From The Erbo Files
Monday, April 23, 2012


  • Stephen T. Gordon: In the future, everything will be a coffee shop. A compelling point, since you can't download or order online a gathering place, or a grande cafe mocha with one or two pumps of vanilla (my Starbucks poison-of-choice). Via Glenn Reynolds.

  • One startup company, 4ormat, saved over $100,000 in its development efforts by refusing to support Micro$oft Internet Asploder. Boy, I wish IQNavigator could do the same thing...as it is, I think we've only recently deprecated support for IE6. (But then again, many of our customers are stuck with browsers that old, more's the pity.)

  • From Lexxi: A video of dubstep violinist Lindsey Stirling. The music has a funky, half-Eurodance, half-New Age feel to it, and Ms. Stirling is a fair dancer in addition to a decent violinist. Filmed at an ice castle in Silverthorne, Colorado, that looks very Scandinavian; I thought it was Finland or Iceland or some country like that. Okay, so it's not metal...but it's still good. :-)

  • The RNC produces an absolute gem of a video, using Barack Hussein Obama's own words to show why he must not be re-elected. I say, "More, please, and faster!" Unfortunately, the RINO-NC will probably cave and refrain from producing any more such videos, lest the New York Times starts calling them "not helpful."

  • Former EMinder Crizz sent me a link to some handheld technology that looks straight out of Star Trek: an X-ray scanner you can hold in your hand. Maybe the inventors of this technology should get together with these guys...a real tricorder could be just around the corner...

  • And speaking of science-fiction stuff, check out this idea for a LEGO® model of one of EVE Online's most iconic spaceships, the Minmatar Rifter-class frigate (what I refer to as "The Official Ship of Gettin' Yo' Ass in Trouble" :-D ). CCP is on board with the idea, so go like it...who knows, the LEGO® people might just release the model!

  • If you're a Ford owner (like I am now), these sites might be of interest: this one will decode all the characters in your VIN and tell you what they all mean, and this one will take your VIN and show you what your actual factory window sticker looked like.

  • Three words: Angry Birds bra. Sabrina wouldn't wear one, but they don't come in her size anyway. (Via Valorna Edgeworth on Facebook.)

  • At IQNavigator, we do a major release of FrontOffice (our hosted solution software) about once a month. Facebook does releases far more frequently than that, and to a much larger audience. How they do it is a tangled tale involving custom PHP compilers, BitTorrent, IRC, good old-fashioned dogfooding, and perhaps the only actual Facebook "Dislike" button in existence. And a fair amount of ethanol to act as a social lubricant...

  • Meanwhile, Facebook's 140-character competitors at Twitter have released some of the enhancements they've made to MySQL for their needs. This isn't the first bit of open source Twitter has released; their Bootstrap CSS/JavaScript framework, which underpins the Erbosoft Web site itself, is very good. (Via several sources, including Bryan Glenn at IQNavigator.)

  • Want to hear what the live music in the world's coolest Nordstrom would sound like? Watch Camille and Kennerly, the Harp Twins, bring modern music to life on their instruments. Their performance of "Stairway to Heaven" is to die for. (They are also third degree black belts in Tae Kwon Do, and "Distinguished Experts" in rifle marksmanship. Don't f**k with these ladies! :-D )

  • From my fellow IQNavigator developer Ben Messer: A complete emulation of the Atari 2600 game console, written in Java. Of course, that's no strain on modern computers (the original 2600 had a 1.19 MHz 6507 processor and 128 bytes--not megabytes or even kilobytes, bytes--of RAM), but it kicked off an interesting discussion of how far gaming technology has come since the late 70's/early 80's.  Also, coworker Nick Hill is working on beating Billy Mitchell's high score. :-)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


  • Seems that Facebook has been claiming that people's friends are playing games they're not actually playing. I've noticed this issue first-hand. Sabrina asked me why I was playing a specific game on Facebook; I checked, and I had blocked that game entirely. (I block most games on Facebook routinely. It's nothing personal.) I put it down to Facebook having more bugs than a bait store...but guys, you might just want to slip a user story into your next iteration for this.

  • More innovation from the Finns: they have an "Open Ministry" (Avoin ministeriö) Web site launching soon where anyone can propose a new law or initiative, and, if it's popular enough, the Parliament has to take it up. You'd expect this sort of thing in Finland, where Internet access is practically a way of life; in some respects, this is one of those "Oh, they're only doing this now?" moments.

  • And, while I was over on the Helsingin Sanomat Web site, I spotted the news item that Tarja Halonen has stepped down as President of Finland, ending a 12-year term. In the United States, Halonen is most noted for her resemblance to talk-show host Conan O'Brien; Conan has created political ads for her (getting mention on US news channels!) and even traveled to Finland (report in Finnish, from MTV3). I think everybody got a good laugh out of that. In the meantime, Halonen's record as President has been exemplary; I trust she will enjoy a well-deserved retirement.

  • For some perspective on why Finland is so awesome, this piece by Chris Byrne is a good overview. The cartoon is priceless, as is this advice: "Never drink with a Finn, unless you feel like getting in a friendly knife fight. No seriously, there will be a knife fight, or at the very least a rock or iceball fight, but it will be friendly. You'll only be cut up a little bit and then everyone will go back and drink some more...Unless you're a Russian in which case you'll end up wearing your testicles as earrings."

  • Why does everyone hate jury duty? Professor Bainbridge offers up a laundry list of reasons. Via Glenn Reynolds, who adds "I think it's a matter of respect, ultimately. The jury is supposed to be coequal with the judge, but they treat you like cattle instead." Ask Sabrina what she thinks about jury duty...and better not have anything else scheduled for awhile; a rant like hers takes time to fully appreciate.

  • Research is being conducted into the use of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to improve learning; if this writer's report is to be believed, what it does is help silence all those inner voices of self-doubt and let you get on with the business of learning. "What would a world look like in which we all wore little tDCS headbands that would keep us in a primed, confident state, free of all doubts and fears? Wouldn't you wear the shit out of that cap?" I think we all would. (Via JWZ, who refers to it as a "tasp." Slightly incorrect terminology, though; a Niven tasp stimulates the brain's pleasure centers wirelessly, from a distance. A closer term might be "droud," which is the device that wireheads use that regulates the current into their brains, also from Niven's work.)

  • Jon Evans, posting on TechCrunch, takes the knife to one of Extreme Programming's sacred cows: "Pair Programming Considered Harmful?" Some shops, like Pivotal Labs, live and breathe pair programming (as I learned at their session at Mile High Agile 2011); they likely won't think much of this article. However, the article suggests that developers are more productive when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption; Joel Spolsky and Fog Creek Software would agree heartily with this assessment. A mixture of both approaches is what Evans advocates; at IQNavigator, we kind of do this, employing pairing when it makes sense to do so and working solo when it doesn't. (The fact that our workstations are actually laptops, which can be undocked and taken elsewhere at need, helps facilitate this.)

  • Six words: "So...it has come to this."

  • Warning: Do not watch this video without having taken your blood pressure medicine first, and secure all firearms and heavy objects near the computer before playing. I'll just say this: "Nuke 'em till they glow, and shoot 'em in the dark. With bullets dipped in pig fat." (Via LCBrendan at Misha's place)

  • Here in Denver, we have a local traffic reporter named--I am not making this up, as Dave Barry says--"Amelia Earhart." And yes, she is a relative of the famous aviatrix. And she's a pilot herself, training to do what her famous relative attempted: fly around the world, in her Cirrus SR-22T. Here's her blog about the effort. Clear skies to you, ma'am!

  • Astrophysicist Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson was asked what the most astounding fact was that he could share about the Universe. In this video, he gives his answer: That the atoms of our bodies were once part of stars themselves, that while we are in the universe, the universe is also inside us. Of course, as a Babylon 5 fan, I already knew this: "I will tell you a great secret, Captain. Perhaps the greatest of all time. The molecules of your body are the same molecules that make up this station, and the nebula outside, that burn inside the stars themselves. We are starstuff, we are the universe, made manifest, trying to figure itself out." (Ambassador Delenn, episode "A Distant Star," season 2)

Monday, February 20, 2012


  • Apparently, not only has Google figured out how to bypass security settings in Safari, they've been able to do it in IE as well. Micro$oft has countered by publishing a "Tracking Protection List" that blocks all Google embeds. At least, in Internet Asploder. I'm inclined to respond by saying that anyone who's still using Internet Asploder deserves what they get...and, as a Chrome user, I'm not particularly worried.

  • Interesting factoid from ZeroHedge: by being perceived as hostile towards gun owners, President Obama has helped the firearms industry tremendously by driving record sales of guns and ammo. I'd almost be inclined to think Obama was pulling a Xanatos Gambit and is ready to claim credit for the "stimulus" to the gun industry...but he's probably not that smart.

  • A lengthy but informative piece here on the art of salary negotiation. Via Chris Byrne, who offers some pointers of his own to supplement that article. Sad but true fact: "We [engineers] overwhelmingly suck at it. We have turned sucking at it into a perverse badge of virtue." Sigh...he's right, especially since my own philosophy is closer to "Be thankful you have a job, shut up and do as you're told."

  • Valorna Edgeworth from Second Life and EVE pointed me to the things MakerBot Industries is doing. I'd read about some of their stuff on TechCrunch, this, for instance. This sort of technology will just become more pervasive; what happens, for instance, when it becomes affordable to have your own CNC milling machine in your garage? It almost is, now, if you buy a used one you can adapt to control via a standard PC...

  • And speaking of disruptive technologies, how about a DNA sequencer the size of a USB key? Expensive now, but just wait. The future is now, folks.

  • This Android tablet is available for $139 for a 7-inch model or $250 for a 10-inch model, runs ICS, does not have any bootloader locks or other obstructions, and comes with optional source code disk. Might be worth getting to hack around with. (Via TC)

  • If you haven't followed Ken White's "Anatomy of A Scam" at Popehat, it's worth a read. It's almost a HOWTO for investigating and reporting scammers, using Google, PACER, and court records searches. Suffice to say, the principal scammers in this tale look like they're in a world of hurt...

  • PandoDaily: Stop Trying to Make F-Commerce Happen. Seriously? "F-commerce" meaning "commerce via Facebook"? That's as bad as "m-commerce" meaning "commerce via mobile," maybe more so. Whoever thought to call it "F-commerce" should be F-slapped around. (FuckedCompany.com: Never forget!)

  • CBS, which now owns Paramount, is putting Star Trek: The Next Generation out on Blu-ray starting this year with Season 1. I just got the "teaser" disc with three restored episodes, and boy, do they look beautiful. Any TNG fan should have it, particularly as one of the remastered episodes is "The Inner Light" from Season 5, universally acknowledged as being one of the best TNG episodes ever, and one of four Star Trek episodes to win a Hugo. The only drawback is, the episodes were all filmed in 4:3 for the TV sets of the day, and so appear pillarboxed on a modern HD set. (JMS was thinking ahead when he filmed Babylon 5 in widescreen...)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

farmville.jpgAnyone who's friended me on Facebook knows that sending me a request from inside one of the many games that are offered on that platform generally results in that request disappearing into a black hole...usually because I've blocked that game, or, if I hadn't previously blocked it, it's damned well blocked now. I've put up a note on there to the effect that "it's nothing personal," I just don't care to partake in what I've referred to in conversation with Sabrina as "those wanky-wank Facebook games."  I have to tell you, I was mightily disappointed when I saw Google+ start to offer games, too; there went my hopes of a games-free social networking haven...


And yet a lot of people play those games; so many so, in fact, that Zynga, one of the biggest makers of Facebook games (even if they just steal most of their ideas from competitors) was able to pull off a gigabuck IPO on the strength of their revenue from these games. (Their stock price took a nosedive initially, but, according to the charts, has been steadily appreciating recently.) Facebook, seeking a huge IPO of its own just months from now, in turn, depends on Zynga for a bunch of their revenue...and other game makers contribute their share, too.  Heck, for awhile there, Sabrina was pumping money left and right into games like Farmville and Frontierville; it was all the begging she did for me to get her more prepaid game cards, in fact, that finally made me just get her a prepaid debit card from Walmart into which I load more money each time I get paid.


Obviously, these games appeal to a lot of people, to the point where they could be considered addictive, as one of Cracked's famous "list" articles will tell you.  And they pretty much all have a "premium" currency that you can only get by paying real money (such as "FarmCash" in the case of Farmville), which you can use to get all kinds of goodies that aren't available any other way, or "short-circuit" some quest or task and get to the rewards faster (TV Tropes calls the latter "Bribing Your Way To Victory";).  And here's where I start doing one of two things:




  1. Start singing (to the tune of a famous French folk song), "Monetization, all across the nation, monetization, let's all make some cash!"

  2. Go "Damn! Why didn't I think of this shit? I coulda made a fortune!"


Because these games really aren't all that complicated, when you come down to it.  (Mostly they're written in Flash, with some server-side components somewhere.)  Ian Bogost proved that when he created the Facebook game Cow Clicker, purely to spoof the Zyngas of the world.  The game was so friggin' stupid as to make Farmville look like EVE Online by comparison...and yet it garnered fifty thousand users and actually earned money.  There's a moral to be drawn from this story... (Hint: What did P.T. Barnum say was "born every minute"?)



wizard-101-elements.jpgSabrina's latest game addiction, Wizard 101, is kind of like what would happen if Blizzard and Zynga had a one-night stand and wound up getting pregnant with a "kid-friendly" MMORPG.  The game uses a lot of the standard World of Warcraft-style tropes, and it purports to be the story of a young wizard in a magical academy (yeah, stop me if you've heard this before). The combat system involves playing "spell cards" like a simplified version of Magic: The Gathering, and there's a crafting system, and pets, and quests (both the "FedEx" type and the "kill ten rats" type).  But where it gets all Zynga-like is the fact that there's, you guessed it, a "premium" currency, "crowns" as they're called, which is only purchasable with real cash and is the only way to get certain things like henchmen to help you win battles.  (This is on top of the monthly subscription fee you pay to get into any areas of the game beyond the initial one, even though the game is allegedly free-to-play.) And, boy, does Sabrina bite...not only blowing much of her biweekly money allotment on crowns, but begging me to get her their prepaid cards (some of which come with bonus goodies).  Since the game's publisher, KingsIsle Entertainment, is privately held, I have no idea what their financials look like, but they claim 20 million registrations and 12 million unique visitors per month, so I gotta think they're doing pretty well.


And now the "Zyngaization" meme is starting to affect even other established MMOs; a case in point is EVE Online, with its "Noble Exchange" and its new premium currency (Aurum), that has generated plenty of backlash from the player base but also has to be earning CCP at least some money.  I wouldn't put it past, say, Blizzard to do much the same thing, if not in WoW itself, then maybe in Diablo III when it comes out.  Like it or not, game companies are scrambling to make money, and if they think this will help, then they'll roll it out without a second thought.


Just try to keep the presence of mind to block it out once in a while. 

 
 
Copyright © 2012 Eric J. Bowersox, All Rights Reserved.
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