Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Monday, July 9, 2012

Getting in Shape: C25K

I haven't done much exercise at all since my ill-fated attempt to run at lunchtime back in January. I recently heard about this training program called "C25K", or "Couch to 5K". It's a training program designed to get you from doing no physical activity whatsoever to running a 5K in nine weeks. It sounded interesting, and a few of my friends (Annie and Travis) had already heard of it or started it. There's also a subreddit for it, so I figured I had some support.

I had put off starting the program because I knew that if I put too much stuff on my plate, I could get burned out. I finally cast that burden off and did the run Sunday morning (using a nifty Android app called RunDouble). It felt good; I never felt overly extended, but I was definitely tired and sore at the end.

The best reward was using the garden hose on my head. Feeling that cold well water hit my hot head was such a rush! Highly recommended.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Belated Gaemzcast Annoucements

So I forgot to announce a few podcasts here. So here they are:

Gaemzcast Episode 4: http://gaemz.net/podcast/gaemzcast-may-28th-2012/
Gaemzcast Episode 5: http://gaemz.net/podcast/gaemzcast-june-1st-2012/

We're recording episode 6 tonight, and we have a lot to discuss (e.g. ALL OF E3).

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Gaemzcast: Episode 3 is live!

You can listen to it here: http://gaemz.net/podcast/?p=episode&name=2012-05-22_03.mp3

Sorry it's a few days late. Blame me, my schedule was messed up.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Mass Effect 3 Ending, and Why I Liked It

If you are a gamer, or a friends of a gamer (unless you've been living under a rock), you've heard about the uproar about the Mass Effect 3 ending. If not, read the brief summary below (spoiler warning: if you've not played any of the Mass Effect games, do not read any further). I'm a little late to the game here, but it took me a while to gather my thoughts about this.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Gaemzcast: New Podcast

We did it again! Gaemzcast #2 is live: http://gaemz.net/podcast/?p=episode&name=2012-05-14_2012-05-14.mp3

We intend for this to be a weekly podcast published on Sundays or Mondays (I'd love for you to be able to listen to it on your way to work Monday morning). We're still working out the audio-editing kinks, but we'll get the process slammed soon.

Quick Hit: This is Why I Love Twitter

I mean, seriously. Where else can you find an interaction like this online?

Tweet links:

Monday, May 7, 2012

New Podcast Up

I hosted a podcast with my e-migos Joe, Ryan, and Milton this weekend. You can check it out here.

Not much more to say. We've been trying to arrange a steady podcast for a while. With my classes finally being over, I offered to host the podcast and edit the audio. Of course, my final assignment got in the way of me editing the audio, but Joe stepped up and did the editing. 

So download it, listen to it on the train or at the gym. It's not half bad.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Digital Rights And You

I got a Kindle for Christmas in 2010 from my parents. I was a little torn at first, even though I had asked for one. I am a big-time book reader, but I wasn't sure I was ready for the transition to e-books. However, I was converted very quickly the first time I used the text search to find a passage I wanted to reference. Having my entire digital library in my Kindle (and on my phone and my laptop) is pretty amazing. I was really excited when my grad school told me I could get most of my textbooks in e-book form. I still buy paper books when I like a book enough; I'll buy the nice hardcover edition so it lasts a long time.

However, the honeymoon ended when I finished reading my first novel on the Kindle and decided to lend it to a friend, like I often do with good books when I'm done with them. Except the Kindle doesn't allow lending*. Unlike the first-sale doctrine for physical media, consumer have few rights with digital media:
Digital music downloads (just like movies and TV shows and books) come with a completely different, much more limited set of rights. If you buy a digital album from an online service such as the iTunes store, Amazon MP3, or eMusic, you have no legal right to lend that album to a friend, as you could if you had purchased a CD. If you decide after a few listens that you hate the album, well, tough. You can’t resell it. You can’t even legally give it away. 

--Ed Bott, ZD Net
* Technically, you can lend books you bought licensed from the Kindle store. But you can only lend them out once, for 14 days, and the publisher has to explicitly allow lending. Of the 42 books I have bought or received as gifts, only 3 of them are lend-enabled. 

For lack of a better term, that sucks. When I imagined the transition to a digital world, I always assumed the technology would be available to track who owns what but also to allow us to transfer ownership of content.  And it seems that Amazon has that technology already with their Kindle Library and the limited lending it supports. So if it's not the technology, what is the problem?

It's the publishers.

You've heard of the phrase "Innovate or die"? Well, the publishers are living by "Litigate or die". When a business model enters the decline phase, a company has a few possible options. It can innovate, move into a different business, or wind down and eventually cease to exist. Or it can litigate the crap out of the new business that is replacing it.
From "Darwin and the Demon", HBS, July 2004, Geoffrey Moore

Let me be clear; books are not dying. E-book readers have yet to be able to capture the look and feel that paper books are able to present. But mass-market paperback books, those $7.99 books whose pages yellow after a few weeks, might be dying, and that scares the publishers. Of all the books I've read recently, I've only decided to get the print edition for two of them (slide:ology and Anathem, though I bought the e-book of Anathem first, then decided to get the hardcover for posterity). That means that I am not acquiring roughly 80% of my books in e-book form.

This is a major shift, and it scares the publishers. After all, what's to stop someone like Janet Evanovich from making her own ebooks and cutting out the publisher completely? The only thing right now stopping her and other authors from doing that is the publishing agreement that publishers require authors to sign to actually publish the book. What happens when the next Suzanne Collins comes along and sells their book entirely through Lulu.com?

I don't know what the answer is, but I know that the present state of e-books has some major flaws, and I hesitate to recommend to anyone to move full force to e-books.

Of course, as I've been chewing on this post for a few week, Jeff Atwood comes along and writes one of his brilliant posts on e-books, covering a lot of what I covered. His post is a great read, highly recommended. 

And then this big DOJ lawsuit hit the waves too after I wrote this post. Damn my insistence on posting on Monday mornings. Still, the lawsuit backs me up. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

How to Fix Call of Duty, Part 2: What Can We Do?

In Part One, I talked about how Activision/Infinity Ward/Treyarch (from now on, collectively referred to as "the publisher") should utilize bungee balancing for short-term balance fixes while also spending the time and money to make a long-term commitment to the CoD community. In this, part 2, I'm going to tell you what you can do as a player to help fix Call of Duty.

Maybe you've heard the term "dollar votes" before?
The dollar vote is a concept economists use to describe how, in a market economy, consumers effectively vote for products—as well as how those products are produced, transported, marketed and sold—by spending their dollars. Through our “consumer sovereignty” we have the power to make our preferences known, one dollar vote at a time.
Every time you buy a CoD game, you are explicitly endorsing the publisher's business model. It doesn't matter if you boycott buying the game on release day, or you wait one month after release to buy the DLC*. They get the money. The publisher is always thinking about the money, especially for publicly traded companies (EA, Activision Blizzard, Capcom, Square Enix, Take-Two, Microsoft, and Ubisoft are all public companies).

* It does marginally matter if you wait to buy the game, but not enough to actually make a difference. 

The only way you are reasonably going to get to companies is to hit them where it hurts: the balance sheet. And there's only one way to do that.

Don't buy the game (new*).

* Buying the game used usually doesn't give the publisher any money, so you can buy it used without helping the publisher. Of course, for you to buy it used, someone has to buy it new, so you're still supporting the system... sort of. If you can't live without the game, then buy it used.

Unless, of course, you need an online pass or other code to make the game work for you. Then the rule still applies: don't buy it.

You may be asking, "But Ed, MW3 sold eighty bajillion copies in the first minute of sales. How can one person not buying a game make a difference?" And you're right; if only one fewer person buys a game, the publisher won't notice. But you can't use that excuse to justify buying the game in spite of your own protests. It's a concept similar to Kant's categorical imperative:
A moral maxim must have universality, which is to say that it must be disconnected from the particular physical details surrounding the proposition, and could be applied to any rational being. This leads to the first formulation of the categorical imperative: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction."
In short, this means that you can only justify your actions if, were everyone were to do the same thing, you'd be cool with the outcome. The classic example is stealing: you may steal something because you think only stealing one thing isn't going to hurt anyone. But if everyone was OK with stealing, then everyone would steal, and property as we know it wouldn't exist.

Applied to games like Call of Duty, if you think there is a problem with the game, you have to not buy the game, period.

Now, I don't really think we (meaning myself and the people who I think might read this blog) are going to convince the millions of 12-year-olds to not buy the next Call of Duty. But it's entirely possible that, if the demographic of CoD gamers became increasingly underage gamers, Activision would be forced to change. Additionally, if you don't buy CoD, you might buy something else, like Medal of Honor, Nexuiz, Battlefield, Bioshock, Metro 2033/Last Light, or Quake. And you'd support that game, rising it up. And maybe, just maybe, things might change for the CoD titan.

Addendum: Since I started writing this post, Mass Effect 3 was released. And gamers played it and beat it. And complained about the ending. Loudly. And Bioware/EA looks to be actually changing their tune about the ending, possibly changing it. Nothing is certain yet, and The Consumerist summed it up well:
What is for certain is if BioWare and EA truly want the entire gaming world to hate them, they will create satisfying endings — and then charge a pile of cash to download it.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Please Send Me Your Updated Contact Information

I started seeing a chiropractor recently. When I created the contact for them in my Google account, I opened the chiropractor's website and entered in all the data I could find: phone, fax, address, website, email, company name, anything I could find. Then, three weeks later, I had to update the address in my contacts because they relocated. And that was annoying!

I have 785 contacts in my Google account. On a cursory glance at the first 20, at least 5 of them were either entirely out-of-date, contained inaccurate or old information, or were for people I don't even recall adding. The data in those contacts wasn't always stale and incorrect, but people change phone numbers, employers, addresses, and emails.

As I was fixing the chiropractor's contact details, a thought came to mind. I am making a duplicate copy of the chiropractor's contact details. The original is with the chiropractor themselves. My programmer brain said to me, "Why don't you just link to the existing data rather than create your own copy? It's just reference data." Just at that moment, I attempted to log into Stackoverflow and was redirected to the Google 3rd-party authentication page. And I realized, "This is it." Use something like OAuth, but for contacts. Let me subscribe to a person's contact details. They can manage that with whatever site they want. Facebook and Google+ offer this sort of management with lists and circles, respectively. But don't make me use these sites. Make it an open protocol that any site can implement. Then I can just put in an email address and BOOM I am subscribed (the domain of the email can be the key for what site to check).

I suppose that Google+ and Facebook are sort of trying to do this. If you friend someone on Facebook, and if that person keeps their contact details up-to-date on Facebook, and you use some service to connect Facebook to your contact list (Android offers this natively, I assume iOS and WP7 have similar tools), you can approximate the behavior I'm looking for. But it's kind of a hack; specific APIs and whatnot.

webfinger is much closer to what I'm thinking about, but it lacks the privacy controls natively (as far as I can tell). Also, it's probably too neckbeard for widespread adoption.

Really, this is a pet peeve of mine more than a serious issue. But the technology exists to make contact management really simple. Let's do it.

I have no fun images or quotes for this post. I apologize. Here is a funny image I made to describe to my boss what the future looks like:

Monday, February 27, 2012

Upcoming on IPROD

No post this week; I was working all weekend on a production deployment. But here's a heads up on what I plan to publish in the near future:

  • My thoughts on Google Contacts and managing digital contacts in general
  • How to Fix Call of Duty: Part 2
  • Musings on digital rights and the future
  • Ebooks and me
  • A look at loss from the perspective of books and media
I'll just add this as the only original content for today: make checklists for everything. If I had made an accurate checklist for this production deployment, then you might have been reading a real blog post right now.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Not a Book Review: Hunger Games

I just finished reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (at the recommendation of i3ears). This book filled me with that rare combination of delight and rage. Let's start with the delight.

N.B. This post is has some spoilers, so I'm putting the rest of this post below the fold. You have been warned.

Monday, February 13, 2012

How to Fix Call of Duty, Part 1: What Can They Do

I have been a Call of Duty (CoD) fan since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (CoD4), the game that somewhat revolutionized the way first-person shooters were played (things like killstreaks, perks, weapon attachments). I've dutifully bought every CoD game on release day since then. I even preordered MW3's "Hardened" edition (and I hate preordering games). So I can rightfully say that I'm a CoD fan.

The gaming community is pretty torn about CoD. Hardcore gamers swear that CoD caters to noobs too much. CoD gamers say that competing titles are too slow or complicated... or they don't say anything at all, as CoD is pretty much the FPS king at the moment. But there are always people arguing about CoD; it's a very polarizing franchise. CoD can even be polarizing to a single person; I am torn about MW3 and the future of the franchise.

CoD's publisher, Activision, and primary developers, Infinity Ward (IW) and Treyarch, have continued to innovate on with each new CoD game. World at War added Zombies mode and co-op play; Modern Warfare 2 added customizable killstreaks, pro perks, and spec ops; Black Ops added CoD points, wager matches, theater mode, and improved scoreboards. Each game also came with new or updated weapons and game modes. None of these updates substantially changed the game in the same way CoD4 did, but this incremental innovation* was welcomed by most gamers. The latest edition of CoD, Modern Warfare 3 (MW3), also brought some innovation in the form of new game modes, "pointstreaks" improvements ,and Survival mode.

* A primer on incremental innovation vs. radical innovation, from the excellent book Making Innovation Work by Davila, Epstein, and Shelton:
Incremental innovation leads to small improvements to existing products and business processes. It can be thought of as an exercise in problem-solving where the goal is clear but how to get there needs to be solved. At the opposite end, radical innovation results in new products or services delivered in entirely new ways. It can be thought of as an exercise in exploration where there might be something relevant in a particular direction but what will be found is unknown. 
However, what really has bothered many of us CoD gamers is that each new CoD title brought with it a substantial set of negatives along with the innovations. World at War had severe balancing issues, MW2 had hackers and its own balance problems, Black Ops had terrible lag/network and balance issues, and now MW3 suffers from challenging spawns, lag/network issues, and, again, balance issues. Why can't each version of the game be better and stronger than the last? Why does each title have to take two steps forward and two steps back at the same time? It's gotten to the point where people still play older versions of CoD because they can't stand the newer versions*. In fact, Black Ops, MW2, and CoD4 all appear regularly on the top 20 weekly Xbox Live titles list.

* Check out i3ears' "BEAR to COMMANDER" series for proof (and some laughs too). 

But that last point underscores why Activision, IW, and Treyarch don't care to fix these problems: Call of Duty sells like wildfire. MW3 sold 9 million copies in it's first MONTH of availability, and that doesn't even count the additional revenue they will get with DLC*. Why should they spend any time fixing problems when they can just work on the next CoD title or DLC pack.

* DLC is a blog post for another day, my friends.

My problem with this way of thinking is that Activision/IW/Treyarch can have their cake and eat it too if they are willing to make a longer-term investment in the game and community. I'm thinking of the model known as "bungee balancing" (think bungee cords; not at all related with the developer Bungie). Let's say, oh, I don't know, akimbo FMG9's are overpowered in MW3*. To find the "optimum" configuration, IW should make a drastic change that dramatically weakens the akimbo FMG9's and then monitor the overall weapon performance. Are they too weak now? Strengthen them. In this way, IW can zero in on the optimum configuration. (If you're familiar with algorithms, you should notice that bungee balancing is like a binary search.) IW could bungee balance spawn logic as well (using heatmaps as the data).

* They should be able to easily see what guns are overpowered by comparing relative weapon performance. Say players in general are at 0.9K/D player in general but a 2.0K/D player with akimbo FMG9's. That would be a clear example that akimbo FMG9's are overpowered. 

Now, I get that the lag/network issues can't just be easily worked out in this fashion, as they are much harder to test and verify. I have no easy answer for these issues, other than to say that Activision/IW/Treyarch should spend the time and money necessary to fix these issues in the next CoD title, as lag issues tend to drive gamers nuts.

We still have the question of why Activition/IW/Treyarch should care*. This sort of work isn't cheap. IW would have to have a powerful set of statistics collections and tools to manage this data. It requires a lot of effort from Robert Bowling (IW's creative strategist) and his team to identify problems and propose and implement solutions. Every update would require a full testing cycle (and title updates would require certification as well). We're talking about a lot of changes and a lot of money. Why would Activision want to seemingly waste money on this sort of work while they sell hojillions of copies?

* I don't give any credence to the conspiracy theories that Activision ensures that every CoD title has unfixed issues in order to convince gamers to buy the next CoD title. 

The answer is the long term. Sure, MW3 (essentially, CoD8) broke all previous sales records for a game, so it looks like the series is going nowhere but up. However, if you look past the sales figures, you see a lot of "CoD Fatigue" out there. Long-time CoD fans, such as myself, are starting to tire of the series. Now, for the next 10 months, Activision doesn't care about me. I bought MW3 and CoD:Elite, so they already have all the money they can get from me for MW3. But is Activision really only looking forward one year? That's not a model for long-term sustainability if you ask me.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Something Something 2012

I once made a statement that I didn't believe in New Years' Resolutions. I still don't; why pick an arbitrary point on the space-time continuum to make new rules about your life? But I can't deny that the start of a new year does provide a semantically convenient context to take stock of one's life. And so I decided to make some new rules for myself (not resolutions!) to follow in 2012.

But, I heard on NPR (I can't seem to find the link to the story, sorry) an interview with a psychologist on the topic of New Years' Resolutions. One of the main takeaways was that telling people your resolutions actually reduces your chances on completing them. This idea is counter-intuitive to me; I always felt that by telling people my goals, I was adding their expectations of me to my internal motivation*. But the interviewee stated that by telling people your goals, you actually alleviate some of the need you have to actually complete the goal; you've already shown that you're a good person with goals.

* Of course, if you are a reader of Joel Spolsky's work, you'll be aware of his ideas (not sure if they are originally his, but I learned them from him) on internal vs. external motivation. He posits that you can't really "add" external motivation to internal motivation. The external replaces the internal. So I was doing it wrong, anyway.

I made three new "rules" for myself for 2012, but I can't tell you what they are. But I will give you a hint.

7. 3. 30. *

That's all you'll get. Enjoy 2012!

* The numbers, Mason! What do they mean?!
All rights reserved. Take that!