Thursday, May 31, 2007

Eli 5.9 Weighs In

Three Eli stories today, all at least a few days old.

Last week, Eli was trying to catch a bug to put in a plastic container that he calls the "bug microscope" because it has a little magnifying glass. He went out on the deck, then came back in after about fifteen minutes.

"Did you catch a bug?" I asked.

"I got an ant," Eli said. "I wanted to catch a rolly-polly, but they were too fast and too skilled."

We watch a Nickelodeon show called Drake and Josh. We saw an episode where Josh (who is the lovable loser) asks a girl out for a hamburger, and she says 'I'm a vegetarian.' Josh winds up saying "I don't believe you!" after she also claims to be lactose intolerant.

Eli's watching this carefully, and he says "That is NOT the right way to ask a girl out on a date. You should say, very nicely, 'Please could I go out with you?' and if she says she's a vegetarian, you say 'Well, maybe we could just go have some lettuce.' "

This last story is from way back, when Eli had the rotavirus. If you're not a parent, by the way, just stop reading right now, because you're not ready for it.

The rotavirus, obviously, involves diarrhea, and lots of it. It's also not anything you can really control, because it just happens too quickly.

So after two days of diarrhea, throwing up, and going to the hospital in an ambulance (which I already told you about when it happened), Eli actually started adjusting to being sick. We were in the living room, watching a show, and he stood up from the couch. "Hey guys," he said, "does anyone mind if I drop my pants and check for diarrhea?"

"Knock yourself out," I said.

"Okay, thank you," he said.

So This Again

This week, the unconstitutional foray by state legislators comes from New York:
The New York Assembly passed a bill today that would make selling or renting videogames with mature content to minors a class E felony, the same class that includes crimes such as incest.

Bill no. A08696 passed 130-10 just five days after the bill was introduced. The bill would make it illegal to sell or rent to minors games “which include depraved violence and indecent images that are accessible to a user.”

This includes images depicting “rape, dismemberment, physical torture, mutilation or evisceration of a human being” or depictions of a “person or portion of the human body which depicts nudity, sexual conduct or sado-masochistic abuse and which is harmful to minors.”

The bill would make selling or renting such games to minors a class E felony, the same class as riot in the first degree, criminal anarchy, first degree aggravated harassment, bigamy and wiretapping, according to New York penal law. A class E felony carries penalties of up to four years on prison.

Here's what I love about this country: "a person or portion of the human body which depicts nudity" (in other words, boobies) is given the same "harmful" status as "sado-masochistic abuse", "mutilation or evisceration of a human being", "rape", and "physical torture." Well, done, nudity Gestapo.

Here's the thing about these stupid bills: they remind me of the first time I saw a woman who looked like a giraffe. Now a tall woman doesn't automatically look like a giraffe, but if she wears heels that are just a little too high and walks just a little too slow, she starts to wobble, and then she looks like a giraffe.

The first time I saw a woman like this, I was astounded. A woman who looks like a giraffe! It was the funniest story ever. Now I see at least one a week. It's no longer remarkable.

That's why I don't get all worked up about these bills anymore: they're just so common. They're all written by people with the intelligence of seventh graders. And phrases like "depraved violence" and "indecent images", not to mention "which is harmful to minors", are all so vague as to clearly be unconstitutional.

These Einsteins, though, thought they were somehow being clever by doing this:
Assemblyman Joseph Lentol (D) proposed the bill, according to GamePolitics, which also points out a severabililty clause within the bill. The clause states that if any one portion of the bill is deemed unconstitutional, that ruling will not invalidate the remainder of the bill.

This is the funniest piece of all. Even THEY know the bill is unconstitutional, so they thought they would cover their asses this way. Except, to the best of my knowledge, all a judge has to do is say "this law is unconstitutional--period" and they're finished. Which is what is going to happen. And oh-by-the-way they'll also be scratching a check to the ESA for legal fees.

I don't want underage consumers buying games that are inappropriate for them. But categorizing an improper sale as worthy of a maximum of four years in prison (!) is just embarrassingly stupid.

The thing about these bills, though, is that they'll never go away, and they're almost impossible to vote against, because if you do, your opponent runs an ad like this:
Dewey Swindle voted AGAINST a law protecting our children from seeing scenes of torture and rape in video games. Is this the kind of man you want representing us in Washington?

Nothing works in politics (and governance) like fear. So these bills will keep getting passed and we have to hope that judges read the Constitution.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Your E-Mail

DQ reader Rob sent in two very interesting comments about posts I made last week:

About "Information"; I've been at my current IT job at a hospital in Chicago for 17.5 years. We've been on the internet from when it was new and the general public had no idea what it was. I'm talking using GOPHER. EARLY internet. When the WWW started, we would go to a site at UofI-Champaign, and they would have a page that listed ALL THE NEW PAGES THAT DAY. There were maybe 30-50 and we couldn't believe how much it grew every day! We went to a webpage that was from the University of Krakow math department. I can't describe how cool that was. My "where were you when" moment of it all was when I went to an FTP site in New Zealand and downloaded a 1meg file over a satelite link, which they asked us not to do because it cost them a bunch of money. At that moment, I realized truly how small the world had become; I could get information from ANYWHERE at ANYTIME. It was an amazing moment.

About the Cicadas... When I was 8 in 1973, my grandparents lived in a town west of Chicago called Villa Park. It was an older post WW2 town, but had a lot of old-growth trees. When the cicadas came out, it was like a moving carpet on the trees and lawn. You couldn't see the bark or grass through the complete coverage of red-eyed bugs... The worst part was the sound; in the evening you couldn't hold a conversation outside.

That's one of the coolest anecdotes I've heard in a long time--seeing a list of ALL new pages on the Internet each day, and being blown away that there were fifty!

Cheese Chasers (the video)

Of course there's a video, and Franklin Brown sent me the link. It's basically people who are tremendously drunk catapaulting themselves down a hill as they chase after cheese.

That's hard to beat, and the video is even better. See it here. The actual carnage starts at about the 1:30 mark.

An Interesting Discovery

I received my replacement Xbox 360 early last week, but didn't play Guitar Hero II for four more days.

I'd been chasing 10k here and 20k there on my Career score just to compete on the Xbox Live Leaderboards, and I realized that I really wasn't having nearly as much fun as I had been before. Plus my hands were kind of of heavy and a little sore--you know the feeling. So I wasn't even playing as well as I thought I could.

When I sent the 360 off for repair, it forced me to stop playing for almost two weeks. In that time, my hands felt much better.

So last Saturday, I decided to sit down and play Jessica on Hard. Once. It's one of my favorite songs, and I hadn't been able to 5-star it on the 360.

No warm-up. Just started the game up and played.

I realized as soon as I started playing that my hands were fast. Very, very fast, at least for me. It took 10-15 seconds to get locked in, and I gave some points away early, but I still 5-starred it.

Then I played "Carry On Wayward Son," which is a song I've never been able to 5-star on Hard. I didn't this time, either, but I did get 91%, which is quite a bit better than I'd ever played before.

Then I stopped for the day. Total playing time was 10-15 minutes.

I didn't play on Sunday. On Monday, I played "Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo" on Hard. It's an absolute bitch to play--I'd never even 4-starred it on Hard. Again, though, I could tell that my hands were really, really fast, and I did 4-star it.

And stopped.

Today, after taking Tuesday off, I played "Carry On Wayward Son" once on Hard and 5-starred it.

And stopped.

So if you're having a hard time improving any of your scores, try this: take a few days off. Then, when you start playing again, only play for 10-15 minutes at a time. I know, it sounds like you'd actually get worse, but I'm playing some passages that are absolutely ridiculous (for me) because my hands are so fast at first.

I can't explain how that all works, but there's no mistaking the feeling.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Cheese Chasers, We Salute You

From the Daily Mail:
Fearless competitors risk life and limb to chase giant cheese
Dozens of fearless competitors have taken part in one of the country's most bizarre and dangerous sporting challenges - chasing a giant cheese down a steep slope.

They flipped, somersaulted and tumbled their way 200 metres down the sheer face of Cooper's Hill in Brockworth, Gloucestershire, in pursuit of the giant runaway circle of cheese.

Despite heavy rain, around 3,000 people gathered on the hillside, which in places has a 1:1 gradient, to watch the five bone-crunching downhill races.

...Jason Crowther from Pembrokeshire, west Wales, won the first race to complete a hat-trick of victories over the last three years.

Clutching the 7-8lb Double Gloucester, the bruised and battered 25-year-old said: "There's no training you can do for this. You have just got to go for it. It was a bit slippery and I heard something crack, which I think was my knee. But there aren't any tactics involved as you can probably see."


I've got so many good links piled up that here are a few for your painful post-holiday return to work.

First off, a long but fascinating article over at CNN about Hewlett-Packard and their possible spying on Dell. It's a convoluted and twisted tale, like all spy stories should be, and you can read it here.

Cliff Eyler sends in a link to the revival of an ancient sport: chariot racing. Yes, that sounds like a Monty Python skit (and maybe it should be), but it's not, and you can read about it here.

Here's an interesting link from Sirius about the facial features people associate with common names. If a person's name and features don't "match," people have a more difficult time remembering their name. Very interesting, and you can read about it here.

By the way, one of the links embedded in the story (MSNBC is always trying to send you somewhere else) was to a story titled "Tune your tush with a butt-blast blitz."

Ironically, "butt blast blitz" is #3 on my Top Ten List of Three Words I Never Want To See In Consecutive Order.

From Jessie Leimkuehler, a link to an article about a remarkable archaeological find:
CAIRO (Reuters) - Belgian archaeologists have discovered the intact tomb of an Egyptian courtier who lived about 4,000 years ago, Egypt's culture ministry said on Sunday.

...The archaeologists found Henu's mummy wrapped in linen in a large wooden coffin and a sarcophagus decorated with hieroglyphic texts addressed to the gods Anubis and Osiris.

The tomb contained well-preserved painted wooden statuettes of workers making bricks, women making beer and pounding cereal, and a model of a boat with rowers, a ministry statement said.

"The statuettes (are of) the best quality of their time. They are characterized by realistic touches and unusual details such as the dirty hands and feet of the brick makers," the statement said...

Read the story here, and there's also an amazing photograph of the tomb.

Another link from Sirius, this one about the discovery of a unique feature of T. Rex: fused nasal bones. This adaptation allowed the dinosaur's powerful bite to break the bones of its prey without breaking its own skull. Read about it here.

Chris Meadowcraft also sent in a dinosaur link, this one to a study with definitive evidence that some dinosaurs could swim. See it here.

George Paci sent in a link to a story from 2000 about fractal analysis of the paintings of Jackson Pollack. It's an excellent read and you can find it here.

On Nintendo

From a trusted source who wishes to remain anonymous:
I spoke to a developer friend on the weekend at a party and apparently, his company (who are making xxxxxxxxx) have been given a ton of dosh to polish their game by Nintendo. That's because Nintendo don't need to release any software right now as their system is still selling through the roof. They're doing this with other UK developers as well, apparently. Later in the year they're going to release a storm of uber-polished games.

Game identity removed, obviously, although the country is still readily apparent.

Monday, May 28, 2007

A Scanner Darkly

I hadn't seen A Scanner Darkly until yesterday.

When the film was released, the critics were fairly harsh (67% favorable at Rotten Tomatoes). And that number's probably fair, if you're not a fan of Philip K. Dick.

However, and this is a big however, if you are a fan of Philip K. Dick, the film is a masterpiece. I can't imagine another film ever conveying the atmosphere and feelings of his work as accurately as this film. Dick's writing at this stage of his life had become increasingly paranoid, and Linklater's decision to use interpolated rotoscoping was nothing short of brilliant--it perfectly conveys the flickering sense of reality that Dick was both feeling and writing about.

Blade Runner, to me, was a better film (and my favorite science fiction film ever), but it widely diverged from the story by Dick that it was based on. So if you want to see a very true, very faithful representation of Dick's later work, then A Scanner Darkly is what you want to see.

Sports Notes

I stumbled upon a terrific article on Bo Jackson in the Kansas City Star, which you can read here.

Bo Jackon had such supernatural athletic ability that the list of jaw-dropping events in his career defies description, or even defies what is possible. Here are a few, and these are all from his baseball career only:
--his first minor league home run was hit with a broken bat.
--his first major league home run traveled 475 feet.
--in his first game in the majors, he beat out an infield single when he grounded directly to the second baseman.
--in one game, he called timeout to adjust his batting gloves. He stepped back from the box, started adjusting his gloves, and realized that the umpire hadn't called time. The pitcher was already throwing the ball. Bo hit a home run.
--he once doubled off Carlton Fisk, who was on first base, from left field. On the fly.
--he hit a 450 foot home run in batting practice. Left-handed.

Here's an excerpt from the story that I'm going to use in full, because I watched this (on television) live, and it's still one of my favorite baseball memories:
May 23, 1989: Bo locked into a fastball battle with Nolan Ryan. Up to that point, they had met six times, and Bo had struck out six times. This time, Nolan kept pumping 100-mph fastballs and Bo kept fouling them off, a real clash of the titans. Ryan was not going to try a curveball — this was man-to-man. He threw one last fastball. Bo connected. Bo hit the ball 461 feet, the longest ever homer at Arlington Stadium.

“They better get a new tape measure,” Bo said.

Here's one more, and I think I saw a replay of this one:
On June 5, 1989, the Royals were playing at Seattle. It was the 10th inning, score was tied 3-3, Harold Reynolds was on first base when Scott Bradley rifled a double to left field. Reynolds was running on the pitch, so it was obvious he would score the winning run. He rounded third, headed for home and prepared to have his teammates mob him when he saw his teammate Darnell Coles pumping his arms, the baseball signal for “SLIDE!”

Reynolds thought: “Slide? Are you kidding me?”

So, he was about to launch into what he called “a courtesy slide” when he saw that Kansas City catcher Bob Boone had the ball. Boone tagged him. In the clubhouse afterward, Reynolds would watch the play again and again and again, and never figure out exactly what happened.

What happened was this … Bo Jackson had gotten the ball and made a flatfooted throw of 300 feet in the air. It was a perfect strike. It was so impossible, so ridiculous, so absurd that no umpire was on the spot to make the call. Home-plate umpire Larry Young finally came to his senses and made a fist — Reynolds was out.

It's a fun article to read and reminds me of how much fun we missed out on because he got hurt in his prime.

The NHL Finals start tonight and, like ten other Americans, I'm really looking forward to the series.

By the way, when you open the paper and see these standings, life is very, very good:
Boston 34-15 .694
Baltimore 23-27.460
Toronto 22-27 .449
NY Yankees 21-27.438
Tampa Bay 20-28 .417

That's 12 1/2 games out for the Yankees. It's a good thing they signed Roger Clemens and pushed their payroll over $200 million, because the Devil Rays and their $24 million dollar payroll are breathing down their necks. Hell, just the contract of Clemens alone is going to cost the Yankees more than Tampa Bay's entire payroll.

Here's one last note, and unfortunately it's not uplifting. ESPN's Outside the Lines had a show this weekend about Michael Vick and dogfighting, and they had an interview with a police informant who is embedded (seemingly) deeply into the world of dogfighting. He left no doubt that Michael Vick was a heavyweight in the "sport" where dogs rip each other apart.

I wouldn't be surprised to see this start to unravel from here.


Gloria and Eli 5.9 went to Shreveport for their annual summer visit. As part of an international humanitarian gesture, Gloria let me stay at home.

They left Saturday morning.

While they're driving to/from Shreveport, I worry. It's a long trip (6+ hours without stopping, but longer with the traditional stop at the Tyler Zoo) and I'm not with them. My dream scenario would be a police escort in front of their car, with a van full of car parts, tires, and mechanics driving close behind.

In back of them would be the S.W.A.T. team van.

I usually spend my free time watching movies, reading, and playing games, but this weekend I might have been better served building a canoe. It rained for six hours straight last night and this morning. We average 32 inches of rain a year and we've had over 28 in less than five months.

How much rain is that? Well, that 5.6 inches/month rate is the same average monthly rate for the rainiest city in the country (not including Hawaii)--Mobile, Alabama (67 inches annually). So we have been getting pounded by rain since the beginning of the year.

Seattle? A very pedestrian 36 inches a year. They're barely in the top 50 nationally among U.S. cities. But it rains 158 days a year there. Holy crap.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Console Post of the Week

I saw this over at Game Daily today:
"Reports from Asia also suggest that Sony has reduced production of PS3s, at least temporarily, which may suggest that a price cut is less likely this year. We continue to believe timing of Sony's first PS3 price cut is likely to accompany a stronger software release lineup as well as further cuts in production and component costs."

That's taken from the latest Lazard Capital Markets report.

We already went through the math a couple of weeks ago, but that had to happen. Sony couldn't continue to manufacture 4X (or more) the number of units they were selling each month.

Here's where I think Lazard may be mistaken, though: I don't believe that production cuts are enough, not unless they mothball 75% of their capacity. Sony is in such a painful position right now that they need to cut manufacturing AND eat a price cut.

In other news, Sony's executives opened their mouths, which is always bad news. First off, there's Jack Tretton, who's basically a walking gas can. Here's his response in a GamePro interview when asked about Microsoft potentially developing a Folding@Home client:
Would they be even having this conversation if we weren't doing it? I don't know. I would guess that the medical community would take help from anywhere they could get it, but the commentary that I heard is that Stanford isn't sure that [the Xbox 360's processing abilities] would help them very much, which is odd to be because if it helped at all, it seems like they would welcome it with open arms.

It's really ugly territory to get into, but let's take fighting a disease and see if we can get some credit for that. It's not a cool game to play one way or the other, so I don't want to even give the impression that that's our motivation and I'd be very disappointed if they're looking for PR value or to try to suck off some of the goodwill that we're doing.

Seriously, Sony needs to sit Jack Tretton down and say "Shut the **** up." I can't put it any more plainly than that. He sounds like a complete jackass in that quote, and worse, he sounds like a creep.

Tretton's quote was so bad that I'm not even going to mention Dave Karraker's interview with GamePro, which was another delusional moment, but without the creepiness.

Sony did have something good this week: the 1.8 firmware update. [question: how many freaking updates has this firmware had in six months? Twenty?] 1.80 added upscaling for PS1 and PS2 games as well as DVD's. That's an excellent feature addition.

Here's another piece of good news for Sony: Funai announced that they're going to manufacture a Blu-Ray player. That matters because Funai is decidely low-end, so the player is almost certainly going to be cheaper than anything else currently available.

Oh, and the PS3 sold 8,659 units in Japan this week. Stellar. Let's say you're a Japanese developer, and you have X million dollars to commit to development over the next 18-24 months. You see the Wii's installed base at 2.45 million units and the PS3's base at 900,000 units, and that gap has been increasing by 50-75K a week for the last four weeks.

You make the call: would you rather put out one PS3 game or two Wii games in that market environment?

On to Microsoft, which I'm sure didn't relish seeing this over at (this excerpt is long, but it's worth reading):
The problem is clear. A large number of Xbox 360 consoles from launch onwards have shipped with manufacturing problems which have manifested themselves in the dreaded "three red lights" - an error code displayed on the front panel which means that the console has died, and needs to be returned to Microsoft for service.

The number of systems which shipped with these problems is a matter of some debate, but it's clear that it is a far, far higher proportion than the company originally admitted. Early claims suggested that Xbox 360 consoles were only failing as often as you would expect from any piece of consumer hardware - a figure generally agreed to be around 3 per cent. However, entire batches of consoles at launch were failing en masse - and the reliability, although it improved, continued to be poor for months afterwards.

Has this been fixed? Who can say - Microsoft has certainly made no promises regarding enhanced reliability for the Xbox 360 Elite console, so it's simply impossible to judge whether new machines rolling off the production line will be any better than their predecessors. Even giving the benefit of the doubt, that still means that millions of machines from the "unreliable" period of the console's manufacturing are sitting under televisions around the world.
This, however, is only half of the problem. For a new piece of consumer hardware to display a high failure rate is damaging, but not seriously so, as long as the company has a good system in place to ensure that customers' systems are being repaired, and goodwill is being maintained.

Unfortunately, Microsoft has made two massive blunders in this regard. Firstly, it has taken to shipping refurbished systems to customers whose consoles have died - not a huge problem in itself, but the reliability of these refurbished machines is also vastly suspect, which results in anecdotal cases where gamers have returned their consoles to Microsoft three or even four times, with each subsequent console suffering the same fault after a few months. These cases make compelling "horror stories" for consumers, and have been widely disseminated.

Secondly, despite its shameful appearance on Watchdog, and being lambasted by the press over its behaviour, Microsoft continues to insist that British consumers whose consoles have failed after its 12 month warranty period must pay GBP 85 (around 125 Euro) to have the system repaired. Its customer service representatives are adamant on this point, refusing to budge even when it is pointed out that these manufacturing flaws are clearly Microsoft's responsibility under consumer law, regardless of the terms of the firm's own warranty.

Ouch. As I said a few weeks ago, the "failure rates are a moving target" comment from Peter Moore was nebulous enough to indicate that someone, somewhere, has reliability numbers--and it's not necessarily just Microsoft.

So Microsoft has a reliability problem, and as previously discussed, they have a price problem as well. Halo 3 is going to sell a massive, incomprehensible number of units, but is it going to sell a massive number of new consoles are well? I can't answer that, but I have a hard time believing that millions of people are waiting for Halo 3 before buying a 360.

What Microsoft is missing here is something that we're all familiar with as gamers: combat initiative. Striking first is a huge advantage, and Microsoft needs to drop the price of the 360 to force Sony to respond. Initiate the action. Control the action. Sitting around and reacting is an excellent way to fail.

Nintendo is still crushing everyone. There's your update on Nintendo.

Wait, here's one more piece of information: I'm willing to bet that the software lineup for the Wii this fall is going to be better than people are expecting. Remember, Nintendo doesn't need Halo 3--the Wii demographic is far broader than the 360's or the PS3's. So don't be surprised if there are a few games that don't review particularly well that wind up being gigantic hits, just because the consumers playing the games are looking for a different experience than the people who are reviewing the games.

Friday Links

For your reading pleasure.

First off, Jessie Leimkuehler sent me a link to a brilliant article on cave diving.

At depths of one thousand feet.

It's a story about friendship and hubris and fortune, both good and bad. It's also one of the most gripping magazine articles I've read in years, and you can read it here.

Jim Rossignol wrote an excellent article in The Escapist about how the world of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. weaves reality, film, and literature into a cohesive and complex game world. It's a terrific piece of writing, and you can read it here.

I can't remember if I've linked to this previously, but there's an excellent profile of Ken Kutaragi over at Eurogamer. It's easy to pigeonhole him as the captain of the Yamato 3, but his career was quite remarkable, and you can read about it here.

I saw a link over at Digital Sportspage to a video called "Battle at Kruger," and it's so amazing that it's hard to describe. If you ever wondered what would happen if wildebeests, lions, and crocodiles got into a fight, then this is your dream video, and there are multiple jaw-dropping moments as well. See it here.

I've been getting this link for a week, so I decided it was finally time to post it. A police officer in the Detroit area scammed some pot from a bust, took it home, and had his wife make brownies. It all goes so badly after they eat the brownies that he winds up calling 911, and the resulting conversation is Hall of Fame worthy.

Just remember: in Hockeytown, the score always matters. Listen to the call here.

I'd never heard of Brood XIII until this week, but they're hatching. In case you don't live in the Midwest, you might not know that billions of cicadas are hatching soon after being underground for seventeen years.

And if you're wondering how loud a single cicada can be, it's 90 decibels, or as loud as a blender. With densities projectd to be as high as 1.5 million per acre, it's going to be (using a technical term) pretty ***damned loud. Read all about it here.

Here's something I never expected: dolphins speak in dialects.
BANGOR, Wales - Dolphins living off the coast of Wales whistle, bark and groan in a different dialect from dolphins off the western coast of Ireland, scientists have discovered.

Find out more here.

Finally, here's a link from Sirirus about a new planet that's been discovered. Here's why Gliese 581 is different from other planets:
Out of the hundreds of planets so far uncovered around other stars, Gliese 581c is the best candidate for habitation. It could conceivably boast such terrestrial amenities as liquid oceans, a benign atmosphere, and plate tectonics to churn metal ore close to the surface, useful for any advanced beings with a penchant for technology.

Read about it here.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


I've been thinking about information for several weeks now.

Today, information is essentially free. And endless.

That may not sound like a big deal if you're still in your twenties, but let me explain what it was like when I was in high school, in the late 1970's.

In the morning, I read the newspaper. In the late afternoon, if I wanted to, I could watch the national news. There were also two thirty-minute local newscasts each day.

That was it.

Those were the news inputs. Sure, we subscribed to magazines, too, but for daily news, those were our only sources.

Do you know what we did if there was a question we couldn't answer and we couldn't find the answer in our encyclopedias? We called the "reference desk" at the library. The nice lady there would try to answer any question you had, even if it took her a while to look something up.

I remember thinking when I was in high school that working at the reference desk would be a great job. Just finding answers all day long.

If I wanted to research a paper for school, I went to the library. Every book in the library had a corresponding information card in the "card catalog." There were racks and racks of cards, indexed by author, title, and subject.

Here, take a look.

So if you were researching something, you'd have to pull out a rack in the card catalog according to the alphabetized subject and flip through the cards. If you got lucky, the title of a book or a brief description would point you in the right direction. Then you had to actually find the book, skim through it, and hope that you'd find some information.

I know what you're thinking about now: you've got to be freaking kidding me.

Plus, the card catalogs had a smell--not a bad smell, but totally distinct. For any of us who cut our chops in that era, I guarantee that any of us would instantly recognize that smell, even today.

This sounds like it took place in the Stone Ages--but it's still how people researched papers all the way through the late 1980's. In other words, in less than twenty years there has been a shocking, disruptive change in how people access information.

Today? Information is a tidal wave. Look at what Geoff Engelstein said in an e-mail to me a few weeks ago:
My kids are thirteen and eleven, and the issue they have when writing a research paper is completely backwards from what we dealt with. The big skill they are learning is what information to dump and what to keep. I well remember the thrill of finding the information I needed for a history paper, after plowing through tons of Tables of Contents and indexes. They don't have that anymore. There is no need for research skills.

We were a generation of information explorers. They are a generation of editors.

I think the idea that one generation had to gather information while the next generation just edits it is a very good example of how seismic the change has been. And even ten years ago, the degree to which information has become available was difficult to envision. Today, the amount of information you can get for free is exponentially larger than what you could pay for twenty years ago. Or ten.

Geoff had e-mailed me about 3-D printers because he works for a custom engineering company, and he correctly pointed out that the hype surrounding them is extreme. These are his comments about the obstacles 3-D printing (also known as "Rapid Prototype" or RP) technology faces:
1. Cost - It's going to be way more expensive to make parts this way, for the forseeable future -- probably forever. Plastic injection molds are expensive, but the parts are dirt cheap, way cheaper than anything you can get out of an RP machine.

2. Physical properties - The materials that produce these parts do not have the physical properties that you need for a durable part. They are basically sintered together, and do not have the strength or flexibility of a true manufactured part. There has been a little bit of improvement in this area over the last decade, but RP parts are very brittle and prone to breakage. You can use them for functional testing only under tightly controlled situations.

3. Accuracy - It's tough to maintain accuracy with an RP part, and most parts have small features. The layer size of 0.010" noted in the article is way too thick -- Yeah, this will improve somewhat, but even the best RP machines today have not advanced much in this area over the last ten years, which also makes it hard to functionally test RP parts.

4. Aesthetics - Parts are built up layer by layer, and they look it. Even high end RP parts that are hand finished (sanded, polished, painted, etc) still have that 'RP' look...Plus you need to sand and paint to finish things off.

Those are all true (and bear watching), but I still think back to information in the 1980's and how much it's changed in two decades, changed beyond even the most optimistic projections of that era.

So if information became essentially unlimited and free in twenty years, how would it change the world over the next twenty years if thousands of tangible "things" became free as well?

I've said this before, but this has to be, by far, the coolest time in history to be alive.

Links of the Oddest Variety

I've been saving a few links to write about for quite a while, but they're just so strange that I couldn't make fun of them. Much.

First off, from Sirius, an article at MSNBC titled "Enjoying Christmas With Pooping Peasants." Here's an excerpt:
Throughout Spain's northeastern Catalonia region, statuettes of "El Caganer," or "the great defecator" in the Catalan dialect, can be found in Christmas scenes, and increasingly on the mantelpieces of collectors, where for centuries symbols of defecation have played an important role in the season's festivities.

If I just had a dollar for every e-mail that called me the great defecator...

Here's another excerpt:
During the holidays, pastry shops around Catalonia sell sweets shaped like feces, and on Christmas Eve Catalan children beat a hollow log, called the tio, packed with holiday gifts, singing a song that urges it to poop presents out the other end.

"Honey? Did you bring home the feces log?"

The full story is here, and of course there's a picture of the "action figures."

This next link is a promotional press release from PopCap, but it's still funny (thanks Tara Calishain):
Two years ago, 72-year-old Sister Marie Richard Eckerle, School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) bought a copy of Bookworm for a computer at St. Mary of the Pines, a community for retired SSND in Chatawa, Mississippi. She was a fan of the video game, and her enthusiasm soon spread among her community members. She recalls, "It quickly became popular with so many others that we knew we'd better get more copies!"

Now St. Mary of the Pines owns a dozen more copies of Bookworm and has expanded their collection to include other "casual" video games, such as Bejeweled and Chuzzle. The games have become a regular - and important - part of daily life at St. Mary of the Pines. Staff and residents use them not only for entertainment, but also as a means of encouraging socialization and mental stimulation.

There you go. When retired nuns are playing games, I think they've officially gone mainstream. Games, not nuns.

Here's the press release. I bet PopCap just laughs when all these giant game companies announce losses of tens of millions of dollars, because as far as I can tell, PopCap prints money.

To complete the oddity trio, Brad Ruminer sent me a link to a story about a group of "eco-extremists" known as the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement.

Ah, delicious irony.

Here's an excerpt:
The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement is an informal organisation that has spent the past decade campaigning for the phasing out of the entire human race. It is, if you like, the pressure group to end all pressure groups.

Followers crusade under the slogan "may we live long and die out", and advocate a lemming-like approach to the problem of overpopulation. Mankind, they say, is a destructive force at the root of every environmental problem now facing the planet; as a result, it should now commit biological hara-kiri.

This may sound like some sort of Monty Python spoof, but it's deadly serious. Even the organisation's shorthand has stern method to it: members call the group VHEMT, "pronounced vehement, because that's what we are".

It does sound like a Monty Python skit, actually, when you get to this paragraph:
The man behind this intellectual movement is Les U Knight, a middle-aged supply teacher from Oregon who became interested in the environmental lobby in the early 1970s after returning from Vietnam. He quickly made a number of major changes to his lifestyle, inserting the "U" in his name, and joining an organisation called Zero Population Growth. Later, while still in his mid-twenties, he underwent a voluntary vasectomy. Soon, though, Knight realised simply standing still, in population terms, was no solution to what he believed was a burgeoning crisis. The only solution, he decided, would be "for us to phase ourselves out completely".

Okay, somehow I wouldn't classify inserting a "U" into your name as a "major change" to your lifestyle, but I quibble.

It's a wonderful, funny article for all the wrong reasons (which is always best). Oh, and don't miss the classic quote from a VEHMT member who says this: "I'm not a strict extinctionist."

Classic comedy, and you can read it all here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Assassin's Creed

I have no idea if this game will be any good, but the trailer is a work of art. It's just absolutely stunning.

Take a look over at Game Trailers here. I highly recommend the HD version.

Me: Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

Gamestop announced earnings again today, and I am still wrong, wrong, wrong about them.

About a year ago (I think), I wrote that I fully expected them to implode, because the obscene margins they had on used games were so high that someone bigger than them was going to see that tasty pie and take a big bite out of it. Plus I expected the console transition to hurt them deeply, as there would be fewer used games to sell for the next-gen platforms, and less demand for the oceans of used games they had for the current-gen platforms.

Combined, that looked like a kick in the teeth, but it hasn't happened yet.

The other wrong wrong wrong note is about, curiously, Michael Vick. It's not gaming related, obviously, but I remember writing a few years ago that he was going to redefine the quarterback position in the NFL, and I thought that as he got older he would understand the responsibilities that come with having phenomenal talent.

Instead, he's repeatedly gotten into trouble off the field because of his consistently poor judgment, and now it's looking more and more like he was seriously involved in dogfighting.

I don't know where people who are entertained by watching dogs try to kill each other rank on the human scale. It's sickening. And I think this story has the potential to become an absolute nightmare for the NFL, because I guarantee you that far more players are involved in this than just Michael Vick.

It would have been hard to have been more wrong.

Guitar Hero III announced

Good grief, these announcements are coming fast and furious. Here's the initial list of songs for Guitar Hero III (thanks Gamespot):
Original Recordings:
"Cult of Personality" by Living Color
"Paint It Black" by the Rolling Stones
"Cherub Rock" by Smashing Pumpkins

"Sabotage" by Beastie Boys
"The Metal" by Tenacious D

"My Name Is Jonas" by Weezer
"Knights of Cydonia" by Muse

Cover Songs:
"Rock And Roll All Nite" as made famous by Kiss
"School's Out" as made famous by Alice Cooper
"Slow Ride" as made famous by Foghat
"Barracuda" as made famous by Heart

That's an excellent list, with a few songs ("Paint It Black" and "Barracuda" are the ones that leap out at me) that should be fantastic.

That's the good stuff. Reading the official press release, though, raises at least two questions. Here are two excerpts that seem a bit worrisome:
...players will experience an incredible number of newly added features and explosive content including a new multiplayer action-inspired battle mode, grueling boss battles, a bevy of exclusive unlockable content and authentic rock venues. Expanded online multiplayer game modes will also allow axe-shredders worldwide to compete head-to-head for true legendary rock status.

"Grueling boss battles?" Boy, I hope they can somehow make that not suck, and in case it does, let us turn them off, please.

The exclusive Gibson guitars will include innovative features such as removable faceplates that will allow fans to later personalize their guitars and make it their own, and a new button color design that will be integrated for an even greater authentic feel and rock experience.

Uh-oh. "New button color design?" I hope this isn't the "change the controller so you really have to buy a new one" feature, because that's what it sounds like. We'll see.

Here's the full press release.

Avatar: The Last Airbender

Yesterday was a big day in our house. The third DVD in the Earth season of the Avatar series was released.

Both Eli 5.9 and I are totally hooked on Avatar. It's a wonderful show, and I don't think I've ever seen an animated series do such a thoughtful job of exploring the thoughts and feelings of each of the central characters. The relationships between characters are also highly nuanced in unexpected ways.

When I went to buy the DVD, the clerk (who was a little younger than I am) asked me if I was a fan of the series. That started a twenty-minute conversation about how we both watch the show with our sons (his sons are four and six) and all the good things the show teaches. Then we started talking about the characters and speculating about what might happen in the third season.

That's what the show does--there are so many possibilities that it's interesting to talk about as well as watch. Eli asks me these infinitely complex hypotheticals all the time (and I'll start writing them down, because if you watch the show, they're pretty funny).

So here's what we did yesterday. We haven't watched the series on Nickelodeon, so when a new DVD gets released (with five more episodes), it's a huge event. I picked Eli up from karate class in the late afternoon, and instead of going out to dinner like we usually do, we went straight home. I ordered a pizza, put in the DVD, and we ate pizza and watched the entire DVD in one sitting. Then we talked about it for another half hour, at least. And we both enjoy the show so much that our mutual enthusiasm was off the charts.

It's one of the best times I've had in years. And I don't mean best times with Eli 5.9--it was one of the best times, period.

You're a Mean One

Then he got an idea!
An awful idea!

I was driving in to work this morning when I was suddenly struck by what was indeed an awful idea.

Think about Guitar Hero III and Rock Band competing this fall. It's going to be crazy, isn't it?

Then, think about how EA "competes."

The answer to that question, of course, is that EA doesn't compete. They buy.

And what do they buy? Why, exclusives, of course. Exclusives to sports leagues (bastards) and franchises like Lord of the Rings.

Here's the thing: whenever EA enters a market where they have to compete, their first goal is to secure enough exclusive licensing so that they don't have to.

And that, unfortunately, is the awful idea. That's how EA is going to distinguish Rock Band--not just by having multiple playable instruments, but by signing groups (or even, god help us, record labels) to exclusives.

Think they wouldn't do that? In the last five years, when have they done anything else?

So even though this is 100%, total speculation, just wait. It's coming.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

As An Example...

Here are just a few of the bands that could have been included in the 80's expansion that didn't suck.

Sorry, Whitesnake didn't make the list.

Try these:
The Clash (with maybe fifty great songs to choose from)
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (American Girl might be the best single song ever made for Guitar Hero. Of course, hearing it in a concert hall at a distance of twenty feet might have blurred my judgment).
Dire Straits (see my comments on The Clash)
U2 (um, duh, even though they'd be expensive)
Pink Floyd (see my comments on Dire Straits)
Midnight Oil (especially Blue Sky Mining, which is a terrific album)
The Go Go's (need a girl band)
Blondie (before they got popular)
Eurythmics (lots of great guitar riffs in "Would I Lie to You?")

That just barely scratches the surface--there are another fifteen or twenty deserving bands, easily. Plus you could throw in some curveballs (in terms of the song style) like The Moody Blues, George Clinton, the B-52's, and Rick James.

Instead, we're getting RATT, Poison, and Asia. It's like that guy you couldn't stand in high school who spent thirty minutes blow-drying his hair to feather it back (and did a head-toss every ten seconds) sending you a mix tape twenty years later.

Drunken Mix Tape, Vol. 1

Here's the current song list announced for the Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80's (PS2).

18 and Life (as made famous by Skid Row)
Bathroom Wall (as made famous by Faster Pussycat)
Lonely is the Night (as made famous by Billy Squier)
Nothing But a Good Time (as made famous by Poison)
Play With Me (as made famous by Extreme)
Shaken (as made famous by Eddie Money)
Synchronicity II (as made famous by Police)
Twisted Sister -- I Wanna Rock
Flock of Seagulls -- I Ran
Ratt -- Round and Round
Bow Wow Wow -- I Want Candy
Quiet Riot -- Metal Health
Dio -- Holy Diver
Asia -- Heat Of The Moment

I know there was a bit of a downgrade in song quality from Guitar Hero to Guitar Hero II (at least in my mind), but this is like a freefall. Poison? Flock of Seagulls? Ratt?

Not to mention Asia. That definitely made me throw up in my mouth a little.

Seriously, if this set list proves anything, it's what we already knew: the 80's was shit for rock music. It was the glory years for hair bands--which, I'm guessing, was made possible by the explosion of music videos in the late 70's-early 80's.

Even if I get 100% on "I Ran," I guarantee that it will still not feel cool. And while the guitar on "I Want Candy" is interesting, the song isn't.

So this may be the first Guitar Hero content that I don't purchase, which would be a signature non-moment for me. I think they would have been much better served putting out a Blues expansion--thousands of great, great songs to choose from, far more interesting guitar riffs, and the cool factor is about a million times higher.

And if you saw Poison at Six Flags, thank you in advance for not sending me a photo of the t-shirt you purchased.

Total Pro Golf 2

Gary Gorski is putting out a new version of Total Pro Golf, and I'm really pleased with the feature additions. See the announcement below:

Troy, MI May 22, 2007 - Wolverine Studios, a leading developer of computer game sports simulations proudly announces the features of our upcoming title Total Pro Golf 2! TPG2 features the same in depth career play as the original with these all new features.
--NEW optional Tri-click method of play (one-click method is still an option)
--NEW shot shaping options adding draw and fade shots to your arsenal
--DOUBLE the number of playable tours in the game to SIX! Work your way up on either an American or European Tour - or even crossover during your career!
--NEW chase for the "Wolverine Cup" - in game points system and playoffs on the pro tour
--NEW world player rankings added
--NEW yearly player awards given and tracked historically
--NEW methods of scheduling tournaments. Use our "auto scheduler" to randomly assign any courses you have on your hard drive to your tour schedule making changing courses a breeze and now "challenge events" are automatically rotated from year to year for you as well
--NEW player creation is a snap now with our random player generator. Choose your tour and your skill ability to start and you will get pre-generated ratings which you can edit if you like or go right into your tour career
--NEW expanded stats and almanac. Track your career winnings by tour or look at the all-time top tens in wins and major wins individually on all six tours!
--NEW courses. Four all new stunningly beautiful courses to play on!
--More NEW features : overall player ratings, weekly schedules suggested by your golf coach, expanded green view in 2D mode and many more enhancements to season and game play!

Total Pro Golf 2 is set for a Summer 2007 release and will be available for $29.95 USD from

Gaming Links

Lots of interesting links today.

There's an interesting analysis of the design elements of Dead Rising over at Gamasutra. Dead Rising is one of those games that is going to get elevated in stature with each passing year--as it should--and it will someday be recognized as a Hall of Fame game. It was unique and gripping and funny, and you can read about it here.

Andrew Borelli sent me a link to an in-depth profile of Dani Bunten, the designer of M.U.L.E. as well as Seven Cities of Gold (which, to this day, remains one of my favorite games). If you don't know anything about Dani Bunten as a pioneer in game design, it's a must-read, and if you do know about Dani Bunten, it's still a must-read. Find it here.

John Harwood sent me a link to a well-written and very funny Gal Civ II "war report." Written by Tom Francis, it's basically a journal of what's happened since he started a game using the "gigantic" galaxy option. It's terrific writing and highly entertaining, and you can read it here.

There's a new feature over at The Escapist titled "Next-Gen Storytelling." Yes, it's being written by Warren Spector, and yes, I've said that Deus Ex 2 was a crap game maybe a hundred (thousand) times, but he still has some thoughtful insights. It's a four-part series, and you can read part one here. Thanks to Rob for the link.

N'Gai Croal and Geoff Keighly have an interesting discussion about NPD numbers over at Croal's Level Up blog. They cover all the bases, and there are a few interesting disclosures as well. Read it here.

Finally, here's an article about a band using reprogrammed Guitar Hero controllers to function as real instruments. The programming work is an achievement in itself, and the guitar sounds fantastic. It's a CNET video, and you can watch it here. Thanks to Jonin for the link.

Monday, May 21, 2007

From Europe

DQ reader Julian Dasgupta sent me some interesting console data from Europe, and it fills in some blanks in regards to other markets. Here's his e-mail:
A few weeks ago you mentioned some German console sales stats provided by Chris Geschkat. I'd like to add a few bits to the numbers you posted.

In the first three months - which was the period covered by the report you were refering to - Wii software accounted for 4.6 percent of the revenues generated by sales of console software (PS2 software dominated with 42.6 percent, followed by the NDS with 24 percent--see story

The GfK initially didn't detail the market share of Xbox 360 software, but some other mags asked them and they responded: 6 percent. Keep in mind that the system launched pretty much around the same time it got launched in the US. Again for the sake of comparison: software for the system that launched on December 8, 2006 over here accounted for 4.6 percent, software for the one that has been available since late 2005 accounted for 6 percent. Also keep in mind that Microsoft always brags about the high software attachment rate for their console.

You've probably also seen the Q1
sales stats for France:
1. DS 260,000
2. Wii 144,000
3. PS2 92,000
4. PSP 90,000
5. PS3 81,000
6. Xbox 360 43,000

And here are the
overall sales for Germany (up to April 30):
1. Xbox 360: 262,000 (December 2005)
2. Wii: 222,000 (December 2006)
3. PS3: 70,500 (March 2007)

So, in Germany the Wii is already about to close the gap and is likely to surpass its older competitor faster than in the US. April 2007 German sales:
1. Wii: 20,000
2. PS3: 16,000
3. Xbox 360: 9,500

This doesn't include PS2, which I guess is still moving a load of units.

Now, Germany, while having a bigger population than the UK, isn't a traditional 'console country' - but these numbers certainly aren't something Microsoft could or should be satisfied with. The French stats are pretty telling, too. Outside the UK, Microsoft isn't exactly doing well in Europe (Germany and France being the biggest console markets to follow after the UK).

Eli 5.9

Gloria has a "Girl's Night Out" once a month with a few of her friends. Last week, I took Eli 5.9 out to dinner at California Pizza Kitchen at the Domain. Gloria was in a restaurant in the same shopping center.

We decided to stop by and say hello on our way home. Gloria was sitting with three women that Eli's known all his life, but since the play group he was in for several years has splintered, he rarely sees them anymore. He gave everyone hugs and chatted for a minute, then it was time for us to go.

As we walked across the parking lot toward the car, he turned to me and said "It sure was nice to see those girls!"

He told me yesterday that Madeline had been following him around at recess every day at school. "Friday, she said I was handsome. I said 'Whoa, Madeline, that's pretty strong.' "


Eli went to a birthday party on Sunday at a park called Brushy Creek, which has all kinds of water-related activities.

Gloria was talking to some of the other parents, discussing the end-of-school-year presentation that's happening on Friday. In the show, Eli will be playing Abraham Lincoln.

Arjun D's mom said to Gloria, "So Eli is going to be the President?"

Just, then, Eli ran by, his swimming trunks oddly bulging. "Hey, everybody!" he yelled. "Let's put sand in our trunks!"

"Oh yeah," Gloria said. "He's definitely the President."

A Thought On Death

After I die, I'd like to have an open casket viewing with me wearing a t-shirt that says "I DIED AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS LOUSY T-SHIRT."


"How was your morning?" Gloria asked as I walked through the door.

"Let's see," I said. "I fasted for twelve hours, got a finger up my ass, and had three tubes of blood drawn by a nurse who I'm pretty sure used a hand axe. So pretty much a normal day."

"Sorry about the finger thing," she said. "I know I hate my gynecological exams. It's just incredibly awkward to have your feet in stirrups and a doctor sort of peering at you."

"Well, let me help with that," I said. "You could always say something as an ice-breaker, like 'Did you know my vagina can do impersonations!' Say it in a peppy way, though."

She ignored me. That's usually the smart play.

"It's got to be really awkward for the doctor, with the whole finger thing," she said.

"Awkward for him?" I asked. "Listen, the finger is way below the ass on the awkward list. When he pulls out his finger, he takes off his glove and it's business as usual. Meanwhile, my ass feels like a hundred acres of clear-cut forest."

Gloria laughed.

"Besides," I said,"after he pulls out his finger, it's not going to feel like it's still up my ass. I, however, have legacy finger issues for hours."

Friday morning, in other words, will not be pressed into my precious book of memories.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Console Post of the Week: Going Down, Down, Down

Here are some quick data points before the discussion.

Sony earnings announcement:

--in the fourth (financial) quarter alone, the games division lost $914 million.

--full-year financial year losses for the games division were almost $2 billion

--Sony said they shipped 5.5 million units for the fiscal year (340,000 less than Nintendo's Wii) and sold 3.6 million of them.

--they project losses of $415 million in the games division for the next fiscal year (which ends March 31, 2008).

Those were the high-level points that people focused on. What they missed, though, was something much more interesting. Sony said they were going to ship 11 million consoles in the upcoming fiscal year.

That sounds like a ton, until you do the math.

Remember, they shipped 5.5 million units from the mid-November U.S. launch (one week earlier in Japan) to the end of March. That's roughly four and a half months, or about 1.2 million units a month.

Shipping 11 million systems in the upcoming fiscal year represents just over 900,000 units a month.

Even if you factor in stockpiling the 300,000 launch units, Sony is still going to ship fewer units per month than they did in the just-concluded fiscal year.

Sony isn't accelerating their PS3 shipments. They're reducing them.

Of course, part of the reason for doing that is that at least two million of the units they've shipped haven't sold, which is a huge inventory overhang.

So Sony's going to be shipping, on average, 900,000 units month. Meanwhile, they're selling 20,000 a week in the U.S. and 12,000 a week in Japan (actually, only 8,839 last week in Japan). Even if you give them an incredibly generous 20,000 units a week in Europe, that's still less than 250,000 units a month worldwide.

The retail channels are already stuffed.

Even with a manufacturing schedule heavily weighted toward the holiday season, that adds up to a disaster.

So again, I think this all adds up to a significant price cut, and soon. At this point, they don't have a choice.

Here's the interesting question, though: what happens if they drop the price to $499? They're selling less than 100,000 units a month in the U.S., and they need to be selling at least double that.

Would a $100 price drop double sales? No. Not even for two months, let alone long-term.

Here's what gaming analysts and gaming executives don't want to admit: gaming consoles are a $299 market. And do you know who's conclusively proven that?


The 360 is an extremely powerful system with a wide range of excellent games. Xbox Live is an outstanding service. With the exception of reliability issues, Microsoft has handled itself extremely well. In spite of all that, though, they have no momentum. And they have no momentum because they're $100 over what the mass market will bear.

If Microsoft reduced the price on the Premium unit to $299, and reduced game prices across the board to $49.99, they'd be golden.

If Sony reduces their price by the same $100, though, it will attract more buyers, but they will still be hopelessly above the mass market price. And for Sony to succeed financially with the PS3, it has to be a mass market product.

This is what happens when you over-engineer a product to the degree that the BOM costs $800+ in a $299 market: you're screwed. You have to reduce the price, but that reduction will result in hundreds of millions of dollars in additional losses. But if you don't reduce the price, you're not going to be able to ship enough units to move further along the production curve and reduce the price of the BOM, which means the consoles that do sell are going to generate hundreds of millions of in losses.

Scenario 1: hundreds of millions of dollars in losses.
Scenario 2: hundreds of millions of dollars in losses.

Actually, it's not even hundreds of millions of dollars. The gaming division will lose over a billion dollars, at a minimum, in the upcoming fiscal year. There is no scenario where that will not happen.

If you're going to lose hundreds of millions of dollars (or more) in every scenario, I say pick the scenario that gets you the most market share. At least it keeps you in the game.

Here's the other option: stay the course.

Let's take a quick look at that. At the current rate, it looks like it will take eight months for the PS3 to reach sales of 1 million units in Japan.

The Wii took six weeks. The PS2 took three.

Sony had a nice gaming day this week where they showed all kinds of interesting games, and even some interesting promotions (there's going to be a deluxe edition of Stranglehold that will include an HD-version of Hard Boiled). That's a terrific idea.

But Sony can talk about the upcoming games all they want, as loudly as they can, and the price of the unit is still the elephant in the room.

Friday Links

For your reading pleasure.

First off, Cliff Eyler sent in a tremendous link to a Washington Post article about Clementine, an autonomous robot that is exploring the giant El Zacatón sinkhole in Mexico. Here are a few excerpts:
Once the 3,300-pound vehicle, designed by Texas-based Stone Aerospace Inc., is lowered into the sinkhole, it "feels" changes in temperature, "sees" shifts in topography with 56 sonar sensors and "sips" water samples. Those are taken to a laboratory on the surface for further study.

...At the end of each day, the vehicle must navigate back to the surface in much the same way a person lost in the woods searches for a route out -- except that Clementine has no map or trail. It creates its own.

Using supercomputers built by scientists at Carnegie Mellon University, the robot works off 500 three-dimensional maps that it is constantly sketching, said robotics professor David Wettergreen.

By the way, that sinkhole is described as being 367 feet wide and at least 1,000 feet deep. And this is all being done in preparation for eventual exploration of Europa.

It's a terrific read, and here's the link.

In case you missed it, here's a link to a video of what is nothing short of an astonishing soccer goal. Thanks to Daniel Gothe for identifying the move as the Rabona, and as you watch the video, watch his feet very carefully. And if you think it's easy, just watch David Dunn of Birmingham City try it here.

Sirius sent in a link to an article about fruit flies and free will. Seemingly, they have some. It's a fascinating article, and you can read it here.

Pete Thistle sent in a link to one of the most infamous spy stories ever: the great seal bug. Here's an excerpt:
In 1946, Soviet school children presented a two foot wooden replica of the Great Seal of the United States to Ambassador Averell Harriman.

The Ambassador hung the seal in his office in Spaso House (Ambassador's residence). During George F. Kennan's ambassadorship in 1952, a routine security check discovered that the seal contained a microphone and a resonant cavity which could be stimulated from an outside radio signal.

Here's a link to the full story, and it's an excellent read.

Chris Meadowcroft sent in an interesting link to a new delivery system for the rotavirus vaccine which could potentially thousands of lives in developing nations. It's a quick-dissolve strip, and you can read about it here.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Gloria Officially Earns An International Humanitarian Award

Incredibly, it's our tenth wedding anniversary today. And yes, I'll say it (because if I don't, you will): unlike the PS3, our marriage has had a ten-year lifespan, and I have high hopes that I won't be replaced by a next-gen unit anytime soon.

April Numbers

I'll have more on this in the next Console Post of the Week, but here are the April NPD numbers:
Wii: 360,000
PS2: 194,000
360: 174,000
PS3: 82,000

That's disaster territory for Sony. There's no way to spin that PS3 number.

Perfect Spy

I admit it: I'm a sucker for spy stories. The real spy stories, not the James Bond stuff.

This week, I finished what is unquestionably the best spy book I've ever read. It's called Perfect Spy: The Incredible Double Life of Pham Xuan An. I read it in three days because it was absolutely impossible to put down.

Pham Xuan An was a reporter for Time Magazine during the Vietnam War. He was highly intelligent and had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of Vietnamese history, but he also was able to put that complex history into context with rare skill. He also spoke excellent English, because he studied journalism in the U.S. for two years.

Most importantly, An was highly respected by everyone he worked with--colleagues, the American and South Vietnamese military, and anyone else who came in contact with him. He saved the lives of several of his American friends at various points during the war. It would not be an exaggeration to say that he was beloved.

He was also a North Vietnamese spy.

It's an incredible story, and what's even more incredible is that he was so beloved that very few people turned against him when the truth was discovered after the war. And An wasn't just a spy--he was one of only two intelligence officers during the war to be promoted to General.

It's a riveting book, based on hundreds of hours of interviews with An and his colleagues (both Vietnamese and American). It's about espionage and honor and war and just about everything in-between.

Here's an Amazon link, and I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in espionage or just enjoys excellent writing (author Larry Berman did a phenomenal job). It's an unforgettable and gripping read.

Vanguard: The Train Wreck Chronicles

It has been generally acknowledged that the premature release of Vanguard was a train wreck.

I've got no skin in the game, so to speak, because I haven't played it, but that appears to be the general consensus.

I didn't think that was a huge surprise, so I hadn't written about it, but the unfortunate saga has gotten pretty juicy in the last few days. Here are a few links to walk you through what happened, and they are interesting reading.

A little history first.

Brad McQuaid was one of the lead designers of EverQuest (he was also the producer, as well as the lead programmer at one time). I thought EverQuest was a fascinating game until my monk reached level eighteen and I realized that if I played for another hour I would slash my wrists.

But I digress.

EverQuest was incredibly successful (for quite a while), and it turned Brad McQuaid into a superstar. In 2002, he formed Sigil Games with Jeff Butler, and they started working on a new online game called Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. A publishing deal was announced with Microsoft, but in May of last year, Microsoft bailed. Vanguard then became a co-publishing deal between Sigil and Sony Online Entertainment.

The game officially launched on January 30, 2007. Six months too early.

Don't just take my word for it. Take a look at a few excerpts from Metacritic (average review score: 68).
PC Gamer: Sadly, I can't score the game based on what it might become. Right now, Vanguard requires that you turn a blind eye to too many nagging issues to fully enjoy it.

Game Shark: There is clearly an audience for this sort game, and the base design certainly has its share of interesting (and fun) concepts, but it was clearly not ready for public consumption.

Euro Gamer: For now, Vanguard is a game which has plenty to offer a brave adventurer with a stunning PC. Aside from any design or content problems we've identified with the game, potential buyers need to be aware that they're entering a world which, as a prominent WOW character would have it, is not prepared.

GameSpy: There's potential for a very good game here, and we've had our share of both highs and lows with the gameplay, but the sheer number of gameplay bugs, graphical issues, and poor technical performance make it difficult to recommend in its current state.

There's plenty more where that came from, including--surprise--Brad McQuaid:
Had I had the financial resources, ability to place the product later, etc. I would have given us about 3 more months to get more polish in, more high level content in, and to distance ourselves from the WoW expansion.

He says three months, not six, but everyone I've talked to says "six months early--at least."

I've said this before, but as a consumer, no matter how much I like a developer (and I like a lot of them), I don't give a shit about what prevented them from finishing a game before it got released.

Here's an example. I like Ben Brinkman--he's a terrific designer--and MLB2K7 is a buggy mess that STILL doesn't have a patch, nearly three months after it was released. There is no conceivable excuse for that in my world--the world where the people who plunk down sixty dollars for a game live.

Well, unless there's a giant sticker on the game box that says "THIS GAME WAS NOT FINISHED BEFORE SHIPPING"--but I don't think I've ever seen one of those.

So when Brad talks (it's a long, long post) about how the game had to be released, he can talk to the hand. There is an implied good-faith agreement between developers and customers that is terribly abused when a game gets released before it is ready.

That's not why I'm writing about this, though. I'm writing because post-launch, we get to soap opera stage really quickly--outside the game.

On April 30, McQuaid posted about the "future" of Sigil and Vanguard, including a reference to an official statement released by Sony Online Entertainment:
"SOE is in discussions with Sigil regarding the future of Vanguard and Sigil Games in Carlsbad. Talks are going well and first and foremost, our primary concern right now is what's best for Vanguard and its community. We want to ensure that this game and its community have a healthy future. The specifics that we work out over the coming days will all be with that single goal in mind."

Yesterday, SOE announced that they had purchased " the assets of Sigil Games Online, including Vanguard: Saga of Heroes." Coincident with that acquisition, all the Sigil employees were taken out into a parking lot and fired.

Fifty of those Sigil employees are apparently being re-hired by Sony in some capacity to provide continuing support for the game.

Suddenly, though, all kinds of very interesting information is emerging about the brutally difficult development of the game. And it appears that Brad McQuaid had been essentially MIA at Sigil for months.

It's juicy, juicy stuff.

For a fairly detailed description of what was going on at Sigil, has an interview with an ex-Sigil employee here. Here are two excerpts:
What people don't understand, is the game that went out the door was literally created in the last 15 months. Design worked 12-18 hour days for 9+ months. Coding and Art worked insane hours as well, all trying to actually get something playable out the door.

Here's the second excerpt: How was QA treated through the course of development?
Ex-Sigil: QA? QA.
Ex-Sigil: QA was one person up until about November... ONE. What.
Ex-Sigil: 100% serious. What? How? This is an MMOG.
Ex-Sigil: Vanguard had one internal tester for probably 95% of the design cycle.

Like I said, it's juicy and fascinating at the same time.

DQ reader Darren Love has also been covering this (and very well) over at The Common Sense Gamer, and today he has a post from an ex-Sigil employee as well, which you can read here. He also has a thorough analysis of the current state of the game here.

I wrote this post last night, and while I was making one last edit, I saw that now there's a long interview with none other than Brad McQuaid over at It just makes the game outside the game even better, and you can read it here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Few Random Notes and Stories

I'm going to post a few odds-and-ends while I wait for the Spurs-Suns game to start (go Suns).

The degree to which this country is polarized is remarkable, and I saw an excellent example of it on my way to work this week. I stopped at a Tiger Mart, which is Exxon's version of a gas station/convenience store. Once inside, I saw a bag of dougnut holes.

They were being advertised as "Swamp Holes." [insert your punch line here]

Less than five minutes later, I was getting a Diet Coke at a Barnes & Noblesse. I turned around and saw a sign about how they made coffee. I saw the phrase "our handcrafted beverages."

Um, good grief?

In the Mother's Day post I didn't mention that we were watching a syndicated episode of The Shield when the jewelry commercial came on. Somehow it seems like these advertisers might do a better job of picking their spots. In this particular episode, an undercover cop had just been advised to seek counseling after reporting that she'd both done coke and had sex (under duress) with the criminal she was shadowing to avoid blowing her cover--when suddenly we see a man in a pirate outfit swinging through an IHOP restaurant yelling "TREASURE!"

Something about pancakes, I think.

I saw an ad in this week's Sports Illustrated while I was eating dinner. I never really read the ads, just kind of glance as I'm flipping the page, so I saw this ad heading:
Treating Bipolar Disorder Takes Understanding

Then I saw the name of the drug: Amplify.

Now THAT is the worst marketing idea ever, I thought.

It wasn't Amplify, actually--it was "Abilify." I'm not sure if that's any better, though.

Oh, and if there's any justice in the world whatsoever, the Suns win tonight.

Happy Mudder's Day

On Saturday night, we were watching television and an ad for jewelry came on.

"Oh, man, that's making me look bad," I said.

Gloria laughed.

"We did get you a giant balloon that says 'Congrats, Grad!'," I said.

"Yes, and I appreciate it," she said. "And the flowers, too."

Ah, the flowers.

"Dad, I've got a GREAT idea," Eli 5.9 said earlier that day. "I'll hide in the laundry room, and when you get Mom to walk by, and I'll jump out and THROW the flowers in the AIR." Explaining that this was, in fact, not a great idea but rather something you'd see in a slasher flick, made for an interesting afternoon.

Also interesting was our trip to Macy's.

"DAD! Look at THIS!" Eli shouted. He held up some costume jewelry. "THIS is a REAL diamond!"

"Dude, I'm pretty sure it's not a real diamond," I said.

"What is it, then?" he asked.

"Glass,"I said.

"Hmmph," he said. "That is NOT nice."

I saw something in Macy's I've never seen before: a mannequin with a tattoo. That's so far past stupid that I can't even find a road sign back to stupid.

Saturday night, there were crafts. Eli made Gloria a Mother's Day Flag out of Play-doh, plus a mole (on a popsicle stick) that emerged from a paper cup hole.

Hey, don't ask me--it's his mother.

6:00 a.m., Mother's Day morning. Eli burst into our room, singing:
Someone has a special day today
and Mommy is her name-o,
And Mommy is her name-o.

He crawled into bed with us.

6:10 a.m.:
Today we have a special guest
and Mommy is her name-o,
And Mommy is her name-o.

6:20 a.m.:
Happy Mother's Day to
the best Mommy I know,

And Mommy is her name-o.

This time, Eli was crouching down at the end of the bed, holding a stuffed bear wearing a dress, and every time he shouted a letter, he'd either raise himself or the bear into view.

How many versions of B-I-N-G-O could a five-year-old possibly think of for Mother's Day? Six, if I remember correctly. Appearing at ten-minute intervals. For an hour.

After that, he periodically yelled "HAPPY MUDDER'S DAY!", followed by "HUG ME, MOTHER!" for the rest of the day.

In other words, pretty much a normal weekend for us.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Halo 3: September 25

For those of you who are Halo 3 fans, here you go. From the New York Times:
Microsoft plans to announce today that the third installment of Halo, the company’s biggest video game franchise, will be released on Sept. 25.


There are some excellent articles in the New York Times this week. Starting off, here are links to two of them.

The first is a terrific article about the Large Hadron Collider being built at Cern, which you can read here.

The second is an article about singer/songwriter Jonathan Coulton--or, more accurately, about how musicians are using the Internet to find their audience. I've written about this before, but no longer do musicians (or writers, or artists, or anyone else who creates content) depend on coventional business models focused on limited publishing resources.

The Internet has also entirely redefined the evaluation process. No one's career is dependent on the opinion of a handful of people who act as "experts" and decide what the audience wants to hear. Instead, the audience decides directly.

If you're good enough, people will find you.

Here's the link.

By the way, since my 360 has puked and will be going in for repairs, here's a link to a guide by DQ reader Kato about the repair process. It's tremendously thorough and very helpful, and you can read it here.

Tim Jones sent in links related to the 30th anniversary of the launch of Voyagers I and II. Here's a link to the story, and to see images of everything contained in the Golden Record ("phonograph record full of images, music and recordings of life on Earth"), go here. The Golden Record images are very compelling.

Oh, and it's not a link, but Marc Stratton wrote in last week in regards to the hearse post:
I was behind a hearse a few weeks ago with vanity plates that read "DIGEMUP."


That was "under," not "only." And if you don't know what I'm referring to, then nothing to see here.

Console Post of the Week: Moving Targets, Tagamet, and a Substantial Revision

NPD numbers come out later this week. What will be interesting are not the PS3 numbers (which will be around 100k, anything over 120k would be very, very surprising) or the Wii numbers (which will be big, in the 350k range), but the 360 numbers.

Microsoft has a problem.

Here's what's going wrong for Microsoft: their most important competitor, Sony, is floundering. Sony has followed the most ill-conceived pricing and product strategy in console history with five months of complete ineptitude.

In the last two months, according to NPD, the 360 has sold 427k units, while the PS3 has sold 257k. That's with the PS3 being $200 more expensive (excluding the Elite) and with only a small number of quality games.

With the magnitude of Sony's errors, and a 33% difference in price, the 360 should be pounding the PS3 right now. I don't consider the difference in sales for the last two months to be nearly enough from Microsoft's perspective. So while Sony executives must be throwing up bloody chunks of stomach lining right now, I bet Microsoft's executives are swilling Tagamet as fast as they can.

Here's Microsoft's other problem--take a look at this quote from Peter Moore (VP of Microsoft's Entertainment Division) in response to a question about failure rates for the 360:
“I can’t comment on failure rates, because it’s just not something – it’s a moving target. What this consumer should worry about is the way that we’ve treated him. Y’know, things break, and if we’ve treated him well and fixed his problem, that’s something that we’re focused on right now. I’m not going to comment on individual failure rates because I’m shipping in 36 countries and it’s a complex business.”

I mentioned this last week, but as soon as I saw this quote, the alarms started flashing. It's a moving target? You know, things break?


Failure rates are only a moving target if they're not under control.

Moore emphasizing post-failure response is a pretty dramatic concession that Microsoft has a significant problem, and I think he's also implicitly acknowledging that someone besides Microsoft has access to the data (or can somehow arrive at an accurate estimate).

What I'd really like to know is what the impact of warranty repairs to the 360 have had on the profitability of the entertainment division. iSupply estimated in February that the Premium 360 BOM was down to $323--in other words, the hardware not only isn't losing money anymore, but it's got almost a 20% profit margin. How much of this profitability, though, is being eaten away with the costs of warranty repairs?

One last note on Microsfoft. Take a look at this quote from Robbie Bach (President of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices division) about the Wii in an interview with N'Gai Croal:
It's a very nice product, but it actually has a relatively specific audience and a fairly specific appeal, frankly, based on one feature, which is the controller itself. And the rest of the product is actually not a great product--no disrespect, but...the video graphics on it aren't very strong; the box itself is kind of underpowered; it doesn't play DVDs; there are a lot of down-line components [that] aren't actually that interesting...They don't have the graphics horsepower that even Xbox 1 had.

And yet somehow they're kicking your ass, Robbie. No disrepect.

Here's what Robbie doesn't get: the Wii is goofy. It's fun. There are hundreds of millions of people out there who would enjoy playing games, but have no interest in arguing about the appropriate rate of fire and energy usage of the Spartan Laser. For many people, Robbie, as shocking as this might sound, fun is more important than uber.

Sony did something a bit smarter this week: they shut up. Based on what their executives have said in the last year, I think that shutting up is a fine idea. Jack Tretton did blather today about how the Playstation 3 is a ten-year product, which is utterly ludicrous.

Here's how technology works right now: cutting edge ten years from now is so advanced that it is unknown. So it doesn't matter how many billions of dollars Sony spent in R&D on the PS3--they did the same thing with the PS2, and it was inferior the day the Xbox was released. The PS2 was a seven-product, and it's nothing short of engaging in magical thinking to believe that the PS3 will do any better. It might well be magical thinking to believe that it will even do as well.

By the way, Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter believes that the PS3 will "win" this generation, based on an industry reportthat was published this month:
...we see Sony 'winning' the console war in American and European regions with 36% of the market, with Nintendo 'capturing' second place at 34% and Microsoft finishing third at 30%" -- a virtual "dead heat," with all three generating "significant profits." Japan, however, is expected to be "dominated by Nintendo (51% through 2011) and Sony (44%)."

Fair enough. That's far, far less interesting than what he said last February, though:
Looking past 2007, however, the market seems likely to settle down to a more familiar pattern - "with Sony capturing around 45% of the total market, Microsoft capturing 35%, and Nintendo capturing 20%. These estimates do not include market shares in Japan, which we expect to be dominated by Sony (65% through 2010) and Nintendo (25%)."

If you're wondering how many units Pachter's talking about, he mentions his projections in a Gamespot interview here:
Through 2011, he projects that the PS3 will have sold 73.7 million units worldwide, edging out the Wii's 72.4 million systems. Pachter has the Xbox 360 finishing third among the consoles with 54 million sold worldwide.

Roughly (and there are quite a few variables here, including possible revisions of total market size, so this won't be exact), it looks like Pachter originally expected the PS3 to sell about 100 million units in the same amount of time the PS2 did--about five years from the date of the U.S. launch. Now, though, he's scaled that back over twenty-five million units. That is a staggering revision, and should give you an idea of how much the tide has turned against Sony. If Sony sells 25 million fewer consoles than the PS2 in the first five years when the gaming market has greatly expanded, it will be a disaster.

Of course, they're not going to even get to 75 million in five years, but that's a different post for a different week.

Lastly, Nintendo. Love that little console, love the controller, but where are the damn games? Hurry up, please.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Mark Banner And His Band

From DQ reader Mark Lahren, in reference to the Rock Band post from last week:
$260 for a rock band simulator is dirt cheap!

Remember, this is aimed at a group of folks, not just one or two. If this was available when I was 18, my buddies and I would have scraped the money together right quick.

By 'buddies,' I mean my other buddies, who weren't members of the rock band I actually hung around with. I was the 'lights guy' (because even the lights guy gets chicks).

It was 1978. The band was called "Mark Banner And His Band." I tried desperately to get them to change their name, but Mark Banner was the drummer (and a good one), and the only member of the group with an ego. Nobody else cared. He had mega-bucks into his drum kit, and the guitarist spent a small fortune on his Gibson Les Paul guitar. He was a Zeppelin fan, and could do Jimmy Page stuff note for note. Other than that, the band sucked and had no structure whatsoever.

At one junior high school dance gig we did, they played "Takin' Care Of Business." For some reason, Banner was drumming backwards (hitting the drum on the off-beat), so I had to leave my post at the light control board and go out amongst the dancers and air-drum so he could watch and see when he should be hitting the drums. It was the only song he had that trouble with.

Then they played "Stairway To Heaven." This is indelibly etched into my brain, as I got shocked (and hard) at the light board because something wasn't grounded right, and I made the mistake of touching two control boards at the same time. Doing the lights was enough fun, though, that I shocked myself two more times before I figured out what not to do.

The problem with "Mark Banner And His Band" however, wasn't the music so much as they didn't have an ending for "Stairway To Heaven." When they practiced at Banner's basement, that song was a jam session that could go on for literally half an hour, or until the bassist threw up on one occasion.

At the dance, they didn't have an ending for it either, and after twenty minutes of the guitar solo, the school's Guidance Counselor (who had counseled me when I'd gone to that school--a terrific guy) came up to me and asked if I could get them to play another song, since the dance floor had emptied. I'd been so busy with my awesome lights, and trying to figure out how not to get shocked, that I hadn't noticed. So I snuck up behind Banner, startling him, and told him to end the song. This resulted in witnessing my first and only "live-fade" experience. Weird. The song just drifted off.

I strongly believe that I will be using "Mark Banner and His Band" at some point in the future.

The Ringer

On Saturday I had my first encounter with a staple of child sports.

Simply put, I saw a ringer.

The team Eli 5.9 played against on Saturday was a bizarre combination: two ringers and eight other kids who ran around in circles. It looked a pre-school version of a Busby Berkeley number.
The fix was in.

Their star was a head taller than anyone else on the field. It doesn't sound like much to say that he was six years old instead of five, but it's actually a huge difference at that age in terms of coordination and speed.

Oh, and strength. He could have snapped any of our kids in half like a pretzel stick.

Remember, this is a league where they don't keep score. Which is why, I guess, their coach had at least one kid standing in their goal mouth at all times to play defense--so that goals that weren't going to be counted couldn't be scored.

Of course, since the kid (part of "the eight")was running around in circles, he was not totally effective.

What happened after a while, though, was very interesting. As it turns out, even five-year-olds have a natural disinclination to getting their asses kicked. So after Pele Jr. scored three goals in the first ten minutes and was so dominant that it was painful to watch, a funny thing happened.

Eli and his teammates stopped him.

I didn't see the coach give them any instructions--not that they could have followed them, anyway--but every time Pele got the ball, there were three kids around him. Isabella, who was over a foot shorter and half as fast, got in his way, put her head down, and kicked the ball clear.

Pele was a marked man.

It never occurred to me until that moment that five-year-olds could raise their level of play, but that's exactly what they did. Once they realized that they were getting embarrassed--and they figured it out on their own, because we sure didn't tell them--they played their skinny little asses off.

Eli had a nifty left-footed shot that barely went wide. He ran into crowds to clear the ball, which he's never done before.

This week we had one fifteen minute session where I explained how to take the proper angle to the ball. I don't know much about soccer, but I understand geometry, and I knew that a semi-circle was not an efficient path to intercept a moving object. So I showed him, he understood in about five minutes, and his coach commented today on how quickly he was getting to loose balls.

I hear the Ivory Coast needs a coach for the national team. I'm just waiting for the call.

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