Random Thoughts

Tech, words and musings from an Englishman in Seattle

Thank you Loon, whoever you are!

On Wednesday I flew down to San Francisco on Virgin America. After picking up my bags I headed to the car rental place, picked up the car and proceeded to attach the windshield mount for my Nexus One which I use for GPS navigation.

One problem. I couldn't find the phone.

Damn! It must have dropped out of my bag in the overhead storage.

So I proceeded to call the airline's lost and found, who said that they'd check the plane and call me back. Did I say call me? Yup. Handily I had another cell phone with me (never underestimate the usefulness of traveling with two cellphones!). I also use Google Voice, which means that everyone can still call me as it routes to both cellphones.

A little later I got a call from Loon, an employee at the airport, who had found my cell on the airport transit. He said he'd hand it in to the airline and asked when I was flying back. I gave him the details and thanked my lucky stars - I must have stored up a Karma surplus.

Then this evening when I checked in for my flight, Virgin America had my cellphone waiting for me!

So thank you Loon, whoever you are, and the wonderful staff at Virgin America!

Grey Goo

I was just browsing Hacker News and was intrigued by the link to Grey Goo.

Nanotechnology has been a fascination of mine since 1986 when I first read K. Eric Drexler's wonderful book Engines of Creation. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend that you do. It's a wild ride through our probable future.

Anyhow, I was particularly struck by one of the paragraphs in the wikipedia article that alludes to the class of bugs that all of us as programmers strive to avoid:

In a History Channel broadcast, grey goo is referred to in a futuristic doomsday scenario: “In a common practice, billions of nanobots are released to clean up an oil spill off the coast of Louisiana. However, due to a programming error, the nanobots devour all carbon based objects, instead of just the hydrocarbons of the oil. The nanobots destroy everything, all the while, replicating themselves. Within days, the planet is turned to dust.”

Indeed.

Let's not do that.

I'm Living In The Future

I'm currently cruising at 35,000 feet on a Virgin America flight from San Francisco to Seattle. I'm surfing on my iPad whilst being served a Rum and Coke by a very nice flight attendant.

Being upgraded to first class didn't hurt either.

Seriously, Virgin America is the best airline I have ever flown. Friendly; a little bit irreverent; spotlessly clean. Recommended.

Did I mention the WiFi?

The Very Essence Of Fatherhood

As usual, Dadcentric sums it up.

I have slammed doors and stood behind them as you cried yourself to sleep.

I have slept in your bed, curled around you like a blanket and felt my legs grow slowly numb.

I heal your wounds and you fix me when I am broken. We meet in the middle and find much happiness there.

Seriously, Dadcentric has some of the best writing out there.

Too Fast

It's amazing how quickly we go from here…

To here…

Sometimes life just needs to slow down.

What Would You Like Me To Write About?

Having thought about my last post for a bit I thought I'd ask you, dear reader, what would you like me to write about?

And at the same time I get to try out the nifty Google Docs Forms thingy. All responses end up in my spreadsheet and won't be shared with anyone (until I write about it, that is).

Let me know!

I'm Such A Laggard

Why has this blog been so infrequently updated?

Many reasons really, but mostly because I'm hellishly busy at work and probably 80% of the content that I'd post here is now ending up on FriendFeed.

I should probably add the little FriendFeed widget here so you can see what I'm up to over there…

Anyhow, every now and again, long form blog post ideas keep popping into my head, so I've been keeping track of them and hope to find some time to do some serious writing soon.

I promise…

And yes, there will be kid related posts. Did I tell you about the phenomenally smelly poop my daughter produced this evening? I'm so proud.

Please, Just Make It Stop

If there ever was a need for the US Military (or any military for that matter), to step in for “humanitarian reasons”, this is it. There are photos from this event that have driven me to tears…

Please, just make it stop.

Both sides are ignoring a UN call for cease-fire.

Enough.

Please.

When Will He Ask Me To Stop?

Every night since he was born (except Wednesday, that's Pub Quiz night!), I've put Julian to bed with some reading, songs and a few other rituals.

First we read - usually he chooses the book and then I sing to him. The same songs. The same order. Always.

  1. The alphabet song
  2. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
  3. Itsy, Bitsy Spider
  4. Michael Finnigan

Then we do the rituals:

  1. Phony - He gets to look at photos on my iPhone.
  2. Blowing up - We take turns “blowing each other up” until we we pop like a ballon. it's hard to explain - you have to be there…
  3. Hugs.
  4. Love you! G'night!

Recently though, I've been wondering “when will he ask me to stop”? He loves the songs, I love singing them to him, but he's five now. I'm guessing that this bedtime ritual will stop at some point before he goes to college, but I have no idea when.

And that makes me sad.

Java Developer == Pizza Delivery Man?

A few months ago, I posted a link to an article deriding the current focus on Java in schools. Here's a quote from that article:

…Computer Science (CS) education is neglecting basic skills, in particular in the areas of programming and formal methods. We consider that the general adoption of Java as a first programming language is in part responsible for this decline. We examine briefly the set of programming skills that should be part of every software professional's repertoire.

An interesting read. What's more interesting (at least to me) is that I used to agree whole heartedly with it's sentiments. However, I've recently been writing a lot more code in Java than C++ and interestingly, I'm getting to like and appreciate it more - appreciate it's power, expressiveness and yes, performance.

Anyhow, today along came another article in a similar vein.

In an interview with Robert Dewar from New York University, James Maguire writes:

In essence, he said that today's Java-savvy college grad is tomorrow's pizza delivery man. Their skills are so easily outsourced that they're heading for near-term obsolescence.

Dewar stresses that he's not against Java itself. But the fact that Java is taught as the core language in so many colleges is resulting in a weak field of computer science grads, he says.

Later on, we are told:

“Furthermore, Java is mainly used in Web applications that are mostly fairly trivial,” Dewar says, with his characteristic candor. “If all we do is train students to be able to do simple Web programming in Java, they won't get jobs, since those are the jobs that can be easily outsourced. What we need are software engineers who understand how to build complex systems.”

Dewar obviously hasn't been out in industry very much recently. I know of quite a few very complex systems implemented in Java…

Your Attention Please

The way that “official” signs are worded, especially at airports, has always bugged me. Take this one from the gate at San Jose airport for example:

  1. All checked and carry-on bags are subject to search. - Ok, sounds good.
  2. All passengers are warned to control their carry-on baggage etc… - Errr, first up, am I being asked to do something, or am I being told that all passengers have been warned about something. And why “warned”.
  3. All passengers are advised not to accept items from unknown persons. - Are they? Cool! Oh, were you asking me to do something?

Maybe I'm being pedantic, but why not:

  1. All your checked and carry-on bags are subject to search.
  2. Please keep an eye on all your carry-on baggage etc…
  3. Please don't accept items from unknown persons.

Seems better to me.

Tick Tock

10:00pm: T-2 hours. A beer maybe? Maybe at the Wilde Rover. Everyone's asleep. Not even the dog is stirring.

11:35pm: Herding Cats are playing. Rock on. Apparently their drummer tried out for Oasis and just missed out. Order a beer. Settle up the tab. Let the bar tender know that he served me the last beer of my third decade. “A shot? It's on me.” No thanks…

I dunno why this event has bothered me as much as it has. It's just a zero duration point in time. A milestone. Maybe it's just that the notion of my mortality is finally coming home to roost.

12:01am: Tick Tock.

Memeflow Still Gives Me Warm Fuzzies

I'm always astounded my the number of people that use goto, my little ajax experiment from a few years ago.

Yes the number of seven day actives is only a few hundred, but the fact that it still runs, unassisted and with no real problems gives me the warm fuzzies :-)

It was a nice little project that solved a personal need and obviously solved the need of a few other people out there.

At that is reason enough to keep it ticking along.

Software Is An Art Form

Joel Spolsky weighs in on the issues raised by the article I posted yesterday and comes up with a wonderful idea:

I think the solution would be to create a programming-intensive BFA in Software Development--a Julliard for programmers. Such a program would consist of a practical studio requirement developing significant works of software on teams with very experienced teachers, with a sprinkling of liberal arts classes for balance. It would be a huge magnet to the talented high school kids who love programming, but can't get excited about proving theorums.

When I said BFA, Bachelor of Fine Arts, I meant it: software development is an art, and the existing Computer Science education, where you're expected to learn a few things about NP completeness and Quicksort is singularly inadequate to training students how to develop software.

I've always said to anyone that will listen to me (which is not very many) that software is an art form. It attracts artists. Seriously. Just look at any software company and the amount of musicians, artists, carpenters, etc… working there that create code for a living and create other things in their down time.

Create.

Creation of something out of nothing.

Art.

There's no real definition of art, but in my narrow experience, the creation of music and the creation of software are deeply similar.

Where Are the Software Engineers of Tomorrow?

An interesting article claiming that:

…Computer Science (CS) education is neglecting basic skills, in particular in the areas of programming and formal methods. We consider that the general adoption of Java as a first programming language is in part responsible for this decline. We examine briefly the set of programming skills that should be part of every software professional’s repertoire.

Another interesting quote:

It [Texas A&M] did [teach Java as the first language]. Then I started teaching C++ to the electrical engineers and when the EE students started to out-program the CS students, the CS department switched to C++.

Definitely worth a read.

I've have been worrying for some time that the core programming competence of candidates coming out of colleges has been dropping over the years as the “helpful” languages proliferate and the spectrum of languages that students are exposed to declines…

What's a pointer, again?

Worrisome.

[Tip'O'Hat to Lambda the Ultimate for the link.]

Superman Dies

Evel Knievel died today at the ripe old age of 69. I say ripe old age because I'm astounded that he was still around considering what he did to his body!

The first toy I remember having was an Evel Knievel toy…

Some Play Money In The Market

All my real investments are managed professionally by someone I really trust and are doing very well, thank you very much. However, I also have some play money at eTrade where I get to play the bigshot dealer.

Over the past few years I've done pretty well with it, even though I've made some tragically bad decisions (err, you sold APPL at what price!?!).

A couple of months ago I got back into the game after having the cash languish in the money market and have been tracking it in Covestor, which is a lot of fun. I bought pretty deep into VMWare and Garmin.

So how am I doing? Well, VMWare is just outstanding and Garmin had a nice run-up, but got hit on the recent news that they're looking at acquiring TeleAtlas. Personally, I think it can only be good for Garmin. Mind you, I love my TomTom GPS and you can pry it out of my cold, dead hands.

Anyhow, what do I know.

All I do know is that my little selection is up 35% since it's inception and I'm walking all over the S&P500…

Note that I'm an idiot in the stock market. I'm sure that both of these will crash and burn and the only reasonable advice based on my record is to buy anything that I'm thinking of selling, because it will undoubtedly sky-rocket at that point.

A Decade In The USA

I had completely forgotten about this until tonight, but on Halloween night 1997, a British Airways flight from Heathrow landed in Seattle containing me. That in and of itself was nothing unusual - I'd taken the trip over two dozen times since RenderMorphics was acquired by Microsoft in 1995.

But this particular time was a little different.

I had no return ticket.

Wikipedia - Must Stay Away

Why is it that everytime I look at an article in Wikipedia that I was even remotely involved with, I feel the need to correct gross inaccuracies?

The problem is that I don't follow through on that need due to the the fear of being accused of changing things to “reflect my version of reality”.

To me though, said articles feel written by people who have observed the topic at a distance. The words feel only tangentially connected to the facts. I can definitely contribute, and do so in an impartial manner.

But I don't.

I've heard too many horror stories.

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Spam? I Dunno…

I check my comments for spam pretty often, usually daily. Part of the problem I have is that sometimes I have no idea what the comment says, because it's in a language I don't understand.

As an example, I'm staring at the comment below, trying to decide if it's spam or not. Some of the words relate to the post that it's commenting on, but, well, I dunno.

Now, I'm taking a risk here, because I have no idea what this says. Here goes:

tu landscape es una mierda por favor putos de mierda vayanse con su landscaoe bien a la mierda

Google translate says:

your landscape is an excrement excrement well please putos vayanse with his landscaoe to the excrement

To put it mildly, this doesn't sound like a complimentary comment, but is it spam?

Dunno.

Update: I had a friend translate it. It's not spam, but it's not pleasant. Obviously, the person that wrote it understood the post but then chose to reply in a different language.

Hmmm. Thoughts. Obviously this is an english language blog. Should I expect people to comment in english?

Or maybe I'm just being trolled.

Community

Tonight I feel like I live in a community more than ever before.

Up until last week I lived on 8th Street South in Kirkland, right next to the Little League baseball fields - the street is part of a Kirkland known as the Everest Neighbourhood.

Recently, longtime neighbours of ours, the Aubrey's, decided that it was time to downsize after living here since 1972 and raising their kids in their house on 8th. They applied to subdivide their land, but permission came with the stipulation that 5th Avenue South that connects 6th to 7th should be extended through to 8th - obliterating a footpath and lovely area of the neighbourhood in the process.

Not to mention the fact that commuter traffic generated by such a cut-through would destroy the quiet and kid-friendly street one block west.

You can read more about this at the Kirkland Courier's site and this map will show you what I'm talking about.

An appeal was lodged and tonight a quasi-legal hearing was held at Kirkland City Council. It was quasi-legal in the sense that the council members were effectively judges and jurors on the issue and were not allowed to hear any arguments about the case beforehand. Arguments would be presented for and against and entered into the record and most frustratingly, audience members had to be quiet and respectful - no clapping and no standing up and shouting “WTF!”.

You can understand that I was sitting on my hands and biting my tongue throughout the whole proceedings.

There were many empassioned arguments including one by a neighbour who had done some severe homework, turning the city's own planning policy against itself.

So many friends from the neighbourhood showed up. Many with kids. Everyone supporting the appeal. Did I mention that 7th Street has almost forty kids under ten years of age living on it? It's an old school neighbourhood with young parents; kids playing on the street side of their houses with other kids; neighbours chatting and doing favours for each other.

Community.

A community that would have been destroyed by a short-sighted, follow the rules, planning policy.

The end result? A unanimous vote by the council1 in favour of our neighbourhood.

Surrounded by neighbours, I have never felt so much a part of a community.

Rock on.

1 Incidentally, there is a certain council member who urgently requires that a bureaucratic stick be surgically removed from their arse. 

Hansa - Rest In Peace

Most of my friends and all of my family know that I have an incredibly soft spot for that most wonderful of animals, the Elephant.

I've spent many happy days at various zoos and always manage to get to see the Elephants. As a kid, I loved being able to feed them. The gentle but rough touch of their trunks stays with me as an ingrained memory.

Which is why I was so sad to hear that Hansa, the six year old star of Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo died yesterday.

Hansa

So sad.

I'm touched that the enclosure was closed while the other Elephants were given time to grieve with the body, as they do in the wild.

The zoo has a memorial page here.

Lost

I've never watched a single episode of Lost.

Am I missing something?

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Insane Kirkland Annexation Behaviour?

Apparently Kirkland is about to annex a whole chunk of unincorporated King County, which would almost double the population of Kirkland.

The insane thing is that the citizens of Kirkland, whose resources will get spread thin, don't get to vote on the issue - only the citizens in the area targeted for annexation!

Oh, and being a ten year (high) tax paying non-US citizen, I don't get to vote anyway…

No taxation without… Oh. Whatever.

Moving House - Methods and Madness

Everyone says that moving house is probably one of the most stressful things you can do, especially when you're trying to sell your existing house in the process. Our plan is to move into our new home, get our current home ready to sell and then sell it.

I indeed tend to agree, but I've been saying to myself “I refuse to be stressed about this”, so to this end I've been trying to put as much of the process in online and do the “GTD” thing of getting as much of it out of my head and written down as possible.

As Nabila and I are sharing the workload, putting everything online helps immensely with the “who's doing what?” and “Steve, that slacker, I bet he hasn't called the contractor yet!” questions…

So, we're tracking all our moving expenses and various documents in Google's Docs & Spreadsheets, and all the work items, todo lists and milestones in 37signals' Basecamp.

This all appears to be working a treat so far!

There are milestones for “House is ready to sell”, “New House Closes”, etc… and todo lists associated with each.

Notes for each contractor we're getting quotes from are being tracked as are dates and dependencies, etc…

As an aside, having a really good real estate agent is another piece of the puzzle that keeps you from going insane and we've found a really good one in Kathy Magner. From being told what we need to do when to helping us get our current house ready for sale and generally making our lives easier, she's a bit of a star…

The Seven Deadly Fins - Fish!

This year will be the 20th anniversary of the release of Fish! from Magnetic Scrolls.

Fish! was the first game and first real live commercial software project that I worked on and the first product that I really argued for the inclusion of an exclamation point in it's name :-) Somehow the exclamation point disappeared from the packaging for the US release…

Released towards the end of 1988 was Fish!, a more light-hearted, surreal adventure game, where the player assumed the role of a dimension-jumping goldfish. Written by John Molloy, Pete Kemp, Phil South and edited by Rob Steggles, Fish! would prove to be the last of Magnetic Scrolls' traditional commercial releases.

I loved Fish! It was weird, different and totally odd. I also loved working for Magnetic Scrolls which was Unix-centric - everything was developed on a MicroVax and cross-compiled and the guys were way overboard on the intelligence level which led to very interesting pub discussions.

Stories around working there mostly involve great coding, fun problems and south London pubs. In fact I remember that when the UK went to all day licensing hours (i.e. the pubs were open all day), we decided to “extend” our lunch hour. We all came back to the office fairly “happy” to the chagrin of our boss, Anita Sinclair, who'd been schmoozing a potential investor who'd been hoping to meet the team :-)

Alumni from the company are pretty well known in the computer graphics space - two of the guys, Doug Rabson and Servan Keondjian (both now at Qube), went on to form RenderMorphics, which I joined in 1995 shortly before it's acquisition by Microsoft and Richard Huddy went on to work for ATI and NVidia.

Ahhh, reminiscing… I am, indeed, an old fart.

Update: Oh, and yes, I know the quote and US reviews say 1998, but it went out in 1997 to the world at large…

ZX Spectum - 25 Years On…

Has it really been 25 years since the ZX Spectrum came out? I cut my programming teeth on that thing…

Anyhow, the Beeb has a nice little retrospective which includes an interesting video.

Man, I'm having flashbacks.

Many of today's video game luminaries cut their teeth on Sinclair computers, among them Dave Perry, who runs Shiny Entertainment, and Tim and Chris Stamper, who founded Rare.

In 1967 Sir Cive Sinclair pioneered the miniature TV

“Sir Clive Sinclair gave so many British people an incredible step up into the videogame industry, which in a few more years will be bigger than the music industry,” said Mr Perry, who began writing games as a school child on the ZX81 and became a professional programmer thanks to the Spectrum.

“Clive is a national hero,” said Mr Dickinson.

“He loved looking for technology ideas and often had an idea and had to wait for the technology to catch up.”

I completely agree with this.

The fact that the three 3D graphics API outfits (RenderMorphics, Argonaut and Criterion) were based in London and that so many of the games companies in the eighties were from the UK (e.g. Rare) is completely due to the fact that as kids, we had access to a bunch of cool, low cost tech that other countries missed out on.

Don Dodge Responds To My “Peak Pitch” Post

I thought I'd raise a comment from Microsoft's Don Dodge to a post as it deserves more exposure.

I still maintain that these manufactured events are more actual work, expense and stress on the entrepreneurs than they seem at face value, but Don's points are good.

Steve, The Peak Pitch event is actually a great deal for start-up entrepreneurs. Where else can you pitch 5 to 8 different VCs in the morning, have lunch with them and fellow entrepreneurs, and then have the afternoon to follow up with the VCs that show interest? In most cases it would take months to accomplish the same thing.

I understand your point about VCs being arrogant…some of the are, but most of them are just realistic and pragmatic. A typical VC makes one or two investments a year, and looks at about 100 companies. They know they will have to say “no” 99% of the time because the company doesn't fit their investment criteria.

I know Brad Feld and Rick Segal personally. They are great guys. But the fact is they say “no” 99% of the time too, perhaps more since they take NHNF meetings that other VCs don't.

Don Dodge

Point taken, but I still feel that Rick and Brad's approaches are the model that all VCs should follow: Offering an ear and constructive advise to all-comers.

Am I Turning Into A Curmudgeon?

After reading back over the past fews posts, I think I need to slap myself upside the head and tell me to lighten up!

Someone hand me the happy stick.

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ATM Fraud And Me

On Saturday night I was doing the usual accounts and bill paying activity when I called up my checking account online. Sitting at the top was an ATM withdrawal for $502 from a Bank Of America ATM in Auburn.

Chills start to creep down my spine.

I continue looking.

There's another from Renton; another from Bothell; another from Seattle; etc… In total there were seven withdrawals, all from Bank Of America and all for $502.

WTF!

I called the card issuer and had the card cancelled. Then I started my research.

Since forever I've preferred using debit cards over credit cards as I don't have a bill to forget to pay and incur credit charges. I also thought that it's more secure. Anyone can capture my credit card data and fake my signature. A PIN based transaction has to be more secure, right? It's worked fine for me up until now.

The key piece I've missed is that, of course, VISA will protect you against fraudulent use (OK, so you pay the first $50). Well, in the case of fraudulent debit/ATM activity the bank is under no obligation to refund the charges. I'm assuming that most would though, as otherwise you'd have a bunch of very pissed off customers. Handily, my bank is one of the good ones.

So, how did they get my PIN?

I'm guessing that one of the few places that I actually perform PIN based transactions has screwed me.

I use it at maybe three places. I local convenience store and local supermarkets. One of them had to have a fake PIN pad that was capturing data.

Or maybe not.

Maybe some idiotic system at some company was capturing my PIN in violation of network agreements and then had a security screwup.

I may never know.

And why Bank Of America? I'm not with that bank - hence the $502. They obviously requested $500 and incurred a $2 transaction fee. Is Bank Of America an easy mark for ATM fraud?

And why didn't the super annoying AI speak up? You know, the AI that runs on all transactions to spot inconsistent activity and stops you from purchasing that last minute gift for your wife's birthday?

I have never taken anywhere close to $500 out of an ATM, let alone once a day for almost a week!

Anyhow, what I do want is for the assholes that nicked my hard earned moolah to be caught. In my shiny rose-tinted world, as soon as I reported the fraudulent activity, the ATM network would spring into action and when the aforementioned perps tried to use it again (probably yesterday as they'd be using it once a day since last week), the ATM would fire it's camera; ask them questions slowly; call plod and have the perps arrested by the time the card got spat back out.

Somehow I doubt it though.

On Sunday morning I visited the local plod to report the crime and get a case number for my bank, who I visited this morning. The nice policeman said that the ATM fraud rate has recently skyrocketed in this area.

Handily, the bank took the details and printed me a new ATM card with a new number there on the spot and said that the charges would be refunded within two or three days. When I asked them why the super annoying AI didn't catch this obviously bogus activity I was informed that it doesn't run for PIN based transactions! It only runs for signature based transactions!

Wow.

So, the key takeaway is to avoid using your PIN at all costs - go the VISA route and sign for your transaction, that way the super annoying AI will run and maybe save your ass.

Update: Props to my bank First Technology. They credited my account with the full amount of the fraud the day after I reported it.

Murky Direct3D History

I really need to sit down and write a history of Direct3D from day one, i.e. pre-Microsoft acquisition of RenderMorphics, through to around DirectX 6.

The anti-Microsoft venom that still surrounds the whole OpenGL v Direct3D wars still hurts - we honestly we're trying to (and did do) the right thing. Even the Wikipedia article I just linked to has unpleasant bias…

I still posit that the state of consumer 3D would not be what it is today without Direct3D appearing on the scene.

And OpenGL would still be in the same stagnant state that it was in 1995.

Anyhow, this little outburst was due to a comment on a blog I happened to stumble on.

Not quite a happy ending. OpenGL was totally shot down by Microsoft, who used its monopoly in the desktop OS market to push DirectX instead, a propriety Microsoft graphics library. Had they embraced openGL, we would be seeing good games on all platforms, not just Windows.

Lots of high-profile game developers signed an open letter to Microsoft, including John Carmack (who may have even authored the letter if I memory serves), to ask Microsoft to embrace OpenGL for the good of the industry, the developers, the games, and most of all, the consumers.

Of course, Microsoft wouldn't listen, and used their power to push out OpenGL and gain market control, as per their traditional modus operandi.

Sorry to be Debbie Downer, just wanted to point out that the ending isn't so happy after all.

To which I responded:

Regarding Zach's comment - Not to totally thrash a dead horse or anything, but I was the PM and oddly enough one of the developers on Direct3D and it's predecessor, Reality Lab.

We did not set out to “kill” OpenGL. OpenGL was stagnant, did not run on commodity hardware and had laughable realtime software rendering support. I posit that if it were not for Direct3D giving the 3D graphics hardware industry a kick in the arse, we would not have the games we have today and OpenGL would still be stagnant.

At the original PDK outing of Direct3D, all the 3D hw guys really had no idea what was going on - they were all aimed at arcade and military applications. No one was focussed on the consumer.

I wish people would look at that time objectively and not with “MS hate” in their eyes. Hmm, maybe it's time I wrote it up.

btw - it was Chris Hecker that authored the letter.

Time to sit down and write that history post…

Opt Out Of Unsolicited Credit Card Offers

I wish I had known about this loooong ago.

In a similar fashion to the do not call registry for cold sales calls, you can opt-out of the pre-screened credit card offers that are:

  • annoying
  • wasteful of trees
  • an identity theft nightmare

Visit OptOutPrescreen to do the business.

OptOutPrescreen.com is a centralized service to accept and process requests from consumers to “Opt-In” or “Opt-Out” of firm offers of credit or insurance.

OptOutPrescreen.com is a joint venture among Equifax Information Services, LLC, Experian Information Solutions, Inc., Innovis Data Solutions, Inc., and TransUnion, LLC (collectively the “Consumer Credit Reporting Companies”).

Btw, for those of you that might think that the site itself is a scam (the fact that it asks for your SSN should set your spidey-sense tingling), note that the FTC links to the site, it's SSL'd and the matter has been debated on Ars Technica and other places. Personally, I believe it's legit.

I've signed up - let's see what happens.

[Many thanks to Lifehacker for the link.]

Last Week

'Snow Day' by swannman

Code.

Snow.

Icy walk.

Snow.

Sleep.

Ice.

Icy Walk.

Code.

Icy drive.

Snow.

Icy Walk.

Beer.

Sleep.

Drive.

Code.

Sleep.

Drive.

Code.

Sleep.

Drive.

Code.

Movie.

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CAPTCHA - A “Hot” Web Service?

Due to the deluge of spam comments and trackbacks that I regularly receive at this blog, I'm always on the lookout to find ways to reduce it. Most recently with Automattic's Askimet service. Askimet has been pretty successful for me, but that doesn't stop me from thinking about adding some level of CAPTCHA functionality to the blog.

A lot of services now use CAPTCHA. These include Blogger and most signups for various web services, but apart from the fact that they're easily broken, like most people I find them highly annoying - the letters that you're supposed to pick out of the images and sometimes just downright impossible to discern:

Huh?

I've often thought that there must be better ways to do this, when out of left field, Tim O'Reilly points us to HotCaptcha from the folks that brought you HotOrNot?. Here you're presented with nine pictures of individual people, only three of which are judged “hot”. Pick the right three and you're a human.

Now, ignoring the potentially NSFW content, this is pretty cool. They have provided a webservice that uses the collective intelligence of humans to put together a question set that is almost impossible for a non-human to answer. Pretty cool.

Now, where could this go? How about something like presenting a bunch of pictures from Flickr and a set of tags, where only one of the tags applies to all of the pictures?

I'm sure that there are a bunch of potential solutions in the same vein that can get us better results than standard CAPTCHA and with none of the annoyances.

Hopefully we can stop squinting at bad CAPTCHA soon.

Gnomedex Day One

Note, this will be a stream of notes/conciousness, updated as the day goes along.

The first question of the day was “Can we have TVs for the World Cup?”.

Opening Remarks

Chris jokingly responded “We'll need a sponsor”, at which point Halley Suitt from Top Ten Sources agreed to sponsor it! So there'll be TVs here for the England v. Portugal game tomorrow.

Yey!

At the break before the first session I bumped into Kris Krug, whose photography I am a massive fan of. Cool.

Kris Krug

I also finally met Kosso. It turns out Kosso was the guy I was talking to while he was podcasting and streaming it into Second Life a few weeks ago.

Kosso

While I was outside and people were taking pictures, Eric Rice quipped “Damn Citizen Paparazi!”

Anyhow, up on stage now is Mike Arrington from TechCrunch.

Mike Arrington

I'm not even going to try to keep notes about the sessions - I wanna listen, so I'll rely on the few hundred other bloggers in the audience…

Anyhow, the TVs are now live showing the World Cup…

Cool. Now Dave Dederer is singing…

Dave Dederer

Senator John Edwards is up.

Senator John Edwards

  • JE: Not here to give a speech, but to learn from you.
  • Questions/Statements
    • Read Wisdom Of Crowds by James Surowiecki.
    • Marc Canter: I'm a red diaper baby. “We see a bunch of limpy ball-less democrats that won't take it to the mat.”
    • Can you tell as a politician when you slip into mealy mouthiness.
      • JE: Politicians are conditioned to never be real. Yes you can feel it. The next president is likely to be the candidate that doesn't sound like a politician. It's not easy. Especially when reporters are asking you questions. It's hard in that environment to be normal. I'm training my self to actually answer questions and be normal. My wife will punch me when I'm being a politician.
    • How involved should the government be on monitoring traffic on the internet?
      • JE: Have to be very careful. Needs to be very limited.
    • Republicans use language very well to get what they want. “Death Tax”, “Patriot Act”.
      • JE: I have a concern about to much energy being spent on strategy rather than doing the right thing. It's difficult to govern without winning. Presidential elections are decided by integrity, character, trust. Not the issues.
    • Are we doing what it takes to win.
      • JE: There is a battle going on for the soul of the democratic party. Need big ideas that we're willing to stand behind with backbone.

One person asked about having citizen media follow the presidential candidates around during the campaign - unrestricted access. He agreed and said that the candidate that had the confidence and trustworthiness to believe in themselves and willing to let themselves be totally open has the ability to gain massive trust from the country. They would also force the other candidates to do the same or appear false.

Up after lunch, Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon - Net Neutrality.

Werner Vogels

  • The phone and cable companies will fundamentally alter the internet in America unless Congress acts to stop them.
    • Until last year Internet content delivery was regulated - the premise that there would be fair access.
    • Consumers have little or no choice of broadband access.
      • There are no market forces at work.
  • The telcos' plan:
    • Closed fast lane (their content) and open slow lane.
      • Paid police escort within the slow lane where paid equals for bid or auction.
      • Preferential local on-ramp into the slow lane.
    • This is an international issue.
  • Consumer safe guards - this is the net-neutrality amendment.
    • Content can only be prioritized by type and level of bandwidth purchased by the customer.
    • Terms for local content injection must be reasonable and non-discriminatory.

Casuality Day Two - The Asian Business Model

Today started out with a session by the IGDA Causal Games SIG. They've put out an hundred page white paper detailing how the industry works. This is now on my reading list :-)

There was also a presentation called “Don't Roll Over”. This was basically a rant about the fact that portals don't share advertising revenue with developers. This is changing (Microsoft and Real Networks have said that they're moving towards this), but it's currently a lot of revenue being left on the table by the developers.

Next up was an interesting session about the business model for casual games in Korea. This model grew out of the fact that piracy is rampant in Asia - boxed retail products make no sense.

Nexon has been in the industry for a while - they have titles such as KartRider that 25% of the population play! That's right - 25% of the entire population of Korea play KartRider.

Their model is free gameplay and the purchasing of items. These items may be decorative (personalization) or functional (speed boost, inventory bag, etc…) You have to be really careful about functional items as you don't want to skew competitiveness. Any item that changes game balance causes a barrier to entry for new players - they would have to buy the item to be competitive.

Strike Force is another of their games. This is basically a port of an FPS into the casual space, but it pulls in $5M per month in item purchases.

This model is in stark contrast to the US model which primarily revolves around try before buy. Revenue is purely purchase of game, advertising and subscription. The conversion rate of demo to purchase is currently at 2% in the US.

Casuality Day One

Yesterday started off with some interesting numbers about the casual games space. Online revenue for 2005 was $715M and is projected to be $1.56B in 2008. There were 60+ million visitors to online casual game sites in May 2006 of which slightly more than 50% were female.

That last statistic is very interesting and resonated throughout the day - casual games appear to have reached out to female audience - in large part due to the social aspects of casual games.

Another interesting number is that the average online casual game player sees 10{c|} of advertising supported content per month, whereas the average TV viewer sees $50. These will converge.

Big Gordon - Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer, Electronic Arts

Bing is a great speaker - his presentation was very “non-bullet point” and was full of amusing dead-pan humour.

Bing Gordon - EA

He started out by claiming that casual games are the next big category and challenged the moniker “casual”. More time was spent online last year playing casual games than World of Warcraft. The big pull, like with WoW is community and aspects that keep people coming back for more. Things like badges; collectables; IM; life time scores; bragging rights.

Bing is obviously a huge fan of EA's property Pogo, which last year surpassed one million subscribers. He talked a lot about the design process for new games for the site and the customers it attracts.

An interesting point he made is that though the site looks very busy, and could be described as ugly, “one click beats beauty every time”. Incidentally, Carson Systems posted a great article last week regarding this issue as applied to MySpace.

The most difficult part of the MySpace problem is that, despite what designers might think about it, and how they might have made it look, MySpace is actually a well-designed website. Who could argue with this? MySpace has grown faster than any site in the history of the Web, and in two short years garners nearly as much traffic as Yahoo! If that growth and popularity isn't a metric of good design, then what is?

Bing went on to describe some mechanics of casual games that have served PoGo well:

  • Cooperative play is key.
  • The good samaritan role - play a card to share winnings with the player in last place; help another player win a badge.
  • Non-threatening.
  • Fulfill fantasies.
  • Metagames - trading; campaigns; guilds
  • Expert features.

Other observations:

  • Core games1 typically contain casual games (mini games, puzzles, etc…)
  • People who design games for women are typically fathers with daughters or brothers with sisters.

Coming back to the MySpace subject, Bing went through the typical phases that game players go through and noted that the “MySpace generation” is not being served right now by the casual games industry. This is a massive opportunity for someone.

Although services such as Pogo provides personalization via avatars and such, the specific elements that the social site users are looking for (extreme self-expression, massive community features, friends, etc…) are not being directly addressed. Big opportunity here.

Another issue he brought up is pricing. He detailed the “good, better, best” model where you need three levels of pricing (where the lowest level may well be free). At the moment, “best” may be around 10{c|} per hour of gameplay. This needs to move to around 50{c|} which coincidentally is the same per hour cost of a paperback book.

During his talk Bing related a lot of great anecdotes. My favourite was the time when a young kid crashed a group of older women gamers with a lot of trash-talk. Apparently they gave him the kind of talking to like “only mothers who are dealing with a naughty child that is not their own” can do. He went away with his tail between his legs.

Another point was that casual games may be short in duration, but that it's easy to pull an all-nighter five minutes at a time…

1 This was a new term for me. A core game is what we would consider a traditional, $50 retail title.  

What do you “DO”?

In a recent post by Hugh MacLeod, he links to an older post that I remember reading, but only now has it really sunk in.

Hugh talks about the The Kinetic Quality of advertising. I believe that what he's talking about translates directly over to the startup world.

The often asked question about a new startup is “Why?”. Why would I buy that? Why are you building it? What problem is it solving?

For us, SwitchGear is solving a personal pain. We need to work harder at communicating why we believe everyone else also shares that pain.

They just don't know it yet.

Our product needs to make our customers smarter.

Startups need to flip Hugh's explanation of the kinetic quality of marketing to customers around to the “why” of their product.

How is your product going to solve a pain point, and how are you going to get customers to come to you to be educated? Will they be smarter and more informed now that they've chosen your product?

Will they feel good about it?

Conference Season

There's never one, and then they all come along one after the others.

No, not busses. Conferences.

Next week, I'll be at Casuality Tuesday through Thursday and then Gnomedex Thursday through Saturday. I have to say, I'm really looking forward to Gnomedex this year - last year it was superb.

This past week was Supernova and BloggerCon - neither of which I attended in person, but spent most of yesterday listening to Bloggercon via a live stream and lurking in the irc channel.

It almost felt like I was there.

Anyhow, if you're going to be at either of next week's events and want to hook up, drop me a line.

Swearing

A couple of interesting posts are making the rounds today by Brad Feld and Mark Cuban regarding the use of swearing.

Being a Brit and coming from a culture where the use of interesting colloquial vernacular is much more widespread and accepted than it is here in the US, I highly appreciated their posts.

But, of course, being a father, it's bound to be my fault when the anything “interesting” comes out of the mouths of the babes.

To quote Mark Cuban:

I mean come on, does it really matter if we say Poo Poo or shit ? Of course not. Unless of course your married and your wife tells you it matters. She doesnt want to be the one who gets phone calls from teachers and other parents getting blamed for all the 3 year olds in the little gym class screaming “Kiss My Ass you Mo Fo”… Me, i couldn't think of anything i would rather see and hear. but thats me.

Hehe.

For some reason, Julian has stopped using the word “fart” and is now saying “toot”. I'm disappointed. Day care indoctrination I guess.

Coincidentally, I was watching Lewis Black: Red, White & Screwed last night where he makes the point that the verbal release of anger and frustration by swearing stops us picking up a tire-iron and beating the living crap out of something. Good point.

Actually, this also reminds me of an occasion shortly after I joined Microsoft, when I was meeting with some game developers in Redmond.

These guys were from the UK and prior to the meeting kicking off there was a good amount of light-hearted banter going backwards and forwards, with the usual amount of UK style swearing sprinkled in for good measure. The US Microsofties in the meeting started getting more and more worried looks on their faces and eventually asked me to step out with them as they had something to discuss.

“This meeting is going horribly! Everyone is being so unpleasant to each other!”

Of course, nothing could have been further from the truth. We were getting along great.

Live Streaming In Second Life

This afternoon I was mucking around in Second Life when a very interesting thing happened.

I had just bought some land in the “podcasting neighbourhood” - near someone quite well known who has a castle, and was checking out (in a nice way) my new neighbours.

Anyhow, I stumbled upon bluggcast who owns a nice piece of waterfront next to the Curry Castle and we started chatting.

It turns out that the music I was hearing was his live shoutcast stream which he was feeding from a laptop in his hotel room in Boston.

While he was chatting to me.

It was fun to hear him give a shout out to me over his live stream.

I tell ya, visceral experiences of all types are melding…

Tags: .

Apparently Graphics Are Optional

This might sound a bit heretical from someone who spent the last eleven years of his life working on graphics engine (just go and look at the screenshots for Flight Simulator X - mmmmm yummy), but you need more than just a great engine to ship product. It'd be nice if you had a reasonably nice one though.

In fact, you don't need a great graphics engine at all.

Just take a look at Second Life.

The graphics are, to put it mildly, pants.

Circa 1996 pants, and that's being generous.

But of course, that doesn't matter because they're not selling to the hardcore FPS gamer, and they are making a crap load of money (and raising a load of funding too).

They're building a great experience that appeals to a lot of people.

Good for them, but the graphics still offend my sensibilities - I think they get away with it because their customer base just doesn't know any better.

And don't give me any of that “but our customers' machine capabilities are all over the map - writing engines that work on the full range of machines from no 3D hardware to the latest NVidia monster is hard.”

Yes, it's hard. But everyone else in the industry has been solving that problem for years. Just hire a couple of decent engineers1.

Imagine what it would be like with an engine with the quality of FlightSim or Guild Wars

Now that would be something to write home about.

1 Well, maybe they have - their upcoming features for the next build of the client claims “now with hardware lighting!”. Whoop-de-doo. 

The New Apple Ads

I like them, but they're playing a little loosely with the truth.

For example, in Viruses they imply that Mac's don't get viruses, which is obviously not true. Right now they just have a lot less. I wonder how many people are going to start complaining when the rate of infection increases.

As Dave Winer points out:

And the ad about viruses is just plain STUPID. Man are they asking for it. What happens when users who bought Macs thinking they couldn't get viruses all of a sudden are getting them. The Federal Trade Commission is going to love that. Can you spell Class Action Lawsuit?

Next, the iLife ad.

Yes, when you buy a Mac, you get iLife. But when iLife gets upgraded, you've got to buy the new version if you want the it. Even if you buy the new version of the OS (i.e. when upgrading to Tiger from Panther), you don't get the latest version of iLife with it.

I.e. one hardware purchase == one version of OSX == one version of iLife.

Nice ads, but a little hazy on the truth.

Finger Memory

It's pretty obvious that a lot of knowledge is learnt on an subconscious level - you have to “learn” how to walk, type, play a guitar, a piano, etc…

You can understand the mechanics, but until you've practiced, you can't do it without “thinking about it”.

This was driven home to me recently in an amusing incident.

I'm trying to convince Joe that emacs is the one-true-way as far as editors go for developers, and he asked me how to “switch to the other open buffer”.

This is an operation that I perform every single day hundreds, if not thousands of times. But could I remember the keyboard sequence?

Nope.

I had to sit down in front of the keyboard with emacs in front of me and have my fingers teach my conscious mind that the command it couldn't remember was Ctrl-x o.

Smart things, those fingers.

A Freakonomics experiment in the making

In their book Freakonomics, the authors relate a study that looked into charging parents a fine for turning up late to pick up their children.

Some economists ran a study at a number of day-care centers, first by keeping track of the number of late pickups for a ten week period before the fine was introduced and then again afterwards.

The results? The number of late pickups increased after the fine was introduced.

The authors claim (which seems reasonable to me) is that the moral incentive for picking up the children on time (“the poor teachers will have to stay late”) was replaced by an economic incentive (“I'm effectively paying for baby-sitting”).

It's easy to replace a moral issue with an economic one if the price is right.

Maybe the fine was too low, but making it too high could be punishing to any goodwill garnered by the day-care center.

“I was stuck in traffic, sorry for being five minutes late.”

“Sorry Mr. Dad, but that'll be $100.”

Why do I bring this up now? Well, in this week's email missive from Julian's day-care center, they informed us that from March 1st they'll be introducing fines for late pickups.

It's not enough that the day-care center treats the parents like children, but now they're making a potentially bad goodwill mistake.

They don't even say how much the fine will be. How's that for being customer focused?

I'm of two minds whether to send them a copy of the Freakanomics section. It might be interesting to see whether they treat it as a cautionary tale or as an affront to their day-care managing expertise.

More to the point, if I asked them, would they collect and pass on the data about the change in late pickup numbers as a Freakonomics experiment?

SteveLa is no more

And so an era ends.

As of 5pm this evening, stevela@microsoft.com is no more. Well, I'm not sure exactly when I get locked out, but today was my last day at Microsoft.

Even though I'm incredibly excited to be building a startup from scratch and moving on to the next phase in my life and career, the past two weeks since I announced my departure have been filled with a wild mix of emotions.

To paraphrase Guy Kawasaki in The Art of the Start, I'd be crazy to not be a little scared about what is to come, and there is definitely some of that mixed in with the excitement.

But also I'm a little sad to be leaving behind a great team at a great company.

Microsoft has been good to me.

And with that I shall dwell no more.

Onward!

Not a “one trick pony”

Note, these are just thoughts, not a reflection on “whatever the hell it is I'm up to…”

There's been a lot of talk online recently about VC 2.0 and I think I need to chime in with a few thought. These thoughts are based around the whole premise of current VC funding strategies (or rather as I see them, what do I know - I'm a noob).

Pretty much every startup these days seems to be a one trick pony - we've got a cool idea; name it; oh, and that's the name of our company also. Funding. Build. Sell.

What happened to actually building a company? You know, one that had a plan past product one. Or the flip.

Almost daily I see new buzz around startup X with product X, obviously hoping a business model and funding will come along.

Rarely do I see a “here's a cool product and a team with a plan for world domination”. Well, excluding Bungie, obviously. Oh, but Microsoft bought them.

And that's kinda where I'm going. Bungie had product[s]. Plural.

In the game development space, things work differently. It's more like an author/publisher model. The developer (maybe a startup) forms with some very creative and technically competent people, and they come up with an idea.

At this point I need to apologise to everyone in the gamedev space for over-simplifying everything.

Now where was I?

So they pitch their idea to a publisher and they get funding to build to product. They ship, everyone takes their cut and the developer gets royalties (the funding was the “advance” bit).

Assuming the developer was successful, everyone makes out like bandits and the developer in question grows their company, gets to not layoff all the people they hired to build the first product and moves on to the next one. Actually, they're crossing the arcs and starting up the new product as the old one is winding down - they're out looking for funding (a publisher agreement) for the next product concurrently with the first. Maybe they get to self-fund after the success of the first product.

My point? Where is this model in the non-game space?

Where is the funding for the product, as opposed to the company?

What the publisher in the non-game space brings to the table in testing resources, end-user tech support, distribution, etc… Very similar to the web 2.0 space and it alludes a lot to what Scoble is saying.

Key competencies of a new startup are probably technical. Amortize the other costs (tech support, marketing, server space, etc…) across them by being the “publisher”. Make gobs of cash from the product.

Of course, this isn't the “3/5/10 million or nothing” investment that VC 1.0 is looking for, but it does portend to another untapped opportunity.

Just my 2c. Oh, and if anyone wants to cut me a nice large check for my product-as-company, feel free.

Small denominations preferred ;-)

Internal clock realignment needed

Yesterday morning I woke up feeling just awful (cold or flu, I'm not sure), so after Nabila took Julian to day care I hit the sack in a big way.

I didn't wake up until Nabila called at 5pm to see if I was well enough to pick Julian up.

So now I feel much better, but of course it's 2:30am and I don't feel the least bit tired. Damn.

Maybe I should drink a gallon of milk

On my way home

I'm sat in Las Vegas' McCarran airport sucking on their free wifi. Did I mention that the wifi at the hotel sucked rocks through a narrow straw and cost an arm and a leg?

I am really looking forward to getting home.

Thoughts on Vegas

Maybe this should be moderated by the fact that I haven't got out much due to whatever bug I've caught, but here are some thoughts.

Poker is fun. I've always liked poker, but in a real casino setting, it rocks. The players in general are friendly, intelligent and witty.

Casinos suck. If the casino was a separate entity to the hotel I could probably deal with this, but I hate the fact that I am being physiologically herded like a sheep by the management.

  • The layout is totally confusing. The signs are all hidden and I've had problems finding the elevator to my room every single time.
  • There are no places to sit without a slot machine in front of you, i.e. no real “hotel lobby”. Even the tables in the bars are covered in video poker.
  • There are no clocks anywhere.
  • It is smokey. Very smokey. As a smoker myself, even I can't deal with it. The poker room is non-smoking, but it's open to the rest of the casino.

In general, everyone I've met from hotel staff to cab drivers has been very friendly and they love the city. Maybe I just need to visit when I'm not ill and get to share the experience with someone else…

Arrived in Las Vegas

After a rather bumpy ride from Seattle, I arrived in Las Vegas at around 3pm.

The flight in was beautiful. I've never been to Vegas before, and my seat (1A - yup, I got upgraded) offered me a great view of the city on final approach. I must say, Flight Simulator comes very close!

What did strike me from my vantage point in the air, was high much like SimCity the surrounding area looked. It is all dry and barren with these perfect squares on green plopped down on a regular grid - the golf courses looked even more out of place.

The airport itself was also very strange - my senses being instantly assaulted by slot machines - then I smelled smoke. You can smoke in here? Freaky.

The airport...

Landing was quickly followed by a one hour airport shuttle ride. Note to self, get a cab next time. At around 5pm I got to the Stratosphere Towers. The entrance confused the hell out of me - no lobby, just a gambling floor with no sign of the hotel check-in.

That one took me a while to figure out.

Anyway, here I am, in my room on the 22nd floor, suffering from complete sensory overload and I haven't seen or done anything yet…

Time to get some food and hook up with Mike. Then maybe a little flutter at a table or two…

Goodbye 2005…

A great year. A lot of hard work, good times and happy events, most notably the birth of our daughter, Jasmine…

With a few minutes of this year left to go, it's time to look forward to adventure, more hard work, happiness and excitement in 2006…

Rock on.

Season's greetings…

As I settle into my 38th Christmas, I'd like to wish you and yours a very merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

I am really looking forward to spending a relaxed and fun day with family and friends. I'm excited like a kid, just to see Julian's excitement in the morning!

Low volume

Posts are currently at a low volume due to the super-secret offsite meeting that I'm attending (and have been at since Sunday) and the super-secret other thing, both of which are sucking all my cycles.

Also, my Dad arrives from the UK today. He hasn't visited us here in almost five years and I haven't seen him in two… Today I get to introduce him to Jasmine…

Xbox 360 advertising

OK, I admit it, it's taken a while for me to latch onto the potential behind Peter Moore's advertising campaign.

I'm now a convert (Shawn, you win). This absolutely, freaking, rocks.

The Jump Rope and Water Balloon adverts left me feeling: “err, OK, but what did you actually tell me about the product?” But that's not the point.

I guess I'm too “type-A gamer”; too “get to the point”; too “anti-Madison Avenue”. But I see the light.

He's taking on Sony at their own game.

And he's winning.

Halloween Happenings

I like Halloween. It wasn't really an event in the UK when I was growing up, but as kids we had heard about the “Trick or Treat” action that all the lucky US kids had.

Fast forward a number of years to October 1997, and as a recently relocated Brit I was just about to experience my first US Halloween. Kids in the hallways of the offices; pumpkins everywhere; lots of fun. And last year I got to experience my first trick or treating with Julian. We had a blast.

This year started out around 6pm, with Julian's pals MacKenzie, Gabby and associated parents. We went off around the neighbourhood even though it was raining - much candy was collected. After a short while we headed back home and then had lots of little visitors to the house. Creatively dressed and very polite, the kids were fun. Most of the kids took just a little candy each - I said they could take extra, after which they might take just one more.

Nice kids.

About half an hour after the visitations had tailed off the older kids started to arrive. No costumes, open backpacks and attempting to take fistfuls of sweets.

“What are you dressed as?”, my wife asked innocently.

“I'm the lollipop sucking pimp”.

Very funny. Now piss off.

I think I only vocalized the first part.

Anyhow, after a couple of those visits, I just turned the lights off, moved the pumpkins inside and the visits stopped.

A few hours later and everyone except myself is in bed when I hear what sounds like someone taking potshots at the house, starting at one end, and working it's way down across the windows.

Some git is paint-balling the house.

I get a quick look at the truck they're shooting from before it disappears and call the cops. They stop by after a while and say “it's Halloween”, and they expect it'll continue around the neighbourhood. They'll keep an eye out.

It looks like they were aiming at a particular ghost decoration on the deck, but the hits weren't in a very tight pattern. I guess they were just very poor shots.

Ho hum.

Parking Lot Annoyances

I've just driven over to main campus from the Game Studios' buildings (you know, the ones by the gravel pits, not the shiny downtown Kirkland ones) for a lecture by John Battelle, author of "The Search".

Anyhow, the parking layout in the particular building is just dreadful. Long rows of parking spots, predictably all full, and each of them teminated by a dead end!

Hopeless.

Couple that with all the monster sized trucks that people seem to like bringing to work, and you end up with the parking migraine the size of a small moon that I'm currently experiencing.

Mind you, I think that I just have bad parking karma.

Anyhow, John is about to start, so back to note taking mode...

Scoble’s search rank trajectory

If Robert Scoble does switch to a new blogging platform, and hence new domain, I wonder what his trajectory to the top of the search engine results pages will be?  Will it be based purely on the heuristics that the search engines normally use for mere mortals? I.e. via inbound links, relevancy, etc... Or will the sites (google, msn search, yahoo, technorati, bloglines, etc...) seed their data so they can come up on top if he does another battle of the search engines?

Back to work

Today was my first day back in the office after my sabbatical. To be honest, I had grown used to my routine over the past eleven weeks of taking Julian to daycare, followed by eight hours of pottering around the house and writing code for whatever idea popped into my head.

On Tuesday night it finally hit me: I've got to go to work tomorrow!

The day was wonderful. Catching up with friends (i.e. my co-workers), taking the pulse of the project (not that I've been too distant, as I've been on email), blowing the dust off my desk, syncing my enlistment to the code, etc...

It's great to be back.

I must say though that I'm happy with my decision not to take any big trips. I've done a lot of traveling around the globe - both for business and pleasure, and I hope to do more. But for the first time in my life I spent my time off at home - relaxing; doing some recreational coding; catching up on other unexplored areas of technology; welcoming our new daughter into the family; getting a new roof put on the house; writing music; playing golf...

Don't feel that vacation, time off or whatever must be filled with intense pursuits so as "not to waste the time".

Take the time to chill and recharge.

Haircut?

So this evening after the munkins and their Mother put their collective heads down for a well earned session of sleep, I headed down to my local bar, with a nurtuned copy of The Economist in hand for a few beers and some intellectual stimulation.

I met a friend of mine, Tim, but he headed off in short order to leave me with my libation and cerebral stimulation.

A short while later, a young looking man walked in and sat next to me. He ordered a beer and was duely carded. As our bartender checked the document, he called out his birthdate.

"1983".

As is usual in these situations, I perform the mental gynanastics in my head and decalare myself older than Lazarus.

Then he turns to me.

"Do you know where I can score any weed?"

Maybe I need to get my hair cut.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

The current fashion in the games industry, especially amongst games designers that don't appear to be making games that sell well, if they are actually building games at all, is to rant that it's "going all corporate", or that "games are too expensive to make", or "there are no distribution venues for great games", blah blah, ad nauseum.

I could go on.

If you want to make art, then make art. I firmly believe that mainstream games can be art. Look at Half Life 2, Halo, Prince of Persia, Ico, to name but a few.

But I think what most of these critics of the industry want to make is "art-house art". And they want to have the critical and monetary reward for it.

Please feel free to try, and I applaud you if you succeed. But don't blame the rest of the industry for your inability to succeed when what you what to produce does not appeal to the buying public. And don't talk to me about needing to "educate the consumer". That's just elitist arrogance, just like the "in" crowd you never quite fit in with.

In this industry, as in many others, the art requires resources and resources are expensive. That, unfortunately, can make the realization of a perfect dream unattainable. How many glorious movie scripts have gone unproduced?

From Charles Boom's (one of the most talented game developer's I've had the pleasure to work with) 7/30/05 rant:

The people making games in the industry are for the most part doing their best to make good games within the realities of the market. You can't rant at them to get more talented. You can't expect them to do things the market & financing won't tolerate. If you want to rant at someone, rant at the consumers who keep buying the derivative crap, but that's not unique to games, consumers keep flocking to the next pop music wonder, the next explosion-fest movie, etc. Part of the problem with this is the continuing cycle of consumers - the young spend the most on new products, and the young have shitty immature taste.

By no stretch of the imagination am I saying that mainstream games are shitty. I'm saying that your art-house title, or perfect ascetic of what a game should be may not sell well, and as a result be the most attractive prospect for a publisher. Maybe a patron model is needed?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

And remember, for every Steven Spielberg or Robert Rodriguez, we have our Will Wright or Jason Jones.

Ferryman

So here it is.

Ferryman is the first time that I've written music, or more to the point lyrics, as a way of expressing certain thoughts about current events.

I hope you like it! If anyone has any ideas about what genre you'd call this (well, other than "crap"), please let me know!

Disclaimer: I can't sing. I must get CJ to sing this when we perform it as a band. Oh and he can do the solo too ;-)

For the music technophiles amongst you, this was recorded and produced using Reason and Cubase SX. The guitars and vocals were recorded in Cubase and the bass, drums and percussion in Reason, slaved via Rewire to Cubase. Everything performed by me.

Ferryman (mp3, 3.3MB)

If you like it, please consider making a donation to the Red Cross. And if you don't, well make a donation anyway.

Comments welcome...

A week of downs and ups

A bit of a light week as home has been a tad busy. What with Julian being home from daycare with the squits, Jasmine and Nabila with a cold, and mum having a painful sinus infection for which we had to take a trip to ER to get it sorted. Remind me to comment sometime about how efficient medicine is in the US compared to the UK. Yes, you have to pay, but it'll be covered by her travel insurance and we didn't have to wait five hours for treatment. In fact, they apologized that we'd have to wait for five minutes...

Everyone seems a lot better now, and the kidlets are down for a nap.

Last night I finally got to band practice after a break of over a month - and the practice went really well. I played the guys a song I'd been working on - "Ferryman", a little social commentary sort of ditty, so hopefully that'll be working it's way into the band's repertoire soon. Once I've finished the solo version, I'll stick it up here for your aural pleasure.

Tomorrow, for the first time this year, myself, CJ, Darwin and Tim will be heading to the links for some early (6.56am!) 18 holes of spanking whitey. To say I am looking forward to that would be an understatement.

And with that, I'm off to add the final touch to my little tune.

Interesting Contacts

Over the past couple of days I've had some interesting people contact me because of my blog. The first was a journalist from the UK doing some research into house purchase differences between the UK and the US and the second was a phone call from a musician in Minneapolis who is having the same problems with a certain CD duplication firm as I did earlier in the year.

It's interesting to note that the idea of a recommendations and criticisms of companies via blogs can now seriously affect their business. That wasn't the reason I posted my experiences, but rather I needed to vent... now however, if you search for Omnidisc in Canada, you also get my blog.

Recently, Jeff Jarvis' experiences with Dell hit the headlines, and CBC's Todd Maffin podcast about the phenomenon.

Companies need to wake up and realize that the next customer they piss off might have a greater audience than they do.

It's Just Physics!

I was just on my back deck looking at the garden and thinking about how wonderful it looks now that the trees are full with leaves, and wanting to take a photograph of it.

I have never managed to take a picture at night with any success, and I don't believe any average photographer has either.

How hard can the technology be? The mechanics of the eye are fairly well understood, so what's the problem? Where are the cameras that can take pictures with results just like I see them?

What am I missing?

Too Hot

It's just too hot here. We're hiding inside with the air-conditioning on full blast.

Purple Cow

I started reading "Purple Cow" by Seth Godin about an hour ago, it was a freebie from Gnomedex, and, well wow. If you're in a startup, you're a developer, in a marketing department, or in any way interested in the success of your product then you need to read this book now.

Seth uses the term "ideaviruses", where I would use the term "meme". But he then gets to use "sneezers" as those who thread the ideas where I don't have a corollary.

Robert is a sneezer - in fact I think he must have the largest "ideavirus" producing appendage going...

More when I finish this wonderful book.

Vacations Slow You Down

Shortly before embarking on this maxi-vacation I'm calling a sabbatical, I thought that I'd be blogging way more. Instead, I seem to be blogging way about the same, maybe even a little bit less. Let's see what I've been up to this week (short pause while I bring up Mind Manager, which, by the way, if an incredible application - doubly so on the Tablet)...

So, it's mostly futzing around with the new Tablet PC with a couple of trips to the office to install software (working for MS definitely has advantages...); practicing golf at the range and on the practice greens, slurping wifi (and coffee) at Starbucks; installing an NVidia 7800 and setting it up so that it can drive my shiny new 50" plasma, looking into getting our roof fixed or replaced; mucking around with DHTML and javascript and getting all AJAXy on a few web ideas; producing a podcast; mucking around with music (Reason, Cubase and Guitar Port); Band practice; a couple of meetings at work.

Not bad.

I think it'll probably continue like that until the new little'un shows up at the end of August.

New item on the todo list: think of something profound to blog about. That, or hit the golf course Monday around lunchtime.

Nerds Are Sexy Too

Just go and read Wil Wheaton now. He's one of the best writers in the "blogosphere" right now, and is (was) playing in the World Series Of Poker Championship in Vegas.

Here he recounts a trip to a vegas bar:

On my way to find a lounge, I stopped by my regular bar to get an Anchor Steam. (In Vegas, hitting the same bar three days in a row officially qualifies you as a regular.) The bartender was someone I hadn't seen before today: an absolutely beautiful girl in her mid-twenties, jet black hair pulled back into a ponytail, gold eyes and olive skin. Freckles dusted across her shoulders matched the ones across her nose.

I approached, and saw her reading my "Shrödinger's Cat Is Dead" shirt.

"What does that mean?" She said.

"It's a very nerdy physics joke," I said.

"So it's not being cruel to animals?" She said.

"Well, there's a lot of Uncertainty about that," I said.

She frowned. "What?"

"That was also a very nerdy physics joke," I said, and explained Shrödinger's Cat to her.

" . . . so until you observe the results, the cat is both dead and alive," I said. "Which, I'm sure, is just thrilling to you."

She reached into the cooler and pulled a beer out of the bottom. Chunks of ice clung to the sides, and she wiped them off. As she opened it, she said, "Actually, I was listening to you because I think nerds are incredibly sexy." She bit down on her lower lip.

Gulp.

I'm sure I blushed, and said, "Well, on behalf of nerds everywhere, I'd like to thank you for that."

"You're welcome," she said, as she set my bottle on the bar. I paid her and got the hell out of there before my wit and charm started writing checks my body couldn't cash.

Moving on . . .

Wil, actor and former alt.wesley.crusher.die.die.die target, writes with openness, clarity and incredible style.

I've been subscribed for ages. You should too.

A Brit Abroad

Sometimes you wish you were home.

When the bad shit really hits the fan, part of you says "I'm glad I'm not there", but the other part wants to be there - a part of the collective consciousness that you grew up in, to offer help or support in any way you can.

Yesterday felt rather like deja vu. My experience of the events unfolded just like 911 - I was in bed and Nabila had been up for a while and came to tell me that I should turn the TV on. Here we go again.

Looking at the pictures of Russell Square (which was my daily tube station whilst at college) and Kings Cross (where I narrowly avoided being a statistic in the 1987 fire) brought a severe lump to my throat and need to communicate with people who I knew would be using the system and those stations. I called my friend Kev and spoke to him - all my old friends are OK. Nabila spoke to her sister. Everyone was wondering how they were going to get home. My sister was thankfully on a business trip to Italy.

At work, many of the Brits here could not contact loved ones as the cellular network in London had been shut down as a security matter.

Many, many people - coworkers, friends expressed their sympathy and for that I thank them all.

London has been through this before, with WW2, with the IRA. London is probably the most security conscious city in the world. You can have all the inane security you want - all the shoe checks, sniffer dogs and no garbage bins on the Underground. But at the end of the day someone determined to kill will find a cowardly way.

Do I know what the answer is? Of course not. But I do know that while some people in this country seem to think that giving up all liberties, freedoms and rights is the only way to be safe, they're wrong.

Terrorism is the tool of the unjust. A last resort 'fuck you'. An attack on the common man.

It's not war, it's slaughter.

London Bombings

Not much I can add to the vast coverage going on right now. The BBC appear to have the best coverage. It really hits home when you see things like this. I spent a number of years with Russell Square as the main tube station I used when I was a student.

I just got off the phone with my friend (and best man at my wedding), Kev Delonge. He works in the city and told me the nothing is moving - the bars are doing brisk business... My sister-in-law is sat on a park bench wondering how to get home...

For coverage from the blogosphere, you can follow technorati, and pictures are starting to appear on flickr.

Jack Not jack

Via Charles Bloom, I find my new amusement in Modern Drunkard. I enjoy the odd tipple, but it was interesting to find that the Jack Daniel's company is not exactly being truthful with their "original recipe" story. Lo and behold if I don't just check the cabinet and find that it is just 80% proof...

I'm sorry guys, but blatantly deceiving your loyal customers, even when they didn't notice, is just wrong.

Microsoft and the Gay-Rights Bill

At last a calm and reasonable viewpoint on the issue.

The whole "Microsoft withdraws support for gay rights" issue came out of left field for me. I'm as strong a supporter for gay rights as they come, but the recent issue threw me for a loop. On the one hand, what is Microsoft doing? On the other, huh? Internally, Microsoft is probably the most pro-gay rights as they come. Ten years ago when I was hired, Microsoft had the same great internal stance that they do now.

But when the actual facts come out via Steve Balmer's email, I understood, but it still left me with a bit of a queasy feeling.

Scoble's response was kind of similar to mine.

But Vic nails it. Thank you for expressing what a lot of people are thinking.

Personally, it now looks like another religious fruit-loop trying to gain stature by posturing.

From the Seattle Times' article:

Hutcherson, though, said yesterday he met with Microsoft officials earlier this year, telling them he would organize a national boycott of the company's products if it did not withdraw its support of the bill.

Hutcherson also said he told the company's officials that two Microsoft employees who had testified in support of the bill should be fired because they misrepresented themselves as representatives of the company. Begasse said the two employees were testifying as individuals, not company representatives.

The pastor said he didn't care what the company's policies were regarding gay employees as long as they kept it within their business. "What I was upset about was when they tried to step outside their four walls and make their policy my policy. That gave me the right to step out of my world into theirs."

When RSS is not RSS

I really like RSS feeds. RSS is the way I read blogs, but the use of it by some a lot of people, even by some proponents of RSS really irks me.

The final 's' in RSS is syndication. I.e. syndication of the content. Don't just push out a headline or a teaser, push out the content.

I recognize that a lot of these site's revenue is driven by ads, but figure out a way to stick the ads in the RSS feed - I don't mind that at all. Just don't force me to go to your site to read the content.

If the point is click statistics, then just place a web beacon in the feed. Most (if not all) aggregators use a browser to display the content anyhow, so you'll get your click metrics.

RSS is about content syndication. Yes, there are other uses like search subscriptions, but in the end content is king.

Too Much Stuff Going On

Got the new server up and running, so my domains memeflow.com, spank-band.com are there. steve-lacey.com will be moving there shortly.

I'm also hosting the blog and domain of my compadre cj there at www.bushrodchronicles.com. Go check him out.

Work is busy with much graphics goodness occuring and home time is fun with the ever happy Julian and lurvely Nabila. This evening was also a double joy. I met up with a bunch of friends to see Sam whose (now) financee is serving in Iraq. Sarah also turned up on-spec to join in the festivities - it turns out she's moved to Marysfield on the quiet.

Well Written

Is it just me, or is the quality of the writing in blogs in general very high. Maybe it's just a self-selecting thing, but when I pick up entries like this in my aggregator I stop wondering why traditional media is way down on my reading list.

Amateur blogging - huh?

The Scoblebook

Robert Scoble and Shel Israel's in production, out in the open book on corporate blogging is shaping up great! The first chapter has got to be one of the most eloquant and brilliant first chapters to a book I've read.

It's cluetrain time, folks, this time with added conversation.

Hunter's Last Words…

Maybe. Anyhow, Hunter S. Thompson was a regular columnist for ESPN and last week's column was, of course, his last.

Ironically it's about my favourite sport - Golf.

Hunter S. Thompson: "I'm working on a profoundly goofy story here. It's wonderful. I've invented a new sport. It's called Shotgun Golf. We will rule the world with this thing."

Bill Murray: "Mmhmm."

Hunter S. Thompson: "I've called you for some consulting advice on how to launch it. We've actually already launched it. Last spring, the Sheriff and I played a game outside in the yard here. He had my Ping Beryllium 9-iron, and I had his shotgun, and about 100 yards away, we had a linoleum green and a flag set up. He was pitching toward the green. And I was standing about 10 feet away from him, with the alley-sweeper. And my objective was to blow his ball off course, like a clay pigeon."

Friends In Thailand

A good friend of mine, Diane Edwards, is currently in Thailand. Di runs a company based in Greece, Seascape, that runs a small fleet of charter sailboats. Early in the year she also organizes a great trip to Thailand which I went on in 1999.

Anyhow, this year they went ahead with the trip to Thailand - in most part due to the people she knows there communicating that the worst thing that could happen now is that tourism should drop off and deprive the region of the income they need. In Di's words:

...get the word out there to the rest of the western world, not to treat Phuket, etc... as a war zone, and not to turn a tragedy into a double-disaster for these people.

Before Di left for Thailand she sent out some email to "the old salts" asking if we wanted to receive updates - sure!

So here, unedited and with permission. is Di's first email after arriving in Thailand.


From: Diane Edwards
To: Steve Lacey
Subject: Here in Phuket

Hi everyone.... thanks heaps for your notes and great words of support - so nice to hear from so many of our "old hands" again out there ! If we haven't gotten back to you directly as yet, sorry 'bout that... been a tad hectic here of late!

So here's the latest, From-The-Front report !

Our first impressions are how amazingly "normal" everything seems. Knowing the geography of the area, and the Thai people - we were already optimistic that Phuket would be significantly better than the mass media have been portraying it.

"Better" doesn't even begin to describe it. If one had been disconnected from the media for the past 2wks, there would have been no clues whatsoever that anything was amiss on our taxi ride from the airport in the north, to Kata Beach in the south (apart from our taxi driver, who had lots to say ! :>).

As we drove along Kata beachfront, we saw the shops on the beach road all open for business as usual, and as far as we could see, undamaged. Our first view of any tsunami damage was our favourite little right-on-the-beach cafe, at the bottom of the hill where Kata Delight sits. There were dozens of people working on it, a new roof in progress... and open for business again already. So the tables are makeshift plastic ones, but who cares - the food is just as superb ! It was heartening to see several other "farangs" (=foreigners) come in for dinner last night from their boats anchored at the bay - there seems to be an unspoken consensus that the construction noises going on late into the night should not be allowed to intrude. Similarly with many westerners leaving extra-large tips in these little places. It's good to see.

We were exceedingly happy to find that not only was our favourite Kata Delight hotel perfectly fine - but that all the staff there too. Apart from the place being abnormally quiet of course!

So after a quick wake-up dip in the pool, we got in our jeep, and set out for the beaches we'd seen on the news reports. The hotel guys told us that the worst hit beaches were Patong (the major "touristy" beach) and Kamala, the next one north - so off we went to see for ourselves.

Patong is the beach from which many of those shocking first pictures came - probably one of the few tsunami-hit areas where there were so many tourists around with cameras to hand. Even with our optimism, we were still expecting this particular area to be pretty wrecked for a couple of streets back (tho we suspected that stories of the water extending almost a kilometer inland were geographically unlikely!)

We can't know how it looked even last week; we can only report on "now" - and the "now" is that the beachfront is looking amazingly clean and organised already. Many of the buildings which were sitting right ON the beach are being completely demolished and rebuilt. Those across the road fared much better - who knows why some are still looking quite "as normal", and why some were taken out badly; but even so, it is not a scene of total destruction AT ALL. Again, if one did not know better, it would easy to imagine that there were just major renovations going on along the waterfront. On average, it looked like about 70% of the buildings/shops/bars/hotels on the road opposite the beach are ok, many of them re-opened for business again already.

Go just one street back in Patong - and it is like stepping into some time warp where no tsunami happened. Everyone is open as usual, and it's super-*busy*! - much to our surprise !! It looked just like the packed-out Patong of old, with all the street vendors, the girlie bars... the only major difference immediately noticeable to us was many less westerners than usual.

We had lunch at a little plastic-table locals' place on Patong Beach. The women there greeted us with lots of smiles and "sawadee's" (welcome!). Later we bought coconuts from a beach vendor - we got a big "thumbs-up" sign from the guy, and an even bigger smile from him and his buddies sitting around when we told him that we'd be sending the photo to friends back home.

These reactions - and many others similar - have quite put our minds at rest about one niggling doubt; that there might be some uncomfortable element of being "gawking tourists". We'd read the opinions of some who thought it a ghoulish, stop-at-traffic-accident thing to even consider still going to Thailand; how thick-skinned us westeners must be to consider still basking on beaches when so many people have suffered such personal tragedies - all of which are valid points of view. However.... they don't seem to be the locals' point of view. We have not so far gotten ANY sense of resentment at our presence; in fact it has been absolutely, totally the opposite. These people are happy to see us, very happy. They know that in many ways, they were the luckier ones..... so many in Khao Lak fared so much worse.

They also know very well that even for those who lost nothing in the tsunami, that the secondary economic crisis could spell disaster for them - the Thais we have spoken with have very much echoed our expat friends' frustrations at the mass media of late. The first person we encountered on our arrival - the very talkative taxi driver ! - told us at great length; everyone equates Khao Lak with Phuket. For them, it is as if some natural disaster happened in eg, Vancouver, yet everyone is being warned off going to Seattle.

So - as far as Phuket is concerned; statements that we have all read in the press that the island has "been devastated" are just wrong, plain and simply - wrong. There is no more or less risk of disease here than on Dec 25th; the vast majority of the island is just as it always was. There are no bodies in streets or on beaches, no change in the sanitation/water infrastructure, the beachfront damage is being repaired amazingly fast.

This is the good news. Now for the not-so-good.

The two areas of which the massive destruction reports ARE true are Phi Phi Don ("big" Phi Phi) and Khao Lak. The latter is about 2.5hrs drive north of here, on the mainland. It was the up-and-coming-Phuket-to-be - many new upscale resorts, many, many tourists. The majority of the deaths reported in Thailand were from this area. Much as we can see the Phuket locals' frustration at the mass media - we can also understand better now how these generalisations have come about. Even we - knowing the geography of the area - did not realise till now just how localised the tsunami effects were; how it picked out certain areas to devastate, others to leave almost untouched.

Khao Lak and Phi Phi Don shared two unfortunate geographical similarities. They both have west/nw facing beaches with long, shallow sands stretching back for 100s of metres, giving the tsunami so much more chance to build those horribly destructive wave heights. For Phi Phi Don - add the fact that most of it was built on a flat sand-spit of land between two pinnacles - and you have a perfect path for such a wave to wash right over to one beach to the other side.

Khao Lak is out of bounds to visitors right now; we hear that relief organisations and the Thai military are there and doing a great job; we'll not be able to report directly (even if we wanted to .... which, re the gawking tourist comments! - we probably wouldn't anyway).

We ARE hoping to get out to Phi Phi Don - this is the home of Wolfgang's cook, Joy; she and her husband ran a dive shop there. They and all their family are fine, but their shop/home is not. We've had several offers of donations, etc, from past sailors, and we are hoping to find a worthwhile project there to help support. We've been told that the gov't is throwing a lot of resources at the island to help them rebuild, and that they are even hoping for an "opening day" of Feb 1st - on which they will offer free accommodation to encourage visitors back ! Wolfgang thinks this date is optimistic; but still.... hope is on the horizon to get tourists back this season.

Getting the tourists back is the main concern of Phuket and most of the surrounding southern islands now. This may sound callous and uncaring towards those in Khao Lak who have lost so much, and have no hope whatsoever of rebuilding their homes/livelihoods in any near future. But what good is it going to do those people who survived up north, if they don't even have any hope of moving down to Phuket to earn enough to feed their families? The locals in Phuket who were already living on a shoe-string are losing their jobs daily - no tourists = no income = how on earth to survive the coming 6 months of the rainy season ??

As one of the local papers noted today - whilst the generosity of people around the world in donating to relief funds has been wonderful; the sad fact is that there's a whole lot of secondary - and unnecessary ! - damage going on right now in Phuket. Media over-generalisations, our own governments issuing blanket advisories to stay away, without any attempt at geographical differentiation. Unsafe? Tell it to our smiling coconut vendor on Patong beach, or the sunworshippers and swimmers behind him. Relief funds? Our beach cafe family won't get any, they are working their butts off from dawn till late at night to get back on their own feet. Disease? Tell it to the local girls we were talking to last night, who are about to lose their restaurant jobs. Guess what they will end up doing instead, to survive ??

I should pause here and add a small disclaimer: I am talking ONLY of what we have witnessed ourselves in the past few days. I am not in any way including Khao Lak, nor "big" Phi Phi island; nor am i trying to minimise the awful destruction and the thousands of deaths that the tsunami caused here. We are just the tiniest tiddlers in this Thai pond, and even less significant in the bigger asian picture of this tragedy. Sending back word to our western friends is just something we hope we can help with *right here and now*, to help minimise the "economic aftershock". Other parts of Thailand, and even more so, other parts of Asia desperately need the aid that has been so generously contributed. The people here just need the chance to get their normal livelihood back.

We hope that you guys will spread this email around and let other people who were unsure of whether to continue with travel plans to Phuket know that IT IS JUST FINE - AND JUST AS BEAUTIFUL!! - and for sure, your visit will be totally appreciated by the locals.

More updates to come - moving on from Phuket to some of the people here who *were* badly affected - we're planning a somewhat novel "seascape mini-relief effort" for locals in Phi Phi (stay tuned, win a vacation for two to the Greek isles ! :>).

all the best from us, from a still very lovely Kata Beach...

Diane & Ray

PS the attached photos aren't the greatest, i'm afraid.... just a few snaps from our first pretty jet-lagged afternoon! We'll do better .... :>

Ten Years

Hard to comprehend, but Thursday, January 6th 2005 will be my ten year anniversary at Microsoft...

Well, RenderMorphics actually, but we were acquired a few short weeks later and I get to count that ;-)

Lazy

We're in the middle of a stabilization phase right now and my evenings are being taken up with Julian and Half Life 2, so updates are a little slooowww at the moment...

btw, congrats to Karen and CJ on the birth of their son, Sebastian.

Greg Bear

The Scobeleizer was at a dinner last night where he met Greg Bear - and he hadn't even heard of him before! Chuckle ;-) It didn't take long for Robert to get to like Greg.

A few years ago I was very fortunate to be working on a new game title and we talked to Greg Bear - he helped us brainstorm some ideas and story lines. He was incredibly helpful. Unfortunately, the title never shipped due to unrelated issues.

Of course, we were all massive Greg Bear fans - it was great just to hear him talk. During our first meeting we all brought books along for him to sign, which he graciously did. A very cool experience for the geeks...

Got My Car Back

Yesterday I got my car back from R&R Automotive in Bellevue, three weeks after the accident. I'll tell you what, they did a fantastic job - the car looks wonderful, and handily all those rock chip marks I picked up a few days after taking delivery of the car are now gone! Cool.

Next step is to get the BMW/iPod interface installed.

Talking of the iPod, the latest version of iPodder (the Podcast downloader) is a vast improvement over the last one. Last night it downloaded the latest "Dawn And Drew" show - including the album art which showed up automatically on the iPod. It's a little thing, but it gave me an "Oh, that's cool" moment.

In a "that's uncool" moment though, how come the iTunes UI becomes unresponsive when it's talking to the iPod. Come on folks, it's not that hard to get right.

Turns Out…

She doesn't have insurance. The police just called to tell me, and they're writing her a ticket now. I can't believe that she could just outright lie to the police and me like that.

Anyhow, over to SafeCo...

Accidents Will Happen

It's around 9am this morning and I'm driving Julian to daycare when I reach the four-way stop at 6th Street and Kirkland Way. There are three cars queued to the right of me, so I let the first one go. My turn and off I go when the second car takes off. I slam on the breaks, but to no avail as she hits me, taking off the front of my car...

The engine is still running so I pull forward and park, the lady driving the other car also parks. Behind her was a very nice lady (who happens to work for the city). She pulled in behind me, called the police and checked on Julian and I. I was basically in shock, just holding Julian.

She hung around for a while, whilst the woman that hit me didn't seem to care less. Shortly the police arrived. The first policeman took all the details. He was cool - he'd just got back from a trip to the UK where he stayed in Brighton! Then a policewoman arrived and took over.

I called BMW assist and they arranged a tow truck to take me to R&R Automotive in Bellevue. The policewoman was cool - checked all the details, filled out the report, etc... She checked Julian's car seat and took his details. She also says the woman that hit me basically admitted it - but it's likely she hasn't got insurance.

I then called my insurance agent, MacDonald Insurance in Kirkland. They were just incredible and walked me through everything (having never been involved in an accident in the States, this was very reassuring). She also ran me through what happens with the uninsured driver scenario. We'll see how that goes. You should have seen her face when I explained just what sort of car a BMW M3 is. Her face just dropped and she asked me if it had to go to BMW for repair. Hell Yes.

Nabila arrived pretty quickly while I sorted out everything else. She arranged for a trip to the doctors to get Julian checked out. The accident itself felt pretty gentle - as one of my coworkers said "you pay a good deal of money for a very safe car".

In pretty short order the tow truck arrived and we toodle off to R&R who in turn were great - explaining everything and arranging for a rental (a Volvo S60) from Enterprise. They also eased my mind about their knowledge about the M3.

It was pretty much all sorted by 11.30am - handily as the doctors appointment was for 11.40am, so I met Julian and Nabila there. Julian is fine. As the doctor said: "First rule of pediatrics - if it takes three of us the hold him for an exam and he's screaming - he's OK."

Next step. We'll see if her insurance calls me tomorrow. If not, then I call MacDonalds Insurance and they get the ball rolling with SafeCo under my uninsured drivers policy.

This just keeps reinforcing the fact that you can't pay enough for safety and why I continue to buy BMW (the M3 is my third). The M3 may be a fine looking sports car - but it's damn safe too. It just shrugged off the strike.

I can't wait to get her back on the road, poor thing.

Oh Poop - It's Post One Hundred

As it's my one hundredth post, I thought I'd discuss something serious; something close to my heart; something like... dog crap.

So there I am on Sunday, happily plodding around the house when Nabila lets me know that Anna (our neighbour) has offered to cut our lawns for us to return a previous favour.

The problem is that the lawns are a minefield. With poop. Big dog poop.

Now normally I don't have too much of a problem with picking up after Maddy (our Old English Sheepdog). But that normally occurs on a walk, and you usually only do it once per walk. But it has been months since the grass in our gardens was cut, and Maddy drops her WMD in there every day, and not just in one spot either. So there I am (stupidly in my new Vans) brushing through the tall grass with the poop scoop tool trying to find the emissions. And they don't acquiesce to capture easily too, as, of course, it has been quite warm. Sometimes I long for a nice freeze to harden up those puppies.

Nevertheless, I finally finished the unpleasant job.

Oh, and did I mention that our wonderful dog has an love of nappies (diapers for the Americans in the audience). Full, used, dirty diapers. Some of those torpedoes in the gardens contained a lot of roughage.

My pal Andy is a clever bloke. He pays a man to come round to his place every month to do the job for him.

Blog Discovery

Usually I try not to talk about blogging, because blogging about blogging seems slightly self-referential and a bit like posting for postings sake. Ah well, never mind. I'll probably do a bit more of this anyhow ;-

Blogs are interesting. It appeals to the voyeur in all of us - a peek from behind the curtains of our houses into someone else's life. And damn fun too.

Generally, the average user looks at websites - they don't use aggregators. They go from link to link to link. This is why blogrolls (or just plain inter-website links) are so important and accomplish a number of purposes:

  • Enable discovery of other sites by users. Usually sites that you find interesting.
  • Boost google rankings - how many times have people 'asked' for a link?
  • By linking to another site (whether via a post, or a sidebar link) and performing a trackback ping, generally your site will get automatically linked back from the target site, thereby improving your own google ranking.
  • And probably a whole bunch of others...

The problem is that this just gets unwieldy. For casual surfing, have you tried casually surfing through Scoble's blogroll? It's just too big.

What's needed is a very user friendly frontend for the 'average' web user. Bloglines is pretty good (and I use it), but you've got to add feeds of your own before you get any sort of recommendations. What's needed is somthing like google news, or more likely MSN's NewsBot where you can register your interests and likes; where it tracks posts you are interested in and offers up recommendations based on those. I could go on and on.

A bet this already exists and I just don't know about it because, ahem, it's hard to find.

As an aside, whilst writing this I notice that Scoble has just blogged on this very topic, but more along the lines of "work the system" rather than "we need a new system".

New Friends, Old Friends

Every now and again, someone that I've lost contact with stumbles across my website. This happened again today when Dave Edmondson added a comment to my previous post.

Wow. Dave and I were at university together, and then worked as systems administrators in the department. Dave left to go work at SCO (looks like he's now at Sun) and then I left to join the Press Association. Then RenderMorphics, then Microsoft. We sorta lost touch after that. This is a great day...

Google's Future

You've got to wonder about Google's chances for long term success. I used to be a massive Google fan, and I still use them for search almost exclusively, but they seem to keep dropping the ball. If the fiasco that is their current IPO offering is any indication, how successful do you expect their long-term business to be?

Take their news offering news.google.com as an example. It's been marked as "beta" for what seems like forever and doesn't seem to be getting any enhancements. I think MSN's new Newsbot is going to eat Google's lunch. It's adaptive and looks better. I'm sorry but stripped down look'n'feel is great and all, but sexy and sleek stands out better and looks more professional.

What about all the patent infrigements, or the fact that they were just plain lazy in trade-marking GMail?

I dunno. I'd like Google to succeed, but I see them screwing the pooch like Netscape or becoming another has-been like AltaVista or Excite.

Idle Thumbs

What a great article! This is a great take on the current state of the games industry and the games that we produce. The article kinda hits both sides of the FPS fence and tackles the "My son killed his friend ’cos he played your game" issue. I like the question he posits:

And, in a separate case that also occurred only a few days ago, a mother recently killed her 15-year-old daughter because she claimed God told her to. Why isn't religion taking any flak for this, when this crime may have been averted had the woman never heard of God? Because religion isn't at fault - and neither are games.

Indeed.

Personal Manifesto

So in this election year, I thought it was time to publish my personal manifesto.

  • I will strive to make Nabila and Julian's lives as wonderful, happy and fun as I can to the best of my abilities.
  • I will strive to make my own life as wonderful, happy and fun as possible, both personally and professionally.
  • I will attempt to make gobs of cash for the family, in a socially responsible manner.
  • I will drink beer.

Sounds good to me.

On Creativity

A wonderful article on creativity.

Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten.


Then when you hit puberty they take the crayons away and replace them with books on algebra etc. Being suddenly hit years later with the creative bug is just a wee voice telling you, "I'd like my crayons back, please."

This really hits a home run. Everyone has the skill and desire to be creative, and a lot of people are; be it through music, coding, writing. People should spend more time making stuff.

Interesting article on DRM

I haven't quite made up my mind on Digital Rights Management. As a software developer and musician, my gut tells me that DRM is good and piracy is bad. But hey, when I rip music (from my own CDs, bought and paid for), the first thing I do is turn all the DRM stuff off. I don't download music and I don't fileshare it either.

This is an interesting take on the whole issue, based on a talk given to Microsoft Reseach.

Why DRM Is Bad For Society: A Briefing For Microsoft - Robin Good' Sharewood Tidings

Wow - it's been

Wow - it's been a while (I seem to say that a lot). Well, what have I been up to?

Working on FlightSim. Added HLSL support, wrote a bunch of shaders, added specular bumpmapping to the water (well, actually it's just texbeml, but I wanted all the terrain shaders to be single pass). Bunch of other random stuff. We're in the final stretch and I'm doing a shit load of config stuff. I hate video drivers - how hard could it be? (Hmm, thinking about it quite hard - random trivia - I cowrote the first Direct3D driver that every existed - for the first Rendition part the night before WinHEC 95).

More interesting stuff - really getting into scripting languages - DanteScript (the language I developed for the cancelled Gemini) now sees light (potentially) as the scripting language for FS Next. I'm really pleased how easy it was to pull it out of Gemini and make it standalone (~3 hours).

Nabila is now definitely very pregnant ;-)

The band (Spank! http://www.spank-band.com) has now played 3 gigs - two parties and one bar. We managed to blow the power at the bar (Smokie Joes) with our first song ;-)

Ho hum - two weeks until we ship. This will be fun.

© 2001 to present, Steve Lacey.