From The Erbo Files
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 ministeri√∂) 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: " 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)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

  • Obama belts out "Sweet Home Chicago" with B.B. King, Mick Jagger, and Buddy Guy. I knew Jake and Elwood Blues. I liked Jake and Elwood Blues. I looked up to Jake and Elwood Blues. Barack Hussein Obama, you're no Jake and Elwood Blues.

  • Jamie Zawinski stuck a "Y2K bug" into his popular Dali Clock a prank. Hilarity ensues.

  • Remember those faster-than-light neutrinos CERN supposedly found? Yeah, not so much. It was a timing error caused by a faulty cable. There go all those science-fiction theories...

  • Speaking of things faster than light, Jeff reports that Jimi's Faster Than Light (known to his hoomans and friends as "Dash" ) is now a champion. Way to go, little fluffball! Now here's hoping he doesn't develop a 'tude like his packmate, Ch. Jimi's Admiral Nelson (aka "Aero" )...

  • Must read: Open Letter to Chris Dodd, from ESR. He shoots, he scores! (Bill Quick thinks that, if Dodd and his ilk are smart enough to read this at all, they'll respond by finding a way to co-opt enough technologists to circumvent ESR and those who stand with him. I doubt that's possible, though. Every man may have his price...but if the MAFIAA tries to co-opt me, for one, they'll find my price too high for them to pay...)

  • Another must read: Francis W. Porretto, the Curmudgeon Emeritus, with The Smoking Qur'an. Includes a lengthy fictional scenario in which a President with some balls responds to the deaths of two American soldiers at the hands of an Afghan soldier upset because of the burning of Qur'ans containing communications between extremist fighters. Stephen Graham Sumner should join the list of "ballsiest fictional American Presidents," right up there with James Marshall, as portrayed by Harrison Ford in Air Force One.

  • Somebody here loves that bag of Purina Cat Chow we got her. Maybe a little too much. I'll just let Sabrina tell the story.

  • Some thoughts on indie game development, from David Amador. At one time, I thought I was going to do something like this...I was writing games on my old TI-99/4A in high school. Somehow I don't think Rush Hour on Poway Road would go over very well, even on the Apple App Store or Android Market. Perhaps that's a dream best left by the wayside. (Via JavaLobby)

  • Latest claim from the Glowbull Wormening hysterics: Now it's going to cause humans to shrink, or some malarkey like that. Cue the voice of Peter Gabriel: "This is an announcement from Genetic Control, It is my sad duty to inform you of a four foot restriction on humanoid height..." (From the Genesis song "Get 'Em Out By Friday" )

  • Finnish software company Rovio has been milking its popular Angry Birds franchise for all it's worth; now reports that they're working on something else. They lead the article off saying, "At this point Finland is known largely for two things, Nokia and Angry Birds." I take exception to that...what about Nightwish? Or Linus Torvalds? Or kicking Soviet ass in the Winter War? Show some respect, Swedish dudes.

  • Yahoo has decided on a different tack to try and earn money, according to PandoDaily: it's served Facebook with knowledge that they may be infringing on a bunch of their patents. So, not only is Yahoo patent-trolling, they're biting the hand that feeds them; Yahoo News traffic has more than tripled since they rolled out their (annoying, IMHO) Facebook integration. Congratulations, new Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson! Your reputation is about to descend to Darl McBride levels.

  • If a bargain price for an E-reader and a crapton of E-books looks too good to be true, it is probably neither. (Via John Scalzi)

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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