June 2007 Archives

AX2007: This is NOT the line for the iPhone

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This is the line for those that didn't pre-register. This is shot from a parking lot that ends at E Shoreline Drive. (more than 3 1/2 blocks away from the convention center entrance.


The photo above shows the line for those that did pre-register.

Now, what you have here is a complete breakdown of the system. What should have happened is that a lot of people *should* have gotten their registeration badges in the mail. They sent them out late, and while I had thought that my badge was one of the oddly late sent badges, apparently lots of people did not receive their badges, and you have a line of pre-regs that stretches all the way from Pine to Beach Blvd 2 and a half blocks). These are not short blocks, but long useless Long Beach blocks. From the back of the pre-reg line to the front of the pre-reg line took 2 hours. Quite disgusting it was.

That's not the worst part, however. The Long Beach Convention Center is big, yes. It can accomodate 10,000 people in their arena for concerts and other events, but it is far too spread out to be a good convention hall. Hopefully next year, they can move it back to Anaheim.

This, along with other photographs can be see this Anime Expo 2007 set

links for 2007-06-30


links for 2007-06-29


Looking for the iPhone?


Apple has a new page up called the iPhone retail availability tracker, in which the status of iPhones at the Apple stores is updated (on a overnight basis). Right now they're showing all green, but I expect by tomorrow evening, a lot of those green dots are going to be red.

Seeing such systems in place makes me believe that this launch is going to be huge beyond expectations, but that they wouldn't put such a system in place if they didn't expect to sell out.

Fun at the Game Store


What happens when two old veterans of game design at a game conference in Bloomington, Indiana go into a local game shop? (as told by Richard Bartle):

    Lad: You play World of Warcraft?

    Randy: Well, I have a level 65, but I've never been to MC as I'm not in a raid guild.

    Me: I've pugged it a few times. I have three 70s, a 60 and a 20-something.

    Lad: I have two 70s. Hey, I think it's really great that people of all ages play WoW.

    Me: Well, we have been playing this kind of game for a while...

    (Randy glances at me with an "are you going to do it?" look).

    Me: What was World of Warcraft based on? What game did the developers look at and think, "we can do that, only better"?

    Lad: Er, was it called EverQuest?

    Me: That's right. Do you know what EverQuest was based on?

    Lad: No, but I think there was some guy at IU who gave a talk...

    Me: EverQuest was based on DikuMUD, which was a textual world developed at the Datalogisk Institut Kobenhavns Universitet in Denmark. DikuMUD was based on AberMUD, written at the University of Wales at Aberystwyth. AberMUD was based on MUD, written at the University of Essex in England. MUD wasn't based on anything. I co-wrote it.

    Lad: You wrote it?

    Me: The first graphical virtual world was Habitat, written in 1985 by -- who wrote Habitat, Randy?

    Randy: Randy Farmer and Chip Morningstar.

    Me: We've been writing and playing these games since before you were born.

iPhone: A Short History of Lines


With the dawn of the new age of cellphones approaching in less than 2 days, I started thinking about technology, and how human anticipation of new technology has occurred.

This whole phenomenon of people camping overnight for a new product is something rather recent. Sure, we all know about the crazy Star Wars and Lord of the Rings fans who pitch tents and forsake creature comforts to buy tickets for first day showings, but that's entertainment, and people have been lining up for entertainment for centuries.

What happens on Friday, however is not the opening of a new movie or amusement park, but the release of the iPhone, a highly anticipated cellphone from Apple. Apple in the past has made the products available as soon the announcement is made. The iPhone has had a severely different play from all of Apple's other current products -- the release date of the iPhone was known weeks in advance, and as a result, people have already started lining up in order to be the first to lay ownership of the iPhone. People don't line up for new iPods, MacBooks, AppleTV or any other Apple branded products, but for some reason, people feel inclined to line up for the iPod cellphone.

To step things back a little bit, the last couple of camping lines for electronics has mostly been in the field of video game systems. People just don't do midnight sales or anticipate the release of a new DVD player or vacuum cleaner the same way people seem to be willing to wait for the latest video game system. The Wii had campers. The PS3 had campers as well, which was highly televised, with some people waiting out for days. The Xbox360 also had campers (and a slew of price gouging by big retailers), but we didn't have campers for the previous generation of game systems. PS2, GameCube and XBox were all readily available on their release date, and while all three sold out, they didn't involve camping. Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, Genesis, Saturn, Dreamcast, not one of these required the average person to camp to receive one on launch day. You walked into a store, asked if they had it and purchased it if they did. In most cases, one went to Fry's or Toys 'R' Us where their floor was littered with shipping palettes of the systems. So I'd say that this whole lifestyle of camping for consumer electronics started back in November of 2005 with the launch of the XBox360.

The reason for the camping of the XBox360 had to do with the timing; Christmas shopping season was about to start, and with known shortages of the new system, people were desperate to obtain one. Nintendo and Sony's newest game systems wouldn't release for another year, which, Microsoft hoped could get them a head start on the marketplace. Any retailer will tell you that all game systems sell out at Christmastime. It doesn't matter how bad the system is, someone's grandmother will come in, see it on the store shelf and purchase it for her grandchildren, who will say thank you and smile, but look upon the system in the same way that one looks upon handmade clothes received for birthdays when they were 10.

I have always harbored suspicions that Microsoft engineered the shortages for the XBox360 as a form of free advertising, a form that we've seen repeated with Sony and Nintendo's latest offerings. In fact, as I write this, the Nintendo Wii is still largely unavailable and outsells Sony's PS3 on a scale of over 5 to 1 in America.

With Microsoft, they've long held a tradition of encouraging retailers to have midnight sales, and in fact, part of the origin of the midnight sales lies with Microsoft and an operating system known as MS-DOS 6.0. MS-DOS 6.0 was released in 1993. In those days operating systems were a fierce market, with products like OS/2 and DR-DOS competing to be the OS on your PC. CompUSA and other computer retailers were bound by an agreement not to sell the product until a specified date, which meant that legally they could start doing so at midnight of that day. Since this was a product that people needed on their computers (and because upgrading to a new OS was much easier than it is now) retailers figured out that if they could be the first one to sell the product, they could get a head start on their competition, which would be closed until morning. Retailers found this beneficial, and every operating system released by Microsoft since then has had a midnight release: Microsoft Vista, Windows XP, Windows 2000, Windows 98, and Windows 95. Each of these midnight sales have each helped propel headlines in the local paper the next day such as "Microsoft sells 500 copies of Windows 95 at Fry's after midnight", which in addition to all the other advertising, promotes the availability of something in the pre-internet age, when people relied on word of mouth and telephone calls to figure out the availability of a product.

We have the internet now, and the world is incredibly and openly accessible; no longer do I need to drive to multiple stores throughout town to compare prices, I can now call someone using my cellphone who can look up the prices online. I can have reminders sent to my e-mail about the release dates of various products, and rather than anxiously waiting in line for a product, I can pre-order it, and have it sent to me on the day of release. That was where the world was headed; then somewhere along the line, some bozo somewhere in a suit decided that on-line retail's limitation was going to be brick and mortar's strength, and that was being able to get the product in the consumers' hands before delivery services could make their deliveries.

I've seen countless movies at midnight showings -- those are fun because the people in the crowd genuinely want to see the movie, and the crowd interaction is vastly different; it's like seeing a film with 800 fanatical fans. They cheer at the heroes, they boo and hiss at the villains, and before the show they draw their lightsabers and have duels before the show starts. Midnight retail experiences are something else all together; people are cordoned into lines with stanchions, much as you would see at the Happiest Place on Earth, but the environment there is anything but happy; people have been sitting out for hours, maybe even days in some cases, and they're cranky, eager to fork over their cash so that they can go home, list it on eBay and be done with it all. They're afraid of supply running out before the line gets to them, and everyone is on edge, wondering if that guy chatting with the people in front is a reporter or a cutter. Not everyone out there is a fan, but everyone else out there is competition. These midnight sales have grown more popular over recent years, and show no signs of stopping; as for myself, I'd rather get sleep and know that UPS will bring it over in the next day or two.

Having a line for a cellphone is unheard of and even lines for the newest iPod is unheard of. But the iPhone is the answer to attaining nothing short of technological rapture, the symbolic object of lust for nerds and geeks everywhere. For them, this is their pilgrimage, in patient waiting for Apple's answer to ubiquitous computing. The lines outside of stores are products of the hype machine, fears of shortages, and a bit of media sensationalism. It's not as if these iPhones are going to be some Apple iPhone Premiere Limited Edition, they're a revision 1 product, which will no doubt be followed by revision 1.5, and revision 2 and so on with more and better features.

links for 2007-06-28


Last iPhone Related Entry of the Day


Sometime today, the embargo order on journalists who received demo iPhones to talk about the iPhone was lifted, and the reviews are overwhelmingly positive.

David Pogue of the NYT has a hilarious video about the iPhone (and trying to keep his mouth shut about it):

In his print article for the New York Times, Pogue headlines with "The iPhone Matches Most of Its Hype, and sums it up with "But even in version 1.0, the iPhone is still the most sophisticated, outlook-changing piece of electronics to come along in years. It does so many things so well, and so pleasurably, that you tend to forgive its foibles."

USA Today wrote Apple's iPhone isn't perfect, but it's worth of the hype, and Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg spent two weeks with the iPhone running through a battery of tests.

Overwhelmingly, the journalists all thought the iPhone itself was a great product -- their greatest common criticism was the service provider (AT&T) whose lack of good service area and their darn-slow EDGE network is definitely a drawback. As someone pointed out in one of the reviews if Verizon's slogan is "Can your hear me now?", then AT&T's is surely "I'm losing you".

Stephen Levy of Newsweek titled his piece At Last, the iPhone. It's 7 pages of prose and praise over the iPhone's features. I'd swear the man was actually gushing over this new gadget, if not for the single half page where he covers the drawbacks. Though to be fair, he does spend some time blasting AT&T's EDGE network. (Do you notice a trend emerging here?)

Consumerist even has a list of 6 ways to get out of your current cellphone so you can get an iPhone.

While having to use EDGE can be a horrible experience, the abundance of WiFi spots can surely make up for it -- and it's hardly a deal-killer.

links for 2007-06-27


Even A Dark Lord of the Sith Needs to Shop


Earlier today, I had clips of celebrities in commercials for the Nintendo DS. In this one, we have Darth Vader demanding a toaster.

This is not the first time that Darth has appeared on TV for a store chain, as he has previously appeared in an ad for Target:

Jon Stewart on Dick Cheney


Last night's Jon Stewart had two great segment on the Daily Show about Dick Cheney, where Dick Cheney claims he's not a member of the Executive branch of the United States, and where John Oliver draws parallels between Cheney and ancient gods of mischief.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl


One of the games I'm really looking forward to this year is Super Smash Bros. Brawl for the Wii. They've been doing a great job updating the website with all sorts of things to look forward to. In their latest entries, they preview the medley for Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, and reveal Princess Zelda (from her Twilight Princess incarnation) as a playable character.

Must Resist... iPhone's Power of Convenience


Today, Apple and AT&T released the details about the rate plans for the iPhone and the activation process for the iPhone. The cheapest monthly rates for the iPhone is $60 a month, which gives 450 minutes, unlimited nights and weekends, visual voice mail, unlimited mobile to mobile, and 200 sms messages a month. Each $20 increment nets an additional 450 minutes a month. Personally, I don't find these rates too bad, and rather in line with comparable data rate plans.

Here's what I like about the process: getting an iPhone is the same as buying any other consumer electronic good. You simply go into the store and you buy it. When you get home, you register and activate the phone, and you're done. For someone who loves gadgets, I despise cellphone stores and the process of authenticating you before they sell you a phone. (Come to think of it, I think I had to sign less paperwork to buy a car than to buy a phone). In short, the process of buying the iPhone will be very fast on Friday, with the only slowdown being the tables of iPhone accessories that one can purchase.

As just another consumer good with online activation (making it really easy to switch carriers, and transfer phone numbers) I feel that this is going to really change the mobile phone industry; for the first time you can actually buy a cellphone as a gift (and not a pay as you go crap phone).

I expect the iPhone to sell out this weekend; and while the initial cost of the iPhone might be tough for some to swallow who are not used to getting unsubsidized phones, the reasonable data and phone rates are going to net a lot of people who pay the same for a less functional Nokia or Treo on their current cellphone provider.

How to get an iPhone in the UK


With just 3 days left before the launch of the iPhone in the United States, people have already started camping out in line for an iPhone in New York City. For other countries, however, the release of the iPhone is a very vague date, like "sometime in 2008". Britain's Tech Digest has an excellent article on how an enterprising Brit can acquire an iPhone. Their list includes a pound by pound breakdown of the different routes one may take, including flying out to New York and camping for one. My favorite, though is to:


    You must know someone who lives in America. Come on, someone in your Warcraft guild must live out there? One of your blog readers? That random woman you occasionally talk to on Messenger? Pay them a 20 percent commission and try to get a couple sent over so you've got one to eBay yourself for a vast profit. And make sure they mark the package as a "gift" and say it's only worth $5, so you don't get done for import duty.

    TOTAL PRICE: £300

Nintendo DS Commercials


When the Nintendo DS Lite debuted last year, many retail locations were including Brain Age for free with the purchase of the DS Lite. Brain Age is one of those odd games that seems to capture everyone's attention. In Japan, they have classes specifically to train adults to use the Nintendo DS and get better (younger) scores on Brain Age. The Japanese Brain Age also scores using Kanji identification, while the Brain Age for the English-speaking countries has been changed to reflect the verbal and drawing abilities of western players.

Here's Nicole Kidman sitting at home and playing Brain Age on the Nintendo DS Lite in a commercial: (I believe this for the UK market)

This is not the first time Nintendo has used celebrities to help sell their DS systems and their games, as Japanese pop star Hikaru Utada helped demo the DS system before its release in Japan in 2004:

Of course, she doesn't just sell the system, but she kicks butt in Tetris DS too.

During my trip to Japan last year, I saw a slew of DS commercials advertising the New Super Mario Bros. -- the actress in the commercial is actually Japanese actress Nanako Matsushima, who starred in Ringu and GTO. In this compilation of commercials, she's pitching for the New Super Mario Bros. and the Point-and-Speak travel guides. In Nanako's case, it's for the Thai version of the popular travel program.

Because of the wide array of games as well as utility programs, the Nintendo DS Lite has been in perpetually sold out in Japan for more than year. Because of the demand, even in Akihabara, a used Nintendo DS can sometimes cost more than a new one.

links for 2007-06-26


Grocery Shopping Queue Management


For a long time, I had one rule when it came to supermarkets: they were off-limits on Sunday evenings. The reason for this had more to do with the line at the checkout stand than anything else; before I established this rule, the Sunday evening shopping experience was terrible, with what seemed like every soccer mom on the peninsula in line with their cart piled to the top with groceries. Even Express lines, with the 10 or 15 item limit were crammed with people. A wait for 10 to 15 minutes was not uncommon. But the skill of picking the right line was something I never learned; was it better to pick the line with less people with bigger carts or pick the line with more people and less items? If there's only one person with a shopping cart full of items, and 3 people in the express line with 10 items each, which does one choose? Is it better to be behind the person with the shopping cart full of packaged goods or the one who just has produce and a dozen cans of cat food? Which customer is going to be the one who drops a purse full of coupons into the cashier's lap? Which one will pay by check, and which one will need to try 3 or 4 credit cards before they get one that isn't denied? Which cashier is going to be the one who makes a mistake and needs to call the manager to unlock their terminal? When should one take the long line in the hopes that another register will open? Over the years I've tried to create a couple of simple rules to follow when making line choices. I've been right as often as I've been wrong, which in short has created the rule of simply avoiding the need to make that decision by not going to the supermarket on Sunday evenings.

The supermarket is one of those places that's a living testament to the The Paradox of Choice; while one needs to decide between all the different products littering the shelves, even down to the choice of checkout lines, we are assaulted by choices from the moment we enter to the moment we exit the store.

A few retail chains have embraced the single queue system, and in a recent New York Times article, Whole Foods in New York City has become a single queue as well. No longer are customers faced with the choice of needing to pick the "faster line".

links for 2007-06-25


links for 2007-06-23


Zelda: Phantom Hourglass Intro


I can't wait, but the English version doesn't hit US shores until October.

links for 2007-06-22


Too Much Violence gets Manhunt 2 labeled "Adults Only"


ESRB stands for the Entertainment Software Rating Board -- they're the organization that assigns all the ratings to games, handing out E, T and M to all the games you play on your console and your computer. This week, they gave Manhunt 2 (Developed by Rockstar Games and published by Take-Two Interactive) an AO. AO stands for Adults Only, and it pretty much tombstones the game from being released, as no gaming console will release an AO game. (There are 31 games (since 1992) with Adult Only 18+ rating, and they're all for the PC)

Rockstar and Take-Two essentially have 30 days to clean up and make changes to Manhunt 2 to slide it under the 'M' rating.

An AO game is classified thusly:

    Titles rated AO (Adults Only) have content suitable only for adults. Titles in this category may include graphic depictions of sex and/or violence. Adults Only products are not intended for persons under the age of 18.

As far as I can tell, Manhunt 2 doesn't include sex, which means that this game must be graphically violent to have obtained this rating. I'm not a big fan of violent games, but I'm going to bet that there are games that are equally as violent that have managed 'M' ratings.

Since Take-two was the company that announced this pending AO rating, I highly suspect that this is partially a publicity stunt to raise sales of Manhunt 2 (this is Rockstar and Take-Two, the same people who sold millions upon millions of copies of Grand Theft Auto). This game is banned in the UK, and in it's current form will not be released in the U.S. These are two huge markets for Take-two, so I fully expect them to go back through and edit out some of the game to make it fit under the M-rating:

    Titles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.

I mean honestly, think about it -- in just about every shooter out there, you're given dangerous weapons, and when you die, you explode into giblets. A quick look at ESRB's listing of M games reveals a large share of them containing some of the following: "Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Sexual Themes, Partial Nudity, Drug References", so it really puzzles me that one game out of the hundreds of games that are released annually can manage AO. It must be horrifically violent to have managed this -- far beyond that of splatterhouse gore. Still, time will tell what will become of Manhunt 2 -- one way or another, AO won't be the rating it'll be released with.

Super Mario on Tesla Coils


The Geek Group of Austin, Texas has constructed some singing Tesla Coils.

It can play other songs like the Tetris theme, as well as other geeky songs like Weird Science. A more in-depth video explanation of how the Tesla Coil works.

links for 2007-06-21


Gaming Cycles


Lately, I've getting back into my old hobbies once again, which are to put it generally, Books, Photography, Gaming, and Anime. (Though not necessarily in that order, and sometimes mixed together). All of those hobbies have separate divisions -- within Books, for instance, there's fiction, non-fiction and comic, while Gaming encompasses board, video and card. Recently, I've been playing a lot of card games, or more specifically, Magic: The Gathering. There's been a bunch of competitive events, and my friends have been attending them. I haven't really felt my skills at the competition level, so I've been helping them practice, which has re-ignited my interest in the game.

Way back in 1994, I played my first game of Magic: The Gathering. On a whim, I picked up a couple expansion packs of The Dark, and a revised starter pack and started to play with the people in my dormitory. It was great back then, because it was one of those games that didn't take at all long to play -- you could cram in a game or two during a study break.

By 1994, collectible card games were all the rage, and a collector's market had sprung up overnight -- Moxes and Black Lotuses were a ridiculous $20 - $25 back then, a price that was unfathomable to me for a piece of cardboard (these days such cards fetch upwards of and average of $350). Every game company had their own CCG (collectible card game), and some game companies made a shift in strategy from other types of games to doing primarily CCGs. The whole CCG market in those days reminds me of the shift that has occurred in the MMO marketplace, where companies are licensing existing properties to make games, which make money in the short-term, but lose money in the long-term when the novelty of the property wore off.

In MMOGs, a big criticism of the genre is that the more time you spend on the game, the better your character tends to be, not necessarily because one is skilled, but that one can maximize the relationship between the flat monthly fee and the time they can afford to spend playing. This has given rise to a slew of third party merchants, from those who offer to level your character up, to those who would sell you in-game items for real world cash, to those who exchange game money for real world cash. While I think that paying real-world cash for in-game items defeats the purpose of playing the game, it is a business model that can only work outside of the United States. Doing baseline calculations 2 years ago using the WoW gold to real world money exchange rate, I surmised that the average gold farmer makes about 30 cents per hour -- hardly good money.

In CCGs, the criticism is that creating a collection of cards to be competitive is expensive. This has always been true from the beginning (and why, I, as a poor college student had no more than a few hundred Magic cards), eBay has changed this landscape considerably. The old way of acquiring a collection was to buy several boxes of boosters, and hope for the best. You'd then fill out your missing cards by shopping at gaming stores or at conventions or trading with people. Now you just go to eBay and buy the cards you want. Still, a competition set will cost on the order of several hundred dollars, depending on the size of the set. True competition play hadn't really been established in the early days of CCGs, and policies for deck construction hadn't really been defined yet. I always considered it an accomplishment if I was able to have one of every card in a set, and now to be competitive, one should have four such sets. Magic isn't a cheap hobby by any stretch of the imagination (well, if you want to be competitive/pro player -- if you just want to play and have some fun, it doesn't need to cost anywhere near that much).

With all of these drawbacks, why should I be entering into the fray of Magic: The Gathering again?

I'm pretty sure I've been seduced by the siren song of nostalgia. A few months ago, they released "Time Spiral", which had an interesting marketing gimmick: as part of the set, they'd include "timeshifted" cards, which were older cards from past sets that would be reprinted with the original art and card frames. There were old favorites in there, old cards that hadn't been seen in a set for over 10 years, which I thought was an excellent way for players to get interested in Magic again. Their followup to Time Spiral was Planar Chaos, in which they re-released cards with the same functionality, but in different colors. In their final set of the Time Spiral block, Future Sight, their timeshifting gimmick had more to do with possible future cards with a new card layout (which doesn't really entice me as much as the other two gimmicks).

In both MMOGs and CCGs there seems to be a certain amount of start-up cost -- for a MMOG, you've got a computer, you've got the DSL line, there's the monthly subscription fee, while for Magic, you've got the cards. Of course, the nice thing is, with Magic, after you're done, you can always sell the cards. With MMOGs, the selling of virtual property is a little more difficult (but still doable, unless the MMOG is totally shutdown).

It seems that Magic (and probably MMOGs as well), for my gamer generation has taken the place of a weekly poker night or a Saturday morning round of golf.

links for 2007-06-20


Beautiful Katamari


I'm crossing my fingers for a Wii version, as I don't really see a need to own a Xbox 360 or a PS3 at the moment.

links for 2007-06-19


iPhone: Now with more battery life


A recent story about the iPhone entitled "
The iPhone will fly and keep flying", and the news of the iPhone having even greater battery life than previously announced has sort of set this Monday morning off with quite a commotion.


The Apple iPhone is an interesting device to discuss, if only because Apple has (even before the release of the iPhone) changed the landscape of cellphones forever. Let's start off with the basics -- it's a $500 ($600 if you want the 8GB version) phone that does it all -- WiFi, camera, plays audio and video with a very nice display, and to top it off, has a slick touchscreen interface. It's the cellphone that all the other cellphone companies are saying that noone wants, and it's the phone that consumers seem to be going gaga for. Almost all experts and analysts are predicting a huge success for Apple, and I'm inclined to agree. Consider this -- at MacWorld SF 2007, where over 45,000 Mac fans saw the iPhone (and took pictures, video and pressed their noses up against the glass) while it rotated in the locked glass case, these past 6 months have only fed the desire, and statistically speaking, a quarter of people with cellphones have had their 2 year contracts expire during these past 6 months. Demand, despite it's $500 price tag will be huge. Consider this: If we take out the functionality that a new 4GB iPod nano offers, it makes the iPhone a $300 cellphone/digital camera/internet with a touchscreen.

Portability and price has always been a big deal in cellphones -- in general, the more portable the cellphone is, the more expensive it is, and the more features it packs to justify that price. Palm can get away with selling the Treo because it's a Palm Pilot organizer and a cellphone -- but it's a pretty bulky phone. Motorola's Razr on the other hand is much less functional than a Treo, but has that nice compact form factor that everyone likes. The iPhone is just as feature packed as the Treo (but the Treo lacks Wi-Fi) and costs more, but it's even slimmer.

What makes the iPhone different from all the rest is that it promises a more usable interface than their competitors. I own a Nokia -- it's the same cellphone I've used for 3 years. It has a little thumb joystick to navigate the menus. To get from the ready state to making a phone call, I need to thumb down twice (to get to the Contacts menu), tap the joystick button (to select the Contacts menu), tap the joystick button again(to select find from the Contacts Menu), and then thumb down to the person or hit the number key a number of times appropriate to that person's first letter of their name. Those steps seem particularly troublesome to me, and I've never really understood why Contacts rests so far in, while Messages is the topmost item. It's a phone, and the most frequent thing you're going to be doing is going to be doing is calling people. Apple understands this, but more than that, they understand that people are going to be using their phone for doing other things as well, and to make those things easy to do.

Last November, thousands of people camped out in front of toy stores and electronics stores to be the first to snag a $600 game system with the intention of flipping it on eBay for an instant profit. As we saw, the eBay market for PS3s died a spectacular death, netting most of these cold, rained and snowed upon November campers a profit margin hardly worth the trouble. Cellphones are much harder to flip on eBay, so I don't think we'll be seeing a lot of sales through eBay for iPhones. The same situation was with the Wii on eBay. Most purchasers of the Wii kept theirs, which resulted in a much smaller number of consoles on eBay.

We don't know how many iPhones will hit the street on June 29th -- with numbers as low as 40,000 and numbers as high as 3 million, it's anyone's guess. Although I lust after one as much as any technology geek does, portable electronics doesn't thrill me as much anymore. Even so, I predict that it will sell well, and it will sell out that weekend. There are factors to slow down the sales of iPhones -- with unknowns like the length of contract one must subscribe to, and the contract costs for data, I'm waiting for those announcements before I make a decision. The greatest promise that the iPhone holds, of course is that of having "Internet in the pocket", but with the cost of that unknown, it's tough to see that working out in a cost-beneficial fashion.

We will see headlines like "Man robbed/injured/shot/killed because of iPhone" because just as the iPod's white headphones were an indicator that someone was carrying an iPod, a person holding up what looks like an iPod their ear is a sure indicator that they're carrying an $500 iPhone. iPod-related crimes went down significantly after the introduction of the shuffle, since the white headphones no longer indicated a $250-350 product to snatch -- perhaps making the white headphones commonplace will also help iPhone customers in keeping their new toys from being stolen.

links for 2007-06-18


links for 2007-06-17


The Uncanny Valley Harry Potter



These new Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix screenshots just show how photorealistically textured 3d animation in videogames still falls under the Uncanny Valley, and even more so since we're so used to seeing the real actors. Ron looks especially weird, but poor Harry looks like a manikin.

BlizzCon 2007


On June 12th, Blizzard opened up registration for BlizzCon 2007 -- a convention for Blizzard fans. Within 24 hours, half of the tickets were gone, and by June 15th, they're all sold out. This two-day convention (one of which is a Friday) had $100 tickets (for the two days). Each ticketholder however gets a nice goodie bag, containing a murloc suit and a beta key for an upcoming game.

Considering that the fanbase for WoW is something on the order of 8 million worldwide, it doesn't surprise me that they've managed to sell out, but 3 days... wow. Expect to see the goodie bags on eBay shortly after BlizzCon.The beta key is probably for another expansion set for WoW or Starcraft II -- that's my guess anyways.

links for 2007-06-16


Movable Type 4.0 Beta 2


Movable Type 4.0 Beta 2 has quietly been released. I've just installed it, so I don't see any bugs yet, though they have fixed the dreaded comment list bug (which means I can finally clear out some spam en masse).

Transformers Movie Poster


This is the final Transformers poster. I can't really say that I like it all that much -- partially because I feel that having the two kids on the poster feels like a last minute addition, whereas Optimus Prime and the city background with the lens flare was probably someone's desktop wallpaper that they stole. And why the hell are the two kids hugging while they're floating in midair?

links for 2007-06-15


links for 2007-06-14


Review: The Omnivore's Dilemma


I've been reading The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, a book about the processes of the food where the author, Michael Pollan traces the route that food takes from the farm and onto our plates. At one section of the book, the author, his wife and son eat a meal at McDonald's, and the author becomes lost in his calculations of just how much corn is in the meal. He then finds some assistance at UC Berkeley, where he runs the same items in the meal through a mass spectrometer to measure how much of the carbon came from corn.

    In order of diminishing corniness, this is how the laboratory measured our meal: soda (100 percent corn), milk shake (78 percent), salad dressing (65 percent), chicken nuggets (56 percent), cheeseburger (52 percent), and French Fries (23 percent). What in the eyes of the omnivore looks like a meal of impressive variety turns out, when viewed through the eyes of a mass spectrometer, to be the meal of a far more specialized kind of eater. But then, this is what the industrial eater has become: corn's koala.

The book focuses on food -- where it comes from, and how it ultimately ends up on our tables. It's a fast, thought provoking read, and it will probably change the way you think about food and the true cost of the food that we all consume.

links for 2007-06-13


links for 2007-06-12


EA "Returns" to the Mac


One of the items mentioned in the keynote was EA's decision to simultaneously release games on the same day for the Mac as the PC. Due to the brief mention, details were not available at the time, but now that the announcement has been made, a press release has been made available (PDF) further documenting EA's plans.

Firstly, EA is simply committing to sim-shipping -- releasing the game on the same day on the Mac as on the PC. Many companies already do this for a variety of reasons, including piracy and the gray market (export/import copies). One of the companies that took the lead in sim-shipping is one of their major competitors on the Mac, Blizzard Entertainment.

Blizzard has been sim-shipping since Warcraft III, though they've had Mac versions of all their computer games from the beginning (Starting with Warcraft: Orcs and Humans and all the way up through World of Warcraft).

Secondly, EA's game releases are not going to be Universal Applications. Despite the ease of which an executable can be compiled to run on either PowerPC or the Intel-based architecture, EA has decided to make these games Intel-only, because instead of a real programming effort, these games are more like emulations usingTransgaming's Cider. Cider loads the program into the OS memory, and then uses an Win32 API which translates all the Windows based library calls into Intel-Mac equivalents. Think of it as a sort of Rosetta for Windows.

Blizzard's games, on the other hand, are really "Made for Mac" Applications -- they'll run on PowerPC as well as Intel architecture, and it really is the way it should be done.

I also question the motives behind EA's sudden shift to a newfound love for the Macintosh platfom -- for years they've licensed their games out to be published by Aspyr for the Mac platform. To port a game over through Cider only takes a few days (I would assume a real port done by Aspyr would take considerably longer), so there's definitely a benefit to doing it this way, though it would exclude the large number of Macs built before 2006.

Personally, I think EA's expectations for gamers on the Mac are too high -- Mac users are not typically known for being hardcore gamers.

Post WWDC 2007 Commentary


Today's WWDC keynote basically consisted of:

  • EA Games making games for Macs again.
  • id Games is also working on a project for the Mac called Tech 5.
  • Huge Leopard Demo of New Features.

    • New Desktop, Stacks, new Sidebar, Search Other Macs, CoverFlow in Finder,

    • Leopard fully 64-bit
    • Core Animation
    • BootCamp
    • Widgets for Dashboard
    • New iChat
    • Time Machine
    • One Version: $129.

  • Safari for Windows
  • iPhone update - in a nutshell: June 29th, Server-side apps through iPhone's Safari browser.

As I mentioned before, the games announcement is not all that surprising. Partially this is because the Mac platform holds a large number of a specific niche of gamers -- the casual gamers. While the releases for EA are targeting hardcore gamers (okay, Harry Potter isn't really a hardcore game) , the 22 million Macs that are mostly gameless (save for WoW) present an enticing business opportunity.

I'm really looking forward to the new features in Leopard, especially the new Finder. The Apple Website has been reskinned with the new look for the UI. October seems so ridiculously far away.

Although I still keep a Windows machine around, it is highly unlikely that I would use Safari for Windows to do most of my surfing -- I've gotten too used to Firefox.

The non-news of an iPhone development kit is disappointing -- developers can basically write generic server-side web applications that are Safari compatible.

Overall, the keynote for WWDC was a bit underwhelming -- with Safari being the "surprise announcement", going head to head against both IE and Firefox is going to be challenging. (My webstats show 33% Firefox, 29% MSIE, 18% Mozilla, and just 1.3% Safari. It will be quite an uphill battle.

Pre-WWDC 2007 Predictions


The World Wide Developer's Conference for Apple today, which means of course that the computer industry is abuzz over what will be announced at Moscone West this morning.

Pre-conference photos show banners shrouded in black cloth.

The Apple Store is still up, which means that it's highly unlikely any new product will be revealed today, so I'm going to bet that those banners are hiding OS X Leopard / iPhone features.

Last year they released the Mac Pro, along with an hour long demo of the upcoming Leopard OS. This year they're going to rehash all the new hardware releases they've recently had, their commitment to being more green, talk about their new Apple Stores, mention their recent AppleTV changes (YouTube/Google) , do a quick overview of what they showed off last time on the Leopard demo, just to refresh people's memories, and then dive into the new top-secret features of Leopard. They're going to talk about the iPhone. Jobs gave the demo of the iPhone at MacWorld 6 months ago, but this time he's going to announce that they're going to open it up to third party developers to write small programs. I don't forsee any big surprises, partly because the iPhone is coming out in 3 weeks.

That's my guess -- we should know by noon how right (or wrong) I am.

Update: 10am - Apple Store is down -- perhaps we will see a new product after all.

EA has taken the stage and is showing off their games for the Mac. (That's one that I saw coming -- games on the PC are a dead market, due to the awful Vista gaming cripple.)

Update 2: I may have been harsh in saying that Vista cripples gaming -- it's just that gamers, on the whole have not been very enticed to move to Vista due to incompatibility problems with the drivers and installers for gamers. That coupled with the additional "bloat" of Vista have made games a (currently) better experience on XP.

links for 2007-06-11


Transformers Shorts


There's still a few weeks to go before the release of the live-action "Transformers" movie, but it seems that some fans have taken it upon themselves to using the new Alternators line of Transformers toys to create a stop-motion animated short:

links for 2007-06-10


Pokemon does Haruhi Dance


Now, all that's left is for the Haruhi Dance to make it into one of the WoW character /dance moves, and this thing will have really transcended pop internet culture.

For those interested, the anime which this clip parodies is called The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Think of it as Pulp Fiction, in a Japanese School, without all the violence, and that's what the series is. Sort of.

links for 2007-06-09


Askville Beta


This morning I got an email from Amazon, inviting me to their new start-up venture: Askville. Normally I don't bother with a lot of startup social networking websites, because there's always a new one with a new angle just around the corner. What makes Askville different (and worthy of blogging about here) is that they're using a game paradigm with this venture.

On Askville, users post questions and answers and are given quest coins. When you accumulate enough coins, you can then purchase superpowers. These superpowers then allow you to accumulate more coins and with more coins comes more privileges (these privileges are more like voting rights than anything else).

Rather than a message board mentality where the questions are arranged by topic, they're just all lumped together, using tag clouds for organization. Users who answer questions are encouraged to use Askville's tools for adding more links to products on Amazon. I'd probably use their little product linker more if it allowed me to use my own Amazon Associates ID, but as it stands, the product linker doesn't have that option, and labels the product for Askville's Amazon Associate's ID number.

links for 2007-06-08


links for 2007-06-07


More Mucking About with Movable Type 4.0 Beta 1


The upgrade process is pretty straightforward, and should get you 75% of the way to transitioning over to Movable Type 4.0.

The other 25% consists of really minor issues, such as:

  • On Windows-based systems, to avoid Error 500 Internal Server Errors, remember to change all the #/usr/bin/perl -w lines on the .cgi files to c:/bin/perl -w (or wherever your perl path is)
  • Creating the new MT4 Modules and Templates and bringing them over to your older installation.
  • Changing the Template Types on the old templates to reflect the correct template type.

Rebuilding appears to take longer than previously.

I've switched everything over to the default templates for MT 4.0 build. The result is a much more vox-like look, which is pretty generic faded boxes look.

The templates, in the way they've been re-organized make editing specific sections easier, which should make re-designs faster.

Re-skinning MT 4.0 Editor

| 1 Comment

After seeing kwc's post on the his attempted redesign with Movable Type and Photoshop, I decided to go straight into the heart of the matter, by editing the structure.css file located within the mt-static directory.

After half an hour, a small number of changes were made, resulting in a layout that just doesn't have as much empty space everywhere. Making these changes gave me a greater sense of understanding in what SixApart was going for, but also left me frustrated, knowing that if I want these changes to be permanent, I'm going to have to modify their default structure.css whenever there is an update.

The changes made in structure.css are reflected throughout the entire site, and while the optimization was really for the editor screen, having managed to preserve vertical space helps everywhere.

Seeing how easy it was to change the structure.css got me thinking though -- custom themes for the MT Editor might not be that far away.

Download modified structure.css

Moving on to Movable Type 4.0 Beta

| 1 Comment

Six Apart today released the Movable Type 4.0 Beta. It offers a lot of new features, including a much more Ajax-ified interface. Whereas Movable Type 3.0 simply added a much more streamlined css stylesheet to the interface, in 4.0, I actually feel like I need to relearn the interface.

Looking at the known issues is disheartening, as I'd guess at about 3 months worth of work to fix all the items.

Every revision of MT adds more bloat to the default templates, and 4 is no exception. At first glance, it seems as if the templates have gotten more effficient, more concise, but this is misleading -- the templates are now broken down in subsections such as Header, Footer, Entry, and within those sections they're further broken down into sections like Sidebar, Tags, and Entry Metadata... This makes modifying a particular section easier, but I haven't yet figured out how to add these subsections to older template files.

Also, Movable Type 4.0 seems to really dislike the MTCategories tag within older version RSS templates.

links for 2007-06-05


Creative Commons, Wikipedia and Me


This weekend, I was contacted by one of the Wikipedia admins for permission to use some of my Lemony Snicket photographs for their entries on Daniel Handler and Lemony Snicket. Being a huge supporter and user of Wikipedia, I was glad to assist, even as it meant changing the licenses on the photos from my standard of Creative Commons 2.0 Attribution-Non Commercial to Creative Commons 2.0 Atrribution Share-Alike.

A more detailed look at Creative Commons Licenses (with examples) is here.

One of the questions that comes up is that now that the photos used in Wikipedia have been released as "Share Alike" without the No-Derivative Works or Non-Commercial stipulations, couldn't someone actually make money off my photographs? Yes, however, it's higly unlikely, and any derivative works created using my original work would have to be licensed under the same Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license.

For more regarding why Non-commerical images aren't used on Wikipedia.

Apple iPhone commercials and Beyond


Last night, Apple debuted the iPhone commercials on national TV. While Apple can essentially choose to air this commercial on any show, on any network, they chose to air this commercial first on CBS on the show 60 Minutes. Now, as far as I can tell, Apple doesn't really have much of a relationship with CBS or 60 Minutes -- they sell some TV shows for CBS (CSI, Survivor) but that shouldn't make them any different from NBC or ABC -- almost all the networks sell shows on Apple's iTunes store. And while 60 Minutes is a longstanding television show, recent primetime ratings were released last week, which put 60 Minutes just above ABC's still flailing "24", and just below Fox's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition", at number #26. Amongst the age group 18-49, 60 Minutes ranks #68. This is not a good show to be advertising a $500 phone on -- the demographics of the show is clearly aimed for a much older age set.

Previous surveys have netted about a 6 - 10% early adopter rate for the iPhone, and another 7-10% gift rate (would buy for someone else), and another 20% adoption rate if the price drops to $200-$300. There's an estimated 300 Million people in the United States -- if Apple can manage 20% of that number -- approximately 60 Million in the first year, it would b far beyond a reasonable sales figure. The iPod took 6 years to sell 100 million worldwide, and that's counting all the iPods in the iPod family, including the nano and the shuffle. So, I think that all the survey predictions of 13-20% in the first year is far too big a number -- Apple has said that they'd be happy if they could hit 1% of the worldwide market -- about 10 million units. Ten million units would translate into only about 3 percent of the US population.

There are approximately 2000 locations that customers can purchase an iPhone from, 160 Apple retail stores, and 1840 Cingular outlets and a rumored 40 iPhones per outlet, putting the estimated number at launch to be a mere 80,000. If Apple wants to hit that 10 million unit sales goal in the first year, it needs to sell approximately 834,000 units a month. Let's imagine that the U.S. market consitutes 75% of the market for Apple (the other 25% being Japan and Great Britain). Of those 834,000 units per month, 625,500 need to be sold in the U.S., which basically amounts to 312.75 iPhones sold per month, per retail location. To meet this goal, Apple/AT&T needs to sell 10.4 iPhones per day, per retail location. Can you see Apple selling an $500 iPhone every hour to a customer? Consider this: Apple sold 1.79 iPods per minute in 2003, and 88 iPods per minute in 2006. Can they sell an iPhone every hour? I think it's well within the realm of possibility, but the limited outlets for sales (along with the average cellphone contract taking an hour to complete) will certainly slow down their sales rate.

This is what I predict on Friday, June 29th: a line before opening at all Apple stores, and a line at all AT&T stores for the iPhone. All locations will be underprepared for this. One employee will have to man the phones saying "Yes, we have iPhones, we have a line, we only have X, and we don't know if you'll be able to get one, and we don't know when we'll be getting a new shipment." The $100 cheaper 4GB iPhone will sell out first, but the 8GB iPhone will also sell out on the first day. Saturday and Sunday will be spent by employees at these locations repeating iPhone sold out, next shipment unknown. On Monday, newspapers around the world will herald Apple's sale of 80,000 iPhones in a single day as a front page business section article. A few weeks after that, another shipment would arrive, doubling Apple's iPhone market to 150,000 or 200,000 before the end of July. End of August, beginning of September would see them hit the half-million mark, and by the end of October, perhaps 1 million units. November and December could possibly sell another 1 million each month (in the shopping season frenzy), to finish off the year with 4 million iPods sold.

If they can manage to keep the 1 million per month rate up, by the end of June in 2008, they'll have met their 1% of the world wide market.

To put that four million iPhones number into perspective, over the last ten years, 4 million new Toyota Camrys have been sold in the United States. Now, imagine if all the Camry owners you know with a 1997 - 2007 Camry have iPhones, and that's the sales number Apple is shooting for at the end of the year.

Let's stop and take a look at another revolutionary cellphone device that debuted a few years ago which was at the time remarkably expensive -- the Palm Treo 600. When the Treo 600 was released in 2003, the PDA market was finished, with PalmPilots having pretty much decimated all competitors -- not too much unlike Apple and the iPod's dominance on the personal music player industry. The Treo -- a new smartphone incorporating a cellphone and a PDA was the phone of choice for programmers and executives. At an initial price of $500, the Treo 600 was out of reach for most consumers, and it took 2 years for them to sell 1 million Treos worldwide.

Initially the iPhone will be very difficult to get -- I'm expecting a similar supply-demand curve to that of the Playstation 3, in that June, July, August and September will be very incredibly difficult to find an iPhone. late September to mid-October should see supplies stabilize somewhat before being thrown into chaos once again by the holiday shopping season. In January, Jobs will give a status report at MacWorld SF on the iPhone, possibly saying that they've met their 1% goal, but more likely than not, to announce global partners for the iPhone.

Apple is expected to announce a 3rd party application SDK for the iPhone at WWDC next week.

I think demand for the iPhone is extraordinarily high -- with 6 months to let the $500-$600 cost for the iPhone to sink into the minds of consumers, there are plenty of people who have, for the last six months, delayed upgrading their smartphones. So you have people who ordinarily would be upgrading to the next Treo or Blackberry or Sidekick delaying those upgrades. A Treo 750, for instance, retails for $549 -- a 2-year commitment cuts that price down to $399, making the difference in price between a Treo 750 and a 4GB iPhone a mere $100. As a smartphone consumer, I can justify this $100 premium any number of ways: the iPhone has a better screen, I can watch movies on it, it takes the place of my 4GB nano (which costs $150) I can surf the web on it, and honestly the iPhone's just so much cooler than a Treo.

The iPhone and the Wii share certain similarities -- whereas in the months before the PS3 launch we knew that people were buying them to resell on auction houses, the Wii had a solid group of interested buyers who were planning on keeping them for themselves. By keeping them and showing them off to their friends and family (conveniently at Thanksgiving (the following week) and holiday family gatherings), the Wii buyers also generated a larger market for the product. I feel the same is possible with iPhone. The timing of the iPhone release falls the week before the Fourth of July Weekend, making sure that it will be the conversational item talked about around the grill.

links for 2007-06-02




One of the places that I've been wanting to try out for a while now is Yume-Ya, in Sunnyvale. Serving up izakaya and sushi, my sister and I set out to explore this new restaurant. Stepping in, I was pleasantly surprised to see Suga-san (previously of Tokie's in Foster City) running the sushi bar.

Located at the corner of a strip mall in Sunnyvale next to a shoe store, Yume-Ya from the outside looks like any another hole in the wall Japanese restaurant. Once you step inside, all questioning disappears as you are greeted by the staff, and seated at one of the many tables. A white board next to the cashier station lists the daily specials. Some specials are only listed in Japanese, while others have English next to them.

One of the daily specials was the Pumpkin Croquette, a crispy panko-encrusted croquette filled with a warm and flavorful pumpkin filling. It was a good change from the standard potato croquettes, and set us up for the rest of our small dishes. The fried oysters were exceptionally good, reminding me of the fresh deep-fried oysters my mother would occasionally serve us at home. To counterbalance these fried goods, we ordered the eggplant, which was served cold with a tart agedashi sauce, and shrimp stuffed mushrooms. The Shrimp Stuffed Mushrooms were large Shitake mushrooms stuffed with shrimp paste, cooked, and then placed in a very light broth.

Our chicken yakitori (grilled chicken served on skewers) arrived next, which were grilled to perfection, followed by our small selection of nigiri sushi, which were the Kani (crab) and probably some of the freshest uni I've had in weeks.

We ordered one more item, Fishcake with Grilled Cheese. If you've ever had a grilled cheese sandwich before, replace the bread with Kamaboko (fishcake) and a little nori (seaweed), and the Fishcake with Grilled Cheese is what you get. I found it to be a comforting fusion food, having eaten a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches and kamaboko growing up, but never combining the two.

Yume-ya's main menu is very extensive, and with so many choices, it's easy to set up your own custom meal. There's plenty of meat on the menu for those that don't like seafood, as well as items for vegetarians, and I was quite happy with the variety of the seafood on the menu. It's very likely that I could eat here every day for a week and not have the same item twice.

For those who find the item menu choices to be too numerous, they also have dinner sets available.

Flickr: Yume-Ya


Battlestar Galactica's Season 4 will be the last


In an announcement made today, Sci-Fi Channel confirmed that Season 4 of BSG will be the last. Ron Moore and David Eick, the series' producers has this to say:

    "This show was always meant to have a beginning, a middle and finally, an end. Over the course of the last year, the story and the characters have been moving strongly toward that end and we've decided to listen to those internal voices and conclude the show on our own terms, and while we know our fans will be saddened to know the end is coming, they should brace themselves for a wild ride getting there -"- we're going out with a bang ."

Season 3, I felt was weaker than the initial 2 seasons -- it didn't keep me on the edge of my seat as much as the previous two seasons, and considering the falling ratings on Sci-Fi channel, giving them 22 episodes to finish off the show is mighty generous.