Monday, July 27, 2009

Is Amazon fanning the Kindle(ing) flames?

I've been following the Kindle with some interest for a while. I *really* want one, but not as long as it's as closed a model as they are currently pursuing. I want to get e-books from other places, and I'd like an RSS reader please... which really means an open development platform so that RSS readers can compete... which quickly leads to other ebook retailers, and you see why they aren't that interested in it.

Anyhow, Amazon got themselves in a pickle when they had a licensing issue with a number of books from a publisher, which in turn led to them reaching out an disabling them on users Kindles out in the wild - something the users didn't know Amazon could do.

Kind of like coming down to your kitchen in the morning, seeing the toaster missing, and finding a note from Sears saying "Sorry, we decided we shouldn't have sold this to you, so we took it back. Here's your $20. Hope you weren't expecting toast this morning. Might we suggest oatmeal?"

A kerfuffle took place on the intertubes, and Amazon went on to issue an apology:
This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. Our "solution" to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we've received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.

With deep apology to our customers,

Jeff Bezos, Founder & CEO,

Sounds really good. I beleive he think's doing the right thing. He is.

Except he's doing the right thing about the wrong problem.

One problem is that some people had their books taken from them post-purchase, and yes, it's good to apologize for that.

However, this problem is only symptomatic of the REAL problem, which is that people bought a device which comes with hidden restrictions, unclear terms of service, and the capability to change behavior and functionality at any point in the future. (Cory at BoingBoing has been on a bit of a crusade to get answers on exactly this)

So, kids, what have we learned?

1) There's a lesson here in the growing awareness of, and intolerance for, DRM in all it's forms. Every story about a consumer being burned by DRM adds to that awareness and intolerance.

2) While it was good for Bezos to publicly apologize, he's created another problem: He's shown that he's aware of the situation and therefore what was a puzzling silence on questions around the Kindle's functionality and DRM now seems like a deliberate silence.

In the meantime, I'll stick to dead trees. They tend to not disappear from the nightstand while I sleep.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Lessons from PopCap on Facebook Games

Another good presentation from James Gwertzman at Popcap. This one to the audience at ChinaJoy, about Popcap's experience launching Bejewelled Blitz on Facebook. The graphs of the adoption rates are pretty amazing in both their slope & uniformity. The graph on slide 9 was an eye opener too.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Security in the Cloud

Another good read: The Anatomy of the Twitter Attack. This is the first of a two-part techcrunch post about a recent Twitter hacking, where 300 confidential docs were stolen by a hacker and sent to, among other places, TechCrunch's email inbox. This article outlines how the hacker managed to get in, the next post promises to deconstruct Twitter's reaction to the theft.

The punchline is that (a) businesses increasingly relying on a mix of cloud services for hosting their documents, and that (b) each of these web services has a moderate level of security, but when viewed in aggregate, their security is seriously compromised.

It's a facinating read, in itself, but also makes me wonder what the implications are for online games and game services. If your identity games or game service becomes linked to your identity in other more significant places, will those be back doors to identity theft or other serious crimes. Will those running such games or game services safeguard my account info as well as my online bank? Will they legally be required to? Some say those games are actually banks anyway, so they may need to be.

Equality, Class, and Technology

Went through two really good reads this morning:

  • President Carter's essay Losing My Religion For Equality. "The truth is that male religious leaders have had - and still have - an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter"
  • danah boyd's lecture from the Personal Democracy Forum on The Not-So-Hidden Politics of Class Online. "we've assumed that inequality in relation to technology has everything to do with "access" and that if we fix the access problem, all will be fine. This is the grand narrative of concepts like the "digital divide." Yet, increasingly, we're seeing people with similar levels of access engage in fundamentally different ways. And we're seeing a social media landscape where participation "choice" leads to a digital reproduction of social division"
Read both, think about technology, game design, etc.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Rock Band Network: Marketing Tool or Moneymaker?


Attention Bands, Studios, and Labels:
Create. Play. Get Paid.
The Rock Band Network is Coming.

Coming Soon - Use our tools to author playable tracks. Upload and submit your tracks for review by the Rock Band Creators community. Approved tracks become available in the Rock Band Store and on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace*, and you get a cut of every purchase

Is just awesome.

It's interesting that they took the route of offering a cut of track purchases, when they could just as easily have claimed that tracks serve as a promotional tool for sales of the tracks on iTunes, etc, which they are.

Either way, its cool to see. It will be interesting to see how this evolves. In addition to laying out tracks, if music artists could add new character choreography, awards, avatar costumes, maybe involve fans in doing different RB track layouts and picking the best ones, etc.

It'll also be interesting if one of the 'doing RB tracks as money makers' and 'doing RB tracks as marketing tools for the music' intents becomes dominant.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Playfish CEO misses the point of FB Connect

This caught my eye (via Alice): 'Playfish CEO unsure of Facebook Connect'.

Speaking in a panel at the Develop Conference 2009, Playfish CEO Kristian Segerstrale as revealed he is yet to be convinced by the prospect of the Xbox 360's forthcoming social networking service, Facebook Connect.

"I'm not too sure about social networking and Facebook integration on the Xbox 360, because not everyone has one, [snip] Social Networks do open up games to a far wider audience, but it has to be just a click away, and you don't want to have to buy a 360 just to get at it."

Hmm... has he even USED a 360?

One of the more groundbreaking elements of the 360 was that it shipped with a social network, Xbox Live. FB Connect is about building bridges between customers existing social networks, not starting a new one.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Dental Adventures, or how a little grey spot cost $20k

This has nothing to do with video games or the tech industry , but rather falls under the category of stuff I had trouble learning about and maybe my post can help someone else.

I'm about 95% of the way through a crazy bunch of dental work that started about three and a half years ago, have a little time on my hands, and figured I'd post about it. Those with a weak stomach for stories of dentistry or financial pain may not want to read on.

Five years ago or so, I noticed a small discoloration on my front tooth. Like a slight grey color beneath the surface, in one corner near the gum. It'd been there a while I'd asked dentists about it, but they'd always kind of said "hmm... not a cavity. Not sure. Just leave it."

Early in 2006 I got fed up and decided I wanted it taken care of and went to see a high end dentist (Spektor dental in Bellevue, WA, who are awesome). Dr Spektor consulted with her husband, who's a high end specialist, and they decided it was most likely root resorption. The wikipedia entry spells it out in detail, but the short version is that it's a condition where something (small defect or trauma to the tooth or such) causes your system to attack the tooth, killing it from the inside out. Unlike decay, it takes a long time to do its thing, but eventually the tooth has to come out.

So the doctor tells me that (a) it's not only in the one tooth I've noticed, but in a neighboring one as well, (b) the solution is to pull them out and put in implants, and (c) that because one of the teeth is out of line from the others, they want to put braces on me for a couple years first.

"Let me get this straight", says I, "you want to put braces on my teeth for two years, then yank them out? I'm getting a second opionion!" Turns out she was right.

To make matters worse, they break the news to me that I have a bunch of other work that needs doing (20 year old amalgum fillings that are starting to go, a crown that needs doing, a crown that needs replacing, etc), and that it'd be a good idea to do it all before I get the braces.

OK, off we go.
  • March 06 through Aug 06 - Two crowns, various consults with specialists, numerous fillings replaced. Total out of pocket spend about $2500.
  • August 06 - Braces on. After insurace this cost about $2500 out of pocket
Now it was a matter of waiting for the braces to do their thing, going in once in a while to get the wires replaced, etc. A major pain in the butt to floss (Waterpik's electric flosser is awesome btw), but not that bad. On the plus side, getting braces made me lose 10 pounds.

In early 08 I relocated to Oregon, so I had to find new dentist (Kaiser - meh), new orthodontist (Kaiser - Dr Ratliff - very good, but Kaiser is *ok*), new prosthedontist (Dr Halmos - awesome), new dental surgeon (Dr Henshaw - also awesome).
  • Second half 08 I go see all the new guys and get various Xrays, consults, etc. Total spend about $500
With teeth almost straight, we start to coordinate all my stuff. Dental surgeon worries that my frenulum (little piece of skin attaching top lip to gum at center) is going to tug at the gum after the implant surgery, potentially pulling the gum up assymetrically. Solution: Snip it!
  • March 09 - frenectomy, a 'minor surgery' that is fast, but smarts like hell for days afterward. Total out of pocket, $500 (IIRC)
Next up is the big surgery, the extractions! I was NOT looking forward to this. Again, further complications, it turns out that I have thin gums, so he's going to do a skin graft as part of it.
  • March 09 - surgical stint made by prosthedontist to guide the surgeon, and temp teeth to cover implants while they heal (I forget the cost of this. $500?)
The day of the surgery was not fun. Go to prosthedontist, get stint and fake teeth. Go to Ortho, 30 min appointment to get wires removed. Go to dental surgeon, >4hrs in the chair getting skin graft from roof of mouth to gums, two teeth pulled, two 12mm titanium posts implanted in my skull, etc Maybe 25 injections in all. I lost count.

After that, mouth all bloody and numb, back to ortho for another 2 hrs, where he gave me more novocain and vasoconstrictor and then put braces back on, with fake teeth covering gaps attached to the wires.
  • April 09 - Surgery, gum tissue grafts, etc. Total out of pocket, about $8700.
Now it was a matter of that healing up and the bone growing in around the implants until they were solit enough to load.
  • June 09 - bottom braces off (no cost)
  • July 09 - top braces off, temporary crowns on implants ($800)
I'm more or less done now. It's a matter at this point of making sure the gums settle at the right height, and then getting the permanent, porcelain crowns put on (sometime in august or september), which will cost another $3000

So, in the end it's going to cost me a total of about $19k to have my little gray spot fixed. It needed to be done though, as it would have turned into far more. I'd never heard of root resorption but have since run into a number of friends that have had it and have had more or less the same process to go through. Maybe this post will help someone else running into the same thing.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Book Review: Meatball Sundae

I picked up Seth Godin's Meatball Sundae: Is Your Marketing out of Sync? a while back. I'm a regular reader of Seth's blog and a huge fan, but was a little put off after reading The Dip and being disappointed in it. I packed it on vacation for airplane reading, and I'm glad I got around to reading it.

Meatball Sundae is pretty straightforward, and is presented in 3 parts:

- The first part presents the premise that the rules of marketing have changed, and yet applying the new marketing (whipped cream and cherries) to old world products (meatballs), the results are less than tasty. Those wanting to make sundaes need to first get back to basics and stop making meatballs. In other words, if you beleive (as you should) that marketing is the art and science of designing products and services and distribution methods FOR markets, then the new marketing means NEW products. [e.g. For games, this might mean asking "How can Facebook change our game design?", rather than "How can we use Facebook to sell more of our generic first person shooter?"]

- The second part breaks down the fourteen trends that are shaping this change in marketing. For those well versed in the web 2.0 mechanics, there's nothing new here, though it's a nice concise list. For those unfamiliar, it's an essential guide to the new world.

- The third part presents a range of case examples to help underline the points made in the first two parts.

All presented with Seth's engaging style, and in super easy-to-consume form.

Only downside I could think of is that I'd have liked more data backing up some of his case examples.

I'll be passing this one round the office for sure. Recommended.

Friday, July 3, 2009

For lunch today: A million mile tomato

A while ago I posted something about Matt Jones presentation on The New Negroponte Switch.

Now here's a link to a presentation, entitled Scope, from another principal at Schulze and Webb, Matt Webb.

I found it inspirational, and there's a couple bits of it that sent shivers down my spine. Well worth the read.

And then go find your '100 hours'

[As an aside, I thought the ultra-conversational, realtime-esque, voicing of his speaker notes was quite infectious. Interesting how he posts a deck for offline reading and still gets the energy across. Curious if other readers feel the same]

Book Review: Racing the Beam

I just finished reading Ian Bogost and Nick Montfort's Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System (Platform Studies). Definitely the geekiest book so far this year for me and I really liked it.

It's the first of a series called 'Platform Studies', the goal of which is to look at the games of a given platform in the context of the platform's development, technology and business context, etc. The hypothesis is that these things end up shaping the games as much as their designers intent, and that therefore platform technology and business end up shaping the medium that is gaming.

The first of the series certainly does a good job making this case. The go over detailed looks at landmark games on the platform (e.g. Yars Revenge, Pitfall, etc) and how the hardware shaped their development. They also discuss the culture at Atari and Activision at the time, and how games built upon previous game development knowledge and innovation.

It's a great idea for a series, and Racing the Beam is a great start.

Two things like to see in future books in this series (or second edition of Racing the Beam?):
  • There was no discussion of the European release of the VCS. The limited memory of the VCS meant that programmers had to program the graphics by re-writing the memory for each scan line in well-timed dance following behind the electron beam's trace across the CRT. Display and game simulation were hard-coded to one another, not asyncronous systems like on today's platforms. So, I'd imagine that games that were to run on a PAL televison would have needed modification. Were these the same programmers that did it? Were there games that couldn't make it because of some limitation, etc? Anyhow, would have been nice to know.
  • While mention is made of the unit sales of some of the given game titles, it would have been interesting to include some tables spanning the console's life cycle. sales vs installed base vs unit sales of game titles. Were there 'evergreen' titles for the VCS? Did the sales curve decay grow steeper as the market was flooded with content?
This minor complains aside, I highly recommend the book.