Best Things This Year (2013)

Anecdotally, it seems like a lot of people shook up their lives in 2013. I certainly did. Here are the best things that happened to me in 2013.

1. RJMetrics – In March I started working at RJMetrics, an e-commerce data analytics firm in center city Philadelphia. Leaving Garvey Corp was a difficult decision, but being a developer at of the best SaaS data visualization companies in the world has been amazing.


2. The Bulldog Budget – I worked with Philadelphia City Controller candidate Brett Mandel to implement his vision for the city’s open data future. We built a visualization tool using D3 and MySQL that gives both a high level view of the General Fund budget, but still allows you to drill down to individual transactions. A lot of people got excited about it and I think it made an impact in Philadelphia. It also influenced similar projects in Italy and Oakland, California.

Treemap of the Philadelphia General Budget
Treemap of the Philadelphia General Budget

3. Coffeescript – I was skeptical at first whether Coffeescript was a worthwhile abstraction from Javascript. After 9 months of using it at RJMetrics, I’m a fan. Here’s why:

  • Cleaner syntax: No parenthesis, braces, or semi colons. The time I save writing console.log instead of console.log(); has been worth the switch.
  • Improved workflow: Continuously running the Coffeescript to Javascript compiler alerts me of stupid mistakes (ie. ones that won’t even compile) faster than finding them after I’ve loaded the browser.
  • Existential operator: I can’t count the number of bugs I’ve fixed with one character are due to Coffeescript’s great ? operator, which checks to see if it’s null or undefined before proceeding. For example, if in javascript you previously did this:

    if (player != null) {

    In Coffeescript you just write:


  • Comprehensions: The docs say you almost never have to write a multiline for loop and they can be replaced by comprehensions. For example:

    for (player in players) {
    if ( < 0) { player.kill(); } }

    In Coffeescript you can write:

    player.kill() for player in players when < 0
  • I'm looking forward to getting better at Coffeescript in 2014.

4. AngularJS - I don't want to develop another interactive UI without AngularJS.

5. Bought this swingset from craigslist - With the help of my friend Mike and my father in law, we disassembled, packed it up and a U Haul, and reassembled it in my back yard. I'm amazed it went back together so well.


6. Read 13 Books - My morning commute afforded me more reading time. Here's what I did with it.

  • Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  • Look at the Birdie by Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Trial by Franz Kafka
  • A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nassar
  • Boys from Brazil by Ira Levin
  • Game of Thones (books 1-3) by George RR Martin
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  • Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  • Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

7. Public Speaking - I got way out of my comfort zone this year and did some public speaking at Ignite Philly and Technically Philly's Civic Hacking Demo Night.

8. Built the Gonginator

9. Spark Program - Some coworkers and I participated in an apprenticeship program for Philadelphia school kids where we spent 2 hours a week with 8th graders interested in programming and computers. Together we built a game!

That's as much as I could remember from 2013. Check out my lists from 2012 and 2011.

List of Interesting Places in 8-Bit Google Maps

I love the new retro 8-bit Google Maps, kind of an early April Fool’s joke. Just go to Google Maps and click “start quest.” It reminds me of old school Final Fantasy or Dragon Warrior. Update: My memory is failing me a little. It’s not just a tribute to Dragon Warrior. All the tile graphics and enemies are lifted straight from it!

Here’s a list of interesting places I’ve found:
Statue of Liberty
White House
Washington Monument
MLK Memorial
Smithsonian Institution Building

8-bit Collingswood, NJ

Google HQ
Empire State Building, Chrysler Building
Weird little guy in the ice near Mt Everest
Seattle Space Needle
Area 51
San Francisco Ferry Building
Sutro Tower
St Louis Arch
Druinlord (Weird crab thing in NJ). There seem to be a few of these around the map.
There are lots of these little people like these two in Chicago
Mt Fuji
Bus in Tokyo
Little blue slime guy in Tokyo
Dog statue in TokyoRelated info
Japanese castle
Tokyo Tower
Japanese House
Temple of Heaven, Beijing
Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Arc de Triomphe
Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, some tower
Tate Modern, Tower Bridge
One Canada Square in London
Magician in England
Great Pyramids, the Sphinx
Christo Redentor, Rio De Janeiro
Easter Island
Roman Colosseum
The Kremlin and St Basil’s Cathedral
Fernsehterm of Berlin
CN Tower
Hollywood Sign
Eames building in LA
Sydney Opera House
Tower Hall, San Jose State
San Diego Zoo
Pennsylvania Wolf Monster
Rock Golem outside of Indy
Dragon in the middle of the Atlantic!
Ayers Rock, Australia
Oldenburg Spoonbridge Sculpture
Georgia Tech Tower
MIT, Hancock Building, and Faneuil Hall
Angel of the North
Buenos Aires Cabildo
Burj Al Arab
Burk Khalifa
Cathedral of Learning, Pittsburgh, PA
Chichen Itza
General Post Office, Dublin
Great Wall of China
Heinz Field in Pittsburgh
Japanese Cedar
Buddha statue
Troll near Cuba
Loch Ness Monster
Drollmagi (Bug Eyed Monster)
Leaning Tower of Pisa
Monona Terrace
Biosphere and Habitat 67 in Montreal
Mt Rushmore (ugh, I looked forever for this one, thanks reddit!)
Nagoya Castle
Naruto Strait Whirlpool
Nazca Lines, Peru
Obelisk in Buenos Aires
Oriental Pearl Tower, Shanghai
Osaka Castle
Petronas Twin Towers, Malaysia
Table Mountain
Taipei Building
Taj Mahal
Building in Japan
Walking to the Sky, Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh Zoo Polar Bear
Red Knight
Demon Knight
Drakee (purple dragon thing)
Gold Golem
Green Dragon
Blue Knight
Red Drakee
Red Wyvern (I hated fighting Wyverns in Dragon Warrior)
Metal Scorpion
Metal Slime
Poltergeist (purple ghost)
Red Dragon
Red Slime
Blue Scorpion
Blue Slime
Spector (blue ghost)
Wolflord (red wolf)
Wraith Knight
Kyoto Tower
Seattle Asian Art Museum
Toripolliisi, Finland
Flinders Station and Eureka Tower, Melbourne
Neuschwanstein Castle (Very cool!)
Uluru, Australia
Chocolate Hills National Park, Phillipines
Churchhill Downs
Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
Tower in Tokyo (and more)
Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto, Japan

There’s an awesome Reddit thread about this. Here’s the best comment that has most of the items found so far, many of which I’ve added to my list.

I also got a hacker news thread going and some have added or identified things in my list. Thanks!

Great shout out today from ars technica!

Another great site with pics of the locations.

Ok, this guy wins the Internet. a Google map with all the monster locations in it!

GeekDad Reviews the Dungeon Adventure

So the response to Dungeon Adventure have been pretty overwhelming. A few key highlights:

1. Sales of Dungeon Adventure exceeded my wife’s lifetime projection for it in about 12 hours.
2. I told Sasha, “Hey we sold 10 copies!” and she said, “cool! What’s a copy?”
3. I’ve already heard from a number of people who have played the game or who are excited to try it out, and so far the feedback has been awesome.

The best thing so far has been the awesome post at Wired’s GeekDad blog by Dave Banks.

As a father, I’ve waited patiently for nine years for my son to be old enough to play Dungeons & Dragons with me. But, if I’d been more enterprising, I could have invented a full blown RPG for young kids like Ben Garvey has done.

The Dungeon Adventure: An RPG for Pre-Schoolers

A while back Sasha and I were playing with some toys and I built a maze out of blocks. With the blocks we had, you couldn’t make a decent maze but it occured to me that our maze would make a decent D&D style dungeon. We had some of her figures walk through the maze fighting simple monsters, and I thought to myself, “I could make this work into a real game.”

Kids Dungeon Adventure RPG
The Dungeon Adventure RPG for Kids

Soon after that, the Dungeon Adventure was born. It’s simple enough for me and my 4 year old daughter to walk through a dungeon and complete a quest. Here’s how it works.

1. You build a dungeon out of blocks you already have.
2. You fill the dungeon with monster cards and treasure cards.
3. Set up an overall quest for the kid(s) to complete.
4. Have them walk through the dungeon and complete the quest.

The game uses a super simple battle system using normal, 6 sided dice and hitpoints.

Sasha playing Dungeon Adventure
Sasha playing Dungeon Adventure

After playing 5 or 6 times with more complex dungeons and more interesting stories, I decided we would try and sell a version of the Dungeon Adventure online as a download and print game. I set up a website for it this week and registered a domain name. Let me know what you think!

Famous Missions Review

A mad bomber has planted a device in the building and you have to put together a team of experts to find the bomb and dismantle it. Do you call the bomb squad? A SWAT team? No, you call Gene Simmons, Mr T, and Albert Einstein.

Famous Missions
Famous Missions

Famous Missions by Jason Tagmire is a new card game where you must put together ridiculous celebrity trios to complete movie-plot style missions like stopping alien invasions, robbing banks, etc. The included celebrities range from Bill Gates to Genghis Kahn to Paris Hilton. The cartoonish artwork is fantastic makes you want to play it.

Game mechanics are as follows. ?The judge player draws a Mission Card from the deck and the other two players pick their three best People Cards out of seven for that mission. ?The judge chooses the best team out of the two and the loser can then argue his case for why his team should have won. ?If the judge has been swayed and changes their mind, the other player can then argue why his team is superior and the judge gets one more chance to change her mind. ?Whoever the judge finalizes on wins the round and the game progresses to a new mission. ? ?It’s very similar to Apples to Apples, another great game.

Here’s a video the creator, Jason Tagmire, put together to show how it goes.

Overall I love the concept and the artwork, but I feel like the game mechanics need some more work. I know there is a great game buried inside of Famous Missions waiting to get out, but in the current form it’s hard to keep playing. I think you get desensitized to the overall joke and you need a way to keep it interesting. I’ve come up with a few and they definitely enhanced gameplay in my sessions (I’ve played it three times now).

Rule Variations:
1. The standard rules have one player always acting as the judge. We took turns, because no one wanted to play the judge every time.
2. The judge hid his eyes when players were choosing their teams so he didn’t know who chose them. This helps reduce bias.
3. Instead of flipping over three from one team and then three from another, we alternated back and forth flipping over one from each team at a time. This encouraged comparisons between those two celebrities and made it more dramatic.

Ready to save the world
Ready to save the world

One of the hardest things about new games is getting people to try them. As soon as I show people the cards to Famous Missions they say, “We have to play this!” It’s an awesome game that just needs a little help and I love showing it to people. If you want a copy, buy it online here.