not name women who have designed and/or programmed video games.

I list below a few recent articles and exhibits that point out just some of the many accomplishments of women designers, producers, and executives in video games.  I started programming video games in 1979, but it was not until 1982 that I met a professional woman video game programmer.

I do not remember her name or whether she stayed in the business, but I hope that in some small way my blog entry today honors her and numerous other women who have or are working in the video game industry.  Design is about perspective, perspective requires a point-of-view, and men and women everywhere offer unique points of view.  The video games industry needs women to be involved in video game design and development.


Genealogy television shows

You can see a good partial list of genealogy television shows on the Larimer County Genealogical Society’s website.

Another show I would add is “Long Lost Family” on The Learning Channel.  If you have an interest in genealogy you may find some tips in searching for ancestors, particularly in the early parts of story segments where the show’s experts provide background on how they found a family member.

BYUtv’s “Relative Race” attempts to combine reality television immediacy (e.g. racing across country) with genealogy.  I watched the first episode and didn’t feel that it entirely succeeded, but it is another genealogy-related show.

I still dabble in game design, and this year I hope to release a card game that is based on a family tree concept.  When I’m at that point, I will let you know in my blog.

Family Tree clip art

Paging Dr. Levine

Almost 35 years ago now, I designed and developed “Microsurgeon” (1982 Imagic) for Intellivision.  I wanted game players to experience having to make difficult choices to save patients while navigating through arteries and veins and lymph.  In the TI 99/4a version of the game, I added voice snippets like “Paging Dr. Levine.”  The game told players what problems the patient was experiencing, but I don’t think it really occurred to me back then that an AI would be providing that information rather than Dr. Levine or a diagnostician.

Today there are Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems being created to assist doctors with diagnosis.  Fast Company published an article entitled “Paging Dr. Robot, the Coming AI Health Care Boom” last year.  Much of the article focuses on IBM’s Watson and its ability to provide to hospital physicians expert-level data and analysis regarding cancer and numerous other conditions.  But what about AI for consumers?

In March 2016 MIT Technology Review author Simon Parkin writes about “The Artificially Intelligent Doctor Will Hear You Now.”  This article focuses on Babylon, a U.K.-based subscription health service app that costs less than $10 a month that will offer patients advice on sick care and monitor patient information from wearable devices and other sources.

Both articles show that we are at the beginning of a boom in AI for healthcare, and who knows how fast it will ramp up from there.  Doctors will no doubt still guide the process, especially regarding ethics and critical decision making, but AI may take a larger role in our medical future.  One can hope that this means a better and less expensive medical future.

Stethoscope 1 clip art

Career Simulators

Mark Lautenschlager for “Into Tomorrow” wrote a piece entitled “Pondering the Existence of Career Simulators.”

While I enjoyed the article’s light tone in regards to the value of “Farming Simulator 2017” to most video game players, I was a bit disappointed in his overall findings.  I have written in the past, and still believe, that I think a sort of “career counselor” series of games for a huge variety of jobs would be invaluable to junior and senior high school students — not to mention college students and older adults.

I do agree with Lautenschlager that there is certainly room for more “fun” in these kinds of games, and that is where simulator game makers sometimes miss the mark.  But I believe the ultimate goal in these kinds of games should be to give the player a taste of what the actual job is like.  If the game is also enjoyable enough to entice a great number of video game players, then that’s a large plus.

Beyond that, at some point it would be nice to see a kind of serious game standard — or wrapper — produced for snippets (demos) of these kinds of games, such as one that would include an interview, day on the job play, perhaps an associated questionnaire to determine if it’s the kind of job for the player, and other things common to jobs.

Not that full career simulator games need to fit a standard, but samples from these games that included the wrapper could be compiled and joined into an indexed — or encyclopedic, if you will — career counselor website — a kind of CareersGameWiki with sample gameplay and meaningful associated data and information.  It would also serve as a nice advertisement for the game maker, for anyone wanting to further explore the whole video game.

I’ve always felt that it would be great for both children and adults to have a place to go to find out about any career possibility — even ones that might not exist yet but will in the future.  When I was a child, encyclopedias and career counselor offices or libraries at schools were my choices — or, when really lucky, the opportunity to spend a day and learn with someone on the job.  But with today’s technology, there should be so much more!

Below is a video showing some of the career simulator type games of 2013, including “Farming Simulator.”

My trip to UC Irvine


UC Irvine in California is a great school (take a look at the terrific ratings).

That’s why I’m both honored and humbled to receive the Hall of Fame award for my work in software engineering and video games.  I recently visited the Donald Bren School of Computer Sciences & Information for a couple of days to meet the Dean and Assistant Dean and Department Chair, see how things have changed since I attended, meet with informatics researchers, and present to students and alumni at Game Developer’s Week.

When I graduated in 1981 (Computer Science) the campus had only a few buildings, now there are many.  The campus is still growing, yet it is quite attractive and still has a very personal feel — not to mention the beautiful beaches nearby.  Environmental practices at the college are hard to beat.

There are far more students attending today, and among the great variety of majors to choose from, there are excellent Computer Sciences & Informatics programs — including a Computer Game Science (video game developer and software engineering) degree that didn’t exist when I attended.

Informatics researchers are working on a variety of interesting projects related to health and education, as well as other diverse fields.

I very much enjoyed meeting with and giving a presentation to the UC Irvine Video Game Developer’s Club called “Staying Creative”, the main premise being that in order to have a long career in video games or other creative fields you should consider — know — your interests and stay flexible.    See the video below, or click on the link above to see it on YouTube.

I can’t conclude without mentioning Peter the Anteater, UC Irvine’s mascot.  I think he’s pretty terrific too.