Monday, October 25, 2010

Beautiful definition of common usage of "HTML5"

I've been talking to a lot of folks about HTML5 recently, and always find myself struggling with the conversations actually including areas that aren't technically part of the HTML5 spec but are referred to in the same sentence 90% of the time.

So today someone pointed me at Brad Neuberg's CodingInParadise blog and this fantastic post that both provides a definition of the general sense in which the term HTML5 is generally used, as well as a proposed set of specific definitions for different layers of the onion peeling.

Here's the short version.
"Everything that is in the formal W3C HTML5 spec; everything that used to be in there but was broken out for various reasons; sibling and related technologies and developments like CSS3, SVG, EcmaScript 5, etc.; and experimental explorations that are pushing the boundaries."
Read the post to get the rest.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Book Review: Dive Into HTML5

Dive Into HTML5 is a free e-book by Google's Mark Pilgrim. I read it before the HTML5 book I recently reviewed, and found Pilgrim's to be much better.

Pilgrim has a lengthier book,HTML5: Up and Running, in dead-tree format that is available on Amazon. I haven't yet checked that one out.

I found Dive Into HTML5 to be useful for a few reasons. It's relatively brief. It deals practically with the issues of building scalable code for a range of browsers/platforms with variable HTML5 support (i.e. rather than providing a switch statement for IE/Chrome/Firefox like some folk do, he deals different methods for testing for feature support in a way that will scale across browsers).

Finally, Pilgrim gives enough background to understand some of the 'why' on certain eccentricities as well as the 'how' on how to use them. For example, there are some details on local storage that include background on loose guidelines provided by the spec, as well as how much storage is made available and cases in which you may find it unavailable.

If you are looking for a quick read to get up to speed, it's a great place to start. (One downside is that it would have been nice if he'd made an offline version available as a e-book or PDF.

Book Review: HTML5:Designing Rich Internet Applications

This was the second of a couple books I've read on HTML5. The other review is coming next.

HTML5: Designing Rich Internet Applications was pretty disappointing. The book contains numerous typos and grammatical errors than an editor should have caught, and these seem to be the main complaints of other negative reviews on Amazon. I could have easily looked past these if they were the only flaws with the book. Instead, I think these were just the most superficial signs of a book hastily written to get in front of a trend.

More serious errors include poorly documented code samples, poorly written code samples, and an awkward correlation between the code and the text.

Even more frustrating still, there are sections where the focus and page-count are misspent (e.g. a section on HTML5's video playing capabilities contains numerous pages on how to author a video from a PPT presentation (and btw, why would anyone do this?) an convert it from one format to another).

Other sections woefully underserve some of the more interesting topics. e.g. the section on HTML5 canvas is minimal at best, and when it gets to doing animations on the canvas, the author just points to a the CAKE javascript library and says 'use this'. (In a later example in the book, the author actually does some animation in his own javascript, but doesn't explain his use of it, indicating that maybe he learned this along the way and it again points to the inconsistent editing?). Another example is the section on local storage, which is used in a code sample, but with no documentation on limits of size on storage, how it can/can't be used, how it might vary from one device implementation to the next, etc.

Finally, there are several places where rather than focusing on HTML5 exclusively, the author is cobbling together bits of Ajax, CSS, etc, and it's not clear to the reader what's coming from where.

I don't recommend the book. The next one I'm writing up is a better read. that review coming soon...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Game Dev Story: A Niche market is you!

Game Dev Story is a fun little iphone sim about running a games studio. I found a lot of developer friends talking about how enamored they are with it.

I found it ironic that I saw Facebook contacts raving about it the same day I saw an announcement that there are now 300,000 apps on the iTunes store.

At that point, iPhone devs constitute an interesting niche market, and selling them this game is kind of our industry's version of shovels-to-miners.

As an aside: Hey Apple! Pro-tip: When you have that number of apps, this is no longer a positive number for your marketing pitch. You are essentially telling devs the store is overcrowded, and your consumers that they may have trouble finding what they want. At this point "lots" will do as a tag line.

Why aspiring XBLA devs should buy Comic Jumper

Comic Jumper is a lot of fun. It's a testimony to it's quality that I'm playing it through to the end despite the fact that I normally am not a run-n-gun platformer fan.

Anyhow, developers thinking of doing console downloadable titles should consider it required reading for two reasons:

1) Because Twisted Pixel are just a great bunch of guys that everyone should support.

2) Because among the bonus materials unlocked during the game are videos and artwork that were used as part of the pitch material to land their deal with MS.

The quality of the pitch trailer and supporting materials are pretty high, especially considering that these guys had *already shipped* a title (The Maw) with XBLA before pitching the game. This should give aspiring XBLA devs an idea of the expected level of quality to compete for console vendor interest.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Book Review: The Fundamentals of Typography

As I've mentioned in a few recent posts, I've been spending some time thinking about e-readers, and reading up on things like typography and the ebook format. Anyhow, while the last typography book that I read was interesting, it wasn't the soup-to-nuts book on "all things typographical" I needed.

What I was looking for, as it turns out, was The Fundamentals of Typography, by Gavin Ambrose and Paul Harris.

This is a very wide-ranging look at type. The authors touch on everything from the history of written communication to adaptation of type to computer screens, from the structure of character sets to the layout of pages, etc. All of this presented in a way that is accessible, and not so deep as to overwhelm. To top it off, the book is beautifully laid out.

My only critique - and it's small given how nice the rest of the book is - is that their treatment of the subject of type on computer screens is very short. I'd have liked them to go into detail on TrueType fonts and how they are rasterized, how font hinting is done, issues with anti-aliasing, etc.

Apart from this one downside, this is an excellent primer for anyone to refresh/acquire a good working knowledge of typography.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Spry Fox releases game on Kindle!

Dave Edery's finally able to talk about one of his hush-hush projects: Games for the Kindle.

Their studio, Spry Fox, has released their first game for the Kindle, Triple Town, as part of what appears to be a very quiet soft launch of their game catalog for the device.

Dave's got a post up on the subject and how it fits his blue-ocean strategy that he's been talking about for a while.

Amazon certainly has a lot of catch up to do in getting an app store up, and they are heading into crowded territory as many devices are also getting app stores into play. Additionally, the Kindle seems somewhat hobbled as an interactive application platform (e-ink, UI, etc)

On the other hand, as David points out, Amazon has a large installed base of users with a propensity to spend money, and a trusted commercial relationship with those users. Those things alone certainly make those blue ocean waters look inviting.

If you are a Kindle owner, check out Triple Town.

Book Review: The Black Swan

While travelling this week I finished Nassim Teleb's The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, and I give it a rating of... well... so-so.

I do so not because it lacks any good ideas - this is not the case - but because of two things.

First, the author writes with such contempt for, well, most of humanity it would seem, and with such an arrogance, that I found myself wavering between being amused and being annoyed. At times it just distracted from the book's content.

Secondly, while the book's central premise is sound, and there are a few discussions about how it can be applied, it really is a 'one idea book'. As well, like many 'one idea' books (Chris Anderson's The Long Tail and Free come to mind), the author stretches the idea a bit too far and to too many areas. e.g. Why did MS beat Apple in the early days of the PC? luck certainly played a role but to say it's the ENTIRE reason is a bit of a stretch).

On the plus side, the idea is sound. The central premise is that people fall prey to two things:
(1) They under-estimate the risk of 'black swans' - unforeseen events that disprove models and rules governing a market or force us to reexamine fundamental assumptions, and (2) that when these events occur, they can be massively larger that we anticipate.

There are many illustrative examples in the book, and many more come to mind. Models of real estate prices prior to the recent downturn; understanding of what the phone market looked like before iPhone shipped (how many planners at Motorola had that plotted on their curves? Likely none!), etc.

The author doesn't suggest that because we can't plan/forecast that we then just throw our hands up and do nothing. Rather, he suggests that we always examine fundamental assumptions, understand that models are built on simplified models, and always attempt to quantify the risk if a black swan occurs.

As someone that does silicon requirements forecasting for a living I found the book to be both useful and disheartening. Disheartening in that I can think of so many occasions that our fundamental assumptions turn out to be wrong (by 'we' I mean the entire industry), but useful in that it's given me food for thought about how to account for the unknown. To ask not just "what should our plans be?", but ask "what's the worst case if they are wrong?"

So, if after reading my warnings earlier in this review, the book still sounds interesting, then give it a go. Once you sift past the ego and the contempt, there are some useful bits there.

(Note, several people commented that the author's prior book Fooled by Randomness, is better. I haven't yet read it, but thought I'd pass that along)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

KZero Virtual World dataporn

Raph points us to Kzero (a market research company looking at virtual worlds) and their awesome data visualization of the growth of virtual worlds. I'm a sucker for data porn, and this shows up the worlds split by age demographic, size, and launch date.

Would love to have this as a poster, but for now, here it is in pieces (note that some of these are from last year - guess you have to pay them to get the whole, er, pie.