Friday, May 20, 2022

Special When Lit: A Pinball Documentary

This is a good documentary about Pinball.  It was made in 2009.

I remember seeing a non-electric antique amusement machine that was probably from the 1930s,   It wasn't very big, but it worked by putting in a coin, like a nickel, and turning a handle to get roughly 7 to 10 metal balls.  Then you would pull a lever to shoot the balls at holes.  If the balls landed in the holes then they would accumulate in the "score" window.  Although the game had a football theme, it was more like a pinball version of skeeball.  As primitive as the game was, it was somewhat fun to play.

Growing up in small-city Indiana, there wasn't much amusement in the early 1970s.  I remember seeing some mechanical games, like a baseball-themed game and a shooting game, both of which I found thrilling to play.  I definitely felt addicted at first.  I was young and impressionable.  This started me down a path of enjoying games.  

As a side note, in late 1974 I began to enjoy playing chess immensely which I still do.

Around summer 1975, an arcade opened up in my local mall, which had mechanical games.  My friends and I enjoyed meeting and playing the games.  The cost of pinball was 2 games for a quarter.  These mechanical games eventually would mostly give way to video games.  

There was a perfect storm of events in the second half of the 1970s that would shape my life forever.  I already was very interested in electronics because at the time this was the cutting edge of technology.  I started reading about computers and I first got to use one in 1975.  I learned how to write simple computer programs, taking to programming as a duck takes to water.  In 1976 I made friends with someone who had built an extremely primitive computer from a kit, and I learned how to program it using "machine code" which is the more difficult language of the microprocessor itself.

In 1977 video games were starting to become popular and the movie Star Wars came out.  Both were very influential on my life.  The late 1970s were culturally defined by video games, pinball, Starwars, and disco.  It was a time of cheap thrills when the economy was probably the worst since the Great Depression.  We had an oil crisis, massive inflation, and unemployment.  Most people today are too young to remember how difficult those times were.

I not only became interested in video games but I wanted to write games.  I was fortunate that my high school bought computers and taught simple computer programming in algebra class.  I was already developing programming skills and I spent much time writing programs on the school computers.

In the mid-1980s I was able to get my own computers and I started a business selling programs that I wrote, some of which were relatively primitive video games.  

In 1985 I temporarily had a job at a Showbiz Pizza maintaining and doing minor repairs on the videogames and mechanical games.  In 1993 I got my first job as a video game programmer in Utah.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

The Hand that Rocks the Cradle

Blessings on the hand of women!
Angels guard its strength and grace,
In the palace, cottage, hovel,
Oh, no matter where the place;
Would that never storms assailed it,
Rainbows ever gently curled;
For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.
Infancy's the tender fountain,
Power may with beauty flow,
Mother's first to guide the streamlets,
From them souls unresting grow—
Grow on for the good or evil,
Sunshine streamed or evil hurled;
For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.
Woman, how divine your mission
Here upon our natal sod!
Keep, oh, keep the young heart open
Always to the breath of God!
All true trophies of the ages
Are from mother-love impearled;
For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.
Blessings on the hand of women!
Fathers, sons, and daughters cry,
And the sacred song is mingled
With the worship in the sky—
Mingles where no tempest darkens,
Rainbows evermore are hurled;
For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.
- William Ross Wallace, 1865.

Monday, May 2, 2022

8 Struggles of Being a Highly Intelligent Person

I strongly relate to #6, but also #2 through 5 and #7.

I'm not sure what qualifies as "highly intelligent", but I am highly analytical, maybe too analytical, and tend to understand some topics at a deeper level.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Fascinating Facts About The Amish That Few People Know - Past Chronicles

In the 1980s, I met one Amish young man.  Somewhere between Scottsburg and Salem Indiana, there is a community of them, and I was living in Scottsburg at the time.  I only on rare occasions drove to Salem, and yet I managed to see their buggies on the road along the way.

I think that this young man may have taken a job in Scottsburg.  I think that the Amish sometimes do this to make ends meet.  

A had a casual conversation with the young man and my impression was not favorable.  He didn't seem to know hardly anything.  He was also waiting for someone to drive him home in a vehicle, oddly enough.  Maybe it is okay since he wasn't the driver.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Weed killer

The dandelions were pretty bad in my yard and my oriental neighbors' yard. I ordered the weed killer spray from Amazon because it was considerably cheaper than Walmart. I ordered two bottles. I expected to get the shipment today.

I wanted to do the spraying first but the package hadn't arrived yet. So first I mowed my front and back yards. Then I went for a 25 minute bike ride thinking that I could use the exercise. On my ride I saw an Amazon truck.

The package showed up about 5:45. I put on a long sleeve shirt, rubber gloves and a KN95 mask. The instructions say to do this, and maybe wear eye protection which I didn't do, and then to shower thoroughly afterwards which I did do.

I hooked the hose to the spray bottle and turned the faucet to full blast. This worked, but I ran out of weed killer halfway into my yard. In the past I was able to do the whole front yard with one bottle and still have some left over. Good thing that I ordered a second bottle.

I have no plans to spray the back yard. People only see the front yard which was starting to look bad because it was overrun with dandelions.

The oriental lady next door approached me and asked me what I was doing. I told her that I was applying dandelion killer. This maybe surprised her, but their yard is loaded with dandelions the same as mine. I get the impression that her husband is diligent about doing yard work because I have seen him many times working in the yard.

Best wishes,

John Coffey

Saturday, April 23, 2022


I had not seen this puzzle before. I like it. It is obviously a chess spin on Wordle, which I also like.

The goal is to guess the sequence of opening movies.

The puzzle gives you the option to guess 3 or 5 moves.  In today's puzzle, I got the 3 move sequence on the second try.  It is an opening sequence that I like to play.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

IQ test question

I found this question online.  I have always been confused as to whether we should be looking at these types of questions as 3 horizontal problems where we just have to provide an answer for the 3rd line, or 3 vertical problems?  I would assume horizontal, but both directions seem to work here.

I had an unusual flash of insight where I think that I hit upon the answer right away.  Maybe the problem isn't as hard as it first looks.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Mechanical Calculator

The fact that people made mechanical computational devices shows that there is a strong need for computation.

I feel like the birth of the computer started with mechanical devices.  

NCR started in the cash register business, which technically was an adding machine with a mechanical crank to make it work.  From there it is a natural transition to electric, then electronic, and eventually digital.

In order to help with the U.S. census, in the late 1800s, someone invented the mechanical tabulating machine that used punch cards.  Census takers would punch holes into cards depending upon the answers to questions that they asked.  Then the machine could process the cards and add up the answers to specific questions.  This is long before we had computers, although the tabulating machine could be considered a type of computer.  This punch card technology would later be used to store computer programs and data.

Around 1971 my parents had a mechanical adding machine to help with their business.  It was heavy and bulky but it did the job.

Around the same time, a Japanese company contracted with Intel to produce the first electronic calculator.  Up to that point, Intel had made integrated circuits with relatively simple logic circuits.  It was possible to build a big computer by combing a large number of these logic chips.  So to make the first electronic calculator, Intel came up with the 4004 microprocessor, which is the 4-bit grandfather of the 8-bit 8008, 8080, and 16-bit 8086 chips that would follow.  The microprocessor revolution started with a calculator.

The 4004 chip had limited capabilities, but it was still the first whole computer processor on a single chip.  The first real microprocessor operating system, CPM, was designed to run on the 8080 processor long before we had DOS or Windows.  CPM was all the rage in the mid-1970s.   Consequently, a company called Zilog came up with a slightly superior 8080 clone called the Z80 which was compatible with CPM.  The Z80 processor would go on to be used in the TRS-80, Sinclair, and Timex-Sinclair computers, as well as a whole series of MSX computers in Japan.  The chip would also be used in a few videogame systems.

On a more personal note, most early videogame systems did not have any kind of operating system or high-level language that they could be programmed in.  This meant that they had to be programmed in the language of the microprocessor itself, which is called machine code.  This is considered not only archaic but also technically much more difficult.  In the 1970s, one of the first computers I got my hands on was an RCA 1802 Elf computer, which was incredibly primitive, but I learned to write 1802 machine code on it.  In the late 1970s, I learned Z80 machine code on the TRS-80 computer.  In 1985, on the Timex-Sinclair 2068 computer, I wrote a videogame in Z80 machine code, using a tool called an Assembler that I wrote myself.  Along the way, I picked up 6502 machine code, and in 1993 I got my first videogame job in Utah writing 65816 machine code, a more advanced 16-bit version of the 6502, for the Super Nintendo.  In 1999 I change jobs, and I was back to writing Z80 machine code on the Gameboy Color.  By that point, the Z80 was considered mostly obsolete, but it was still being used on Gameboys.  Because of my previous experience with the Z80, I hit the ground running on that job, and my new boss was so impressed with my programming skills that he gave me a raise after my first week.

Best wishes,

John Coffey

Friday, March 11, 2022


I have had much fun with the New York Times Wordle puzzle.  You have 6 chances to guess a five letter word.  Yellow means a correct letter, and Green means that it is in the correct position.  There are some interesting phone apps that are clones of this.


Re: The Monty Hall problem and IQ


Conscientiousness is as much a predictor of success as IQ scores.  There are many smart people who are failures for various reasons.

---------- Forwarded message ---------
On Fri, Mar 11, 2022 at 8:26 AM Al wrote:
This video shows the very well known "Monty Hall Problem". Monty Hall was the game show host of Let's Make a Deal. At the end of each show the winning contestant chose door #1, door #2, or door #3. So, if Monty Hall says there are goats behind 2 doors and the grand prize behind one door. So, let's say you pick door #1. Monty now says I'm going to help you by letting you know that door #3 has goats.

So, speaking mathematically, should you keep your original pick of door #1. Or should you change your pick to door #2?

Btw, normal IQ falls between 85 to 115.

From: John Coffey

I've been aware of the Monty Hall Problem and its controversy for some time.

It is the best illustration that intuitive notions aren't always correct.

IQ scores of 85 to 115 represent one standard deviation from the norm.  One standard deviation will include 68% of the people usually regardless of what it is measuring.

Mensa is a social organization that only accepts people with IQ test results two standard deviations above the norm, which is the top 2%.   However, different IQ tests have different ranges producing different numbers.  The Mensa website currently lists different scores on different qualifying tests ranging from 130 to 132.  However, when I took the Mensa test in 1986, they were using different numbers.  They gave me two tests and I only had to pass one of them with either a score of 136 on the standard test or a score of 148 on the California test.  I scored 136 and 147, just barely passing.

I actually thought that I could do better.  Roughly twenty years ago I took an online test that claimed to be scientific and accurate.  I scored 138.  I waited a few years and took the same test again and scored 141.  This test factored in the age of the person, but I haven't seen any other test that does that.

Last year I took a short 20 question IQ test advertised on Facebook, which claimed to be scientific, but I have my doubts.  I took it three times because I kept scoring in mid 120s.  I was not able to improve my score.  I'm not sure how much of this result is due to my age, or just the result of this particular test.

Many people think that IQ is a difficult thing to measure and does not take into account all the ways that people can be intelligent.  If a test only measures analytical and spatial reasoning, which is what these tests usually measure, I suspect that I would do well.

Best wishes,

John Coffey

Wednesday, February 16, 2022


A friend introduced me to Wordle, a puzzle game on the New York Times web page. It is a guessing game where you try to guess a five-letter word. Any correct letter will show up in yellow, or green if it is in the correct position. You have six chances to guess the word.

The on-screen keyboard helps you because it shows which letters have succeeded or failed so far.  In my second and third guesses, I tried to use new letters so that I could narrow down the answer.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

John Coffey vs NN (1978) (chess game)

Funny thing about this game.  I played it against a higher-rated player in a tournament in Bloomington around 1978.  (This person is still around, and he has gone out of his way to be rude to me, both then and now.)

The game is very simple.  My opponent made the mistake of letting me push the D pawn.   He resigned after 8 moves.

I was so pleased with myself that I sent the game to the state chess magazine which published it.  It was seen by some chess author who put it in a book of short chess games.  I don't remember the title of the book.  Over a dozen years ago I found the game in the database of games for one of the older versions of Fritz chess.   It is not in Fritz 10.

Quite by accident, I discovered that the game is on  However, I had written them a couple of years ago to ask if they would accept games to publish, and they informed me that they only publish games played by chess masters.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Chess Player at Large: Novag Super Constellation Level 1

Practicing with (emulated) old chess computers that I used to love to play with during the '80s in the early '90s. 

I inadvertently may have found the Achilles Heel of the Super Constellation.  It failed to find the drawing line because this would have involved a perpetual check.  Instead, it makes a move that looks dumb.   

It is not clear if the computer is smart enough to check for repetition of the position in its tree search because on an 8-bit computer this check would be very costly and slow it down  The computer would not normally search deep enough to see a three-fold repetition anyway.  Most chess engines today consider any repetition of the position to be a draw.

The Super Constellation only sees the draw after it reaches an 11 ply search.  Back when I was using programs like Fritz 4 and Fritz 5 to analyze my chess games, I thought that an 11 ply was pretty deep, maybe equal to a low ranked Grandmaster from what I read.   Today Stockfish quickly reaches 30 ply, and I use 35 to 40 ply to analyze my openings.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Russell Gumbrecht Obituary (2020) - Salt Lake City, UT

Russell was a nice older man.  He was badly wounded in Vietnam and then developed schizophrenia.  He seemed a little odd, but he was a nice person.  He had a 1519 rating.  He felt like a B player to me.  He played a few times in our chess club and the quick chess tournaments that I ran.

He paid me an exceptionally nice compliment when he said, "I thought that I was a good endgame player, and then I played John Coffey and I found out what a really good endgame player is."

Monday, December 13, 2021

How much coffee do people use in their coffee maker?

I am trying to slowly phase out caffeine, so I am trying to control the amount of caffeinated coffee I use.

The standard ratio for brewing coffee is 1-2 tablespoons of ground coffee per 6 ounces of water – 1 tablespoon for lighter coffee and 2 for stronger coffee. 
So how does that break down in your coffeemaker?

To fill a standard 12-cup coffeemaker, you will need 12-24 tablespoons (or between 3/4 and 1 1/2 cups) of ground coffee."
It is not clear if the tablespoons they are talking about are heaping tablespoons or level tablespoons.  A heaping tablespoon might be equal to 2 to 3 level tablespoons. 

The instructions on the cans of coffee I purchase say to use one heaping tablespoon for every 6 ounces of water.  That seems excessive to me.  That would be 10 heaping tablespoons for a pot of coffee.  

The way I make coffee is to use just enough to cover the bottom of the filter with coffee.  This means that it is heaping in the middle, less heaping toward the sides.  I measured this as 3 heaping tablespoons on my new coffee maker.  I might sometimes use 4.  This tastes fine to me and does not seem weak.

According to the Internet, a heaping tablespoon of Arabica coffee has 60 mg of caffeine.  Therefore three tablespoons would have 180 mg of caffeine for the entire pot.  By coincidence, this is the amount of caffeine in a large 20 once McDonald's coffee according to the internet.  So that would imply that Mcdonald's is using 3 times the amount of coffee that I am using.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Fwd: 2021 Compare Cities


---------- Forwarded message ---------
From: John Coffey
Date: Thu, Nov 11, 2021 at 12:09 AM
Subject: 2021 Compare Cities
To: Al

I compared Columbus Indiana to other cities, like Indianapolis, Kokomo, Bloomington, Louisville, and even Salt Lake City.  Columbus comes out favorably in terms of housing cost, median income, and crime.

Fishers Indiana has lower crime, a much higher average income, but really high housing costs.


Monday, November 1, 2021

World Population Growth

World population growth during my lifetime has been remarkably linear, notwithstanding 5 million deaths from COVID. On the year of my birth, the Earth had 3 Billion people. At the present rate, it will be 8 Billion in four years.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Re: Hobbiton

Now I ride a bicycle for exercise, but when I lived in Salt Lake City I would go on walks of various durations ranging from 20 to 90 minutes.

I walked by this place a few times.  Google street view shows a "no trespassing" sign, which I also saw when I walked by the place, otherwise, I might have walked down the lane.  I wanted to check it out because it is my nature to be curious about almost everything.

I thought that I saw a person getting out of a car who was a dwarf.  Maybe more than one person.  The "no trespassing" sign led me to believe that they wanted to protect their privacy.

Around 20+ years ago they completely rebuilt the area south of 2100 south between Highland Drive and 1300 south.  Prior to that, there was a bit of a disused park that nobody seemed to go to.  There was a walking trail that seemingly very few people knew about because it wasn't visible from the roads.  A tiny part of that trail still exists and I used to walk it for fun.


Friday, September 24, 2021

Passage of time

Good grief, I am astonished by the passage of time. Forty years ago I was a sophomore in college. Thirty years ago this month I started my second full-time job in Indianapolis. Twenty years ago I was a few months at my third and final Salt Lake City employer. Seven years ago this month I was laid off and decided to retire. It has been six years and four months since I moved back to Indiana (and started a chess club in Greenwood.)

Best wishes,

John Coffey

Evolution of Star Trek Series Music Theme (1966-2020)

I am less of a music fan than most people.  I think that this video is beautiful, maybe because I am a Star Trek aficionado.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021


Occasionally I make biscuits.  It is clear that the "Grands!" style biscuits, which Walmart has their own cheaper brand of "Jumbo" biscuits, are the best tasting, and I do like them, but it is no wonder they taste good since they have 5 grams of sugar per biscuit.  This might not be an issue for most people, but I want to avoid too much sugar.  So I looked for alternatives.  The smaller biscuits are cheaper overall, not that cost is an issue, and they have 40% less sugar.  It takes 3 small biscuits to equal the weight of one large one, and the label confirms this by listing 3 biscuits as one serving, which has 40% less sugar.

It is the smaller size that is the problem.  The instructions say to "cook until golden brown", but if you do that then the entire biscuit wants to turn golden brown and they can come out too dry.  You can undercook them, in which case they come out white and soft and pretty edible, but I don't like the small size for putting jam or peanut butter on them.  

So this got me thinking.  Since it is just dough, I can make whatever size biscuit I want with them.  I tried combining pairs of biscuits into balls and these turned out like little dinner rolls.  The first batch I overcooked and they were slightly crispy on the outside but soft on the inside, and this was interesting.  In the second batch, I cooked them less and they came out like soft dinner rolls and these were pretty good.

On my third batch, I didn't want to go to the trouble of combining pairs of biscuits into balls, so I just baked the biscuits with one on top of another.  I combined two cans of ten biscuits to get ten double-height biscuits.  Not only was this easier, but I felt like this was my best result yet.  I had to cook them for 20 minutes, but they came out like slightly smaller versions of the Grands biscuits, and they were pretty good.  They aren't quite as good as the high sugar biscuits, but it is a tradeoff.

Even though the instructions tell you to use an ungreased cooking pan, I find it better to use cooking spray to keep them from sticking.  I also tried smearing a small amount of olive oil on the bottom of the pan and this works too.


Sunday, August 22, 2021

re: Peak COVID cases

On Sun, Aug 22, 2021 at 3:51 PM Albert wrote:
 I keep hearing more and more reports of people transmitting the disease unaware that they are infected by COVID. This worries me a lot. I enjoy playing chess, but not at the expense of getting sick while doing so.

---------- Forwarded message ---------
From: John 

The vaccines are still effective at preventing serious illness, or at least mostly effective.  I am counting on a combintion of vaccination and caution.

I think that it is likely that we will get a new spike in cases worse than anything we have seen before.  If this happens, we might have to shut down the chess club temporarily.  At the very least, mask mandates will come back and many hesitant people will get vaccinated as the death toll goes up.

Best wishes,

John Coffey

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Ludwig van Beethoven: Ode an die Freude/Ode to Joy 1

I heard this song the other day. I had no idea what the name was. It bothered me that I didn't know. So today, it came to me.

Beethoven had been almost completely deaf for a decade when he wrote this. It is the final movement to his ninth symphony. At the premiere, he was not aware of the thunderous applause until he turned around and saw the audience.

The European Anthem is based on "Ode to Joy".

Ludwig van Beethoven: Ode an die Freude/Ode to Joy 1

I heard this song the other day. I had no idea what the name was. It bugged me that I didn't know. So today, it came to me.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Fwd: Booster shots


---------- Forwarded message ---------
On Mon, Aug 16, 2021 at 9:18 AM Albert wrote:
Most of the people I've spoken with have shown little interest in taking a booster. In their minds, the benefit of getting a booster is: you still wear a mask, you social distance, and you still get sick. So there are no benefits? What the heck!?

From: John 
To: Albert


Most areas are not requiring a mask.  Getting a vaccine provides much more freedom to do things that are much more dangerous without a vaccine.  If the vaccine starts to wane after 6 months then getting a booster is going to be part of that.

This sounds like defeatism to me.  It is like saying just because something is difficult, we're not even going to try.


Saturday, August 14, 2021

Fwd: COVID-19 argument

From a discussion on Facebook.  This person from Utah takes the same position as someone I know locally...


I mean no offense, but I think that everything that you have assumed about this issue is wrong. You have it all backward. You way overestimate the danger of the vaccine, which is essentially harmless, and you way underestimate the danger of the virus. You assume that your immune system will protect you.

The real choice is to get the vaccine or get the disease. The Delta variant has an R factor of 8 to 9. Among the unvaccinated, it is spreading like wildfire.

I have a close friend in Farmington who is anti-vax, and he said that he would rather get the disease than take a chance with the vaccine. Well, he and his wife have had the Delta variant for 4 weeks and they have found it completely debilitating. He is sleeping 15 hours a day and his wife is worse. He doesn't respond to emails, phone calls, and texts because he feels so bad.

A friend of mine in Indianapolis said that he got the vaccine because he doesn't want to inadvertently kill someone else. I completely agree with this reasoning, and the anti-vax people seem selfish to me because they want to make the issue just about themselves. You might be fine if you catch COVID, although I doubt it, but you could spread the disease to other people.

Not everyone who gets the vaccine is fully protected, I have an 81-year-old mother who is the nicest person in the world, but she has leukemia and is immunocompromised. She has been told that her immunotherapy diminishes the effectiveness of the vaccine, and she has also been told that she would not likely survive COVID.

If you make this issue just about your personal freedom, then you might be refusing the vaccine for the wrong reasons. The only way that we are going to get past COVID is if the vast majority get vaccinated or if the vast majority contract the disease. The cost of the latter is too high. Immunity might only last 6 months to a year, which means that people will have to keep getting one or the other.

Best wishes,

John Coffey

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

crazy anti-coke ad

Yes, maybe you can blame obesity on sugary drinks, but personal responsibility has to assume part or most of the blame.

I'm trying to eat healthily, but I have a tendency to want the foods that I grew up with.  In the 1960s and the 1970s, people ate fried foods all the time and thought nothing of it.  It was normal for us to go out to Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, or McDonald's.  We ate a variety of foods at home, but my mother also made really good fried chicken and this was my favorite.

I grew up drinking sugary soft drinks and didn't start drinking diet soda until I had a weight problem.  The diet soda didn't help, and it caused acid reflux so I had to give it up as an adult.

It wasn't till 2008 that I started listening to Dr. Robert Lustig who said that sugar is a poison.  Sucrose is a disaccharide that consists of one part glucose and one part fructose.  He claims that fructose gets processed in the liver the same way alcohol does.  The body can't use it directly and converts it to an unhealthy form of fat.  Too much of this can damage the liver, and sugar consumption is associated with a variety of health problems.   (He is actually not against fruit, because fruit has a variety of benefits.  Fruit is nature's candy.)

Prior to this, I thought that it was okay to have sugary snacks as part of my diet provided that I count calories.

We used to have long meetings at work, and sometimes they would bring in donuts or snacks as a way to keep people happy.  When meetings would finish, other people would raid the conference room for leftover snacks.  I used to do this too, and there was an informal network of people who kept each other informed, usually by email, about snacks available in the conference rooms.

---------- Forwarded message ---------
From: Larry