BoingBoing linked to an awesome two part article (1 - Body by Victoria, 2 - The Secret Is Out) in which a security expert uses digital forensics techniques to reverse engineer what retouching has been done to a photo of a model in a Victoria's Secret catalog. The photo first showed up on the fabulous Photoshop Disasters.
Thursday, December 31, 2009
Sunday, December 27, 2009
A while back when we replaced my wife's laptop, and eventually ended up going through a Sony and a Lenovo before finally settling on a Macbook Pro, I'd meant to do a post on the difference between the out-of-box experience of the three.
The digital world, even the high end brands, has become a sleazy carnival, complete with hawkers, barkers and a bearded lady. By the time someone actually gets to your site, they've been conned, popped up, popped under and upsold so many times they really have no choice but to be skeptical.
Amazon reviews never reflect the product, they reflect the passion people have for the product. As Jeff Bezos has pointed out again and again, most great products get 5 star and 1 star reviews. That makes sense... why would you be passionate enough about something that's sort of 'meh' to bother writing a three star review?...The Kindle has managed to offend exactly the right people in exactly the right ways. It's not as boring as it could be, it excites passions and it has created a cadre of insanely loyal evangelists who are buying them by the handful to give as gifts.
Friday, December 25, 2009
- Little Brother: Cory Doctorow's distopian sci-fi teen-fic romp that I described last year as 'just close enough to the present and just close enough to reality to scare you like hell'.
- Halting State: Charles Stross' heist-meets-sleuth-meets-virtual-worlds story was probably my most recommended book of last year, when I called it 'one of my top 5 recommendations for those looking to understand the future of games'.
- Inventing the Movies: I found this history of film medium and business has a lot to teach us in the games industry.
- Losing Faith: How the Grove Survivors Led the Decline of Intel's Corporate Culture. I found myself loaning/recommending this to a number of co-workers.
- Closed, vertically integrated business model. There's an opportunity for someone to disrupt here by integrating with multiple stores, etc,
- All features that detract from time spent buying and reading books seem to be secondary concerns, and therefore are poorly implemented (browser, pdf functionality, and where is a decent RSS aggregator?)
- The biggest reason is that books are social objects for me. I like to loan them to friends, propogate ideas, etc, and this is lost with the existing business model. Longer post on Kindle and Nook coming later...
- Reality Check: Guy Kawasaki's compilation of loosely related essays on evangelism, venture capital, running a startup, etc. Recommended. My review here.
- Outliers: Malcolm Gladwell makes the case for why some people are special :-). My review here.
- Arcade Mania: Kotaku's Brian Ashcraft's quirky look at Japanese arcade machines, culture and history. My review here.
- Business Stripped Bare: Richard Branson's follow on to Losing My Virginity. Not quite as good, but still useful. My review here.
- Ten Foot: R Dale Chandler's teen-fic fantasy novel that I described as 'Lord of the Rings with an American Indian flavor'. Recommended. My review here.
- I Will Teach You To Be Rich: Ramit Sethi's practical approach to saving money and building wealth. Pretty straight forward, and aimed at younger folk than I, but I still picked up a thing or two. Recommended for some (if don't have at least a year's salary squirreled away, and/of if you ever carry a monthly balance on your credit card, then this is you.). My review here.
- Longitude: An educational and entertaining read about the X-prize-like competitive race to solve the longitudinal navigation problem, and the amateur clockmaker who schooled the scientific establishment. My review here.
- Edison: His Life and Inventions: An interesting, if dated and biased, look at Edison's life's work. My review here. Audio version of book available here.
- Ignore Everybody: Hugh MacLeod's Gaping Void blog style, in print form. My review here.
- Racing the Beam: Ian Bogost's fantastic start to his 'platform studies' series, in which he looks at the history of the Atari VCS, and how the platform's architecture shaped the games built on it. Recommended. My review here.
- Meatball Sundae: Seth Godin's take on what happens when marketers of everyday products say "I can haz facebuk?!". My review here.
- The 4 hour workweek: Get-rich-quick snakeoil that I'd love to urge you to stay away from, except that there are some useful nuggets in there. More detail in my review here.
- Following Through: What it aims to teach is indicated by the title. How much I disliked it is indicated by my review here.
- Small is the New Big: A collection of Seth Godin's essays and blog posts. My review here.
- Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars: Bill Patry's book on how and why copyright lost its way and has since gotten out of control. My favorite book of the year. Highly Recommended. My review here.
- Batman Arkham Asylum: I found this highly-rated graphic novel to be good, but not necessarily deserving of the hype. My review here.
- The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: Allison Hoover Bartlett's accounting of her investigation into the world of an obsessed thief of rare books and the book dealer turned gumshoe who helped bring him down. My review here.
- On Writing: Stephen King's only non-fiction book. One part autobiography, one part practical guide to the art and craft of writing. Recommended. My review here.
- Seize the Daylight: David Prerau's surprisingly colorful look at the history of daylight savings time, and the madness that lies in trying to convince the world to get it's collective butt out of bed a little earlier. My review here.
- How the Mighty Fall: Jim Collins, author of the popular Good to Great, looks at the other side of the coin: What makes great companies fail. Fascinating and terrifying. Highly Recommended. My review here.
- Good Video Games and Good Learning: James Paul Gee's look at video games and their ability to teach. I found myself disagreeing with some of his biases and approaches, but mostly agreeing with the ideas and conclusions. My review here.
- What the Dog Saw, and Other Adventures: A collection of Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker pieces. Best taken as provocative ideas and not science. My review here.
- The Post-American World: Author. Highly Recommended. My review here.
- Circles: James Burke's collection of brief whirlwind tales of invention through history. My review here.
- Permanent Death: An e-book chronicling Ben Abraham's efforts to play through Far Cry 2 on a single life. It's free and thought provoking. My review here.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Clint pointed me a while back to Permanent Death, a free e-book/machinima/something from Ben Abraham narrating his experience in trying to play Far Car 2 through on a single life. In the author's words it is:
391 pages long and features hundreds of full colour screenshots from Far Cry 2, one of the most beautiful games of recent times. It chronicles my progress from the beginning of the game all the way to the end of my single in-game life some 20 play hours later. Permanent Death represents a large portion of a year of my life, and an obsession with a game that captured my imagination in a way that I struggle to articulate.
Clint's post on the experiment and book is also worth reading.
I found parts of it to be as monotonous as many games are (I ran into some guys. I hid behind cover and sniped them. then I scavenged their stuff. repeat). However, the parts of the game that were more moving to Ben are interesting, as are his thoughts about the game's rules and mechanics, his attempts to infer the designers intent at times, and his thoughts on things like switching off the background music.
Those and Clint's foreward make it worth reading. It's free, and it won't take you long, so what's keeping you?
Friday, December 18, 2009
I've been a big fan of James Burke since my sister and I used to sit through any of the Connections series reruns that the CBC would pull out of the BBC mothballs whenever they'd run out of Beachcombers episodes to air.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
I listened through The Post-American World in audio form during a drive up to Seattle and back, and then finished it off during this week's commute.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Saturday, December 12, 2009
I recently watched TILT: The Battle to Save Pinball [Official site here], a documentary about the decline of pinball, of Williams (the industry's leading manufacturer), and of the effort to save the industry through one last big R&D project.
Friday, December 4, 2009
I subscribe to a podcast of famous speeches, and today was listening to General MacArthur's "Duty, Honor, Country" speech given at Westpoint in 1962. Transcript here.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
One of the downsides of committing to writing reviews of the books I read is that people then know what you read; and in some circles, admitting you read Gladwell's work is a little like admitting take your relationship advice from Dr Laura or your financial advice from that button-happy dude on Fox.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Last night's PAGDIG meet-up had Andrew Stern (Catz, Babyz, Facade) of Stumptown Game Machine give a talk about the development of TouchPets Dogs for iPhone. Good talk and I took some notes. Here they are.
TouchPets Dogs is an iphone-based, modernized take on the 'pet simulator' genre that Stern gave birth to with Dogz and Catz back in 1995. Not surprising that when NGMoco wanted to do a game along these lines, they came to find The Man :-). The game uses a business model that is kind of a hybrid of pay-to-play and pay-for-upgrades, and indeed they are evolving the business model on the fly based on performance. It also uses gesture input, accelerometers and all the usual iPhone platform candy.
Ok, so, notes [with added commentary in braces]
- Probably among the largest and most ambitious iPhone projects done to date. 12 months, 5-6 people full time, 8-10 people part time, plus 4-6 people part time at the publisher [using a rate for a mid-range studio of 8-10k/man month, this ballparks the development budget at somewhere between 850k to 1.3M(!) not counting NGMoco's costs, marketing, etc. That certainly is higher than even the high-end stuff we're seeing on iPhone today, that has a feel of "few hundred k". Even if the studio was cheaper than my estimate, it almost certainly wasn't under, what, 700k?]
- This was about 2X the scope and time of what was originally proposed, as publisher kept growing scope and ambition of the project. Server complexity, social elements, in-game transactions...
- Great things to say about NGMoco as a publisher. Supportive of them doing what they wanted in the game, kept them funded as scope grew, great relationship with Apple, etc
- The game is a pet simulator, but has heavy focus on stats (to involve more 'gamer types'), careers, stories/missions, a social network, facebook connection, inter-pet relationships between players, in-game transactions.
- 850k people have downloaded and connected. Peak server load has been about 25k people. Game is only periodically connecting, so that means "some number more than 25k" playing simultaneously [100k?]
- Dogs go to sleep if not fed. Need to buy bowls of food to keep them away. Amounts to pay-to-play. Some user backlash to this, looking at maybe shifting toward free to play (and keep playing) but premium items/missions/etc are for pay.
- Push notification if your dog gets lonely [does this translate to "come feed me money!" :-)]
- All attributes to cost, rate of decay, etc, etc are all on server, so they can evolve over time despite clients in the wild.
- Uses NGMoco's Plus+ network, which was good to get a community aware of the game and quicker to connect.
- Online infrastructure complicated and tricky. Communications between their server, Apples for appstore/transactions, NGMoco's Plus+network. As scope grew, server grew wicked complicated (e.g. needed to do sharding, manage issues with players with 500 friends inviting them all for playdates, etc)
- Graphics: All in OGL 1.1, no realtime lighting, 3000-5000 polys/frame max, 2 textures only. "I think iPhone is more powerful than the Wii"
- Used no engine, but lots of sample code from PowerVR SDK
- Can't mix all Apple's really good UI with OGL, so if you want UI in your game, have to build it yourelf [seems like a middleware opportunity here. Do a exact copy of all Apple's UI functionality in GL]
- Did some easy physics (ball collision, etc). Cartoon physics: Throw frisbee off left side of screen, it wraps around and flies in from right. Move viewpoint over to where the wall is though, and THEN it collides with wall rather than wrapping.
What went wrong:
- Product spec always changing
- Complexity of system grew beyond means of core team
- iTunes rules and constraints - moving target plus they were pushing the envelope here*
* [lots of questions and talk about this afterward. One of the challenges being echoed from XBLA, then iphone, and now Facebook. High dependence on single gatekeeper, with no commit from gatekeeper on how policies/APIs will change, whether notice will be given, etc. People are betting their companies on stuff that can be pulled out from under them with hous notice]
What went right:
- Good team
- Just enough time, budget, freedom given by NGMOco to actually build a great game
- iPhone as a platform is wonderful. great simulator, powerful, somewhat challenging to fit everything on a small screen
It was a good talk and we went over to Stumptown's studio afterward for a release party, complete with snack foods served on dogfood bowls. Woof!