Games · Monthly Update

December 2020 Update

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Happy New Year! I hope you had a merry Christmas and are ready for 2021! I know I am.

Busting The Myths of Plastic Recycling

This month I listened to Planet Money’s episode on recycled plastic, titled Waste Land. I remember hearing their earlier episode on how recycling of plastic has never been very viable. 

But this episode exploded some more myths around recycling plastic. 

For example, you know that recycling logo on the bottom of anything plastic? This one? ♻️  Planet Money explains how the logo was created by the plastic industry and actually created more confusion than anything, leading people to mistakenly believe any plastic could be recycled. But it’s a lie. Many plastics don’t make sense to recycle. And the abundance of non-recyclable plastic added to the recycle chain makes it more difficult to recycle plastics where it does make sense. The industry maintains it was only meant for sorting purposes, but I can relate to the confusion and I suspect it was intentional. 

Another myth is how much recycling is successful. Judging from the number of recycling problems, we should have had this problem beat when I was in middle school. But it turns out that many recycling programs are more about the PR for the industry and were never really intended to work, just allay fears of plastic pollution. 

And now it’s happening again.

I cynically maintain that the good intentions of the plastic/oil industry means nothing, and only incentives, not intentions, will change anything. Anyway, great episode if you haven’t already listened.

Advent of Code

This year I signed up for the Advent of Code, a 25 day programming puzzle competition that started on December 1st. I’ve been “competing” with a couple coworkers. So far I’ve completed about half of the puzzles. I chose to do them in Elixir, a programming language that I’m not very familiar with but want to learn more. Choosing a language I’m not familiar with defuses the competitive aspect. I’m also tempted to go back and complete the puzzles from previous years to solidify the learning. But first, I need to finish this year’s puzzles.

This has made it slightly more difficult to focus on content for this blog. But I’ve managed.

From the Bookshelf

I have a pretty wide reading range, willing to pick up almost anything. I usually have four books going at once. This month I finished the following:

  • Tilt: Shifting Your Strategy from Products to Customers by Niraj Dawar. A colleague was going to present on this during December, so I raced through it prior to the presentation. Later, I realized that I probably didn’t need to because the colleague pretty much stuck to the narrative of the book. The primary lesson of the book is that while product creation and intellectual property protection are easy to quantify and are the former key pillars of business, greater business strength can be found in shifting focus downstream to fulfilling customers’ needs, a much harder but more lucrative position. I liked the example of an Australian company that sold explosives to rock quarries (a commodity business) pivoting instead to selling contracts on broken up rock, accepting more risk from the customer and giving them what the customer actually wanted.
  • The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu M. Goldratt. Wrapped in a fictional story, this is a business book from the 80’s that focuses on how to improve business processes by focusing on bottlenecks and throughput instead of efficiency metrics. I could have done without the sidestory of the at-risk marriage, but I suppose it raised the stakes for the protagonist. I’m still trying to figure out how to map the ideas to my software engineering work, but I enjoyed learning in this format. I already have Beyond the Goal queued up.
  • A Fine Mess: A Global Quest for a Simpler, Fairer, and More Efficient Tax System by T. R. Reid. This is actually the second time I’ve read this book. It was as entertaining and thought provoking the second time. But I rarely second read non-fiction, so why this time? My second oldest read it recently and she voted that we read it for our family financial book group. Ever eager to have the children involved in choosing the books we read, I agreed. Since it’s been a longer than a few months since my last read, I picked it up again to refresh myself. Both my children and my wife enjoyed it. They did find it discouraging to consider such a vast, busted and corrupt system that we don’t have much control over. If the US tax system and problems interest you, this book will delight.
  • White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo. This book gave me a better understanding of what “white privilege” means. It also addresses the universality of racism in our culture and that it’s not helpful to racism as only something “bad people” do. You might not agree with everything in this book, but I believe it furthers the discussion on racism in our culture.

Games We Played

As every Christmas season passes by, we add to our expanding collection of games. Here are a few we added to our collection this year:

  • Poetry for Neanderthals: Word game where you speak in small words. I have played it but once. We had a blast. We will not put air in the stick so no one gets hurt. Not sure why it is not on Jeff’s site.
  • Skyjo: Like the face card game called Golf (I grew up calling it Four Down), but with some twists: twelve cards in front of players and the ability to ditch three cards in the same column that all match. Rapid play, fairly low strategy, up to 8 players.
  • The Lost Words Card Game: 2-4 player matching card game with soothing nature artwork. Ages 8 and up. Very low on strategy, mostly on luck with light interaction between players.
  • Ricochet Robots: Frugal Professor recommended this game to me a month or ago, so after dropping the appropriate hints, my kids bought me this game. We have the red box edition (not sure how that differs from the blue box edition) but so far it’s been a hit, especially with my child #3. I feel like I’m really starting to get the hang of using all of the robots for optimal path solutions. I can see how some people would hate it, but as a software engineer that thinks spatially, this game is right up my alley. I find it very gratifying to call out “four” and feel like I’ve found the optimal, unbeatable route. My only concern is that players who can’t think that way have a natural disadvantage and lose interest quickly. Which means I’ll need to keep my enthusiasm in check 🙂

If you like games and want more ideas, here are some.


How was the conclusion to your 2020? Read anything interesting this month? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Hasta luego!

5 thoughts on “December 2020 Update

  1. Happy New Year, Sir! No book recommendations, but I think Mrs. Max OOP just ordered some baby books. I have a few months to figure that all out! I forgot about the game Golf. I used to play that growing up in Michigan.

    Take care,


    1. Thanks for the comment, Max! I remember reading the classic “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” when we were expecting our first. Children don’t come with owner’s manuals, but I found that one helpful. Best wishes in the pregnancy!

  2. Just catching up on my RSS feed.

    I’m really happy you bought the Ricochet Robots game and are enjoying it!!!!! It’s such a fun game (if you get the right kind of group) and will provide countless hours of fun. It really never gets old. When I first started playing it, it turned my brain to mush. It’s like weightlifting for the brain.

    In the “blue” box version, there are “ricochets” which bounce the robots at a 90 degree angle without counting as an extra point. It adds some decent variety to the game. I’m not sure how long it has been out of print, but I recently snagged 4 2003 copies on eBay (to give to my children as they leave home, etc).

    Just placed a hold on “A Fine Mess” at my local library. Looking forward to reading it!

    1. There are some boards that have “ricochets” printed on them, allowing a single color to pass through and all others reflect at a 90 degree angle without counting as another turn. Maybe that’s similar to what your game has?

      1. That’s exactly what I was talking about. For a while, there was a version of the game being produced with no “ricochets” at all. I’m glad you got the “ricochet” version because it adds some nice variety to the game. We typically set it up to have about 2 boards with those on it. My wife usually beats me when we play all 4 boards with ricochets.

        Such a fun game. So many fun memories with it.

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