Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday Links!

The real Friday Links post, not the single-post version mistakenly put up earlier by Stephanie Assham-Dubious. It's the Running On Fumes Edition.

Let's lead off with zombies, because 50+ people sent in this link. Austin has endless road construction, and those mobile LED signs giving drivers information are everywhere. Every time I've driven past one, I've wondered if they could be hacked. Well, as it turns out, it's not that hard, and someone in Austin (not me, unfortunately) pulled off a great prank.

Aaron Daily sent in a link to a very rare clip of Don Knotts. He plays a weatherman without a forecast, and I really miss sketch comedy with simple premises like this.

Here's a medley of eHarmony skits on MAD TV, and they're outstanding.

From Yacine Salmi, a related article to the link I posted last week about an FBI agent penetrating an identity-theft ring. Wired has a long profile, who was both the don and the headmaster, so to speak.

From Eapen Leubner, a link to an update on Zimbabwe. The New York Times reports that the government is now allowing business to be done with U.S. dollars and bank notes.

From Chris Meadowcraft, a link to a flow chart of heavy metal band names.

From my boss Neile, a link to a stunning diagram that compares the market value of major banks now compared with eighteen months ago.

From Jonathan Arnold, a collection of unfortunately named road signs. Titty Ho and Penistone make an appearance, among others.

From Sirius, a link to a story about how a common soil mineral (birnessite) can degrade prions. Also, a link to research into how Triceratops used their horns.

From Steven Kreuch, a link to a video by Axis of Awesome, a comedy troupe who demonstrates, quite, clearly, that every hit song uses the same four chords.

From Julian Bell, a link to one of the strangest snake stories I've ever read.

From the Edwin Garcia Links Machine, a link to a photo collection over at Dark Roasted Blend titled You Used It For What? (most of these photos lack attribution).

From Jesse Leimkuehler, a link to a story about how traditional theories of planet formation are being questioned.

From John D'Angelo, a link to a stunning image of Centaurus A (click on the description below the image for a much larger version).

Finally, a mini-collection from Neatorama:
--a link to the story of Jason McElwain, an autistic kid who scored 20 points in 4 minutes of a high school basketball. This story is from several years ago, but the video will still make you tear up.
--an absolutely stunning collection of photographs titled London, From Above, At Night.
--in the ridiculously cute category, it's cat adopts a bunny.
--an entirely entertaining birthday cake error.
--finally, and this is fascinating, a story about Christopher Baker creating a visual map of 60,000 e-mails he sent and received over the last few years.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Fool

I went to Target today.

I don't get a cart at Target, or anywhere else. Carts are a commitment. You have to push the cart around, and you can't just leave it anywhere. Besides, I don't need a cart, because instead of putting my items in a cart, I can just carry them all.

Because of this glaring bit of stubborness on my part, here's what I carried all the way across Target today:
--1 20 lb. bag of cat litter
--2 25x20x1 air filters
--3 food bars
--1 drink
--1 cow cup for Eli
--1 bag of cat treats

The bag of cat litter was called "Feline Pine" (it's great stuff), and it comes in a huge bag with lots of empty space inside, which meant that the balance point shifted continually. Actually, the balance point of everything seemed to be shifting continually, so I was in that walk faster or die situation, mentally calculating how much closer I was to dropping everything with each step.

This, by itself, is no big deal, because I'm, um, a fool.

What I realized I was doing, though, was trying to act like I wasn't about to drop everything. So as everything was shifting closer to disaster with each step, and my body below the neck was doing its best Don Knotts/Jim Carrey impersonation, my head was trying to act like James Bond.

Sorry you couldn't see that? Hell, it was so ridiculous that I'm sorry I couldn't see it.

An(other) Idea

I'm still not swimming.

I've discovered that what's been hurting when I play the drums isn't my shoulder. Last week, I realized that I could precisely mark the spots on my arm that were hurting, so I did. I took a picture, mailed it to my physical therapist, and she said that what I had marked was actually part of my deltoid.

It can be kind of tricky to identify, because there's a bursa in that area that protects your rotator cuff tendons, too. But it's my deltoid that hurts when I'm drumming.

It's killing me to not swim, and only I only play Rock Band one or two days a week (and not for long even on the days I do get to play). As I've gotten older, though, I really heal poorly from injuries, plus I can't take inflammatories for long because they shred my stomach.

However, I think I may have stumbled onto an idea.

It's my boss's idea, actually, because I went in to work yesterday and he said that he had "cured" his knee pain by rubbing liquid Children's Motrin on his knee.

Hmm. Crazy man. May need to call security.

I didn't think liquid ibuprofen was crazy, necessarily, but I always thought there needed to be some kind of facilitation agent to increase the rate of absorption into the skin. So maybe combining liquid Motrin with Zostrix (a neuropathy cream with Capsaicin, which greatly increases absorption rate) would be potent, at least theoretically.

Turns out, though, that my boss was on to something. Ibuprofen cream was shown to be effective in treating both knee and ankle in clinical studies that I reviewed online. And even though I don't necessarily understand all the mechanics involved, it seems like it would be a great option for me, since it would be bypassing my stomach entirely. So I ordered some and we'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The One I Forgot

I know, I didn't remember it when I was making the list, but Hinterland should come in at around #8, and it's a terrific game.

Favorite Games of 2008

I don't do a Game Of The Year post anymore, because it's impossible to play everything, and GOTY implies a degree of fairness and perspective that I really don't have. However, I can do a favorite games of the year post, and if you missed any of these games the first time around, they're well worth your time.

Oh, and if you're wondering, I didn't scan through the blog to find likely candidates. I figured that if it wasn't memorable enough to immediately come to mind, then it didn't deserve to be on the list.

10. Head Coach (360)
This game would have cracked the top five, easily, except for a Catch-22 that somewhat derails its brilliance. While the new design is absolutely sensational, and everything off the field is fantastic, Head Coach uses Madden 08's gameplay engine, which is so inferior to the rest of the game that it's a real buzzkill. There's a sim engine that can alternatively be used, and it's much, much more realistic, but then the game loses the excitement of 3D graphics. Still, it's a first-rate design, and a real blast of fresh air in sports simulations.

9. NHL 09 (360)
This game has one of the best balances between reality and fun that I've ever seen in a sports game. Is it entirely realistic? No. Is it somewhat realistic and absolutely, tremendously fun? Yes. Slider adjustments are necessary, because the default settings are far too amped up, but it's a fantastic game, and "Be a Pro" mode is an excellent career mode.

No, it's not The Show, but nothing is The Show. Except The Show, of course.

8. De Blob (Wii)
A whimsical color explosion, De Blob is nearly impossible to describe, although I tried to do so here. It's also the only game I ever played that reminded me of The Beatles' Yellow Submarine. Having a character whose goal is to paint every single thing in an environment is incredibly compulsive (in a good way), and the vibrant graphics make it even more rewarding. This is another excellent game for kids, although I enjoyed it even more than Eli.

7. MLB 08: The Show (PS3)
Simply put, this is the finest sports simulation ever made.

The HD graphics (on the PS3) are nothing short of phenomenal, the animations are amazing, and the commentary is the best ever heard in a videogame. It looks and feels--and plays--like real baseball, with only a very few exceptions. And Road To The Show (career) mode is, essentially, a second full game to play.

The level of sophistication and polish in this game is off the charts. And since I play basically every sports game that comes out, I can say, without hesitation, that this is the sports game of the year. It's so much better than any other game that there isn't even a discussion.

6. Monster Lab (Wii)
This game was the single biggest surprise of the year. It had almost zero pre-release hype, its Metacritic score is a very pedestrian 72, and it's an absolute blast--stylish, extremely funny, and very, very clever. Battle monsters in a Tim Burton-inspired world, scavenge parts, and create more powerful monstrosities in your lab. It was Eli 7.5's game of the year, and we had a ridiculous amount of fun. Plus, there were 20 hours of gameplay, at least, and it never feel padded. Original post here.

5. Fallout 3 (360)
This was the most-anticipated game of the year for me, and after spending 40+ hours exploring the world before I moved on to the main plot, it delivered in almost every category. I loved the post-apocalyptic setting, loved V.A.T.S., loved the character models, loved the scavenging mentality, loved almost everything.

4. Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer (DS)
The best rogue-like game I've played in years, Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer kept me glued to the DS for weeks this spring. Depth, challenge, humor--this game has it all. Here's the original post, plus follow-ups here and here.

3. No More Heroes (Wii)
It's a game absolutely bursting with excess and a comic energy that can only be described as manic, and I remember this game more vividly than any other game I played in 2008. I originally wrote about it here, and everything there is (in retrospect) still true. It's a comic book come alive, basically--from the modeling of the characters to the way that everything is totally over-the-top. I'm sure I'll still remember this game fondly twenty years from now, while almost everything else I played will have long since been forgotten.

2. Rock Band 2 (360)
This is more of a lifestyle than a game, really, and I'm not even sure it's fair to compare it to games made by humans, but Rock Band 2 added almost every single feature I wanted that was missing from the original. It's an 11 in every possible way.

1. King's Bounty (PC)
No, I can't link to my original impressions of this game because I still haven't written them. All I know is that guys who made Space Rangers 2 (one of my favorite PC games of all time) have absolutely, 100% done it again. King's Bounty is almost hypnotically addictive, and it still has the trademark wackiness of Space Rangers 2. Want to marry a frog? No problem. Want to see shamans, cyclops, vampires, druids, alchemists, polar bears, cannoneers, and grim reapers--in the same battle? No problem. Want to go on a quest to improve the quality of beer? You're in luck.

Plus, at the highest detail settings, this is the most vibrant game world I've ever seen. Flags wave, rabbits and squirrels run across your path, fish swim in streams, butterflies flit about, birds fly past--it's magical.

Here's the best analogy I can think of to describe how this game plays. You're nine years old and it's the day after Halloween. You leave your house to walk to school, and you see a piece of candy on the ground. A few feet past that is another. You start following this trail (some kid's treat bag must have split enough for candy to leak out) and putting candy in your pockets. Before long, your pockets are full of candy, but up ahead, there's still more candy.

This trail of candy, as far as I can tell, stretches on forever.

Miscellaneous awards below.

Games I Want To Spend More Time With
Saint's Row 2 (360)
I only spent a few hours with this game when it was released, because it came out at the worst possible time (for me)--there were so many high-quality games being released, and thug life isn't exactly one of my favorite genres, anyway, so it slipped out of the picture. Volition is an excellent developer, though, and what I did play, I liked.

Dead Space (360)
Another interesting title that just got drowned by the competition. I loved some of the design elements (health was shown as part of a character's equipment, which was freaking brilliant), and the game seemed very polished, so I hope to go back to it in the next few weeks.

Games I Knew Were Good But Couldn't Get Into, Anyway
The World Ends With You (DS)
This game was dripping with style, which I loved, and it was exactly the kind of game that I should want to play compulsively. Somehow, though, I didn't, and I could never quite figure out why.

Braid (360)
Another game that people lost their minds over, and I knew (I still know) that it was brilliant, and I should be captivated, blah blah blah, but it did absolutely nothing for me. I think I might have played it for an hour, and I had no desire to ever try it again (although, at some point, I'm sure I will).

Biggest Disappointments
Spore (PC)
This might be a really good game after it gets a dozen expansion packs.

NCAA 09 (360)
What an incredible turd. Everything possible went wrong with this game, and for the first time in years, it was so bad that it simply couldn't be salvaged--no combination of slider settings was enough. Recruiting was tedious, Campus Legend mode was ignored, and Pop Warner leauges have better gameplay.

MLB2K8 (360)
An epic disaster.

I Wonder if "Blogger's Buttocks" Is A Hoax As Well

Breaking news:
"Cello scrotum," a nasty ailment allegedly suffered by musicians, does not exist and the condition was just a hoax, a senior British doctor has admitted.

In a letter to prominent medical magazine, the British Medical Journal in 1974, Elaine Murphy reported that cellists suffered from the painful complaint caused by their instrument repeatedly rubbing against their body.

...But Murphy, now a baroness and a former professor of psychiatry of old age at Guy's Hospital in London, has admitted her supposed medical complaint was a spoof.

It's a big day. After 34 years of waiting to play the cello, now I can finally get started.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Console Post of the Week: The Current State, From You, In One Paragraph

James Riegel sent me a one-paragraph e-mail that's a concise and accurate summary of the console wars as they currently stand:
I will sum up the current console generation in three sentences (four counting this one).
Nintendo's console lets me play games with my kids and gives them the biggest range of things they like. Microsoft's console lets me play games after they've gone to bed and serves up the best overall experience via Marketplace, additional content, demo availability, etc.
Sony's console lets me watch BluRays from Netflix.

I'd add two things. First, the PS3 is also an excellent CD player, and second, MLB '08: The Show is the one exception to his summary, because I played it for 50+ hours last year (which is more than all the other PS3 games Iplayed combined).

Don Knotts For The Block

A friend of mine sent me one of those pass-around e-mails about the Hollywood Squares.

If you don't remember, the Hollywood Squares was this incredibly cheesy game show that was on for about a century (Wikipedia page). It was a giant, vertical tic-tac-toe board, and there was a fading celebrity sitting in each space on the board. Contestants chose which place on the board they wanted to X or O, and the host asked the celebrity a question. The celebrity would answer the question, but usually, they added some kind of wisecrack (all pre-written, as this entire show was canned, basically). If the contestant correctly identified whether the celebrity was correct or incorrect, their mark was placed in that square.

This was an era where there were three channels of television, at least in my town when I was a kid, so unless I wanted to watch Gilligan's Island for the ten thousandth time, I watched a lot of Hollywood Squares.

Don Knotts was on the show occasionally. Let me identify my bias upfront: I love Don Knotts. I still think he was absolutely, freaking hilarious--a terrific physical comedian, great character actor (even though he really only played one character), and totally likable.

If you want to see him, and you've never seen The Reluctant Astronaut, that's a good place to start.

Anyway, the one character he played was always incredibly nervous and almost totally incompetent. So he was on the Hollywood Squares, and he had this exchange with the host:
Q.You've been having trouble going to sleep. Are you probably a man or a woman?
A. Don Knotts: That's what's been keeping me awake.

Still Standing

Eli 7.5 is better today. Gloria is much better.

I think I can breathe for the first time in a week.

Eli had been in near-constant pain for four days. That's how awful a rotavirus can be. Seeing someone whose picture should be in the dictionary under "exuberant" suffer like that is an awful experience. It felt like someone had put a huge weight on my chest and I couldn't get any air.

That's what it's like when your son or daughter is seriously ill. The only phrase I can think of to describe it is the claustrophobia of fear. After it goes on for a certain length of time, it's almost impossible to think about anything else. I try very hard to find something funny in everything that happens as a parent--it helps keep me sane--but there's just nothing in a rotavirus but fear. It's so intense, and so pervasive, that there's nothing else to find.

Plus, when you're afraid, it's almost impossible to grind. I always think of myself as a grinder, and I guess it's one of the ways that I define myself. But when I'm afraid for Eli, I lose that ability to focus, so I feel sort of lost.

Actually, it's not lost--it's vulnerable. I never feel vulnerable. I don't feel invulnerable, either, but I'm somewhere in-between. But when Eli gets ill, really ill, I feel incredibly helpless, which must be one of the worst feelings in the world.

Monday, January 26, 2009

And Then There Was One

An update:

Gloria has it now, too. I feel like I'm in a virus version of "The Running Man."

Not A Title That I've Ever Seen Used Before

Please put away all snacks now. Trust me.

Years ago, I had an idea for a post, based on what was happening with Eli 3.3 at the time. The post was going to have a memorable title, but I decided in the end, as the model of discretion, not to write it up. And I figured that the memorable title I had ready would never be used.

Then came this weekend.

Let's go back first, though, and tell the first story, because I no longer have the will to be discreet.

What you need to know to make sense of the story, though, is my phobia. Some people are afraid of spiders. Some are afraid of snakes.

No cheap Jim Stafford joke will be inserted here.

What I fear are feces and vomit--specifically, other people's. It may not rise to the level of a phobia, but it's the one thing I just can't handle.

As a parent, though, you learn to handle all kinds of things that you can't, and I changed my share of diapers. Diaper poop, though, has a container. Somehow, that makes it easier.

Moving on to the first story now.

Eli 3.3 had just toilet trained himself (basically, he did it in one day), and he almost never had an accident. Well, unless he was playing hide-and-seek. Incredibly, and scientists could research this for the next century and never find an explanation, when Eli played "hide-and-seek," he would invariably run into the coat closet and crap in his pants.

This only happened two or three times before we got wise, and after that, when he innocently asked if we wanted to play hide-and-seek, we'd both yell "Nooooooo!"

We forgot, though, to tell the babysitter.

She was over one afternoon, and I was still puttering around in my study. When I came out, I saw her, but not him.

"Where's Eli?" I asked.

"Oh, we're playing hide-and-seek," she said.

"Mayday!" I said. "Get to the coat closet before it's too late!"

We opened the coat closet and Eli 3.3 was laughing, because the coat closet, to him, was the perfect hiding place. I explained to Emily what happened when he played hide-and-seek, and we both laughed at the disaster that was narrowly averted.

Until we noticed the smell.

Emily took Eli to the bathroom (she became a nurse, and I can see why--she was awesome) and cleaned him up, but a few minutes later, she came out and said "Bill, that was pretty, um, runny. I think you might want to check for a trail."

A trail.

So I peered at our wood floors, which are, not surprisingly, an excellent color match for certain colors of poo, and saw a spot. And another.

I went and got a flashlight, and began meticulously following the trail, stinky dot by stinky dot. As I did so, I couldn't get one thought out of my mind: I am the shit detective.

That was going to be the title of the post.

This last Wednesday, Eli threw up twice--once at school (late in the day), and once on the way home. He stayed home from school on Thursday, though, and didn't throw up all day. We thought we had dodged the disease bullet.

Those thoughts of dodging officially evaporated when he threw up twice Thursday night and basically got two hours of sleep because his stomach hurt so much.

On Friday, the doctor mentioned the dread word: "rotavirus." $*#*@((@@*&!!!

Oh, and she said "He might have diarrhea before he gets over this."

Friday night, I told Gloria I'd take care of Eli from 1 a.m. until 10 a.m., because she was exhausted and had to get some sleep.

So at 1:11 a.m., Eli wokes up, and his stomach was hurting. I decidee to go sleep on the floor in his room, so Gloria wouldn't get woken up, and for the next two hours, he would sleep for 20-30 minutes at a time, then wake up in pain.

If you don't have kids and don't know what it feels like when your kids are in pain, it's the worst feeling in the world. I can't even think of anything I could compare it to.

At 3:15, he woke up again, and his stomach hurt even worse this time. There was a little "vomit bucket" that we were keeping by his bed (that would hold about 24 oz. of liquid), and he frantically motioned for me to give it to him, which I did.

I did tell you to put your snacks away, didn't I?

The ensuing vomit comet completely filled up the bucket, and since my face was very close to his, my glasses got spattered.

It was at this moment that I wanted to curl up in the corner of his room. And die.

He was upset, because throwing up is upsetting, and he's seven, and he's afraid. And I was trying to soothe him as I carefully walked toward the bathroom, because if I tilted the stupid bucket even one degree, vomit was going to be slopping over the sides.

As David Byrne would say: where? How did I get here?

There was enough commotion that Gloria woke up, and Eli followed me into the bathroom, which is when we discovered that at the same time he threw up, he also had a little diarrhea. After I cleaned him up (that's a white knuckle moment for me, for all the reasons I mentioned earlier), I saw one little spot on the carpet.

Which is why, for the second time in my life, I had to walk a path to see if there were any more spots, and as I did, the same thought returned: I am the shit detective.

Thankfully, there were no more spots, and we decided to go downstairs, because we weren't going to sleep at this point, anyway. So from 3:30 on, we watched movies, and at 6:00, he fell asleep for two hours.

That's how the weekend went. I was so tired Saturday night that after I flossed, I tried to discard the string in the laundry hamper.

I'm writing this on Sunday night, and Eli 7.5 is somewhat better today, but still a long way from normal. And we're all falling over from being so tired.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday Links!

Ben Younkins sent in links to an epic, multi-layered classic. If you take just the vocal track from Van Halen's "Runnin' With the Devil" (which is a classic by itself, and I've linked to it before), then run it through Microsoft's Songsmith (another video that's a cheese classic by itself), you wind up with the unholy mash-up that's been titled "Runnin' With The Songsmith".

From Sirius, a link to a story about the Boston molasses disaster of 1919. Also, a link to the discovery that orangutans can whistle spontaneously, and how it may affect what we believe about speech and language.

From James Riegel, a follow-up to last week's link of a venomous mammal. It's an entire list of venomous mammals, courtesy of Wikipedia.

From Mike Kolar, a link to the remarkable exploits of Rollie Free, who set a motorcycle land speed record in1948 in a Speedo bathing suit and a swimming cap. Seriously.

If you're a fan of college basketball, you'll remember West Virginia's Kevin Pittsnogle, who was 6'11" and had the touch and range of a shooting guard. I thought he'd wind up with a long NBA career, but instead, he's a teacher (not entirely by his choice).

There's a fascinating profile of Evan Tanner in Men's Journal. Tanner was the former UFC champion who took a motorcycle trip in to the desert and didn't make it back alive. I'm not fan of UFC, but even if you're not, this is an excellent read.

From Keith Grogan, a link to a stunning gallery of photographs of New York City from 1880-1980.

From the Edwin Garcia Links Machine, a link to A Rendezvous, and a Rough Ride Home, the story of cosmonaut Boris Volynov and his return on Soyuz 5 in 1969. There are two words that best describe his experience. The first word is "cluster."

Next, also from the EGLM, a link to an amazing photograph: 19th and 21st century wind power.

From Frank Regan, an excellent article about an undercover cyber-investigation titled Three Years Undercover With the Identity Thieves. I wish this article had been twice as long, at least, but it's still good reading.

From Steven Kreuch, a link to a site that is always interesting and often hilarious: One Sentence: true stories, told in one sentence.

From Neatorama, it's the trebuchet of your dreams. Seriously, now I totally understand how they were powerful enough to be used in castle sieges.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sony Revises Earnings Forecast

Sony revised its annual earnings projection today:
Sony Corp. has revised its projected annual operating loss from a previously expected figure of ¥100 billion ($1.1bn) to as much as ¥260 billion ($2.9bn).

The strong yen and declining demand for its products in the current global economic environment were again blamed for the results. Previously, Sony had expected a ¥200 billion profit for the year.

...The company expects losses for its games division to rise up to ¥30 billion ($338 million) for the fiscal year, with half of that attributed to lower than expected sales.

What's happened here?

I took a look at the last few quarterly earnings reports in an attempt to find out, and poking around revealed a few interesting bits of data.

First, let's look at their original earnings projection for FY08, which was issued on May 14 of last year (all Sony earnings releases here). Highlights:
Projected net income: ¥290 billion ($2.9B, based on their foreign exchange rate projection)
Projected unit growth for key products:
PS3 8.1% (10 million)
PSP 7.9% (15 million)
PS2 -34.5% (9 million)
Console/handheld software (not broken out) -6.5% (250 million units)

However, after those projections, there was this statement:
Despite an expected decrease in Game segment sales in connection with a decrease in sales for the PS2 business, the Game segment as a whole is expected to have positive operating income for FY08 as a result of hardware cost reductions and an enhanced lineup of software titles in the PS3 business.

If you look at the significant decline expected in the PS2 business (which was still higher volume, at that time, than the PS3 business), along with modest increases for the PSP and PS3, and factor in their expectations of selling 17 million units less software, it's hard to understand how they expected the Game segment to improve its results over FY07 (when the segment lost ¥124.5 billion), let alone turn a profit.

Magical thinking, perhaps.

They also originally projected huge growth in a few products from the electronics division:
Walkman digital music player 20.6% (7 million)
Bravia LCD TV's 60.3% (17 million)
Vaio PC's 30.7% (6.8 million)

Clearly, Sony pushed all their chips in on the Bravia and Vaio lines. Projecting sixty percent growth for the Bravia segment?

Now, let's look at their revised forecast issued today.

Quite remarkably, their original projection estimated a ¥290 billion profit, which has now swung to an expected ¥260 billion loss. That's a swing of over $5 billion dollars (at current exchange rates) in just eight months.

It's even more extreme a swing than it seems, because when they issued their first set of revised projections in late October, they were still anticipating a ¥150 billion profit.

If you look at their revised projections, it's easy to find the explosions.

There was no announced revision to the forecasted PS3 sales of 10 million units for the fiscal year (ending March 31), but that wasn't exactly a stretch goal to begin with, given that they sold 9.24 PS3's in FY07. Projected PSP sales were still 15 million, but PS2 sales were revised downward from 9 million to 8 million. And software sales projections were unchanged.

So this segment was supposed to produce a profit this year, and the only change in projections were a million PS2 units, yet their current projection is now that the Game segment is going to post a ¥30 billion loss?

Really, I can't see how they're limiting it to ¥30 billion, so it won't be surprising if the final results are worse than that. Still, though, the gaming segment held up reasonably well.

In the Electronics segment, though, the revisions are huge (unit sale growth projections below):
Handycam video cameras................0.%.......................-19%
Cybershot digital cameras.............+10.6%....................-8.5%
Bravia LCD TV's...........................+60.3%..................+41.5%
Vaio PC's.......................................30.7%...................+11.5%

The Bravia revision was 2 million units, and when you consider that the Vaio unit reduction was 1 million units, and that they probably represent Sony's most expensive product categories, it's easy to see how they've gotten hammered. The Electronics segment alone is expected to post a loss that's 10X the Game segment loss.

Sony's also getting hit by the exchange rate (projected to be an impact of -¥55 billion compared to their original forecast), as well as a ¥65 billion loss "caused by the decline in the stock market."

So what are they going to do? Well, there's the obligatory "restructuring" and cost cutting, but I think this note is provocative:
With the anticipated growth of emerging markets and the resulting demand for more entry-level models, Sony will pursue further OEM/ODM deployment and a far-reaching asset light strategy.

In other words, it appears that Sony is beginning to chase the low end, at least in some markets.

Oh, and it's going to be Sony's first operating loss in fourteen years.

Presumably, Kaz Hirai is planning a round of triumphant interviews and a parade. At the chocolate palace.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Note To Two of You

"scb" and "U18", I've been trying to respond to your e-mails, but your mail server says you either don't exist or don't accept mail from me. Either way, I haven't been able to answer.

Console Post of the Week: Eight Miles High

To begin, let's look at the December NPD numbers again:

Also, let's look at the combined November-December numbers to get a look at the critical holiday month sales (remember, November-December sales are often as large as the other ten months of the year combined):

Here's a comparison with last year (November-December) in terms of growth:
Wii-- +79.7%
360-- +12.1%
PS3-- -12.6%
PS2-- -61.4%

Anyone can interpret that data. Except Kaz Hirai.

Here are some excerpt's from Kaz's latest interview with Official Playstation Magazine (thanks Eurogamer):
"This is not meant in terms of numbers, or who's got the biggest install base, or who's selling most in any particular week or month, but I'd like to think that we continue official leadership in this industry," Hirai told Official PlayStation Magazine.

"It's difficult to talk about Nintendo, because we don't look at their console as being a competitor. They're a different world, and we operate in our world - that's the kind of way I look at things.

"And with the Xbox - again, I can't come up with one word to fit. You need a word that describes something that lacks longevity," he added with a laugh.

"We don't provide the 'easy to program for' console that [developers] want, because 'easy to program for' means that anybody will be able to take advantage of pretty much what the hardware can do, so then the question is what do you do for the rest of the nine-and-a-half years?" explained Hirai.


I mean, I'm used to most Sony gaming executives being complete dicks--they have been for years now--but even so, the hubris is pretty breathtaking.

My favorite is what Kaz says about Nintendo: They're a different world, and we operate in our world - that's the kind of way I look at things. Yes, they live in a world where their console outsells yours 3-1. Let's call that the "real world." You, Kaz, live in a world where unicorns run through rainbow colored streams and PS3's are made out of solid chocolate.

I think Willy Wonka had a better grasp on reality than these people.

His other classic quote is his brilliant discussion of console architecture:
We don't provide the 'easy to program for' console that [developers] want, because 'easy to program for' means that anybody will be able to take advantage of pretty much what the hardware can do, so then the question is what do you do for the rest of the nine-and-a-half years?

Gee, I don't know. Make a bunch of damned good games, maybe? Seriously, has this guy ever been more of a tool than in this interview?

What Sony has done with their architecture is guarantee that only a small fraction of developers who make games for the PS3 will be able to get the most out of the hardware. It's a bizarre kind of elitism, and by bizarre I mean "stupid."

Isn't Hirai sounding more and more like an exiled dictator giving interviews from his Paris apartment? "We continue official leadership of this country."

Okay, it's pretty clear where we are right now. So where are we going?

Like I mentioned last month, I think that Sony and Microsoft are going to play price leapfrog for the next 18-24 months. When Sony pulls within $50 of the mid-level 360 SKU, they'll outsell the 360 by 10-15% in the U.S. When Microsoft pulls out to a $100 gap, though, the PS3 will continue to get crushed by nearly 2-1 margins.

This means that Sony, at some point, has to reach price parity with the 360 Pro. Selling for $50 more isn't going to get them anywhere. Actually, that's not quite correct: to gather any momentum, the PS3 has to STAY at price parity with the 360. So if Sony cuts the price by $100 this spring, as it's been rumored, they have to be prepared to cut the price AGAIN when Microsoft responds.

I don't think they can do that.

Nintendo had a historic year in the U.S. market. The PS2 sold 8,420,000 units in 2002, the same year that they cut the price to $199 (in May). That was the single biggest year for a console in history.

The Wii sold 10,151,300 units in the U.S. in 2008.

That's a shocking number, but here's context to make it even more shocking: that's more than double the best year of either the 360 or PS3.

Having said that, the Wii's fall software line up was mostly crap, except for the wonderful Monster Lab and De Blob. Nintendo totally whiffed on their own games (Wii Music was a huge disappointment), and they seem to be losing momentum in terms of quality games. There's no question that Nintendo is going to be a huge, force-of-nature financial success in this generation, but this is the first time I've questioned whether the quality games are going to follow.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Gaming Notes

Two quick gaming notes for you.

First, New Star Soccer 4 is on sale for 50% off today only. That's $9.95, and the New Star Soccer series is incredibly addictive. The discount is courtesy of Game du Jour.

Second, there's an excellent interviewwith Vic Davis (Armageddon Empires) over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun. In particular, there's a relative wealth of information about Solium Infernum, his upcoming game. The release date is tentatively "summer," and I can't wait.

Mall Cop

Gloria wanted to go see "Slumdog Millionaire" on Saturday night, and I agreed.

Secretly, I wanted to go see "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," even though I knew that "Slumdog Millionaire" was a much better movie.

We drove up to the theater about ten minutes before the movie time, and it was a zoo. This theater is, bizarrely, incredibly popular, even though I wouldn't even put it in the top ten in terms of quality of facilities. It shows more indie movies, though, and it's always packed.

"Look at that line," Gloria said. The line for tickets was thirty or forty deep. "That's insane."

"I'll let you off in front and you can get in line," I said.

"There's no way we're getting into that movie," she said. "It's got to be sold out, and if it isn't, we'll be sitting in the front row."

"Man, that's a shame," I said. "I really wanted to see it."

"Me, too," she said.

"Gee, I wonder if there's anything else we could go see," I said.

Gloria looked at me blankly for a few seconds. "I don't know," she said. Then I smiled. "Oh, no," she said. "No mall cop movie!"

"Paul Blart, Paul Blart," I chanted. "Showing in forty minutes at the high-definition theater."

"Good grief," she said. "How did this happen?"


While we waited for the previews to begin--I kid you not--the mournful theme to "The Godfather" was playing. "That seems appropriate," she said.

So we watched "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," and I'm sorry to say that the 27% rating it has at Rotten Tomatoes is entirely deserved. At the end, I turned to Gloria and said "Man, I wish that had been a funny movie."

This is the strange part, though, for a movie that wasn't funny: I laughed. A lot.

How is that possible? I thought about it on Sunday, and I think I know why. There were a ton of five-second moments from Mall Cop that made me laugh (which is why it has such a great trailer). A ton! But almost every single one of those five-second moments was discrete.

Slapstick, and comedy in general, is all about building. One of the reasons I enjoy Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) so much is that he knows how to build a gag. He takes one funny moment and builds on it multiple times, until the last gag is four times as funny. As far as slapstick goes, he's a genius, and I love slapstick.

That's what Mall Cop lacked. Kevin James is very likable as an actor, and he's very funny as a physical comedian, but the gags never went anywhere. He's credited as one of the screenwriters, too, so it's his own failing.

Like I said, there are lots of laughs, but there just aren't any LAUGHS--those moments where you can't even breathe because you're laughing so hard.

The New Household Greeting

Eli 7.5 walked into my study last night and said "What's up, playa?"


Happy Inauguration Day to you, and you, and you over there. Here are a few updates on various recent topics.

First off, many thanks for all the recommendations on anti-virus software. Based on your e-mails, I decided on ESET (NOD32 is a subset). So far, I've been extremely pleased--ESET seems very powerful, it's easy to configure, and it's hassle-free.

Last week, after recommending The Prisoner, Michael Martin e-mailed and said that people outside the U.S. couldn't watch the episodes that were available online at AMC. Keller was the first to recommend Hotspot Shield, and it worked.

I've officially cut over to the new system. Zero problems in terms of installing software and transferring data from the old system, and it's a real pleasure to be driving a dragster instead of a horse and buggy.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Good Old Days

Back in 2004, in the golden age of creative spam, I received dozens of e-mails from "individuals" with names I can only describe as delightful. I ran across them today, and here's a sample:
Toenail F. Draftsmanship
Radials R. Nolan
Terrier Q. Vestige
Verification S. Antiquary
Whatever A. Jettisoned
Discomfited U. Ventriloquist
Turmerics O. Renegade
Banana Kramer
Toothpaste B. Repasting
Resonances S. Bookmobile
Luminescence H. Corroboration
Humbug K. Acquaintance
Urbanizing G. Particle
Flannels B. Tabloid
Decapitation H. Postulates
Incapacity H. Wolfish
Tattoo K. Anchorpeople
Platypus O. Distributing
Gherkin L. Dunedin
Cowlick G. Eyelash
Soft V. Loco

Classics, every one, and I think "Banana Kramer" or "Soft V. Loco" would make excellent band names.

This was also the era of the random subject line. A few favorites:
regrettable snowy etymology resin
avocado pit bodice rippers around 6
bowling ball 77 dilettantes

Zimbabwe, Mugabe, and the $100 Trillion Note

After I made the post Friday about Zimbabwe issuing a $100 trillion note, a longtime e-mailer (who I highly respect for his intelligence and clarity of thought) chided me for my lack of compassion in terms of the suffering the inflation is causing.

That was certainly not my intent, but economic oddities fascinate me, and I think it's certainly true that I compartmentalized the oddity without acknowledging the suffering.

Here's what he wrote (he wishes to remain anonymous because of his standing in the academic community):
While a 100 trillion note IS funny. Remember what it represents. It's not a joke. It's not a Monty Python sketch.

It is a mark of a place where wives have to go in with their husband to work every day to pick up their paycheck first thing in the morning...because if they wait until the end of the day when he comes home, it will already be worthless.

It is a mark of a place ruled by a very tragic man. An idealist who grew up fighting injustice. Fighting racism, bigotry, and unfairness foisted upon his society by selfish men...and a man who turned into a far darker figure than George Lucas could ever imagine.

I don't mean to be utterly humorless here. It's just that as a student of the developing world, there is perhaps no story that honestly breaks my heart as badly as Zimbabwe and the tragic story of Robert Mugabe.

Like I said--clarity of thought.

I was intrigued by what he touched on in terms of Robert Mugabe, who I thought was just another dimestore dickhead, so I asked him to explain more fully. Here's how he replied:
In my line of work, I study no shortage of freaking sociopaths...Saddam Hussein, Mobutu, Charles Taylor...just monsters. As human beings, just very little to redeem them.

But then you run into a story like Robert Mugabe.

I like to think of myself as a good and principled person. Intelligent. Caring of my fellow man. Maybe a bit rough around the edges sometimes, but my heart is always in the right place. I read the stories of Iraq, Liberia, etc. and think "man, if only I had been there instead of them, how much better the world could have been!"

Perhaps that is why Mugabe's story has stuck with me so emotionally. In many ways, as I first read his story, I thought "that's me."

...and then you see what happens. And to be honest? It scares the living shit out of me.

That delivered quite a jolt.

He recommended a book on Mugabe, so if you're interested, here's the link:
Dinner with Mugabe: The Untold Story of a Freedom Fighter who Became a Tyrant.

Martin Luther King Day

Today is a national holiday in the United States to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.

It's easy to forget the kind of hatred and stupidity that King was fighting against, but a good place to start is with the history of the Jim Crow laws in the United States. The Wikipedia entry for Jim Crow laws also has detailed information. And the Wikipedia entry for King is here.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Well, This Is Entirely Appropriate

In the Friday links post, there's a link to a story about Zimbabwe introducing a $50 billion note because of an inflation rate estimated at 231 million percent. The story was dated January 10.

Geoff Engelstein let me know that--already--the story is obsolete, because today, they announced that they're releasing a $100 TRILLION note.

Hell, yes, I'll be looking for one on eBay.

Friday Links!

In sympathy with the northern U.S. and the Great White North, this is the Frozen Solid Edition of Friday Links.

Leading off this week, a link from Randy to a fantastic article in The New Yorker titled Atomic John. Here's the opening, and it's an outstanding read:
The single, blinding release of pure energy over Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945, marked a startling and permanent break with our prior understandings of the visible world. Yet for more than sixty years the technology behind the explosion has remained a state secret. The United States government has never divulged the engineering specifications of the first atomic bombs, not even after other countries have produced generations of ever more powerful nuclear weapons. In the decades since the Second World War, dozens of historians have attempted to divine the precise mechanics of the Hiroshima bomb, nicknamed Little Boy, and of the bomb that fell three days later on Nagasaki, known as Fat Man. The most prominent is Richard Rhodes, who won a Pulitzer Prize, in 1988, for his dazzling and meticulous book “The Making of the Atomic Bomb.” But the most accurate account of the bomb’s inner workings—an unnervingly detailed reconstruction, based on old photographs and documents—has been written by a sixty-one-year-old truck driver from Waukesha, Wisconsin, named John Coster-Mullen, who was once a commercial photographer, and has never received a college degree.

From Vahur Teller, and continuing our fascination with hyperinflation, the news that Zimbabwe has introduced a $50 billion note. That's $2 American, in case you're wondering, and Zimbabwe's inflation rate is now estimated at 231 million percent.

From Future Nobel Prize Winner Brian Pilnick, a link to the paper written by by the Tartan Racing Team, of which he was a member. TRT was created to win the DARPA Urban Challenge, and seeing the details of their efforts is tremendously interesting. Read it here.

Here's an outstanding link from Stephen Micinski to a video on obsession. The story is told by MythBusters Co-Host Adam Savage, and it is fantastically entertaining.

From Sirius, a link to an astounding discovery, and here's an excerpt:
U.S. scientists have found a way to levitate the very smallest objects using the strange forces of quantum mechanics, and said on Wednesday they might use it to help make tiny nanotechnology machines.

Next, and myth of the "three-second memory" for fish has been debunked. They can actually remember sounds for up to five months. And here's a link to video of something I'd never even heard of before: a a venomous mammal.

From Ben Younkins, a link to an article about the "Steagles," the 1943 version of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles, when the two teams combined due to roster depletion caused by WWII.

From Shane Courtrille, a link to 51 Things You Aren't Allowed To See On Google Maps, and some of them (the Bahrain item, in particular) are fascinating.

From the Edwin Garcia Links Machine, a link to a video about how bacon is made. Next, an outstanding satirical video titled Infomania: Target Women-Jewelry. Oh, and the host of this video is a real jewel (Yes! Successful deployment of the worst pun in the history of the world)--she should wind up on The Daily Show. And a link to a real estate collapse nightmare: Developer's Disaster Causes Modern Ghost Town.

Via Neatorama, a link to a relational chart of heavy metal band names. Also, and this is totally awesome, a link to a site where you can convert your photos into tilt-shift versions. Oh, and I never thought I'd be using these words, but here's a video about a slingshot expert that you must see.

From Francis Cermak, a link to a bizarre story: the discovery of a series of stones arranged in a circle at the bottom of Lake Michigan that may represent an ancient civilization.

From Sean, a link to images from Varinis Trompe Loeil, which I can only describe as "geometric art" (and that's totally inadequate--you need to see the pictures). And one more from Sean, to an article about how Porsche pulled off a stunning financial "hack" through Volkswagen shares.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, a link to a historical correction: it wasn't Galileo who made the first telescope-aided drawing of the moon, it was Englishman Thomas Harriot.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

December NPD's

Analysis on Monday, but here are the numbers:
Wii - 2,150,000
Xbox 360 - 1,440,000
PlayStation 3 - 726,000

Beta Testers Wanted

From DQ reader Scott O'Malley:
I work for a Blu-ray authoring firm in Los Angeles, and we just launched a website for BD and High-def fans. Basically the idea is to connect the owners of HD equipment with potential buyers, seeing as owners know the most about a specific product. We also have a bunch of sliders to rate BD discs on various levels.

I'd like to have some DQ readers as beta testers - basically sign 'em up and add their home theater rigs, and have them just kick around the site for like 20 min. In return we'll send them a $20 gift certificate to Amazon. Their participation is on the honor system, but I figure your readers are good for it.

Scott said that he has a total of ten gift certificates available, so if you're interested, head on over:
Reference Quality.

That Didn't Take Long (iTunes)

Here's the gotcha (submitted by many of you, but Tim Lesnick was the first): if you want to upgrade songs in your iTunes library to the DRM-free version, you have to upgrade your ENTIRE iTunes library. In Apple's own words: "You cannot choose which songs, music videos or albums to upgrade individually."

So bulk upgrade or no upgrade.

See Gizmodo outrage here.

The Prisoner (your e-mail)

Sean is a compendium of knowledge about "The Prisoner" series, and he let me know that I had it wrong when I said the series was cancelled:
For what it's worth, it wasn't "cancelled." McGoohan originally intended to do 8 episodes or so, and then was encouraged to expand that out to the eventual 17, not all of which achieve the high quality the series set for itself. They ended with an episode that was intended as McGoohan's finale all along, even though it left many viewers more perplexed than ever.

It's not unusual for the British to produce what we in the US would call "limited series," with a finite number of episodes. Only in the US, where the syndication market is so lucrative, is there the pressure to keep producing seasons until you get at least 100 episodes.

Plus, he added some bonus information:
My favorite episode is the under-appreciated "Living In Harmony," which takes place in the old west with Number 6 as a sheriff who refuses to carry a gun. Reportedly CBS, who reran the show here in the US, refused to air this episode because it played as an antiwar allegory in the middle of the Vietnam War. Certainly the setting of the episode in the American west cut a little close to home.

...As to the number of episodes, here's a quote from Wikipedia:
In a 1977 interview McGoohan said: "I thought the concept of the thing would sustain for only seven, but then Lew Grade wanted to make his sale to CBS, I believe, and he said he couldn't make a deal unless he had more, and he wanted 26, and I couldn't conceive of 26 stories, because it would be spreading it very thin, but we did manage, over a weekend, with my writers, to cook up ten more outlines, and eventually we did 17, but it should be seven…"[3]

If you're really interested in the minutia, you can see which 7 were McGoohan's originals here, along with all of the various attempts to put the episodes in an internally-coherent order:

The great thing about The Prisoner is you can always dig one more level deeper into its meaning and making, and find something fascinating.

He's exactly right when he says that what makes the show so fascinating is that there's always a deeper level if you keep looking.

I also got an e-mail from Our Man In Japan, Michael Martin, because he tried to access the AMC-hosted episodes and couldn't:
I was excited to check out the Prisoner. Premise sounded cool and your work-up made it worth checking out.

So... No Go. Ah, yes, I'm in Japan. Apparently anyone outside the US is an evil-doer and does not deserve to have their eyes sullied by the likes of American TV. Hulu does the same thing. I've tried proxy servers. No go.

If you've got a solution for that, please let me know.

iTunes: DRM-Free (Soon)

This was noted last week, but I'm surprised it didn't get more attention:
Apple previously sold single songs for 99 cents, most with copy-protection software. Apple has worked out arrangements with the record labels to drop the copy protection. By the end of the first quarter, Apple said its entire 10 million-song iTunes catalog will have no copy protection. That will allow people to use music they purchase in homemade videos, for instance, or move songs easily to another music player.

In April, all song prices will change to one of three tiers: 69 cents, 99 cents or $1.29. Analyst Gartenberg expects back-catalog songs to be priced at 69 cents, with most new ones going up to $1.29. "I think 99-cent songs will pretty much start to disappear," he says.

I know that with Apple, there are often gotchas attached to big announcements that we don't initially understand. Still, this seems like a watershed moment for the recording industry, a white flag of sorts when it comes to copy protection. Or maybe a death rattle.

The question for us, of course, is what kind of effect this could have on the gaming industry. If nothing else, it will subject game publishers to additional scrutiny when it comes to using DRM, which is a good thing. I think it will also pressure publishers to be more candid when it comes to disclosing to consumers what kind of copy protection their products are using.

Life With Eli 7.5

Eli 7.5 came home early from school on Tuesday because his stomach was hurting. A few hours later, though, he was asking me if we could go out for dinner.

"I don't think we can go out for dinner when you're sick," I said.

"Not any more!" he said. "A rocket of goodness just exploded in my stomach!"

Last weekend, Eli was eating dinner and started coughing, that kind of cough you get when something goes down the wrong pipe. We asked him if he was okay, but he just kept coughing. A few seconds later, he waved to us that he was okay. "Sorry," he said. "My breathing hole was occupied."

We were sitting on the couch last weekend, and Eli had left his pajamas on the floor after he changed into his day clothes. He was sitting beside me, idly flicking his "Harry Potter" wand.

"Little man," I said, "time to go put your p.j.'s in the laundy."

He pointed the wand at me. "Obliviate!" he said.

We were at McDonald's last week, and Eli wanted to know if he could watch a movie when he went to his Granny's later that morning. "Dude, you've already watched over an hour of t.v. this morning," I said.

"But dad," he said, "Doctors say that kids should get two-point-five hours of television a day."

"I doubt that," I said,"but let's say I agree with you. If you watch "Toy Story" at Granny's, that will put you over three hours for the day."

"Dad!" he said. "You know I don't follow that rule!"

This week, Eli 7.5 came home with a ton of homework.

After dinner, Gloria cleared the kitchen table. "Eli, it's time to start working on your homework," she said. "You need to get at least part of it done."

"Mom, I don't NEED to," Eli said. "I ALREADY did do part of it."

"You did?" she asked.

"Yes," he said patiently, walking over toward the television.

"Let's see," Gloria said, shuffling through his papers, "it looks like you have twenty-seven words to practice and some sentences to write. And based on what you've written, you've practiced--one."

I burst out laughing. "An outstanding but failed attempt at trickery," I said.

Eli was laughing, too. "I know," he said. "Thanks, Dad."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Prisoner: Free Online (and legal)

Thanks to Sean for letting me know that to AMC is hosting the entire series of The Prisoner online. They're apparently filming a mini-series called "Prisoner 2009," and they're hosting the original episodes to drum up interest.

Which is fantastic for you, because you can watch them all here.

I Bet You Never Thought Of This

I thought I'd read every permutation of a bitter divorce over the years, but I was wrong:
Long Island doctor Richard Batista to estranged wife: Give me my kidney back or $1.5M
...The Long Island doctor wants the one-time love of his life to pay $1.5 million for the organ he bestowed on her eight years ago in a gift meant to save her life and their foundering marriage.

...Batista charged his wife, Dawnell, repaid his gesture by first sleeping with her physical therapist - and then denying him access to their three kids in an increasingly bitter divorce.

...After two transplants failed, her husband volunteered to donate one of his kidneys - and discovered he was a match, a 1-in-700,000 shot.

"I was the first and only one to step to the plate," the doctor recalled. Without his donation, Dawnell faced a long wait: There are 6,748 people awaiting kidneys in
New York State, the New York Organ Donor Network says.

...Batista said the ongoing ugliness began on day one of their divorce.

"She slapped me with divorce papers when I was in surgery trying to save another person's life," he fumed.

With a little tinkering, and not including the future murder-suicide that looks probable at this point, that whole story could be a Monty Python skit.

Tale of Despereaux

I forgot to mention this, but we went to see Tale of Despereaux the day that Eli 7.6 got out for Christmas vacation, and it was terrific. The reviews are very mixed, and I have no idea why, because it's beautiful, it's very funny, and the story was excellent.

I never read the book, so maybe it's not a faithful adaptation or something. But I would think that just about any kid over age six would enjoy themselves.


I wrote a few weeks ago that we were playing "Hangman" at a restaurant. Playing a word game with the goal of avoiding the hanging of a stick man made me wonder "where in the hell did THAT come from?"

There's not much information available about its origins, beyond the Wikipedia entry), but here's an excerpt:
The origins of Hangman are obscure, but it seems to have arisen in Victorian times," says Tony Augarde, author of "The Oxford Guide to Word Games" (Oxford University Press).

The game is mentioned in
Alice Bertha Gomme's "Traditional Games" in 1894 under the name "Birds, Beasts and Fishes." The rules are simple; a player writes down the first and last letters of a word for an animal, and the other player guesses the letters in between.

In other sources the game is called "Gallows", "The Game of Hangin'", or "Hanger".

The "Mallaise" (part two)

I made a post last month after visiting a local mall during the peak of the holiday season and finding far fewer shoppers and far bigger discounting than normal. In it, I wrote "So no matter what you're hearing about retail sales, my guess, at least anecdotally, is that the final numbers will be worse."

Today, retail numbers for December were announced:
WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- Stung by weak demand and falling prices, U.S. retail sales plunged a seasonally adjusted 2.7% in December from November, the Commerce Department estimated Wednesday.

...December's decline in total sales was much worse than the 1.5% month-to-month drop that economists surveyed by MarketWatch had anticipated. They also had been looking for sales excluding autos to drop 1.6%.

...Retail sales last month were down a record 9.8% compared with December 2007, the Commerce Department's data showed. Sales excluding autos fell a record 6.7% in the past year.

Pain=7 Billion Units of Pain or Some Other Universal Pain-Measuring Unit

I posted about the worst shot I'd ever had last week, and a few of you guys sent in stories that were clearly more painful than mine. Shad Price, though, has scoreboard on all of us, I think. Here's his story:
Several years back, I had my first cataract surgery on my right eye. (This is one, of many, bonus side-affects that one with Retinitus Pigmentosa could possibly be gifted with.)

So 2 weeks go by after my surgery and one day I am working with my father on one of his jobs and I realize that I can't see much out of my right eye. By that night, I was blind in my right eye and in a panic. I make an appointment with my doctor the next day for him to check it out. I go in and he takes one look and he realizes that the pressure has gone way up in my right eye for some reason and that immediate action must be taken or I stand the risk of permanent vision loss in the eye. It turns out that the first part was 2 cortisone shots directly in my eye, followed by a bunch of drops and drugs.

My wife abandoned me and left the room for fear of being sick. A team of five basically held me down while it got administered. It hurt pretty much as bad as you could imagine and then some. I ended up getting new in-soles for the shoes I wore that day because I curled my toes so violently that I tore up the original ones in my shoes.

I think I tore up the insoles in my shoes just READING this.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bridging The Gap

Alex Rigopulos, co-founder of Harmonix, answered questions for the NYT Freakonomics blog this week. The full interview is here, but here's an excerpt:
Q: How important is it to make the instruments closer to the real thing, and how do you prevent the complexities of realism from getting in the way of fun?
A: Authenticity of the musical experience was one of the key design goals in Rock Band, and I do think that during the coming years we will continue to try to bridge the gap between simulated musicianship and real musicianship. That said, the path there is not obvious: As the interactivity moves closer to real instrumental performance, the complexity/difficulty explodes rapidly. The challenge is to move along this axis in sufficiently tiny increments, so that the experience remains accessible and compelling for many millions of people.

If anyone can bridge that gap, It's these guys.

Legacy of Ashes

Alex Corvino recommended that I read Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, and boy, was he right. If you're interested in intelligence services and espionage, this is a fantastic book, full of eye-popping revelations (at least to me) about the history of the CIA and it's remarkable capacity for bungling on an epic scale. Based on the number of interviews author Tim Weiner conducted, as well as the number of internal CIA-commissioned histories he used, this may well be the best-researched book available on the history of the CIA.

Amazon link: Legacy of Ashes.

The New Purse

Gloria showed me a page from a women's clothing catalog.

"Do you think this is cute?" she asked. She pointed at a wildly colored purse that looked like it had been crocheted by Raggedy Ann.

"You mean this?" I asked, pointing at the description. "It's called the 'yes! bag' ?"

"Yes," she said.

"I think I'd wait for the '#uck yes! bag' ," I said.

I know you will translate the '#' correctly.

Little Plastic Controllers, Guitars, and the Spaces In-Between

At CES last week, Disney announced a product called Disney Star Guitarist (thanks to David Gloier for the link), and it looks to be a game-based trainer for real guitar playing. Here's a description:
Disney Star Guitarist trains you on the guitar by displaying Guitar Hero-like note information that applies to the frets and strings of an actual guitar. The game can teach you specific songs and ranks your progress as you go, based on how many notes you hit.

In the world premiere demo we witnessed, the game performed remarkably well. When the guitarist hit the right notes, he scored, and when he was slightly off, he didn't. Meanwhile, an inventive notation system gives the player a clear idea of which notes he or she is supposed to hit, thanks to a color scheme that includes some of the strings on the guitar. Players can choose between rhythm and lead guitar modes, adjust tempo, flip the guitar neck on the screen around so that it's facing them as a guitar teacher would, and choose between forty or so guitar tones.

Full story and video here.

The song selection will probably be entirely craptastic, but conceptually, it sounds very much like what I wrote about a few months ago. And if Harmonix could ever come out with something like this to support Rock Band, it would be fantastic.

Actually, that might not even be necessary. The first thing that will happen when this gets released is that someone will create an interface board so that it will work with Rock Band.

Mark Kinkade sent me a link to another interesting product that's being released later this year. I don't even know how to describe it, so here's an excerpt from the website:
The You Rock Guitar has a FULL fret board like a guitar, and feels just like it, but unlike a conventional guitar, there are no fretboard strings. The You Rock’s g-stik technology includes the patent pending multi-touch fretboard and is the ONLY Music controller that can be used successfully on both video games and real music. Raised bars on the fretboard give the user the feeling of playing the guitar with strings but unlike a real guitar, the You Rock Guitar never requires tuning…ever.

I'm not exactly sure how this would work in Rock Band, but based on the pictures, there are no buttons and no strum bar--you'd press down on the frets and actually strum individual strings instead of pressing a strum bar. Well, maybe you'd be strumming individual strings. You could also be strumming any string, which is entirely different.

Again, the description isn't entirely clear, but it looks like kind of a hybrid product, and certainly more challenging (because of the strumming) than using a regular music game controller.

It's shipping later this year, and you can check out an information page here. Oh, and I'll say this: it looks dead sexy. Or it looks like shit. There will be people on both sides.

Update: I found a video, which is definitely headed for the Cheesy Hall of Fame. It's epic.

Monday, January 12, 2009


The new system is performing extremely well. Of course, all I'm doing with it right now is playing King's Bounty.

And damn, King's Bounty is GREAT. I'll tell you more about it later.

Here's my gating factor: I'm using BitDefender on my current PC, and I'm satisfied with its performance. Since I have 64-bit Vista instead of 32-bit XP, though, I'm concerned that it may not perform as well. Plus, I've read several reviews that indicate the performance hit associated with BitDefender is pretty high.

Incredibly, Norton 2009 seems to be getting very good reviews everywhere, and seems to degrade performance only slightly.

So here's my question for you guys: if you're using 64-bit Vista, and would either highly recommend or highly fear a particular anti-virus program (based on personal experience), which one would it be? Thanks for your time.

College Football: In 3D

We went to see the "national championship" game in 3D last week at a local theater (Galaxy 10, which I'd highly recommend if you live in Austin). The plan was to watch the first half in 3D, drive home at halftime, and watch the second half in HD on the plasma for comparison purposes.

If you want to know how the experience was overall, it was a very mixed bag.

The basic idea of broadcasting a sporting event in 3D works fine. Camera work, the glasses work, etc. What doesn't work very well yet, though, are all the people making all the decisions about what gets shown. There is apparently a huge learning curve in terms of selecting what looks good in 3D versus what looks good in 2D.

Here's an example. In 2D , there's a standard camera angle to show each play, and it's an elevated shot from the side. That angle also happens to be one of the worst for getting a 3D effect--the higher the camera, the smaller the effect, and the best effect is gained when players are either running toward or away from the camera.

So that main camera angle that everyone has been using for forty years, basically? It's useless. Because of that, the director kept experimenting with different camera angles, and some of them were so close to the action that they frequently lost the ball (momentarily) on passing plays.

The ideal approach, I'm guessing, would be to have one of those "moving wire cameras" located behind the line of scrimmage and about ten feet off the ground, pulled back as far as needed to show the whole field.

In the meantime, the 3D effect was cool, but it wasn't jaw-dropping, and it was very inconsistent from shot to shot.

The biggest difference, and this is what surprised me most, was in the presentation. No scoreboard overlay. Almost no statistical overlays. In other words, we didn't see a bunch of useless crap and network pimping on the screen. No American Idol overlays. No website whoring. No stupid-ass, giant arrows on the field telling us down and distance, just like the scoreboard overlay is already telling us. All we saw was football.

That was absolutely great.

It reminded me of how little the content really matters these days. Content is just a vehicle for whoring the brand, whether it's FOX or ESPN or anyone else. There is zero respect for content these days.

It was also a different announcing crew, and they made no effort to appeal to the people who watch football once a year--instead, there was much more (and much more interesting) information about coverages and schemes.

Yes, they promoted 3D to death. They didn't quite say "Tim Tebow scratching his balls has never looked as good as in 3D," but they were close.

When the Super Bowl gets shown in 3D in Austin, I'm willing to go back. But it's clear that the production aspect of airing live events in 3D still has a long way to go.

The Wrestler

Eli 7.6 had a friend over for a playdate on Friday after school, so I ducked out to go see "The Wrestler."

When I came home, Gloria asked "How was the movie?"

"It hurt," I said.

"What does that mean?" she asked.

"It hurt," I repeated. "A lot."

That's the only answer I could give. Maybe this movie won't affect you so much if you're younger, but if you're in your late 30's or older, it lands like a sledgehammer. It's brilliant, and Mickey Rourke is utterly sensational, but it's not easy to watch.

And, of course, you absolutely must go see it.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Friday Links!

Appearing this week in 3D, although obviously, you need the glasses.

Leading off this week, a link from Ben Younkins to a wonderful article about Detroit titled The City Where the Sirens Never Sleep. It's beautifully written and extremely poignant.

From Vahur Teller, a link to a TED lecture about the amazing abilities of--bonobos. This is a truly remarkable video and well worth your time.

From Jon Simmons, a totally fascinating interview with Daniel Tammett, who is both mildly autistic and has synaesthesia as well. He's known for reciting pi to 22,514 digits from memory, but he's done many other astounding things as well, and unlike other savants, he can explain how he does it.

Via Neatorama, a link to fond memories: a cereal box archive.

Discover Magazine included a link in their last issue to the Windland Smith Rice International Photography Awards, and the galleries of nature photographs will keep you busy for hours.

From Glen Haag, and I meant to include this in the gaming links yesterday, it's Patentmania: The Golden Age of Electronic Games. Here's the lead:
The first three decades of digital gaming saw a flurry of concepts, technologies, and products that were groundbreaking in their era and still matter today. And the drawings their inventors used to document them in patent filings are a nostalgic, charming blast. Here are thirty-two of those sketches–including ones for some the most successful games ever and a few which I’m not sure ever made it to market at all.

DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh, after reading my "maybe too hardcore" post earlier this week, sent in a link to a story about the ultimate hardcore: one-legged mountain biker Brett Wolfe, who competes in ultra-endurance events.

From Sirius, a slew of links this week, beginning with 12 Elegant Examples of Evolution. Next, a story about Dinosaur City, the world's largest dinosaur fossil site (in China, near Zhucheng city). Next, the story of the scallywags, and here's an excerpt:
By day they were ordinary civilians — from dentists and clergymen to gamekeepers and roadmenders – in a Britain gripped by fear of imminent invasion by Hitler’s blitzkreig troops.

The only clue to their alter egos might have been the pieces of paper in their pockets – informing any police officer suspicious of their behaviour “to ask no questions of the bearer but phone this number”.

But new details have now emerged of the highly secretive role played by a “resistance” army of fit young men and women chosen as would-be saboteurs and spies in the event of a German landing.

Frank Regan sent in a link to an outstanding Onion spoof: MacBook Wheel Revealed.

There are so many articles about 3D at CES this week that it's impossible to cover them all, but Sean sent me a link to an LA Times story about 3D television. Seriously, 3D seems to be the major theme of CES this year.

Jesse Leimkuehler sent in two interesting space links. The first is a story about Venus and what happened to Venus' water. The second is a story about stars forming near black holes (too near, seemingly).

From the Edwin Garcia Links Machine, a link to how the yellow first-down line is created for football broadcasts. Next, it's an entirely whimsical robotic snout.

From John D'Angelo, a link to a video of the expansion of a supernova.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Console Post of the Week

The Times (online) published an article on Monday that alleges Sony will be making sweeping changes in their corporate structure next month. Here are a few excerpts:
Company sources have told The Times that operations across the group are braced for a series of “sacred cow-slaying” measures that they believe will abolish or fundamentally alter many of Sony's long-established business practices.

The expected restructuring - considered by many analysts to be occurring far too late - is likely to be announced early next month, with the lion's share of the changes imposed on Sony's domestic Japanese operations in the form of factory closures and the abolition of several major divisions.

Sony released a non-denial denial (thanks GameLife) to Reuters:
"We do not plan to announce additional restructuring measures at this time," spokesman Atsuo Omagari said, in response to the report. "We don't have any such plan."

I think the simplest way to explain what's happened to Sony is this: when your product costs too much, then the entire focus of your marketing has to be why it doesn't cost too much. That is not an effective way to sell a product.

On Tuesday, there was this from Ian Jackson (VP of sales for SCEA):
Early internal data points to an increase of more than 130 percent of PS3 hardware sales for the holiday season--since Black Friday--and we're also seeing a growth of nearly 40 percent in total PS3 hardware sales for the calendar year. We remain confident this momentum will continue into the new year.

Well, let's check that out. In the U.S. in 2007, the PS3 sold 2,558,000 units. For there to be 40% growth in 2008, they would need to sell 3,581,200 units. Through November, they'd sold 2,819,500.

So for that part of Jackson's statement to be true, or close to true, Sony would have sold a little more than 750,000 units in December. That sounds doable, although it would be nearly 50,000 units less than December 2007.

However, the other part of his statement--that hardware sales have increased 130% "for the holiday season"--is impossible to evaluate. Increased 130% from what? November? January through November? It's nonsensical.

That 40% number sounds reasonable, and for many other businesses, it would be outstanding. For a console coming off an absolutely disastrous first year, though, it's failure.

Oh, and if you want context for the word "disastrous," here you go. From the November 2006 launch to the end of 2007, the PS3 sold 3,246,000 units. Microsoft, from the November 2005 launch to end of year 2006, sold 4,532,000 units of the 360. And, by almost all accounts, Sony was supposed to dominate Microsoft in this cycle.

That's disastrous.

This isn't a linear process, necessarily, between Sony and Microsoft--it's more like leapfrog. Sony will cut the price this spring (to $299, I assume), and at that point, they'll leapfrog Microsft. Microsoft will respond this fall, and may well make up all the ground they lost earlier in the year. But there is no story arc right now that encompasses Sony dominating during this generation. Parity with Microsoft? That seems likely, and they might even surpass Microsoft to a limited degree. Parity with Nintendo? No chance.

Gaming Links

One of my favorite days of the year is when the Independent Games Festival announces its award finalists, and I get to browse through all the developer websites and check out the games. Which you can do right now, because they've just released the finalists.

If you ever wanted to play Dwarf Fortress (you must play this game), but were intimidated by the interface, there are a series of fourteen video tutorials now available. Created by "CpnDuck," they should help anyone get into the game, and Rock, Paper, Shotgun has them all linked here.

The latest installment of Matt Sakey's "Culture Clash" column is online, and this month, it's about innovation.

Jim Rossignol has a fascinating two-part article on the Russian gaming industry titled "Gaming in the Russian Cosmos." Part one and part two are now available.

Soren Johnson (yes, that Soren Johnson) recently interviewed Derek Paxton, the project lead for the epic Fall From Heaven mod for Civ IV. Thanks to Roger for the link.

GameSetWatch has an excellent interview with Pat Lawlor, a legendary pinball designer reponsible for both FunHouse and The Addams Family tables.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Gamble (Your E-mail)

More of you and less of me is always a good idea, and I received a ton of interesting e-mail about the gambling post. What I like most about the e-mails is that they represent an enormous divergence of opinion.

Here are some excerpts.
From M.J. Reese:
First, for most, it is the adrenaline of possibility. While you and I know the mathematical odds, casino games (successful ones anyway) are so structured as to hide those odds as long as possible. Yes, you will be milked, but games will milk you very slowly. Think of it like a game like "Crackdown." Crackdown is full of little "carrots" – little miniature victories that draw you in to seek more (orbs, capability advancement, etc.). So while you always lose in the end (in gambling, not Crackdown), it deceives you with little victories that allow you to fantasize about a path to victory and advancement. This is how casinos pull in the "hardscrabble."

Second, for the intelligent, it is the factor of having "superior knowledge." I only play blackjack (as do most intelligent gamblers) because I know every permutation and the appropriate response to every hand. Given this knowledge, the casino only has a 50.5-49.5 edge. Yes, still an edge, but close enough to a coin flip to give you a real chance on any given trip to come away ahead (if you can walk away).

Finally, for someone like myself, knowing the statistics, I know better than most when to hold 'em and fold 'em as it were. I know when a statistical run of victories is unlikely to repeat itself and to leave.

In the end, it is a thrill of intellectual exercise with the carrot of unlikely material gain attached.

The phrase "the adrenaline of possibility" is entirely wonderful, by the way.

Next, a more visceral explanation from Nick Johns, along with a discussion of something I never think about (ever)--the social experience:
Right to the point, leaving the casino with more than you came with is a #$%#ing rush.

...If you are playing say, Blackjack, it can turn into a real social experience. When the table is winning, everyone is having a blast. It feels like "Us vs Them," and taking the casino's money is almost palatable to your taste buds. Hell, even the dealer likes it because it isn't his money and he gets more tips when the house loses. I don't think this community aspect ever crosses a non- gamblers mind. But if you play Poker, that's a much more individual game. You can meet some really cool people at a table.

...Sure, you are better off not playing at all, but try telling that to the guy that turned $200 into $5000.

As a more direct explanation of that rush, here's a terrific story from John D'Angelo:
The last time I went to Vegas was for my friend Philip's birthday (we've known each other 20 years and are more brothers than anything else). I set aside a pot of money I was willing to lose and made sure it was an amount I could justify as paying for entertainment rather than thinking of it as an investment. I was going to be able to hang out with Philip (he's in the Army so we don't always get to hang out), meet some new people, play a game and have some fun. Now, I'm also enough of a nerd that I read up on the best strategies for most of the games, and decided that I'd stick to blackjack since it has the best player odds and you can play a solid game without needing to memorize a ridiculous amount of information.

Anyway, we were there for three days and two nights, so I made sure to split my money up so I had something to play with each night and only took that day's $200 with me to the casino. The first night we had a blast, but eventually I worked my way through my bankroll. Granted, the fun was mainly due to my friend Philip and I making fools out of ourselves intentionally (we wore suits the first night like Sinatra, even though we knew would not look cool at all) and also through just being the clueless (about an hour into playing we realized that our table was about 2 feet lower than the others and noticed the giant Handicap Sign that somehow eluded us when we walked up).

Next night, I take that day's $200 and we hit a few different casino's and start playing again. Within a few hours, Philip has blown through his cash, and I'm down to my last $30 at a $5 table. He heads off to grab a drink while I play a few more hands and we were planing to head out on the town once I bet the last of my cash. Philip wandered back 15 minutes later and I'm still hovering around $20, losing a few bets, then winning a few to stay even. He decides to run across the street to a bar we had hung out at the night before to wait for me and I'm sure I'll join him in a few minutes. Within a few hands I was down to my last $5 chip, and then before I knew what happened I was suddenly up to $100 through a few double downs and ratcheting up my bet with each winning hand. Mystified with what had happened I made myself a promise: every chip that put me over $100 I would put in my pocket and not touch until I left the table. My adrenaline starts pumping something fierce because I keep winning, never dropping below $70 and repeatedly hitting $100 and putting a chip in my pocket. I keep playing, I have a few more drinks, joke around with the dealer and I suddenly notice Philip walking back over to the table. I'd been playing for over an hour, but for me it was an absolute blur. I finish up my hand and pick up my chips from the table, which totaled about $90 at the time with Philip asking what was taking me so long. Before I can get out a word, I put my hand in the pocket where I was stuffing the chips and I lose the power of speech.

Wandering aimlessly over to the nearest slot machine stool, Philip is starting to wonder if I just had a stroke. I start pulling chips out of my pocket a few at a time, and I feel like some kind of party magician with a bottomless pocket of chips. The chips kept coming so I found somewhere to start stacking them and quickly realized I had $645 in chips front of me. I had gone from my last $5 chip to not only recovering all my losses from that night and the night before, but I was actually up $245 dollars for the entire trip. I didn't sleep that night I was so wired. I still smile every time I think about that feeling, and while I wouldn't say its the "best" feeling I've had in my life, it definitely is unique, powerful and near the top of the list. I couldn't even imagine the emotions involved in a high stakes game given what I got from a $5 table.

And one more, from DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh:
I spent quite a bit of time in casinos -- far too much of it before I was even legally allowed to be in one -- and I can tell you that winning hundreds or even a few thousand dollars, does indeed feel so good that it does offset the losses. That said, the losses always leave you angry, second-guessing yourself, and feeling a bit foolish.

The best odds in the casino for the player are in baccarat and on the craps table (craps can be deadly if you don't know what you're doing though) and, while I don't always win, I do tend to win more than I lose. I started playing baccarat when I was 19. My dad would bankroll me about $1500 and I would drive 2 hours to Atlantic City and gamble according to the system he taught me and I would keep 50% of the winnings as payment for my time. There were days when I would lose the entire $1500 in 10 minutes and even though the money wasn't mine, sliding the final bet of $800 onto the table (progressive system) gave me butterflies. Most times, however, I would break even or win a grand or two. There were a few times when I won over four thousand. The feeling of having purple ($500) chips rustling in your pocket is awesome. The excitement of getting free rooms, free shows, and free 4-star dinners is worth it.

I was 20 and in a 64-man craps tournament in AC. I made it to the final table and was one roll away from walking out of their (underage, mind you) with $10,000. If the guy rolled a 5, I'd win the tourney. He rolled a 7 and I came in 4th. I will never forget that night.

I don't remember any specific losses.

What Doug says at the end is probably true for most people: the wins are far more memorable than the losses.

Here's some information from Manveer Heir about how to gamble at a casino that was echoed by several other people:
Like you, I'm a math guy. I don't care about luck, I care about numbers. I crunch them in my head. I know the odds on Blackjack and Craps are the best odds in the casino (yes, you are still more likely to lose, but it's just barely in the casino's favor). I also understand that while the law of averages says I will lose over time, that I will not play enough hands for statistics to catch up with me in that way. In other words, I can play craps for four hours but that's still not a large enough sample size to say I lose 51% of the time no matter what (the house edge on the good bets in Craps is just over 1%). There are going to be streaks in there, positive and negative. Hopefully, when I play, I get on the positive. Last time I was in Vegas in January, I paid for my entire 5 day trip from Craps. One table I was on shut down because the entire table was winning so much. The biggest thing is, I never spend more money than I can afford to lose and when I start winning I make sure I recoup my costs first and put that money away, that way if I blow all the winnings I end the day no worse than I started it.

More specifically, from Chris:
The house edge at blackjack is only about 1.5% at most casinos. Therefore if you play the lowest stakes possible ($3 in Colorado) you can expect to lose about 4.5 cents per hand. Blackjack dealers deal about 80 hands per hour giving you an expected loss rate of about $3.6 per hour. However casinos give you free alcohol while gambling, and the waitresses are motivated to provide good service because they get tips.. When I go to casinos with friends we play the lowest stakes and average 1-2 drinks per hour. Since this would run up a bar tab of more than $3.6 per hour we feel like we always come out ahead regardless of the luck swings we go through. Craps has an even lower house edge of .6% when played correctly.

Now, an e-mail from Dave that gives a different viewpoint (and a poignant one):
Interesting piece you have about your stay at the casino. I worked at one here in South Africa for a couple of years so I have seen the underbelly of the industry.

The myth that it is mostly the preserve of the wealthy is what we are made to believe by TV and the movies, but the vast majority of gamblers are poor and working class people. Wealthy people are that way because they don't throw their money away. When wealthy people do gamble it is infrequent and you won't see them in the public areas of the casino.

Every Friday I would watch exactly what you did; a family, obviously without too much money walking in, knowing that tonight was their night. Usually the father would say something along the lines of 'This is what I can afford to lose tonight' yet several hours later I would see them at the ATM, while their children stand around watching other kids play in the arcade. They would often leave at sunrise the next morning with that shuffle and despair.

Casinos are required here to pay out 60% of what they take in, so while the player is losing they win enough to keep them believing that the big payout is only 2 button pushes away. It is a system that reinforces the obsession with 'just one more try.'

Since those days I don't play in a casino, and I don't even buy lottery tickets. I also discourage people as much as I can without being preachy. It is a parasitic system that feeds on the hopes of people who have very little to spare.

Finally, an absolutely brilliant and concise explanation by Meg McReynolds of why casinos are so effective psychologically:
I’m not sure how much psychology you had in college, or how rhetorical your question about why people gamble when they know they’ll lose, but here’s some basic psych info on why casinos work.

Gambling provides what is referred to as a “random schedule of reinforcement”. A “constant schedule” would be a Coke machine. You do a specific behavior and get a reward every time (put in the money, press the button, get the Coke.) When it doesn’t work, the behavior disappears very quickly (you don’t put in another dollar after the first one doesn’t get you a soda). This is a terrible way to maintain behavior as a person (or animal) quits the behavior very, very quickly.

A random schedule, on the other hand, is a phenomenal way to maintain behavior. You know a behavior gets a reward and you don’t get it every time. Also, you definitely don’t get the reward if you don’t do the behavior. You also know there’s no way to predict when the next reward will come. Depending on the individual, the nature of the required behavior, and the perceived value of the reward, it can take almost nothing to maintain behavior. My dogs sit whether I have a treat for them or not, and it doesn’t take a treat very often to maintain that behavior. The behavior isn’t demanding/unpleasant, and they may get something nice, so it’s worth it to them.

I'd like to explore the concept of a "random schedule of reinforcement" in a future post, because it seems to explains so much in terms of human behavior.

Again, thanks for all the terrific e-mail.

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