Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Directional morality

This NYT article talks about the decline of the evangelicals (Thank the Lord!) and mentions the old-school evangelical theology:

Ever since they broke with the mainline Protestant churches nearly 100 years ago, the hallmark of evangelicals theology has been a vision of modern society as a sinking ship, sliding toward depravity and sin.

It got me to thinking about this "direction" metaphor as applied to society, and how misleading it can be. If we think something is getting worse, it's "on the decline" or "trending downward" or, if you're an evangelical conservative, moving "left" (the sinister direction). Likewise, "up" and "right" are synonymous with improvement and correctness.

The oversimplicity of this kind of metaphor is dangerous, obviously. The concept that morality is bi-polar is the pitfall of the evangelical mind, just as the concept of the two party system and right/wrong is the hobgoblin of the masses, many of whom actually vote. Trouble is, applying a more complicated metaphor that involves two or even three dimensions fast becomes difficult to visualize and, therefore, understand. But can't a person be for the death penalty but against abortion? Or in favor of gay marriage but against bi-racial relationships? What about the Log Cabin Republicans, or the Democrats like Lieberman who manage to be members of a "liberal" party while steadfastly supporting Bush's policies, including a pointless "war", and are at the same time Orthodox Jews? (OK, this is just Lieberman, but he's such an inviting mass of contradiction it's hard to stay away).

Or maybe the spatial analogy is the wrong one altogether, an example of how language really restricts our ability to think critically about certain issues. Morality is a slippery one to begin with, which is clearly why such simple, grabbable metaphors are appealing, but I'm going to do my best to resist the trap. Why can't morality evolve fractally, breaking into smaller and smaller pieces but never really creating anything manifestly new and unique? Or like a genetic organism, constantly combining and recombining and taking on new material from other sources?

It's important to challenge the language used to talk about emotional topics.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

RPG Vault: Jeff Vogel's View From the Bottom #7

RPG Vault: Jeff Vogel's View From the Bottom #7

Lots more to say about this - I've been going back and forth as to whether or not I agree with him. On the one hand, it is a total pain in the ass to grind from Level 1 to 60 or 70, and I'm only halfway there (lvl 30 on my first ever MMORPG character). I can't say I'm totally bored, but it does get to be a drag after a while.

On the other hand, what kind of fun would these games be if they just handed you every weapon and spell in the game, no limits? You wouldn't enjoy them nearly as much as you do now, having to work like a dog for months on end.

I dunno. The time I spend in WoW has definitely caused some marital strife, but I do enjoy it for the most part. But this guy brings up some good points - could he be anticipating where RPGs are heading?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Inside Mac Games News: WoW Interview Mentions Next MMO

Inside Mac Games News: WoW Interview Mentions Next MMO

Even though I play WoW and really like the concept (and the complexity), the whole fantasy LoTR-ish theme has always struck me as childish and, to be honest, dumb. It's all bright colors and orc chicks with boobs and really fierce-looking trolls with big bad clubs. I mean c'mon - I've outgrown my Piers Anthony/Terry Brooks phase (and oh lord, did I have that phase). Give me something aimed at grown-ups. Didn't I already cite that article that says we spend more time gaming than the kids? We've got the money, too - just look at the Burning Crusade sales.

Let me be more clear. By "grown-up" I don't mean more sex, though that might have a place. I mean give me sci-fi. Give me mecha-droids or futuristic air power. Give me Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica with a modern, intelligent flavor. I want lasers, dammit, and I want science-based magic, not spell books and enchanted girdles and cheesy potions. I'm not 14 anymore, don't insult my intelligence.

There. I've said it. Blizzard, man up and make it so. Remember that this is the 21st century and we like science. Even throw in a little relativity and string theory, or galaxy-scale distances. Make it reality and beyond, not some alternative fairyland. Planetary, metallic, and technologically badass - that's the theme. Go.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Infinite Loop: Macwelt gets more iPhone details out of Apple

Infinite Loop: Macwelt gets more iPhone details out of Apple

Agh, what's the use of a smartphone if you can't install software you want or download software/songs via the wireless connection? I'm really sick of mobile provider politics and their fiefdoms crippling the potential of these devices. And if Apple, who has a good history of aggressively breaking down barriers like these (see iTunes Store, in re music and movies) still can't manage to convince Cingular (or Motorola, see ROKR) of the benefits of opening up the iPhone, where's the hope?

Someday someone is going to get it all right - powerful device, usable interface, open platform, no restrictions - and of course I want it to be Apple. Too bad it's not, this time.

Netflix to Deliver Movies to the PC - New York Times

Netflix to Deliver Movies to the PC - New York Times

But Netflix, my PC is a Mac, and it's in my office, where only one person can watch at a time. If I can't save or burn the movies, what good is this to me? Get thyselves over to Comcast, Cox, DirecTV or some such thing and get this added to their On-Demand offerings. Then you'll have me, big-time. Until then, its appleTV (maybe) for me, or the fantastically lame selection of "new releases" that Cox shovels in my direction. Feh.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Study finds adults spending more time gaming than teens

Roughly one-third of adult gamers spend 10 hours or more per week playing console or PC games compared to just 11 percent of teens, according to results from a new study released by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA®).
It's nearly year-old data, but I love this! Totally validates my Masters' Thesis, too, about how games are taking over popular culture. I wrote it because I was tired of feeling ashamed about being an adult gamer. Now I can feel like part of the majority.

On a related note, just hit level 22 in WOW. Character name? MacDoug, of course. :) Orc Hunter in Twisted Nether, if anyone's interested.

Naming the iPhone

Lots of people have mentioned that the name "iPhone" is a bit...constricting when it comes to describing all the things this device does, er, will do, er, is supposed to be able to do. I was thinking this morning that the move away from the "iPod " convention is an interesting and not entirely obvious decision. It was probably driven by the fact that Apple can't sell this thing itself, but instead had to contract with a mobile provider to distribute it. Calling it "iPod Phone" would be clunky at best, but why not something more generic like "iPod Communicator" or "iPod Link"? To me, putting "phone" in there at all kind of skews the perception of the device as something that is primarily for talking. Perhaps that's how some would use it, but from what I can tell the thrust of the keynote was not to focus solely on that capability.

If (when!) the iPhone's design and OS migrate to a non-phone package, it won't be a huge change - some buttons lost, a portion of the software excised, but otherwise the same device. It's already pretty thin for a phone, and removing the comm chipset and antenna that are no doubt adding to the "bulk" would make it a pretty cool iPod/PDA indeed. In fact, if the wi-fi were kept in, it would be arguably the best stab yet at the Xerox PARC "pad" concept that was dreamed up so very long ago in the Ubiquitous Computing project.

Seems to me that the iPhone is just the first shot at an entirely revised iPod line that throws the "wheel" concept nearly out the window in favor of buttonless multi-touch and widescreen form factor. I wouldn't be surprised if the big sellers in this new design family aren't the phones at all, but the non-phone devices spawned off of it. Or perhaps they'll always have cellular capabilities, or morph into Skype phones, or something along those lines. Now I'm just spitballing, but you get my point. "iPhone" amounts to a pretty nifty misdirection away from the true promise of this design.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Response to Ars Technica "Nine Things Wrong" with iPhone

This is a very good list of perceived shortcomings and criticisms, and responding to it pretty much covers all my thoughts, so here goes, point by point:
  1. Cost: Yes, the price point is high, and of course it will come down in a year. But remember that this is more than a phone - it's a phone/ipod/PDA rolled into one. Not that this doesn't exist elsewhere, but as with the iPod, it doesn't exist in an Apple-designed package, and in this case it rolls in one of the most successful consumer gadgets ever, the iPod itself. If I'm in the market for a new iPod and the iPhone is available, I'm interested in replacing 2-3 gadgets with one. 8 GB is a bit smaller than I'd want, though. Hope those flash prices come down quick-like.
  2. Cingular-only: Deal-breaker for me at the moment, and probably for lots. I've got a year left in my Verizon/RAZR contract and I'm not willing to pay via olfactory bulb to get out of it. I live in hope that the phone will eventually be with multiple carriers, Verizon in particular. That said, there may be a huge rush to get these when they're available, and Cingular had better be ready. Not a bad problem to plan for...
  3. No 3G: An iPhone 1.0 issue, and reason enough to wait for 1.5 or 2.0. Any phone that touts such cool apps like Safari and Google McGuffins needs high-bandwidth capabilities beyond Wi-Fi.
  4. No WiFi sync to iTunes: See above. Most likely coming in 2.0 or with a software update. I don't see why not...
  5. No over-the-air iTunes downloads: I agree with Ars - coming when 3G is added. It's the kind of "it just works" feature Apple would make a priority.
  6. (skipping 6, too stupid)
  7. Battery life: I wonder what happened to Kevin Rose's "leak" about separate batteries, one for music and one for phone?? Definitely an issue with a screen this big, and the kind of spec Apple will reluctantly revise in real-world usage scenarios. I'm guessing they're pulling out the big techie guns to figure out ways to minimize power usage, like the proximity sensor turning off the screen.
  8. No Exchange/Office support: Since when is this supposed to be a business phone? I heard no mention of that. Apple's first market is (almost) always consumers, and while smartphones are obviously targeted at businesses, the OS X core of this phone that they were so careful to mention indicates that they want to open it up eventually to third-party developers, much like widget development. As Ars notes, this could be where Exchange/Office compatibility comes in, but I'm not sure Apple is that concerned about it. iPods don't play well with others, and look how poorly they've sold...
  9. Not extensible: It will be. Oh, it will be. Why else would they take such care to note that it runs OS X? They could easily have kept that under their hats, never sharing the proprietary UI layer or kernel APIs or whatnot, but I don't think that's where this is headed. Remember that this is a 6-month pre-release announcement - many more details to follow in the months and years ahead.
I'd like to add that there's no way this widescreen, multi-touch format isn't going to find its way into the next-gen iPods as well. Macworld's post-keynote podcast said that they wouldn't be surprised to see these announced before the iPhone hits the market, and I tend to agree. Awesome.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Desktop Pipeline | Ballmer Analyzes Microsoft's One Big Vista Mistake

Desktop Pipeline | Ballmer Analyzes Microsoft's One Big Vista Mistake

So now Ballmer is admitting what has been clear for some time - they bit off more than they could chew. Vista was originally intended to be this supernova of an "update" - a fundamentally new OS, built upon a new file-system and with tons of innovative features. So much for that dream - now they're saddled with a scaled-back, still-complicated OS that has been delayed and delayed and, according to the blogosphere, is still not quite ready for prime time. Aside from the fact that they're MS and rule the corporate desktop, how is Vista going to drive new business to them?

The answer: It's not. New business is forced to go with them. But their new strategy of incrementally updating the OS from now on, as stated by Ballmer, is exactly what Apple has been doing for years now with OS X. The initial release was a buggy, unusable mess for anyone but beta testers with time and patience, but with each successive update they've improved it until it became Tiger, which is arguably one of the best consumer OS's ever. The difference is this: Apple based their major "supernova" announcement around a fundamentally new system - BSD-based, new interface, lots and lots of potential for greater innovation because of the underlying technology, not just faster hardware. Whereas Vista has been systematically ditching the supernova-worthy features - WinFS being the biggest - and while I've admittedly not used it, it seems like it will just be "Windows More", not "Windows Reinvented", and the more is possible mainly because of steeper hardware requirements, which conveniently boosts profits for the entire chain.

If I were MS, I would have pushed WinFS and Aero out the door at all costs with Vista, even if it meant scaling back other core features. At least this would have been the fundamentally new platform for launching a new generation of Windows. Now what we may be "given" in 1Q2007 is a barely-out-of-beta Windows, heavier but not really new.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Microsoft won't see Zune zoom up the charts

Microsoft won't see Zune zoom up the charts

From the article:
Microsoft's dominance on the desktop will not be seriously threatened until a technology is introduced that makes the desktop obsolete. Similarly, the iPod and iTunes dominance is not likely be threatened unless a technology happens along that makes its model of buying and listening to music obsolete.
I wonder if this is true of all industries, that a specific technology or manufacturer can gain a virtual stranglehold just because they invented the standards and control them. Tivo certainly hasn't proved that, and neither have carmakers. What is it about the tech consumers that makes monopolies so hard to break? Don't get me wrong, I'm not sorry that Apple is on top in this instance, and I don't think MS has a chance of toppling the iPod, but still, even the mighty must fall at some point. I can only hope that Apple, or a company with similarly smart, design-conscious people, will be there to take up the banner for the new paradigm when it arrives. The only thing I'd hate to see is another IBM - soulless, ugly products driven by profits rather than user experience.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Symantec admits Zero viruses for Mac OSX

Sometimes the blogosmear just distorts things way too much. The basic truth is that OS X, at the moment, is not under attack from any exploits, whether they're viruses, worms, trojans, or whatever. Period. The level of danger to an internet-connected OS X user is far, far lower than that of a Windows XP user, nearly non-existent, in fact. This should be something that Apple shouts from the rooftops even more than they do already - businesses and government agencies, take note!

I'm tired of the masses flogging every "announcement" about OS X vulnerabilities. It's as if people want it to be dragged down, alongside Windows, into the bog of insecurity. Shouldn't we be rooting for an OS that substantially reduces worries like that? Shouldn't we be demanding that XP behave more like OS X, and not the other way around? The FUD that get spread is irresponsible and most likely attention-seeking - and that's just from the bloggers, not even the shameless OS X "security" companies.

read more | digg story

Thursday, July 13, 2006



This is my latest obsession - a Firefox add-on that lets me do targeted surfing. You download the add-on, create an account that includes your preferred web topics, then use the handy toolbar to "stumble" around different sites that the service (and possibly another user) recommends. So far I've "discovered" Pandora, a slightly out-of-date but still cool page about URL obfuscation, and a flash face creator that I'm considering using in my computer classes with my 5th or 6th graders. Firefox add-ons seem to slow stuff down a bit, but they rock.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Functioning Form - SxSW: OSX and Longhorn Development

The most interesting notes out of this panel discussion about OS X vs. Longhorn design were:

  1. MS was really sidetracked by the security issues for about two years, putting OS development on the back burner. I wonder how much of a leg up this gave Apple in terms of development years.
  2. OS X was developed in such secrecy that there was no user testing. Weird, and probably harmful. I wonder how much testing they do now?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


My wife and I discovered the show about Krakatoa this past weekend, and we watched it over the course of two nights on the DVR. Absolutely mind-blowing. (Click the title to see the Discovery page about it.)

You cannot comprehend the sheer scale of the eruption and the catastrophe that follows, though the show did a good job of bringing it to a human level. Almost too good - there's one scene where a baby is basically burned to death that would touch all but the hardest of hearts, and for sure make any parent's worst fears rise to the surface. I have a hard time watching stuff like this now that I'm a dad, but we were transfixed by the whole program, beginning to end. They did a nice job of mixing the historical fiction scenes, with extremely good acting by known actors, with science sequences that explained what happened and how, to the best of our knowledge. I mean, this whole thing happened 120+ years ago, so there's precious little in the way of authoritative documentations. Videos or stills would have been nice! Still, there's a lot to go on, and they filled in the gaps nicely. It was the loudest sound ever heard. Think about that. Two thousand miles away in Australia, they heard it. At close range, it was over 180 DB. The wiki page about it is a good source of info too. I highly recommend you read about it.

The scary thing is, this could happen again. Anytime. And unlike the tsunami, if you're caught in the pyroclastic flow of a major eruption, there's nowhere to run.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Today's iPod rumor: designed using a "none-touch" concept

"Apple is about to unveil the next generation of iPod, the best-selling music player in the U.S., using a 'none-touch' concept."

As tempted as I am to believe in the Wii-controller motion-sensor iPod, I think this refers to wireless and touch-screen. Perhaps a bluetooth remote? I dunno. Anyhow, the thing's been begging for a larger screen since they added video, and I can't wait to see the clever way they implement it.

read more | digg story

Friday, May 26, 2006

Cool Hunting: Nike x Apple = Nike Plus

I remain skeptical that this will be big, but it's cool synergy nonetheless. Now if only the iPods had wireless (Bluetooth) built-in...

Other possible match-ups? How about iPod social networking, with a plug-in that wirelessly shares your info with other iPod users in your radius? Or iPod GPS integration, which plays special music when you near certain locations? I hope this is only the beginning. I'll sign up for the beta "iPod Sub-Dermal" whenever it's ready.

MacBook mini?

So there's been some hand-wringing about the fact that the smallest MacIntel laptop is now 13+ inches, a bit bigger and heavier than the nearly-subnotebook class 12" Powerbook. Does this leave a hole in their product line for another size of Macbook? I think it does. Apple clearly feels strongly about making slim, portable laptops, and the Mac Mini shows that small size can pull in customers. So when do we see this MacBook Mini? Who knows! But we can speculate that it would have a lower-power processor, maybe a Core Solo, and probably lack some of the extras that even the MacBook has - perhaps they ditch the iSight, or the Firewire, or the gigabit ethernet. I think they'd never cut wireless - too essential for any notebook user these days - but perhaps the optical drive would go, a la iMacs that lack floppies, in the interest of ultra-thinness. Hmmm... I wonder how much flash memory they could pack into it to ditch a hard drive as well (taking a page out of the iPod nano book)... Probably getting ahead of myself. Or am I? Discuss.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

iPod Vending Machines Land at Airports, Hotels

iPod Vending Machines Land at Airports, Hotels

This brings to mind cool scenarios of people casually buying sophisticated devices from wall-mounted vending machines, but is the business model the right one? When you walk up to a vending machine you expect to pay a buck or two, or perhaps ten bucks for stamps or something, but a sawbuck for a gadget might be too much for the traveling public (especially since they're already traveling and getting ripped off by last-minute business tickets). Also, maybe most people don't do this, but I consider my electronics purchases carefully before I pull the trigger, and would probably never make one impulsively in an airport. Disposable digital cameras, maybe, but iPods? Not unless they cost $15 and are re-usable. This feels to me like an idea that's ahead of its time, or at least ahead of cheap price-points for noice-canceling headphones and iPods.