Recommendations, 10/25

This week: GIF-able web games, Ben Winshaw, color palettes, and winter weather.


One of my favorite things about retro games is that they make incredible GIFs. Their limited color palette and comparative lack of detail suit the strengths of the file format perfectly. Those attributes nullify one of the GIF maker’s biggest headaches: file size. You can make a much longer, and larger GIF of a retro game than you can of anything with 3D graphics.

For no game is this more true than Candy Box and its equally delightful sequel, Candy Box 2, released just yesterday. These games are almost entirely black text on white backgrounds, and most of the screen doesn’t actually move. You couldn’t ask for more ideal GIF-ing conditions. When I wrote about the original a few months back, I was stunned that I could capture an entire dungeon run at full resolution and still end up with a file one-tenth the size of an average game GIF. Here’s another one from the new game (565KB!):


This image, and the one from the first game, I made using LICEcap, a nice little screen grab tool that captures selections directly to GIF, and crucially, is available for Mac. When I tried to make GIFs for even slightly more detailed games, however, the tool fell short. Its output drastically reduces color palates by default, and as far as I can tell, there’s no way to change it. It makes everything look cheap.

To make GIFs that preserve nearly accurate colors for games with realistic graphics, I use Giffing Tool. Unfortunately, it’s not available for the Mac, but it’s worth Bootcamping Windows to use. I tried to make the GIFs for Wednesday’s GTA V piece with LICEcap, and they turned out way too grainy. I captured from the same source with Giffing Tool, and I’m much happier with the results. The software’s editing UI is among the most awkward I’ve ever used, but if all you care about is pretty GIFs like the rest of the web, Giffing Tool is the best app I’ve found.


Ben Whishaw irked me as “Hipster Q” in Skyfall. He seemed a bit too thin and floppy to be in a Bond picture. But in the recent BBC production of Richard II, Whishaw uses his fey physique to inject a tragic vulnerability into the proud king. Other actors have made their marks with bigger turns in more well-known Shakespeare plays, but so what? Whishaw totally owns King Richard II. (Just like Desmond Lleweyn owned Q.)

Whishaw’s turn as king is the highlight of the four-part series The Holllow Crown, which is comprised of four of Shakespeare’s history plays: Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 and 2, and Henry V. The other parts of the series don’t quite match Richard II, but they are well worth watching. Tom Hiddleston (Loki in the The Avengers) is at the center of most of the series as Prince Hal/Henry V. He is particularly good as Prince Hal. Then he casts off Falstaff, becomes brave Henry V, and, well, who knows? If you’ve watched either the Olivier or Branagh versions Henry V, you will have those actors in mind and who can compare? Hiddleston does have one advantage, though. By the time he begins Henry V we have already spent five hours in his company in Henry IV 1 & 2. The backstory provided by Henry IV 1 & 2 pays off like gangbusters in Henry V. In fact, The Hollow Crown makes a good argument that the plays should be seen together.

So why not binge-watch some Shakespeare tonight? After all, it is October 25th, St. Crispin’s Day. It has been 598 years since Henry V won the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. Henry did the tough work that day and we few, we happy few, can stream the story to our myriad devices whilst comfortably sitting on the couch.


I’ve been a little obsessed with Solarized, a color scheme for Terminal and text editors. It was designed with programmers in mind, since developers tend to be pretty pedantic about these sorts of things, but I’m finding it useful even as a good ‘ol fashioned writer of prose. As its creator Ethan Schoonover explains, he designed Solarizied with “precise CIELAB lightness relationships and a refined set of hues based on fixed color wheel relationships” and it has been “tested extensively in real world use… in a variety of lighting conditions.” Sure. Basically to me, the hues are comforting to look at.


Solarized is a bit like the text editor-equivalent of yellow legal pads, which are supposedly more legible though no one can really prove why. Doing a little research, I came across a fun piece from a 2005 issue of Legal Affairs (there’s something I’d never thought I’d write) attempting to explain the rise of yellow legal pads. The author could only come up with several anecdotal theories about why yellow paper outsold white paper two to one: a psychology professor said yellow is likely more readable in harsh lighting conditions, and also cited one law professor he knew who used yellow because white paper eventually yellows and he didn’t want his students realizing how old his class notes were. One associate at a New York law firm said, “The darker lines intrude upon my thinking — they’re yelling back at you.” (Why not?)

Of course, these are all emotional responses more than they are scientific explanations. But maybe that’s something specific to writing: it’s not scientific at all. As any writer will tell you (whether you ask or not), one’s written output is so dependent on their mood and environment. (I use four different word processors/note-taking apps on a regular basis, because I am some sort of crazy person.) Writing isn’t quite the romantic process some people make it out to be, but when I stare at a blank page, it might as well be easy on the eyes.


Since moving to rural Pennsylvania, I have been several times regaled with stories of dread inconvenience where the region’s storied winter precipitation is concerned. My wife and I have told our neighbors how excited we are for the first snow to come, and they’ve just shaken their heads and looked at us with half-lidded eyes as if we’re idiots. We’ll learn, they’d say. Cue horror stories of ten-foot high bulwarks that shiver snowplows down to spare parts and cause schoolchildren to weep tears of ice. Oh, we’d learn.

Even a glance at the winter stats for our town show that such tales aren’t entirely fable. Weather is serious out here. Still, our neighbors likely have inflated these numbers. The snowdrifts got bigger with every rendition, as if the closer to winter we got, the larger they loomed in the townsfolk’s collective memory. There would be shoveling of the drive every morning, and there would be icy roads, and there would be more shoveling and frozen fingers and frozen windshields, and the drafts would creep under the doors and loom over us in our bed and oh yeah, more shoveling.

I certainly don’t discount my neighbors’ perspective on the matter. Where I am just a newcomer, still struck with novelty, they have lived with our town’s seasonal variety and felt its unpredictable rhythms in their everyday routines, some of them, for their whole lives. And anyway, if I had to choose between fodder for almanacs and fables, I’d choose the fables every time. It’s nice to be part of local lore, even as a greenhorn.


Photo courtesy of Alex Loach

I’d like to think that my neighbors’ dismissal of our naive wonder is more about pride in dealing with winter rigamarole than cynicism. Our inexperience just throws the heady reality of their own different, more earned appreciation into stark relief. It’s not that they think we’re dumb for looking forward to winter or that they take the beauties of the season for granted, but that they know you can’t really appreciate the stillness of a winter landscape until you’ve had to shovel an icy driveway.

And I get that. Beauty always costs something, and over time it involves shouldering burdens not immediately apparent at first. So in spite of my neighbors’ winking warnings, I’m recommending snow, getting in among it, living with it, shoveling it.