Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday Links!

This week we have one of the most interesting sets of links that DQ has ever had.

From Victor Brilon, the story behind the fellow who sang Trololo: Eduard Khil.

Hard to believe, but here's a surfer riding a 50-foot wave. In Ireland.

From Michael Hughes, and this footage is entirely stunning: Le vent (ballet super slow motion).

From Robert McMillon, and you'll be blown away by this: Perpetual Ocean. Here's a description: "This visualization shows ocean surface currents around the world during the period from June 2005 through December 2007."

From David Gloier, and I guess this is the new "last act of defiance": This Swordfish Pierced the Skin of a Deep Sea Submarine.

From Griffin Cheng, the world's largest paper airplane (45 feet, and it flies!). Also, and this is entirely spectacular, it's New Moon Video Reveals Places That Haven’t Seen Sunlight In Billions of Years. Next, it's The Rectangular Galaxy.

From Michael O'Reilly, and this should bring back memories for some of you (and me): What I saw when I snuck inside the Astrodome.

The mystery of Colony Collapse Disorder may be solved: Neonicotinoid pesticides tied to collapse of bee colonies.

From Patrick O., an entirely fascinating article about dialects and politics: Votes and Vowels: A Changing Accent Shows How Language Parallels Politics.

Here are a series of excellent links from Kez. First, and this is stunning: This Amazing Device Just Made Wheelchairs Obsolete for Paraplegics. Next, and this is very, very clever, it's The Insidious Cost of Ringtone Piracy. Scary dogs are next: Why stray dogs are Kashmir's latest threat.

From Christopher Glendenning, and this is a spectacular visual representation: How Big Is Space?

From triggercut, and I can't believe this is finally happening: is now carrying Negro League stats.

From Meg McReynolds, and this is riveting reading (and I'm not kidding): How to recognize poor executive function.

From Dave Prosser, and it's nothing short of mesmerizing: Wind Map (an almost-realtime map of wind speeds in the continental United States).

Thursday, March 29, 2012

"I've Forgotten What Normal Tired Feels Like" (part four)

Sunday, 6:30 a.m.

The first game on Sunday was a rematch with McAllen, but this time, Eli wasn't in goal. I thought this was the game they would lose, given how the other goalie played on Saturday.

Plus, McAllen's coach. Their coach was amazing at making adjustments between games. It should be almost impossible to coach up 10-year-olds between games, but he does it, and he does it in the fairest way possible--no triple-shifting his best kids, no yelling, just coaching.

Combine that with a pre-dawn starting time, and it looked to me like Eli's team was ripe for an ass-kicking.

Then, as it often happens with 10-year-olds, nothing went to form. Our defense was terrible, but the backup goalie was terrific. Our best defenseman, who I've never seen have a bad game in two years, was awful. Eli's Squirt Hall Of Fame mode had disappeared, even though he was still making excellent decisions. Overall, though, they looked as bad as they looked good before.

And yet, they were ahead. 3-0, by the end of the second period, and coasting. Here's the thing about coasting, though: it can turn on you very quickly.

And it did.

Suddenly, our goalie was sketchy again, and McAllen was scoring. Since kids had been coasting, they couldn't turn it on again.

It only took about ten minutes. McAllen started scoring--and scoring--and suddenly, they were ahead 4-3. Our kids looked like they were in shock. And there were only three minutes left.

There's this kid on the team name James, and he's not a great skater, but he has great stick skills, and he's smart. So while everyone else was waiting to lose, James got a loose puck, skated down, and blasted a beautiful shot to tie the game with two minutes left.

At this point, I was actually rooting for a tie. It had been a tight, dramatic, hard fought (without the actual fighting) game, and I wanted everyone, including McAllen, to have something good to feel about.

The horn sounded and I was relieved. Our goalie had been a little shaky, but he's a great kid, and he played well enough to win. Our team would still win the tournament if they beat Laredo in the next game. McAllen could feel good about coming back to tie.

Then kids started skating back to the bench. Somehow, and it looked entirely impromptu, there was going to be a shootout.

Oh, hell.

Well, this was going to be a disaster. Our little goalie just couldn't defend dekes well, which is what most kids use in a shootout. They had three excellent players to use as shooters. So did we, but McAllen had a better goalie.

It was a strange format, too. Three shots by each team, and if it was still tied, that was the end of the game.

We went first, and our best deker skated up like he was in molasses and barely got a shot off. Disaster.

Their best kid (who had the heart of a lion--he's amazing) stated on our doomed goalie--and didn't deke. He pulled up and shot wide of the net.

Our next kid skated in and got off as bad a shot as our first kid. No chance.

Then McAllen's second kid skated in--and didn't deke. He also tried to go high, and missed the net. Incredible.

It was like watching a game in Backwards Town, where everything happened in reverse.

Third shots. Our kid went high, and their goalie made an excellent save. I was holding my breath, hoping that our goalie could stop the last shot. He'd be the hero, and he's such a nice kid.

The McAllen skater came in and started deking. But our goalie went with him, and the shot went off his pads.

Tie game.

"I think that's the most exciting game I've ever seen you play in," I said to Eli as he skated off. "Well, second-most exciting, anyway."

"The Brahmas," he said.

"That's right," I said. "Thirty-five saves."

"What a great game this was," he said. "Even though we played awful."

"You're in goal against Laredo," I said. "Win and you win the tournament."

"We're not losing," he said.

They only had about 45 minutes between games, so they sat in the stands for a few minutes after getting out of their gear. Eli had even less time, because he had to get in his goalie gear. He got dressed and did a few of the things he does to prepare--like juggle--but clearly, he wasn't focused like he has been in the past.

It looked fairly straightforward, though. They had dominated this team the first time, and our kids were excited about possibly winning the tournament, so they were going to play hard.

So when they were behind 1-0 after the first period, it was painful. It was particularly difficult to watch, because they had all forgotten how to skate. They couldn't skate, they couldn't clear a puck, and they had totally forgotten even basic strategy.

"What is happening?" Gloria has, remarkably, turned into a hockey fan, and even she could clearly see that they had collectively lost their minds.

"I don't even have a guess," I said, "except that they're nine and ten. But they're really leaving Eli hanging out there."

Laredo had four shots in the first game. They had eleven shots in the first period of this game. I lost count of the breakaways. Eli let in one shot he could have stopped, but he made several excellent saves, keeping his team in the game.

Then they woke up. It was still ugly, incredibly ugly, but they started scoring. At 4-1, Eli let in another goal, another one he could have stopped. Not playing much after the Dallas tournament (mostly because he was sick one week) clearly had affected his sharpness, but he was still stopping some high-quality, hard shots.

Eli has this bond with his team, a bond that I've never seen another kid have. Whenever a new shift came on the ice, three or four of the five kids would skate over and tap Eli on the pads or his helmet. I haven't seen any other team ever do that with their goalie, and it only happens when Eli is in goal. I never had that experience at his age, of being on a team where kids respected and trusted me. It's shaped him in different ways than I was shaped, good ways, and I'm glad.

He stands tall.

Like I said, it was ugly, but there wouldn't be any more drama this time. They went up 8-3, Eli let in one more goal (patting his chest to acknowledge to his defensemen that he had screwed up), and they won 8-4.

Celebration. Picture from a lousy angle:

I was waiting for him when he skated off.

"Hey, in your first tournament game ever, you played in goal against Laredo, and they humiliated you. And then you worked and worked. Now, in your last tournament game as a Squirt, you played in goal against Laredo, and you won. It's the hockey Circle Of Life," I said, and he started laughing.

"Dad, look at my stick," he said. I looked.

"I know you're only 10, little man," I said, "but that stick's been through some wars."

I'm already looking forward to the next one," he said.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"I've Forgotten What Normal Tired Feels Like" (part three)

When the game started, it was immediately apparent that Eli's team was going to dominate. They went ahead 3-0 by the end of the first period, then coasted.

Eli gave up a goal late that he should have stopped (he said he was screened), but he had 18 saves on 19 shots. That sounds quite impressive, but the shots McAllen took were extremely low-quality--the defense played so well that almost every shot they took was either soft or from a poor angle.

It was a strange feeling. Eli had been very amped up about playing, but the actual game felt very flat because Bee Nation, inexplicably, was missing. There were only about 20 people from McAllen in the stands. There were more people from Austin.

"Where was Bee Nation?" Eli said as he took off his mask after the game. "That was disappointing."

There was no time to wonder about it, though, because they played Laredo in an hour, and Eli was going to be a defenseman. It had been four months since Eli had skated out in a tournament game.

Then, much to my surprise, he had his best game ever as a skater.

For the entire game, he was completely dominant on defense. He shut down more breaks than I could count, cleared every puck, and made the right decision every single time. He also got in a rush and scored on a beautiful short-side shot.

This was the extent to which he dominated: in the entire game, Laredo had four shots. I don't think they had a single shot when he was on the ice.

He's generally a competent and savvy defenseman, but this was something else entirely.

They won 8-3 (yes, the goalie playing in his place gave up 3 goals on 4 shots), and when he skated off, I was standing at the rink door.

"That's the best game I've ever played on defense," he said.

"It sure was," I said. "Everyone for Laredo looked like they were skating in slow motion compared to you."

"What a great feeling," he said. "It was so much fun out there!"

Now here's something unexpected in a youth sports environment: the parents like each other. I don't mean our parents--I mean ALL the parents, from all the teams, are comfortable with each other now. We talk between games, we applaud the other team's good plays, and we genuinely like each other. So the Laredo parents were very complimentary to our kids after the game, and we were to theirs as well.

After the game, there was a tailgate party for all the teams before the CHL game that night between Rio Grande Valley and Laredo. We originally planned on going to the game, but it didn't start until 7:30, and Eli's next game was in the morning at 6:30.

We'd seen a carnival about a mile from the hotel as we drove in, and Eli wanted to do that as well. "Okay, so help me set priorities here," I said to him as we ate hot dogs at the tailgate party. "If you can only go to the game OR go to the carnival, which one would you choose?"

He thought for a few seconds. "The carnival," he said.

"An excellent choice," I said. Going to the carnival meant that we could be back at the hotel early enough for him to go to bed by 9, which he needed to do if he wasn't going to feel terrible in the morning.

Another bonus of going to the carnival: pictures for you.

That looks like the image on Eli's goalie mask.

I'm very fond of carnivals, both from my memories as a boy and memories of my neighbor down the street was a carny when he was younger. He taught me how to speak carny (used so carnival folk can speak to each other without the customers understanding them), and he taught me all the tricks used in the "skill-based games" to make sure that the customer rarely wins.

It made me appreciate the people who work at carnivals, because it's a hard, hard lifestyle. I talked to several of the carnies while Eli and Gloria were walking around, and just like when Mr. Neal (my neighbor) was in the carnival, it's still hard work. They're on the road from March through November, and most of them help repair equipment in the three non-traveling months.

One said to me, "It's okay if you don't have a family, but if you have one, you'll lose them."

I make sure that Eli came back and played the games at each of the two booths where I spent most of my time talking to the barker. And he won at both of those booths, which I don't think was a complete accident. They were good guys.

I also got this picture:

That's got to be the go-to tattoo for a carny.

Here's one of Eli's prizes:

It's hard to beat a Rastafarian banana for pure fruit serenity.

Ignore that too-cool-for-school look, by the way--he had an incredibly goofy smile on his face a split-second earlier and I just missed it.

TOMORROW: Holy crap, is this story still going on? It has to finish tomorrow, though, to make room for Friday Links.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"I've Forgotten What Normal Tired Feels Like (part two)

Very late start today, because my life right now is a cutout of me with a cutout of an octopus laid on top, and the octopus arms represent what I need to do in a regular day.

There is nothing sexual in that image. Step away from the keyboard. Now, back to the story.

Eli's first game on Saturday wasn't until 1:30, and of course we were at the rink by 10:30, so early that it wasn't even open.

Why do we go to the rink so early? Because if we don't, or if we go early and the rink isn't open yet, we might wind up 50 yards from the International Bridge and almost go to Mexico. Or something.

McAllen, incredibly, has two ice rinks. Eli's team played all four of its games in the same arena used by the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees, seating capacity about 3,500, and it was tremendous.

There were only two other teams in Eli's division: McAllen and Laredo, and they would all play each other twice. Eli's team only included 5 kids from the House+ team that dominated the Dallas tournament, and McAllen and Laredo were both very good, so it was anyone's guess as to who would win. McAllen was a bit stronger than Laredo, though, and Eli's coach chose him to play in goal against McAllen in the opening game of the tournament.

"I can't wait to see Bee Nation!" Eli said before the first game. The McAllen team has an incredible number of fans who wave flags and roar like a crowd of 5,000 people (even though it's more like 100). We expected even more people this time, since the tournament was in McAllen.

"All those people will make me nervous," Eli said.

"Are you kidding me?" I asked. "Instead of stoning five kids on the ice, you're stoning an ENTIRE NATION. That should supercharge you!"

"Hey, it should, shouldn't it?" he said, smiling.

This was a very difficult tournament in terms of helping Eli get mentally prepared. It clearly wasn't as big a deal as the Dallas tournament, and the team wasn't as serious. It's very tough to find a balance in that kind of situation.

We took a short walk before the first game, just because I thought it would help him get his mind set.

"Look, I know this tournament isn't as important as Dallas was," I said.

"It's still important," Eli said, "but you're right. It's not quite the same."

"That's okay," I said. "There are a bunch of nice people here, you get to play four games, and this time you're playing in every one."

He smiled. Sitting on the bench in Dallas for two games had been hard for him.

"Tell me why we're here," I asked.

He didn't say anything for a few seconds, thinking it was a trick question. "For hockey?" he finally said.

"Not exactly," I said. "Yes, but there's more. You always dismiss your chances of playing somewhere at a high level when you get older, but part of you believes that you will, don't you?"

"Oh, I have NO shot," he said. He paused for a few seconds. "Okay, I do think about it."

"And part of you, no matter how crazy it might seem, believes, don't you?"

"Yes," he said. "I do."

"That's why we're here," I said. "Other kids play hockey just to have fun. You have fun, but you also have a dream. These other kids, they're playing for something different than you are. Every shot you face, every save you make, it takes you one tiny step closer to your dream."

"But what if I don't get there?"

"You're already there," I said. "You've already learned how to be really, really good at something. There are moments, and I know you're only 10, but there are moments when you're great, when you already look like you're in the NHL. You have something special that will always be with you, no matter what you do. The same process you've learned for hockey, the same attitude, will work with everything else."

We walked along for a few seconds, just being together.

"Time to go silence Bee Nation," I said.

"Not a sound," he said.

TOMORROW: The last part of this story, I swear.

Monday, March 26, 2012

"I've Forgotten What Normal Tired Feels Like"

I didn't have time to get a picture, but that's the sign we saw in a tiny town as we drove through South Texas on our way to McAllen. That's McAllen as in "five-and-a-half hours away from Austin" McAllen.

We were going, of course, to a hockey tournament.

This would be the fourth hockey tournament (and last) of the season. Our driving total to and from these tournaments, in miles: 2,000.

First, though, we had to get there.

"I really want to wait for an iPhone that has 4G," Eli 10.7 said, since Gloria inexplicably promised him that he could get one when he becomes version 11.0.

"That's probably a wise move," I said.

"But I don't know if I can stand to wait," he said. "I wish I could just have one of those old-school cellphones in the meantime, the kind that flips open and you can't even text on it."

This is how far the present has overtaken my previous future: when I was a kid, the phone was on the wall. It had a rotary dial. My sister, on her 14th birthday, got a powder blue "Princess" phone that was the hottest thing going:

That was cutting-edge cool in 1969. Now, cellphones are so established that they have an "old school."

Sometimes I make notes on these trips that make absolutely no sense when I see them later. For instance, I have the phrase "the bacon poncho" written down. I only wish I remembered the story that went with that phrase.

The quickest route to McAllen involves getting off the interstate and driving through some towns that haven't seen tomorrow in many years (aka "redneck"). We stopped at one little store to go to the bathroom, and besides the numerous animal heads peering at us from the walls, there was a bar in a side room. From a distance, I looked through the door, and an American flag was hung in the back window, illuminated from the sun outside.

Yes, in that context, it was super creepy. Let's get out of here.

When we reached McAllen, there were many pleasant surprises. The first was that our hotel was rated the #1 SpringHill Suites in the country, and after spending a little time there, I was not surprised. It was immaculate and quite attractive. "Except for the kaleidoscope, I think this is almost as nice as the W," Gloria said, laughing.

"I think this is better," I said. "No snobs and the soft drinks are $2." It was true. Even the inside of our room was strangely similar, down to the seafoam green color scheme that is apparently all the hotel rage these days.

Second nice surprise: a gigantic outdoor shopping mall less than a block from our hotel. Half of McAllen looks like it was built in the last six months, seemingly, and both our hotel and the shopping center looked brand-new.

Also, not crowded. We walked into a Macaroni Grill at 7 p.m. on Friday and it was half-empty.

"I think we need to move here," Eli 11.0 said happily.

Since there was a Gamestop 50 yards from the restaurant, I took Eli over for a quick Skylander figure hunt (Gloria stayed at the restaurant because we had just ordered). There were no figures in Austin, at least almost none, and Eli wanted to make a quick hunt to see if they had any. Of course, being McAllen, they did.

When we got back to the restaurant, Eli showed the three-pack of figures to Gloria. "And how did you pay for that," she asked, smiling.

"I didn't even ask that question," I said. "I just forked it over."

"Well," he said, "if you remember--"

"Here, I can do this," I said. "Your explanations usually start something like this: 'an old prospector found a map in the dusty hills of California in 1852.' "

Eli and Gloria both burst out laughing. "That's pretty good, Dad," Eli said.

Tomorrow: part two, which explains the post title that I should have waited to use.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday Links!

From Griffin Cheng, and this is stunning: The First-Ever Images of Atoms Moving Inside a Molecule. Next, and don't be deceived by the title, because these are spectacular: Dew-covered insects. One more, and I've always wondered about this: how a spider walks without sticking to its own web. One more, and this is very, very clever: how to build a speech-jamming gun.

From Steven Davis, and this is entirely surreal: A mind-melting animation. Also, and this is quite wonderful, it's Film featuring the modern automata of David Secrett. Here's one more related to automata, and it's equally fascinating: Profile of the Jaquet-Droz: master watch, clock, and automata makers.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and you are required by space law to go watch this: Absolutely mindblowing video shot from the Space Shuttle during launch.

From Mark Lahren, and if you enjoy the history of music, you'll love this: Classic Tracks. It's the story behind some of the famous tracks in history.

From Daniel Willhite, and this is a wonderful blast from the past: Highway Hi-Fi Phonograph.

From Robert McMillon, and these are incredibly clever, it's posed ant photography.

From Kadunta, and I don't know why anyone is surprised: Sexually Rejected Flies Turn to Booze.

From Michael M., and this would be incredible if successful: Iceland plans to turn excess carbon into stone .

From Daniel James, and this is one of the cleverest advertisments I've ever seen: Guardian open journalism: Three Little Pigs.

From DQ Reader My Wife, and you have to see this to believe it: Mr. Trololo.

Here's your "the future is stranger than we can imagine" patent of the day: haptic tattoos.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


I'm finally starting to realize that Kickstarter is effecting a seismic shift in how games are funded.

The Banner Saga? Funded. Wasteland 2? Funded. Almost any interesting, unique idea? Funded.

This has gone way past awesome at this point.

The conceptual purity of the Kickstarter model is incredible, really. Have an idea, and see if people are willing to donate enough money so that you can realize that idea.

No presentations to accountants, or vice-presidents, or marketing executives, all of whom want to substantially change the vision of your game because of marketing survey X. No loss of control. No loss of a percentage of the profits.

Nothing in-between.

Brian Fargo wanted to make Wasteland 2, but couldn't get a publisher interested. He had design documents out the wazoo, but who wants to publish anything that isn't Call Of Modern Warfare Honor these days?

No one. But that doesn't mean that there aren't plenty of people who will buy it.

Isn't this an inevitable consequence of the stupid AAA strategy that Activision initiated and everyone copied? There's so much brilliance underneath the AAA layer that was being totally ignored by major publishers, and it was going to find a way to bubble up to the surface.

Sure, a project is going to implode at some point. I'll spend $20 backing "Cool Indie Idea: The Game" and wind up getting nothing or a really crappy game. I paid $60 plenty of times for crappy games, though--I don't really see it as much of a risk.

It's funny, but if you want to see the genesis of Kickstarter, just look at Tarn Adams and Dwarf Fortress. People send money in, and he keeps creating the most complex world simulation anyone has ever seen.

Nothing in-between. Same principle.

After Double Fine funded their game in about ten seconds, Brian Fargo funded Wasteland 2 in about the same length of time (now at over $1.4M and counting). Then he did something entirely kick-ass: occurs to me that we can harness the power of Kickstarter in a more meaningful way. Fan funding is bigger than me or Wasteland 2 as I have remarked before. The development community has come together to support us in ways that I didn't think possible and our power as developers will ultimately come from us sticking together. Both gamers and developers have so much more strength than they realize. But in order to help facilitate the power of crowd funding I am going to suggest that all of us that do utilize this form of financing agree to kickback 5% of our profits made from such projects to other Kickstarter developers. I am not suggesting taking a backers money and moving it to another project.. I mean once a game has shipped and created profit that we funnel that back into the community of developers to fund their dreams. I am tentatively calling this "Kick It Forward" and I will be the first to agree to it. In fact, I will have our artists create a badge that goes on all Kickstarter projects that agree to support this initiative. Imagine the potential if another Minecraft comes along via Kickstarter and produces millions of dollars of investment into other developers. This economic payback will continue to grow the movement way beyond the current system. I hope others will join me with this idea and make this a true shakeup.

That's a sensational idea. It takes Kickstarter beyond a paradigm shift and into the area of disruptive technology, so to speak.

I've always seen the major publishers, to a degree, as bullies. Sand kickers, right into our faces.

Sand's going in the other direction now. Feels good.

Dear New York Rangers

The Pittsburgh Penguins are comning for you. That is all.

p.s. That first sentence sounded vaguely suggestive, but I trust you will properly discern its intent. Good day to you, sir.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

John Carter

We went to see this last week while Eli 10.7 was on spring break.

I've been looking forward to this film for a while, because I thought that the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs was a rich vein to mine. Certainly, his work could be turned into something special.

Perhaps it still will be, someday. But not by these people.

Now if you're a 10.7 year old boy, your opinion may well differ. Eli very much enjoyed the movie and was entertained for its duration. What I was hoping to see, though, was something unique, creating its own path and paving the way for future films.

Instead, it appeared that the filmmakers decided to copy as much from Avatar (the James Cameron version) as they could, copy an equal amount from the Star Wars prequels, then duct tape them together.

Thank you, but no.

There was one highly amusing moment involving the word "Virginia".* I can think of no other high points.

*Please note, however, that this moment was not nearly as funny as Eeyore singing "I found an anchor over there, now it's on my derrière" in Winnie-The-Pooh last year, which must mean that even with a 250M budget, it's not easy to hire good writing.

**Please also note that if you do a Google search on "I found an anchor over there, now it's on my derrière", Dubious Quality is the #1 result. I believe this is the second time DQ has been at the top of Google search--previously, for the phrase "monkey scratching his butt, sniffing his finger, and falling over backwards." If the entire body of content on the Internet consisted solely of this video, I would not feel cheated.

The Banner Saga

Let's start off today with an upcoming indie game that looks absolutely fantastic. It's called The Banner Saga, and the trailer features some of the most beautiful, "hand-drawn" animation I've ever seen in a game. Remarkably, it's entirely succeeds in evoking fond memories of old-school Disney animation classics.

Here's a description of the game taken from the website:
Short answer: role-playing meets turn-based strategy, wrapped into an adventure mini-series about vikings.

Travel through stunning landscapes straight out of an animated film as your party escapes what could be the end of everything. Battle painstakingly hand-animated foes in strategic, turn-based combat. Make decisions with real consequences in conversations with people you'll actually care about.

The Kickstarter page has an excellent interview with the four-man team, and the project is now funded at 140% of the originally requested total.

Listening to the interview and looking at brief bits of the game, it felt like I was watching a Disney animated feature (I think they mention the animation style in Snow White or Sleeping Beauty as something they wanted to evoke) mixed with gaming mechanics from both King's Bounty and King Of Dragon Pass.

How much win can one sentence contain?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Eli 10.7: Hey, Good Lookin'

I took Eli 10.7 to Krispy Kreme on Sunday for breakfast.

He'll be version 11.0 soon. How is that even possible?

Eli has this very nice Pittsburgh Penguins watch that he loves to wear. The face of the watch has the team logo, and the casing and band are in the team colors. It's not that he has a pressing need to know the time, generally, but he loves the watch.

"I can't believe I forgot to wear my watch today," he said. I could clearly see that it was, in fact, in its usual position on his left wrist.

"Which watch are you talking about?" I asked.

He held up his arm. "This one--oh," he said, then he looked at me and we both started laughing. "How did I do that?" he asked.

We also went out to dinner on Friday, to a local restaurant called The Cotton Patch, which is a "down-home chain restaurant", for lack of a better description.

It's folksy.

While we were eating, a mom-type waitress walked by and said "Hello, good lookin'," to Eli. He looked up, dumbfounded, and she added, "You're welcome," and smiled as she walked off.

"What just happened?" he asked.

"Hard to say," I said. "She was friendly, but a little alarming."

"That's exactly what I was thinking!" said Eli. "Friendly but alarming! Does she know me?" This is not as odd a question as it might seem, because several waitresses have basically adopted Eli over the course of his life, and we're still friends with some of them years later.

"I don't think so," I said. "Let me think about this logically for a minute." I paused. "Actually, I'm sure she doesn't know you."

"How?" Eli asked.

"Because if she already knew you, she would have ALREADY called you handsome."

Eli burst out laughing. "Dad, that's the funniest logic ever. But I like how you think."

Monday, March 19, 2012


Okay, on April 1 I'm going to tell you guys what I've been working on for the last two years. It's been a long road, but I'm far enough along to let you in on what's been going on.

iPad (initial impressions)

The new iPad was delivered on Friday.

I'm going to give you my impressions in a linear fashion, because it makes for more interesting reading. Trust me.

When I unbox the device, I notice two things immediately. One, it's impressive-looking. Two, it feels heavy. It's only about 13% heavier than the Galaxay Tab 10.1 we have, and you wouldn't think that would make much of a difference, but it does, at least subjectively.

I'm looking forward to seeing the new high-resolution screen, so I immediately turn it on, ready to get busy.

Oh, I can't. I have to "activate" the tablet first. I can't do anything else until then. WTF?

When I bought an Android tablet, I turned it on and used it. I might have needed a Google password--can't remember--and I did go through about 90 seconds of setup (language, time zone, etc.), but I didn't have to do anything else. Why, then, do I have to activate this device? Because Apple wants its hand three feet up my ass.

All right. Fine. At least this should be simple.

I need an Internet connection, and I'm waiting before signing up for a data plan, so I'm just going to connect to our wireless network. There are two ways to connect to the router--one is as a guest, with a password entered on a browser page that comes up when you try to use a browser, and the other is to put a router password into the connection settings.

I'm going to start off with the guest account, but I can't get there, because I can't pull up a browser page (Catch-22 alert) until I finish activating the tablet.

Annoying, but no problem.

Hmm. The iPad can't connect to my router directly. Eli's iPod has the same problem at times. Even if the Galaxy Tab and my cellphone are working fine with the router, there are times when he just can't connect. Mystifying.

Reset everything. Reboot the router. Check password one million times. Android tablet still connecting fine, iPad not connecting.

This is Apple's Revenge, although fortunately it involves fewer trips to the bathroom than the traditional revenge.

Gloria, in a stroke of brilliance, solves my problem. "Can't you set up a wi-fi hotspot with your phone?" Indeed I can, and this is how I eventually "activate" my iPad--with a wi-fi hotspot from my Android phone.

I do enjoy irony.

As a user experience, that process was an "F". A sub-F, really. However, I'm quite happy to report that things got better.

First off, the screen is indeed glorious. Holy shit, it's razor-sharp and absolutely amazing. Spectacular, really.

The Galaxy Tab has a beautiful screen, but the iPad screen is even much nicer than that.

The sound on the iPad is also terrific. Even without headphones, it's very solid, and with headphones, it's fantastic.

I did face one additional annoyance (that I'm sure can be fixed in settings somewhere) in that every time I go the App store, I have to put in my password to buy anything. That can be a bit annoying when you're buying ten apps over a period of a few hours.

With everything else, though, I've survived. Apple's interface is different, but not stupidly so. It doesn't seem better than the Android interface, but it doesn't seem worse, either. And Safari is a little different, but generally equivalent, to Dolphin HD as a browser.

I can't hold the iPad with one hand for an extended period, which is a bit of a bummer, but it's okay. And damn, this thing gets hot--far hotter than I expected.

Are any of these things dealbreakers? No. The screen more than makes up for all of this combined.

Also, games. The first thing I bought in the App store was King Of Dragon Pass, and I am very pleased to report that it looks and plays wonderfully. It's a terrific port of the PC version, just terrific, and I couldn't be happier to be able to play it again. It's such a complex and satisfying game, and in some ways it reminds me uncannily of Dwarf Fortress (even though in many other ways, it's a completely different game).

I also purchased the following:
Waking Mars
Space Miner HD
Sword and Sorcery EP
Neuroshima Hex
Air Mail

If you have other suggestions, fire away.

I wanted the iPad primarily as a gaming device, and it's already paid off big in that category. Basically, I'm able to play any handheld game that comes out now, since I have tablets for each major platform.

We're sharing two tablets between the three of us, which should be interesting. I did this on purpose so that Eli 10.7 will be in a sharing environment instead of a "this is mine" environment, even though the first thing he did was change the wallpaper on both the iPad and the Tab.

It reminded me of a cat peeing in a new house to mark its territory. I laugh every time I see the wallpaper now.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Oh, Come On!

Can anyone explain to me why Peyton Manning would sign with ANYONE other than the 49ers? Has there ever been a more perfect match of coach and quarterback? Good grief, the 49ers almost went to the Super Bowl with Alex Smith!

I told Eli 10.7 three weeks ago that if Manning really wanted to win, the 49ers were the only team he should consider. Great coach (who is terrific with quarterbacks), plenty of solid receivers (who have no QB to use them properly), great defense. Perfect fit.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Mike Severe (one of my best friends for many, many years), incredibly rare footage of Stevie Ray Vaughan performing live in 1980: Stevie Ray Vaughan - Tornado Jam - Lubbock, Texas - May 11, 1980. I've never seen this footage before and I bet you haven't, either, so go have a look--it's amazing.

From Griffin Cheng, a remarkable phenomenon: Tubular Roll Clouds Look Like a Toppled Tornado. Also, take a look at The Composites, pencil sketches of famous literary characters ("Images created using law enforcement composite sketch software and descriptions of literary characters"). One more, and it's something you've never seen before: How The Sawfish Uses Its Saw. Last one, and it's quite amazing: This Combination Lock Made of Paper Actually Works.

Wait, I lied. I forgot the indoor cloud.

From Scott Z., and this is one of the most amazing sets of images you'll ever see: Spider Web Forest Is Beautiful And Terrifying.

From Meg McReynolds, the ultimate for basketball stats nerds (this is incredibly cool): What Geography Can Teach Us About Basketball.

Julian Bell sent in a link to these amazing images: Japan tsunami: one year on.

From Steven Davis, and Meg, you have to watch this: Brontë Sisters Power Dolls. Also, and this is totally fun, it's Seven Year Old Audri's Rube Goldberg Machine/. Next, and this is a terrific video, an interview with Ralph Baer, who invented the Magnavox Odyssey. One more, and it's pretty incredible: Department of Defense's Fracture Putty Could Heal Bones in Days.

From Dan Quock, and holy crap, this is funny: Dance interpretation of "Torn" by David Armand. And here's one more: David Armand mimes Don't Stop Me Now by Queen.

From Jeremy Fischer, and this is incredible: MIT fiber could be woven into glasses-free 3D displays, and battle cancer. Next, more amazing technology: Solar panel made with ion cannon is cheap enough to challenge fossil fuels. I have to admit, I get a little nerd thrill whenever I hear the phrase "ion cannon."

From Ken Dean, and no, this is not me: Darth Vader In A Kilt On A Unicycle Playing Bagpipes.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, a poignant and sad reminder: The Day we Stopped Dreaming About Tomorrow.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

And With These E-mails from Developers, the Topic is Closed

The discussion this week has generated so much e-mail that I can't even keep up, so apologies for the delays in responding. Since we've discussed this all week, today is going to close it out.

Today, let's hear from some developers.

First, from a long-time reader who wishes to remain anonymous, comments on developing for Windows 8:
Let me tell you... developing for it has been no day at the beach. Mainly because MSFT is very silo'd and there are aspects of the new OS that aren't complete, or are partially complete, or that they just aren't able to share the information about. This OS that was just released is so much better than the developers versions that we've been dealing with up to now. I can't even tell you. The touch works great and there are some great touch features... but for them to really be successful they need to bring hardware costs down. The OS works best on the Samsung Series 7, which only costs about $1500. Playing games on a touch monitor is exhausting... i don't think they will be around long with all touch really happening on mobile and tablets.

Next, another developer who wishes to remain anonymous on developing for iOS versus Android:
A lot of recent posts have concerned why people buy Apple hardware, the importance of their ecosystem, and the advantages of alternate hardware (or disadvantages), and I wanted to point out a couple of things I have noticed about Apple hardware (especially after developing for it) that factor in to why I have come to like these devices so much more than comparable Android devices. I agree that the app ecosystem is definitely a part of Apple's success.

First, let me say that I'm not an Apple fanboy. In fact, I can't stand MacOS at all - and I dislike the Mac that sits on my desk that I occasionally have to use for porting work (although the screen is nice). I develop for iOS using a PC, because I just can't abide the Mac development environment.

However, excluding surface design on Apple's devices, their combination of internal hardware and software has some SIGNIFICANT advantages over any competitors. Quite frankly, it performs a lot better for daily use. I'm not sure if this is because they control it end to end, and as such, they are taking better advantage of the hardware they have (my gut tells me it is), but let me give you a quick example.

I have a Galaxy Tab 10.1, the same device you do, and I was bothered by the feel of the device - responsiveness, video playback smoothness, and the feel of basic navigation. When I was making [REDACTED] builds for the Tab, they didn't 'feel' as good as the iPad versions. I decided to do some tests.

I created a simple application that draws 1 fullscreen alpha quad as fast as it can go. The iPad ONE renders this at double the framerate of the Tab. Two polygons. The fill rate on the Tegra may be poor, or the drivers may just not be that great, or the combination of Android's bottom overlay with the drivers and the hardware, or something else. The software comes from Vendor 1, Drivers from Vendor 2, Hardware from Vendor 3 - I think that costs you in baseline performance and 'feel', for lack of a better word. Although the Tab has a nice form factor, and a very pretty screen, my first gen iPad outperforms it in everyday tasks for usability. It shouldn't, but it does - and I think that this has associated ripple effects throughout all usage cases. For many people those ripples are not something they'd notice immediately, but they add up. I measured similar issues across a wide range of Android handsets versus iPhones as well, and the results were similar.

Okay, we're done with this topic for now, although I will have impressions of the new iPad next week.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

One More Thing

When Gamestop announced that they were accepting iPad trade-ins a while back, it seemed like something worth keeping an eye on.

In an unrelated note--at the time--someone e-mailed during one of the used game discussions and asked why publishers didn't just buy back old copies of their games from consumers--and destroy them.

The games, obviously, not the consumers.

They wouldn't be paying cash for the trade-ins, obviously. They would issue a gift certificate to buy other things from the publisher.

That seemed like an interesting way to cut the legs out from under Gamestop, really, but since publishers both hate and love Gamestop, it seemed unlikely. I can't remember if I mentioned it on the blog, but it was a very clever idea.

So take a look at this (thanks Engadget):
Eyeing the iPad 3, but have yet to take the pre-order plunge? Per The Next Web, your patience is about to be rewarded as Apple's updated its Reuse and Recycling program, which means owners of iPad 2s in "good condition" can sling them back to their maker in exchange for an Apple Store gift card. How much the mothership will subsequently send back naturally varies on what iPad 2 you've got -- ranging anywhere from $205 for the base 16GB WiFi model, all the way to $320 for the most capacious 64GB WiFi + 3G variant.

Just out of curiousity, I checked Gamestop's trade-in prices for iPads. For the "16GB WiFie model", they offer $250, but for the "64GB WiFi + 3G", it's $340. So at the high end, Gamestop is only offering $20 more than Apple.

Apple gets to take the iPad out of circulation, and in exchange, the customer gets an Apple Store gift certificate.

I'll check those Gamestop trade-in prices in a few days.


I botched something yesterday. Let's fix it.

Here's what I said yesterday: it's important to remember that iPods, iPhones, and iPads exist for one reason only: to sell you shit. They are content delivery devices. That's how Apple makes its staggeringly ridiculous financial targets, because once people buy Apple hardware, they fill it up with content that also profits Apple. Even if it's not an Apple program, Apple takes a toll fee for buying it through iTunes or iWhatever.

In bold: incorrect. it's not that Apple doesn't profit greatly from selling shit to you to fill up your iWhatever--they do--but they also make money from selling hardware. Kevin Caffrey and Tor Einar Samdahl (that has to be one of the coolest names I've ever heard) both pointed this out to me, and thanks for their contribution.

However, I still believe that the applications are a huge driver in why Apple sells so much of its highly-profitable hardware.

Let's use the iPhone as an example. I had a Samsung Fascinate last year, and as a piece of elegant hardware, it KILLS the iPhone. It's significantly thinner, and it's significantly lighter. It oozes ultra-cool, and it's a great phone.

The iPad? Prior to the new iPad with the ultra-sick resolution, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 was lighter and thinner and cooler. It's a remarkable piece of hardware.

But Apple has the app store with significantly more ass-kicking content. It's wonderland. It makes them almost invulnerable.

What would happen, though, if the app store was surpassed? Trouble. Big trouble. That's why when I say that no one is better than Amazon at selling you shit, it explains why they're such a threat.

Let's say, hypothetically, that three years from now, both Google and Amazon have better app markets than Apple. Actually, it doesn't have to be three years--let's just say that at some point, Apple no longer has the best or most exclusive content for its devices.

How many people would buy Apple hardware then?

Yes, the core group that I mentioned yesterday wouldn't care. They wouldn't even admit that someone else's app store was better. But like I said, the concentric rings would be vulnerable, and without them, Apple becomes a very different company.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Continuing On

We looked at Apple and Microsoft yesterday, so let's take a quick look at Amazon today. Here's an e-mail from Lummox JR:
I absolutely love the Fire. I haven't loaded any books onto it yet except my own, where I've found the device is a fantastic way to proofread and highlight editing issues. Having a free app every day keeps me going back to Amazon's store (though annoyingly, they keep trying to sell me Android phones because of it). I think the size is really excellent for my needs and for convenience, and with the purchase of an inexpensive case it travels well. I only have two major gripes: 1) There aren't really any customization options for the "sleep" wallpaper nor for the carousel bookshelf, unless you want to jailbreak it which I do not. 2) Some apps haven't yet made it to the appstore, like Dungeon Raid and Triple Town that you mentioned a few weeks ago; and there are plenty others that are still iOS-only, like Midway's arcade collection (I'm a sucker for Joust).

But here's the bottom line for Apple: I've loved my wife's iPod Touch and her mother's iPad, but could never justify spending the money on them. The Kindle Fire was not only much cheaper, it was available through a site where gift cards are easy to obtain. (By the way, another thing I love about Amazon cards is you can get them through Coinstar. When you use Coinstar to get a gift card, they don't take their usual cut.) My wife also signed up for Prime in December, and I share that with her, so I have access to a ton of streaming content for free--and Amazon upped their offerings just a couple weeks ago. So between the price and the content, I am finally a proud tablet owner. I don't even have a smartphone. This is my first modern mobile device, and I have it because the price-to-value ratio was excellent. The iPad is still an amazing value, but Apple can never boast that kind of pricing because it's inimical to their brand.

Several of you have e-mailed and scoffed at the notion that Amazon could ever threaten Apple in any way.

However, it's important to remember that iPods, iPhones, and iPads exist for one reason only: to sell you shit. They are content delivery devices. That's how Apple makes its staggeringly ridiculous financial targets, because once people buy Apple hardware, they fill it up with content that also profits Apple. Even if it's not an Apple program, Apple takes a toll fee for buying it through iTunes or iWhatever.

That's genius. I'm not being sarcastic, either.

Apple, though, is not really a "have it your way" company. They are the quintessential "have it our way" company.

Now look at Amazon. What is the Fire? A device that exist for the sole purpose of selling you shit.

Q: Who makes it easier to buy things than Amazon?
A: No one.

If anyone can build an app store to rival Apple's, it's Amazon. And if they can, what sort of advantage does Apple have left? It's not that Apple would lose its core audience, but the concentric rings that extend beyond their core audience would be very vulnerable to poaching.

Does Amazon understand all this? Of course they do, because at 20 companies are in a room, including Apple, the smartest guy in the room (so to speak) is Amazon.

That's what Apple has to worry about, even if they don't understand it yet.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Microsoft/Apple (Follow-up)

You guys sent in some excellent e-mail in regards to the Microsoft and Apple posts last week, so let's continue.

First off, several of you asked if I was aware that Apple had already unified the user experience for Mac/iPod/iPhone/iPad. I was aware what they had done in the iPod/phone/pad experience, but I thought the desktop/notebook experience wasn't the same. Dave Yeager, though, sent in this:
I'd say very much they are similar. Launchpad on OS X is basically iOS on your iMac or MacBook: Launchpad

It is fascinating watching my wife work on her MacBook for example - I tend to prefer using keyboard shortcuts wherever possible whether I'm using an OS X machine at home or a Windows PC at work, but she uses Mac stuff exclusively in her office and operates her MacBook the same way you'd operate an iPhone or iPad. Since Apple mice since the Mighty Mouse have had gesture recognition (you can swipe across the surface of your mouse to do things), Apple has gone out of their way to really build out that functionality, and now that their most recognizable devices use touch only interfaces, it's a natural transition for them.

My wife launches all her applications from Launchpad which works just like her iPhone screen because it feels natural to her and she can swipe on her MacBook's touch pad. When she has multiple windows/applications open, she doesn't use keyboard shortcuts to switch between them or steer her mouse between windows, she swipes on her touch pad - the same way you would do in iOS.

Lost in the new iPad madness is the new Apple TV interface where it looks like they are finally going to give it an iOS style interface as well: Apple TV

On top of all that, for some time now Apple devices have had iCloud which syncs everything across all your devices without having to do anything. If I purchase a song on my iPhone, it is immediately available on my iMac, iPad, or Apple TV for example.

So yes, very much I would say Apple already has accomplished what Microsoft is looking to do with this. This is not accusing Microsoft of stealing in any way - I thoroughly enjoy both platforms and use them both on a daily basis. But I definitely do not see much new here in concept - what I see is Microsoft realizing that Apple has them beat with a unified platform and it WORKS in the marketplace, and they need to do the same thing if they want to keep up.

That's very interesting, and thanks to Dave for the information. Now, an e-mail from Ryan Malinowsky which has additional information about Win 8/Metro:
Last year my company sent a couple of our developers to the //build event where Windows 8 was officially debuted (I'm a developer myself, but sadly I didn't get to attend). When they came back they brought with them a couple of Samsung Series 7 tablets that were specially built for //build and to run Win8. They also brought back a ton of technical information regarding the OS which got me to start researching how it works, and it's gotten me pretty excited.

Before I get to the more technical stuff, though, let me mention that tablet. In a word, its fantastic. I've had an iPad for over a year now and I love it. I use it every day, and at this point I use it more than my desktop at home. I also have friends who have Galaxy Tabs and Kindle Fires, but that Samsung tablet, even though it is running what is basically an Alpha OS, already feels better in some ways. The UI is extremely responsive (there was never even a hint of slowness in my tests), it's very easy to switch between apps and to navigate around in general, and everything feels more connected than it does in iOS or Android. And that's with it running the Developer Preview build. We haven't tried it out with the Consumer Preview yet, but so far I am very impressed with Win8 as a tablet OS.

On the other hand, they haven't convinced me just yet that Metro is a superior experience for desktop PCs. If you aren't taking advantage of the touch features, working in Metro feels a lot more restrictive to me on a PC. I've tried it out on a virtual machine I have set up at work, and on a PC where it was installed as the primary OS. While everything works, its still easier for me to move around/switch between apps/multitask on the traditional desktop. I'll have to use it more to get a feel for how the Metro/desktop balance will work, but for now it feels kind of clunky.

The thing that has me really excited, though, is what they are doing under the covers to make Win8 truly cross platform and easy to develop for. Its a pretty powerful thing to have the same OS run on tablets and desktops because now I only have one platform to write apps for, and its a very powerful platform. I don't want to go into too much detail, but they've essentially rebuilt much of the OS from the ground up for Metro to make it more streamlined and to remove much of the legacy baggage that has plagued Windows for years. This is probably one of the most ambitious things Microsoft has ever attempted, and I'm also glad to see them give it a shot.

This has already gone on for much longer than I intended, but I did want to point out one more thing that you touched on in your post, and that is how this will all fit in with the Xbox 720. Basically, once Windows 8 tablets are widely available, I see no reason why MS can't do what Nintendo is doing with the WiiU interface, only to a much greater extent. They could make it to where your Win8 tablet can interface with the Xbox to stream content, play games, share data, etc. I wouldn't be surprised at all if that is a major part of their Xbox strategy going forward, given how popular gaming on tablets has already become.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Friday Links!

I occasionally mention that the links are strong, and they are definitely strong this week.

Leading off this week from Shane Courtrille, it's The Single Lane Superhighway. What is it? 50,000 hand drawn cars driving across the screen. It's mesmerizing, and it would be the greatest screensaver ever.

Here's a link from Les Bowman that could be very important in evaluating and treating traumatic brain injury (concussions and more): New Tool Could Help Pinpoint TBI.

From Steven Davis, and this is terrific, it's Don't Be Bored. Do Something. Also, the origin of the original "John Carter" (from Edgar Rice Burroughs): A Princess of Mars and John Carter. Next, it's A Cathedral Made from 55,000 LED Lights. One more, and it's quite a site: paper airplane thrown for world record.

From Griffin Cheng, and this is not for the faint of heart, it's This British Super-Coaster Might Rip Your Limbs Off. Also, and this is very interesting, it's The Oldest Forest Ever Discovered Was Hidden In the Catskills.

A slew of excellent links from Kez this week. First, the best alarm clock ever: Wake n’ Bacon. Also, and this explains itself, it's Photo: Large Naked Woman Stomps On Car In Noe Valley [NSFW]. Also, and you must take this quiz, it's Troy McClure movie or actual terrible film?. Next, it's A breathtaking aurora from Earth’s largest geomagnetic storm in almost 10 years. This is quite striking (and quite witty as well): 11 Pencil vs. Camera Images. Last one, and it's both poignant and sad: How Doctors Die.

From David Byron, and this is truly spectacular: Jan van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece. Th site gives you the ability to zoom in on individual panels to an incredible degree.

From Jonathan Arnold, a story about the curious insects known as "tree lobsters": The "rarest insect in the world" also happens to be freaking enormous. One more, and it's absolutely amazing: the abandoned Buzludzha monument. Trust me, this is the mind-blowing story of the week.

From Sirius, and it's one creature I'm glad didn't survive: Super-sized fleas adapted to feed off dinosaurs. Also, and this is a fascinating possibility: Did the Titanic Sink Because of an Optical Illusion?. That's kind of a misleading title, because an optical illusion didn't actually sink the Titanic, but it may have caused the crew to not see the iceberg in time to avoid hitting it, which etc.

From Chris Pencis, and this is an absolutely spectacular video: the Falcon And The Murmuration: Nature's Aerial Battle Above Rome

Closing out the week, Aaron Ward sent in a link to some very funny photos: Quirky Photos Star World’s Chillest Dog.

Thursday, March 08, 2012


Apple introduced the iPad 3 yesterday, just in case you were being held captive in the basement and haven't heard anything yet.

Apple is a company that fascinates me because of their customer loyalty, which is so extreme that it reminds me of Japanese soldiers lost in the jungles of the Phillipines who continued to fight WWII for thirty years after it was over. I always assume that when market data comes out saying Apple has 20% of the market for a product, it really means 5% of the market buying the same device four times.

While I do poke fun at Apple's hardware iterations, it doesn't mean that I don't occasionally lust after the hardware, particularly the iPad. There are so many games I'd like to play that are iOS exclusive.

So yesterday, when the iPad 3 was announced with double the resolution of the previous versions, it got my attention. 2048×1536 resolution is not a modest feature upgrade with a massive advertising campaign behind it. That's a huge leap, delivering that resolution in a 10-inch form factor, which translates to all kinds of good things in terms of possibility and usability. And I'm probably getting one.

Which, curiously enough, is not what this post is about.

Instead, it's about Apple's response to Amazon and the Kindle Fire, and it's also about Sony.

Sony, in terms of brand loyalty, was somewhat like Apple 10 years ago. The Sony name meant something in terms of quality and innovation. There were Sony loyalists, lots of them, and they bought everything Sony made. Sony charged a premium price for their products, and they were able to do so because of brand loyalty.

We all know what happened. Sony got eaten alive on multiple fronts from underneath. They kept trying to charge a price premium (in most cases, a ridiculous one), but other companies (Samsung, for example) put out products as good or almost as good at a much lower price, and brand loyalty collapsed due to wallet loyalty.

That brings us back to Apple, which has been able to continue charging the price premium and has been staggeringly successful in a financial sense.

After Amazon released the Kindle Fire, I was interested to see if Apple would respond in any way. No, the Fire isn't the iPad, but Amazon will narrow the gap and accept lower margins. They have to be taken seriously, because their model is also tremendously successful. And when Amazon enters a market, "premium" items rapidly become commodity items because Amazon expands the market so quickly.

So we have an interesting set of circumstances.

I was very pleased with the hardware specs of the new iPad yesterday (like I said, enough to buy one), but most interesting to me was Apple's response to Amazon: there wasn't one. No price reductions, no lower end model, nothing. It's as if, for Apple, Amazon doesn't even exist.

Well, if you want an iPad 2, they're $100 cheaper now. I think that's more to clear inventory than anything else.

In the next 24-36 months, this is worth keeping our eye on. Like I said, the Fire is clearly not in the iPad's class, but Amazon is going to rapidly improve the product, and Amazon has its own strengths that can be leveraged in terms of user experience.

I will be very curious to see if the wolves begin nibbling at Apple's flanks.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Microsoft And The Next Future

Here's a picture of the Xbox Live interface you see after you boot up the 360:

Here's a picture of the Windows 8 desktop (thanks to The Inquirer):

Here's the Windows 7 smartphone home screen:

Windows tablets coming later this year? Same thing. This is the "Metro" interface--well, technically Xbox Live isn't using Metro yet, but it's "Metro-esque".

This is significant.

Unifying a user experience across phones, tablets, computers, and consoles is quite a feat. I often think that Microsoft is a company of small ideas, generally, but this is a very big idea.

It's also a big idea that Metro's driving force appears to be tablets, not the desktop. Tablets, not computers, are clearly the future for many users. Microsoft appears to be (for once) out in front of a defining moment.

Let's look at an average consumer. The idea that they can use a smartphone, a tablet, or a computer and use essentially the same interface is a powerful, powerful marketing tool.

It's not just the interface, though. Matt Solomon downloaded the Windows preview and had some very interesting thoughts:
So there’s definitely a lot to get used to here. Probably the biggest hurdle for me is that you don’t really close apps, ever, and closing them doesn’t really reset them. Works very much like a phone in that they kind of just suspend and remember their state. You can manually close them via the app sidebar, but doing so is mostly about keeping that list short enough to scroll through easily. This can lead to some problems if an app glitches out, but that’s probably something that’ll get sorted by the time release rolls around.

I’m really liking how you can dock things and quickly swap between which of the two apps you’ve got docked next to each other takes up the majority of the screen, especially because the desktop itself acts like just another app. When you turn it into a side bar, it shows all of the open applications as live preview icons, like what you get when you mouse over a taskbar icon in windows 7, in a vertical list. So I can easily keep track of if I’m receiving IMs from friends while doing something else and then swapping back to that is as simple as clicking on the instant messenger icon. The mouse/keyboard controls are very easy to get used to, but this really changes how you interact with the OS a ton. But overall it’s very clean, very sleek, and fairly easy to deal with for the sort of “average” uses that most people would have, and the desktop is always there if you need a ton of windows.

I think I rather like it so far, but it’s going to be hard to really say how well this is all going to work until there are many more solid apps to use. If we’re stuck mostly on the desktop, then I’m not sure there’s a ton of value in the UI changes, but with a lot of well developed apps, this model becomes pretty awesome.

Also, just to note, there’s an Xbox Live app in the preview that lets you buy both Windows Live and Xbox games through your desktop PC. There’s also an Xbox companion app that works like the companion app for the Windows phone.

Matt also sent this follow-up a few days later:
Also let me say that I can already see this completely blowing away the competition as a tablet UI. The small UI oddities that come from the rough stitching between the Desktop and the Start Screen/apps just completely disappears when the Desktop is restricted to Office and almost everything you do is via the Metro UI. There's no desktop browser on the tablets afaik, so that means no Flash support, but that's nothing too uncommon in a world dominated by iPads. Being able to side dock apps is really awesome, and being able to do it on a tablet with full touch is going to be pretty sweet.

With a common interface comes (potentially) portability of user experience. Buy a game for your Windows phone which you can also play on your Windows tablet for your Windows PC (or, possibly, your Xbox 720). Cloud saves transfer your work from device to device.

Television? Why not? Put the Metro interface into smart televisions as well.

Buy any of these hardware products and you will have a familiar user experience. All devices feel the same, in an operating sense.

It's the same experience in a different form factor.

This is hugely ambitious, and I don't know if Microsoft can pull it off, but I like that they're trying.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Vita (part two)

Here's an update on my experiences with the PlayStation Vita.

First, the screen is even more gorgeous than I originally thought. It's razor-sharp, and even better, the colors are calibrated properly. Almost all mobile devices have oversaturated color palettes, because most people like it that way. The Vita, though, has vivid colors that are not oversaturated, with stunning results.

I did something today, in fact, that I've never done before. I played a game in the bathroom. In the dark.

I wanted that movie theater effect.

Playing games in the bathroom, in the dark, can lead to nowhere. All paths end in destruction.

I've also spent a bit more time with Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack, and allow me to re-emphasize that this is a wonderful, wonderful game. The back-story (a mutant blob held prisoner in a University laboratory, then escaping) is tremendously clever and very funny, along with entirely "groovy" music and an art style reminiscent of storyboards from classic 1950s-1960s era animation. More importantly, the gameplay is rock-solid, basic platform mechanics enlivened with amusing variety (rocket boosters for your blob, for example). If you have a Vita, you must get this game.

I also received MLB 12: The Show today, and should have impressions on Sony's flagship sports title in a few days.

Look, I don't even know if the Vita is going to make it, what with the fierce competition from cellphones and tablets. Those are legitimate gaming platforms now, with much cheaper pricing and a much wider variety of games. But there are going to be some epic, astounding games made for the Vita, because the hardware is so ridiculously powerful. Even with an uncertain future, there is no doubt in my mind that it's worth the price.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Mega-Exhaustion Monday

We had a crazy weekend and no real chance to rest after the Dallas trip, so I'm running on fumes today. Here are some pictures from our trip, though, which was excellent.

First off, here's Eli 10.6 in the arena, wearing his throwback jersey. That jersey got him plenty of love from other Penguins fans, and holy cow, there were thousands of them. There were as many people wearing Penguins jerseys as there were wearing Stars jerseys.

Here's a picture from the team introductions. We had terrific seats--14 rows off the glass--and it wasn't terribly expensive, because the Stars are still trying to rebuild their fan base (long story).

That's the man. Marc Andre-Fleury. Eli was glued to Fleury both periods that he was down at our end. I noticed two things that I'd never caught from watching on television. One, he adjusts his depth based on even the slightest movement of the puck, far more so than other goalies we've seen. Two, at every break he goes down in the butterfly and collapses on his pads in a deep stretch that makes him look like a turtle peeking out from his shell.

Fleury was terrific, like he's been all season, and made some sensational saves. He's quick like some kind of comic book superhero.

There's Geno taking a face-off. Words cannot describe how quick he is on the ice. He always looks like he's skating in an entirely different rink than the other guys, one they just can't reach. It was a real thrill to see him play in person.

Well, it was a real thrill to see all these guys in person. I'm sure we've seen 100+ games on t.v. in the last two years, so to see them up close was just great.

We were also quite lucky that the game itself was fantastic. The Penguins won 4-3 in a shootout, and the game was close and intense the whole way. Like hockey, in other words.

I've mentioned that the hotel was ridiculous (monkey-spanker extreme), but this is why we stayed there--that's the view of the arena from the hotel. It was literally less than two minutes from the front of the hotel to the front of the arena.

That still-life perfectly describes the hotel: square pen, kaleidoscope, and unnecessarily uniquely shaped Diet Coke bottle.

Seriously: a kaleidoscope in the room, on a little base that said "WISH" on it. The best part was that it was a shitty kaleidoscope, which perfectly describes the hotel: totally over-the-top, but not in a quality sense.

I puzzled over that Diet Coke bottle for a while before I realized its purpose: its dimensions enable more profitable storage in the mini-bar. And I'm sure it's not the only place that has them, but in combination with the other items, it was funny.

Here's one other thing that cracked me up: they had Pop Chips in the mini-bar. Pop Chips are delicious, and they're less than a dollar a bag at stores. Here? $7.

Hell, in this hotel, they had probably just been marked down from $10.

It was a wonderful trip, all in all. And I'm sure we're going back next year for the Penguins game.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Friday Links!

From Frank Regan, a link to a wonderful website called All That Is Interesting, and it's an apt description.

Steven Davis sent in a slew of links this week, but the first one is my favorite: How-to: Build And Use An Afghan Box Camera. Here's more: Afghan Box Camera Project. Next is a fascinating link with a tie to a recent and wonderful film: Franklin Institute Automaton Has Link To 'Hugo'. Here's another, and it's quite mind-blowing: building a robotic bee with MEMS 3D printing. Last one, and it's fascinating: The History of the Helicopter: Early Helicopter Footage.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, a heartbreaking War Torn: An Iraq War Veteran's Story. Also, and this is a much happier link, it's This Is My Home ("a short film about the happy side of hoarding"). One more, and this is a wonderful story: Village in Italy Builds Giant Mirror to Combat 83 Days of Darkness.

From Roger R., and this is 100% fascinating: William L. Snyder and the story of the first Hobbit movie.

From Jeremy Fischer, and if you have cats, I'm sure you've seen a few of these already: The 25 Most Awkward Cat Sleeping Positions.

From Frank Donahue, and this is both disturbing and mesmerizing, it's NUKEMAP. Also, utterly spectacular video of a wing suit flyer imploding (he lived, although I don't know how).

From Sirius, and this is quite fascinating: Is an 8-hour sleep a modern artificial construct?

From Jonathan Arnold, and I am 100% sure I couldn't do this: Selyna Bogino Foot juggling act.

If you're thinking that the "Jesus Discovery" is anything but blatant self-promotion, you might want to check out the ASOR Blog (The American Schools of Oriental Research ).

From DQ WPF Advisor Scott Ray, and this will blow your mind, it's Microsoft's transparent 3D desktop puts a virtual computing environment at your fingertips.

From Dave Prosser, and this is fantastic: Rock Stars With Their Parents (the Frank Zappa picture is just incredible). Also, and this could be significant, it's New Energy-Dense Battery Could Enable Long-Distance Electric Cars.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Immediately Inducted Into the E-Mail Hall of Fame

From Mike Gilbert:
Odom (to Cuban): Dude, I totally thought I saw that hockey goalie down in the lobby...

Eli 10.7: Newsbreaker

"Dad, that's Lamar Odom," Eli said. We were standing in the lobby of the ultra-expensive hotel across from the American Airlines Center. We were staying here for the night, and then I was going to rob a bank in the morning to pay the bill.

Eli nodded in the direction of a very tall, very thin guy. He was standing in semi-darkness, in the entrance to the Le Douche Lounge (or whatever they call it), but I could just make out his face.

"Dude, you may be right," I said. "It does kind of look like Lamar Odom."

"No, Dad," he said insistently. "That IS Lamar Odom."

Just then, the very tall guy emerged from the lounge and started walking across the hotel lobby, two short guys in tow. A cellphone rang. One of the guys answered it, then held up the face of the phone to the other short guy. He smirked, then said, "La--marrrr!" in kind of a mocking voice.

"Holy crud," I said to Eli. "You were right!"

Note: Lamar Odom is one skinny dude.

Before we went to the hockey game, Eli and Gloria decided to walk around the hotel, and I decided to stay in the room, so off they went. They came back about twenty minutes later.

"Dad," Eli said as they walked into the room. "You are not going to believe this."

"What?" I asked.

"I saw Mark Cuban," he said.

"No way," I said.

"Way. It was definitely him. I wonder if he was meeting with Lamar Odom."

When we got home today, I went to check the news on Pro Basketball Talk, just on a hunch. That's where I saw this:
While the team was in Memphis Wednesday, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban met in Dallas with Odom and his agent, Jeff Schwartz, to work on a timetable that would ease Odom back after his weeklong personal leave, perhaps as soon as this weekend.

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