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Thursday, 31 October 2002

This digital world

From Plastic, in a discussion about a Guardian article on the proliferation of amateur porn producers:

"I have a little rule about digitizing. I ask myself, "Do I mind if the entire planet sees this someday?" If the answer is "yes," it remains analog."

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Bug found, user happy, film at eleven

Last time I wrote about Jaguar, I ranted rather incoherently and at great length that I was unable to get certain ctrl-key combinations working in Terminal. At all. Which rendered certain command line apps next to useless. Actually, scratch that, it did render them useless. Well, it's not my fault. It's a bug. Even better, it's not just me, it's reproducible. Here's how:

Go into System Preferences, then "Keyboard" in the Hardware section. Select the Full Keyboard Access tab. Now listen, because here's the science bit - make sure "Turn on full keyboard access" is unchecked, then in the drop-down list "Press Control (ctrl) with: ", select "Letter Keys". Note that full keyboard access as it is should be off. Fire up pico or whatever, and press ctrl-w. Watch in stunned amazement as nothing happens. It seems OS X is still intercepting ctrl-w, and so on, but not actually doing anything about it. Good job is you can stop this nonsense by changing the "Press Control (ctrl) with: " list selection to the function keys, assuming you don't use them.

Ta-da! I have my ctrl-w back.

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Monday, 28 October 2002

Flip-book video

From a Wired interview with Merril Brown, brought in to RealNetworks to popularise online video, possibly the best--and most hilarious--description of postage-stamped sized grainy images to date:

"Back in the old days 1997 RealNetworks gave us streaming video that looked like a tiny flip book with most of the pages ripped out."

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Emerging Networks

Wired has a reading list for the emerging science of the emergent network. Meanwhile, this paragraph wins the prize for most abuse of the word "emerge".

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Music

After prompting from Bronwen, the music sidebar is now powered by Kung-Tunes, which is a marked improvement over telling you that I'm listening to my Top 50 playlist.

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Saturday, 26 October 2002

Moosetastic

I guess it's time to admit it. I am one of the writers for ChiefMoose.com.

Yesterday was really damn busy. When I got online in the afternoon, all of a sudden, I found out that Howard Stern talked about us on his show and we were, like, the big meme of the day. The entire day was been spent updating the website, throwing together a store, and setting things up with the other ChiefMoose.com people. It seems we've been picked up by the major wires, Fox News Channel is plugging us every hour - we served 600,000 hits yesterday. I heard some of the officers who work with the Chief have seen the site, and they get it. So, it's all good.

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Friday, 25 October 2002

Blogger Hacked

More information at Tom's site.

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Thursday, 24 October 2002

Something to talk about

Yesterday, Meg wrote a great piece about online community, distinguishing the tools that a community uses from the actual community itself, spurred by recent developments in the UKBloggers mailing list. I've been following the list discussion about what to do now that the GBlogs portal has closed down and, like Meg, was stunned by the number of people who didn't seem to Get It, so much so that I sat down and started ranting (probably incoherently) about what online community, or even just community, is. On reflection, what I was really doing was defining what online community wasn't (it's not lots of things). Fortunately, I never got the chance to finish the rant because a well-timed lecture interrupted me mid-invective and by the time I'd sat through about an hour's worth of learning about booleans, nested ifs and switch/case statements in Java, the will to rant had been drained from my being.

What I decided to do instead was hand it over to Tom, and pointed him at Meg's article. Tom IMed me a couple hours later after having splurged about community participation and what it means to be a member of community.

The sin that Meg latched on to was the conception that the UKBloggers community was a 'project', and that once one tool had been shut down, whether this constituted a failure of the project. Meg quite accurately pointed out that the community was never a project. (Successful) communities frequently never are--they pre-exist. The example that I'll give is to go into the history of the UKBloggers mailing list a little more than the paragraph Meg gave and give some parallels.

Way back in 2000, Caroline had decided that she was going to be around in England in the summer and vaguely expressed a desire to meet up with anyone who felt like meeting up with her. Back then, the number of blogs in the UK was tiny. We're talking small--at a high estimate, less than thirty.

What you've got with such a small number of people, all doing the same thing, in a small (relatively speaking) geographic location (leaving aside arguments that geography doesn't really matter on the web--to which I say you can never ignore geography, and that's probably a distressing thought to ks3 pupils), it's pretty much a given that in the context of weblogging, they're going to known about each other. Linky-linky-lurve, remember. In fact, it's not just because we were all blogging. It's what people do. You do something. You enjoy doing it, and it's new, it's exciting (yes, apparently some people do or did find blogging exciting), inevitably, you're going to want to find other people who hold similar interests. There were a few of us who knew each other, in that vague "oh, I've read that person's website, maybe we've exchanged a couple of emails" online manner.

Would anyone say that a community existed? Possibly. Maybe not quite just yet. What you would be able to say, though, is that there existed an arbitrary set of people, say, people who write blogs and live in the UK, who were on the tentative cusp of actually starting to talk to each other on a regular basis - they hadn't yet got organised. One way of illustrating the difference might be taking an apartment complex full of people, and describing them either as a) the people who live in the complex or b) the people who get together every so often for association meetings.

What with Caroline deciding to drop round for tea, as it were, a bunch of the UK webloggers decided to email amongst themselves--a closed CC list, no less!--and see if anything could get organised. There's that key word again--organised. At this point, no GBlogs existed. There was no mailing list. There was a closed carbon copy list of email addresses and, all of a sudden, a bunch of people who had something of worth to talk about (to them).

Shortly after that, though, I set up the UKBloggers mailing list on eGroups and pretty much everything after that is straightforward. For various reasons, Caroline wasn't able to make it down to London, but we (that is, the bunch of people on the mailing list who lived in the UK) decided to meet up anyway, because there was an interest in meeting, and talking to, all these other people who were doing the same thing, exploring the same medium.

Those with a sense of humour might take heart that the sixth message to the embryonic community was "Why London?", in response to the suggestion that the first meet be held there.

There were a bunch of meets. Mostly they involved vodka and jelly. At some point, the organisation grew to the extent that various tools, like Gblogs, started popping up for the community to use--if I remember correctly, Jen probably still has a really long list of things that we were planning to do that we worked out over IM and scribbled down in a pub in London.

The point is: a tool does not community make. The community existed already, the tool just enhanced it, facilitated its growth. We moved to an eGroups mailing list from a bunch of CCs because the list was getting unwieldy. Coincidentally, eGroups also made it easy for other people to join, and there were a bunch of tools that would be useful to communities that eGroups provided. In this case, a pre-existing community spontaneously moved to take advantage of a new tool so that it could grow and be more manageable. Communities like these--like UKBloggers, like Cloudmakers aren't planned. They happen. They happen when there's a body of people who have enough of a desire to talk about something common to all of them that they actually do start talking about it. The failure of a tool, the closing down of a resource doesn't mean that a community instantaneously dies: it's still there if the people still have something to talk about to each other.

One more thing: communities aren't static. The UKBloggers list is in no way now the same as when it started. The focus is different. The tone is different. New members have joined (in droves), and old members have left (in slightly smaller droves), and a bunch of people are just resting and lurking. Does the UKBloggers list have anything worth talking about? This isn't a question that you can answer externally--so long as the members think they have something worth talking about, they have something worth talking about. Communities are born, grow, die, sometimes they even have children. There's a de-facto set of everyone in the UK who writes a weblog. The UKBloggers mailing list is a subset of that--just because you write a weblog and live in the UK does not necessarily mean that you're a member of the UKBloggers community

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Wednesday, 23 October 2002

Save early, save often

I'm sitting at my desk, Kennedy's playing Bruch for all he's worth and I'm trying to draw an influence diagram so that I can show I know how to model problems using spreadsheets. Or that I can look at problems, model them using influence diagrams, make the model in a spreadsheet, and then collect up to 7% of my mark for Comp507, Applications of IT.

Things I've noticed so far:

When you're trying to draw an influence diagram in, say, some hideously unsuitable software such as CorelDraw, be sure to save your work. Because there will be occasions when, for no explicable reason, you decide to right-click on the page canvas. And when you do, for an inexplicable reason, CorelDraw will crash and you shall lose all of your work.

When you then decide to use something like DOME, and see if you can do a DFD instead, and decide to arbitrarily right-click on the application workspace because you have the memory span of a gnat and, for all you know, Pavlov would never have published if you'd been the dog he'd been ringing his bell at, then Dome will crash and you shall lose all of your work.

The stack of paper that is sitting on my desk covered with almost embarrassingly rough sketches, and the pen sitting on top of the stack of paper, has not yet crashed. I am left wondering whether it would still be in the spirit of submitting the project report as a word document if a large number of pages in said document merely consisted of scanned in pages of hand-drawn diagrams.

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Rainbow x 2

On the way to university today, we saw a double rainbow. For the last couple of days, we've been having really crappy weather - lots of wind, lots of rain (including the wonderful kind that keeps you up at night when it's battering against the window), and now, on the way to a lecture. Hail. Yay autumn.

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Monday, 21 October 2002

Jagwireness

Giles [gilest, gorjuss] emailed me recently asking if I had any tips on upgrading to OS X 10.2, or Jagwire, as it's pronounced by his Steve Jobs. Below, at Giles' suggestion is a tided up version of what I sent back to him.

"I seem to remember you posted something somewhere about upgrading to OS X 10.2. What are your top tips, esp regarding the "archive snd install" option, if that's what you used?"

What I would have preferred to have done is to have wiped everything blank and put a clean 10.2 install on, but I was sitting with nothing much to do for a couple of hours and a copy of 10.2 so curiosity and wanting to play with new toys got the better of me. 10.2 comes with three install options - upgrade (writes over everything), archive and install (copies what you've got, preserves settings and anything left over) and blank (nuke the drive, put a pristine copy of 10.2 on). I used the archive and install option - everything seems to be working fine.

What you get with an Archive and Install is a whole bunch of folders are copied into /Previous System/Previous System n/ - /Applications/*, /etc/*, /Library/*, /private/*, /System/*, /Users/* and /var/*. A bunch of Mach kernel stuff is copied, too. What's copied from those folders is anything that would be replaced by 10.2 files.

Your network settings are preserved--I have about four or five locations, and I've used about three of them with no ill effects. Any of the system applications that were in /Applications/ and have been updated (i.e., would no longer work under 10.2) are moved to /Previous Systems/Previous System 1/Applications/ so you can get at them if you want to. Their updated counterparts are now in /Applications/. Some of the 10.1 Applications that are moved are Mail (obviously), the DVD Player, Clock, Preview, System Prefernces and so-on. All of your user-installed stuff is left alone and is still in /Applications/.

Things that niggled:

I changed a bunch of stuff with httpd.conf so that I had server side includes and php turned on for apache. I've since (just now) found that the original httpd.conf has been archived (since I didn't know or work that out, I just went through the whole process again).

I can't get Fink to work again, not under 10.2. I was really happy with Xdarwin and a whole bunch of unixy goodness under 10.1, so I followed the upgrade instructions. No doing. I'll wait for the 10.2 binary release of fink that's supposed to come out later this month. That said, if you're stuck on the end of a 56k modem, that pretty much precludes using Fink anyway.

LiteSwitch X (better Cmd-tab switching) does not yet work under 10.2. It kind of works, but "kind of" to the extent of being useless.

/Library/Webserver/Documents/ is wiped blank, so if you do any local webdev, it'll all have been moved to /Previous System/blah blah/Library/Webserver/Documents/. You'll have to move it back.

If you manually installed Samba and set up a smb.conf file, that'll have all been wiped. Your home folder is shared automatically when you enable "Windows file sharing", but you'll have to manually edit your smb.conf file to share anything else (it's pretty trivial).

The Happy Mac is gone. While the Apple logo is stylish, it's a bit... dull and stylish.

I bought a Quicktime 5.0 Pro key. 10.2 forced me to 6.0. C'est la vie.

For some godforsaken reason, my terminal settings have gone completely and utterly bonkers. There's a number of reasons for this (and a number of extra reasons that I presumably have yet to fathom) - one is that the Apple UK keyboard layout is not so much a nightmare but a neverending saga of hell wrought upon your fingers. They keyboard mapping is half UK, half US and the keycaps themselves include the wonderful feature of not actually having the hash/pound/sharp key on them. At all. (# is option-3, which means that 3 maps to 3 (normal), (shift), and # (option). Compare this to the "2" keycap, that actually has three symbols on it (2, @ and the Euro sign and you realise that someone out there is either incompetent and forgetful or just sadistic). The end result of this is that you can't have use option as a meta key in terminal if you still want to be able to type #. What I found in terminal in 2.0 is that I can no longer do ctrl-w in Pico and have it go find things. This is a problem with my Mac (Tom's does it fine), so for the moment I'm just putting it down to the weird "break things" field I exude around electronics.

Aside from the things that niggled (and they really only niggled, I didn't regard them as particularly serious, aside from my bizarro terminal), everything went wonderfully smoothly. I'm surprised that there seem to have been no ill effects whatsoever. That said, 10.2 doesn't seem to be that much faster on my system (TiBook 550/512/20), and I still get the spinning beachball far too often.

Bear in mind that I was very apprehensive that I'd lose all my stuff. I was very stupid and didn't back everything up before I upgraded via Archive and Install, so if anything had gone wrong I'd have looked rather silly. Having used Windows up until now, I was more than convinced that something terrible would happen and I'd lose everything. I didn't. Note: this is a disclaimer. Anything you do after reading this article has nothing to do with me, and if you do lose anything, well, you should've backed up. I obviously like living precariously, and if you want to, fine. Don't say I didn't warn you.

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Friday, 18 October 2002

Under your spell

Adrian decides that whilst immersive fiction hasn't been demonstrated as viable at present, that doesn't mean it can't be in the future:

"I think that of course it could be demonstrated that immersive fiction games are commercially viable - if you took the AI game, moved it forward 12 months and threw in a few product placements and targeted ads in it, that would've been perfect. As it is, the AI game is not the be-all and end-all, and none of what I've said should dissuade independent developers (who don't need the OK from the bigger, perhaps more conservative, players) from taking the moderate risk of making an immersive fiction game." [more]

... which doesn't seem that different from what I've been trying to say. We all know that what he's suggesting--"throw in a few product placements and targeted ads"--can be a source of funding. It was enough for Push, Nevada's online arm. That said, Push, Nevada the television series (as opposed to the online arm) failed spectacularly. Pitched by ABC against CSI and Will & Grace, it wasn't exactly in the best timeslot, and being billed as a Twin-Peaks-esque drama probably didn't help it either (the curse of genre programming striking again). Fine. Push, Nevada may have been cancelled midseason, but that doesn't negate the fact that companies paid Ben Affleck's production company a hefty amount of money to actually get enough content out there for a game. What Adrian is suggesting is a free play, promo and advertisement funded game. Advertisement paid for Push, NV and the AI effort. When you have an advertisement funded game, it's hard to see whether (apart from in audience numbers) you have proven anything to be commercially viable. Given the current advertising climate, I wouldn't be too optimistic about this method.

As far as outsiders viewing the genre as unproven, I'd imagine that that's a given. It's not as if my assessment is coming in from the perspective of someone who's wearing blinders. Adrian argues that nothing is going to happen until someone can demonstrate that the genre is commercially viable, which seems to me to be somewhat of a chicken and egg situation. The fact that MMORPGs make money is not supposed to be conclusive proof that immersive fiction games will make money--rather that it's evidence that gamers are willing to fork over the required $10/month for a gameplaying experience.

One issue is that MMORPGs provided a persistent world, whilst immersive fiction--to date--has been packaged into discrete episodes, leaving the possibility of a lull between periods of interest. What I'd argue is that it's not quite so simple: one of the attractions of immersive fiction when done in the manner that requires tens of thousands or more players is that the community dynamic opens up. Content starts being generated not from the game itself, but from the community members (and we all know about the implications that large communities have as regard to stickiness).

Adrian likens the problems right now to the situation when Ultima Online appeared on the scene. Ultima Online was released in 1997, and by 1999, more than 125,000 copies had been sold at $50/copy, and a monthly subscription revenue of $10[OJR]. Note that what he says is it's fine to crack open the genre with a small franchise like Ultima, but you wouldn't want to take any sort of risk with a large franchise. Well, that's the nature of risk - the larger the franchise, the larger the risk. So far, no problem. He points out that once the first mover has gone in (in this case, Ultima), the larger franchises will move in (LOTR, Star Wars and so on).

What with all the discussion about how Buffy's fanbase is small, dedicated and vocal, one might realise that Buffy isn't a large franchise at all. There may be one movie (a cult hit, i.e. not incredibly profitable), and seven television series (a critical hit, i.e. not raking in the eyeballs), numerous books and action figures, but when it comes down to it, Buffy is not a large franchise. At all. In that respect the Buffyverse might be ideally suited to crack open this market and let what Adrian calls the "big boys" move in. Think of the Buffy fans as a rabid test market--the revenues may not be enough for Fox executives to salivate, but I would argue that the potential for revenue exists.

One quick note: I said before that one method of funding would be driving eyeballs. I'm not entirely sure now whether this would work. It's always possible that you'll persuade someone to part with money for diverting eyeballs to their content, but I'm not convinced that it's a long-term solution for the reason that not everyone needs to see the content: if the reason for the shepherding to the content in question is to solve, say, a particular puzzle, then once one person has seen the required clue, that's it. No more. The example given where an in-game character posts and box ad in a newspaper doesn't really work to boost sales of the newspaper: take into account the people who would've got the newspaper anyway and your numbers are already low. Then take into account that in this day and age all it takes is for one person to scan in the advert and make it available online, you've got a problem.

Previously:
1. Blurring the lines
2. I've got a theory
3. Once more, with feeling
4. Give me an axe and show me where to point it
5. I lied (so many posts ago)

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I lied (so many posts ago)

Ooops. On funding, I previously said that:

"Let's assume that we can discount the tip jar if we're working with $1m+ budgets, so we're left with micropayments--which doesn't really have a viable infrastructure "

Well, I was wrong. Actually, I contend that I was half wrong and half right, so bear with me and I'll try and explain what I mean. Some parts have a highly developed micropayment system: it's the GSM network. Typically, this works with the SMS (short message service) system that GSM provides--the facility where a mobile devices can send and receive short messages of up to 160 characters. Way back (if memory serves me correctly) in 1998, the UK's GSM networks decided that they might as well shelve the differences that they had and allow SMS interoperability--mobile devices on one network could send and receive SMSs to a mobile device on a different network. At the same time, pay-as-you-go payment methods started being popularised (I think BT Cellnet as it was then was the first to introduce a PAYG billing system) that allowed people to get on the mobile comms bandwagon without having to worry about shelling out for monthly subscription fees. Shortly after, network operator subsidies bought the cost of handsets down so that the cost to the end user was virtually nil (and on some plans, it still is).

The situation that the network operators found themselves in after a short while was that handset adoption had hit a startlingly high figure in a short amount of time (from around 20% of the populatino to over 50% in the space of two years). It quickly became apparent that the main moneyspinner was the use of SMS messages sent by end users - typically, users are charged ~10p to send a message and nothing to receive. As an example, mmO2 (nee BT Cellnet) processed 1,768 million SMS messages in one quarter. The cost to the network operator for transporting SMS messages is negligble due to the size of the data being transmitted.

If you're with me so far, then here is where we get to the core of the micropayment issue: the operators quickly realised that there might just be a chance that users might pay to receive SMS messages (reverse billing), or that there could be a variant form of premium SMS messages. Charges for reverse billed SMS messages come straight out of the monthly subscription (or, in PAYG cases, straight out of the account). Conversely, premium SMS services use the SMS system to pay (via the mobile account) for goods: one example is the Vodafone m-pay bill service, designed for purchases under 5.00.

All very well and good--but would people actually be willing to pay to receive information or to use SMS to pay for gods and services? Basically, can you make money from people sending you SMS messages? The answer is an equivocal yes. It's clear that provided you get the content right, the potential is there to make a killing. Viewers voting for this year's Big Brother on the UK's Channel 4 spent at least 850,000 voting out contestants. With revenue sharing agreements in place with network operators, it's obvious that for Channel 4, there was a not-inconsiderable revenue stream in the form of SMS voting.

What needs to be understood is that for the first time, payment via SMS reverse billing has opened up a whole new market of tweens and teenagers who otherwise wouldn't be able to wield payment details on the 'net. These are people without credit cards and without debit cards that will allow them to make online payments, but at the same time it's recognised that children and teenagers possess a large monetary pull--that of their parents. You might not feel happy with enticing children to squander their allowances on paying for your content, but for the first time it's possible that they could do so.

How does this relate to micropayments for immersive fiction genre gaming? The problem is that SMS penetration really hasn't caught on yet in the US, and it's debatable whether it ever will. Obstacles to the SMS micropayment system in the US are that mobile phone penetration is still relatively low compared with the sky high penetration in Europe (10-18 year olds who don't own mobile phones compose a very small minority), that SMS awareness itself is still low (cross-network SMS delivery was only implemented this year) and that crossed with the (eventual) roll-out of 3G (and the encroachment of wifi on that space), it's not even clear whether SMS will survive before MMS or another form of instant messaging takes off. Countering the fact that SMS awareness is at a low, though, is the fact that newer US handsets are shipping not only with SMS capability (at least, the ones on GSM networks), but with AOL Instant Messenger capability, which is far more visible and known to teens--and AOL IM services on handsets are chargeable, plugging the SMS gap.

I'd argue that right now, the lack of penetration is what would kill SMS billing for content right now in the US. Most likely, it could be used as a method to supplement a subscription model, but it really doesn't seem viable to provide complete funding for multi-million dollar productions.

Previously:
1. Blurring the lines
2. I've got a theory
3. Once more, with feeling
4. Give me an axe and show me where to point it

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Give me and axe and show me where to point it

Adrian comments on my previous post:

"It's all very well and good talking about how much money MMORPGs make - forget about Everquest, I estimated that Korea's hugely popular 'Lineage' MMORPG has over half a billion dollars flowing in every year from subscriptions. However, it's far from proven that our experience with MMORPGs will directly translate to immersive fiction. Furthermore, even if it did (which I don't think it does), there's still what you could call the 'first mover disadvantage'. There just isn't enough interest in the genre to make the profits that Everquest et al generate - it's just too immature. And so we get back to the need for a good new game."

The point being here that a game tied to to the Buffyverse would be a a "good new game". As I said, the only thing holding such a venture back is someone being able to point to a bottom line and saying "there is an x percent chance of making profit y if we do this."

"I accept the other points, but waiting for subscribers to chip in is just not viable. It would take far too long for Fox's liking to get 500,000 fans, let alone 50,000 fans, to donate even $10 each, never mind the logistical problems. They can't accept donations, and then make a game - it'd have to occur the other way around."

What you don't do is that you wait for the money to come in before you build your product. Films are pitched on the basis that people will go and see them, rent the DVDs and buy the merchandise, hopefully blinding executives with $ signs. On the premise that if such a film was produced $BigNumber would be received, then (hopefully), you get a greenlight and you can move into production and release. What doesn't happen is that the studios go out canvassing and take ticket revenue for a film that hasn't been produced yet. At some point, someone is going to have to decide to take a risk and reap whatever reward may come. A tipjar isn't ever going to work for a product like this. Right now, what will hopefully work--and what has demonstrably worked for MMORPGs--is the subscription model.

From the Business 2.0 article, we learn that EverQuest was one of Sony's most expensive game projects, with a development budget approaching $5m. The team was spun out (fears over high development costs had escalted), and when the game shipped, the subscribers started crashing in. In droves. Sony then bought Verant for $32m. Sony quite clearly wasn't ready to take the risk with EverQuest--at least, not at the beginning. They were wise to retain a stake in Verant. Verant, however, knew (or at least had enough conviction) that they would have a shot at what's now a half billion dollar market. The risk-taking continues: development of EverQuest II is slated to be around $20m, Star Wars Galaxies is costing around $10m.

The question that remains now is whether first mover disadvantage is really a disadvantage in this genre. Subscription MMORPG developers, I imagine, would say that it isn't: at least, the developers of Lineage and EverQuest would say that they haven't experienced much of a disadvantage as yet - Sony bagged the lucrative contract to develop Star Wars Galaxies, for instance. Take away this quote:

"Virtual worlds won't be a novelty anymore," predicts Paul-Jon McNealey, research director at market analyst Gartner G2. "Online gaming isn't just for hard-core geeks."

Bronwen comments:

"To me, Team Whedon is one of the few obvious candidates for this. They have a thriving, hungry fanbase who sits up all hours of the night already analyzing every small angle the shows are offering to them. Throwing a game at them won't exactly change fan behavior (they're already doing the constant vigilance thing), it will simply give the fans more to chew on. Besides, say, Star Trek and Star Wars, BtVS has arguably the most present and vocal audience on the web."

Aside from the numbers problem (which is an obvious risk anyway when you're publishing content), Bronwen highlights the only other main obstacle. Buffy already has a voracious fanbase. It's whether that audience can be expanded, or whether it's really possible to work within the confines of an already small audience (again, the numbers) that will decide whether this kind of project could go ahead. Then again, genre programming always has this problem. Let's be clear: a Buffyverse game that was true to the Buffyverse, and one that was a good game, would not and could not achieve lowest-common-denominator audience figures. This genre is not the same as Friends and Will & Grace. It will challenge the audience and demand that they respond. It's not passive and it doesn't seem to be broadcast to the player - what it does seem to be is tailored (and in a way it is, when it's done properly). A Buffyverse game will not be a mass market game. Then again, MMORPGs aren't mass market games. They still make money, though. Solitaire might be the most popular PC platform game, but it doesn't stop other games from being made.

Summary: Tom summarises the articles and ideas that have preceded this post.

Previously: Once more, with feeling, I've got a theory and Blurring the lines.

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Meeting George Dsyon

Adrian listens to and talks (briefly) to George Dyson:

"I had a few words with George after the lecture, asking him about other forms of nuclear propulsion (he isn't so hot on them) and whether attitudes might change sufficiently in the future to allow nuclear propulsion in space (he thinks so). He also said that his father, Freeman, holds an interesting if politically-incorrect view about nuclear proliferation. Apparently Freeman thinks that if Hitler used a nuclear weapon in WW2, they would've been so stigmatised to have been abandoned by the world. Perhaps." [more, via mssv]

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Thursday, 17 October 2002

Once more, with feeling

More on the Buffyverse game - Adrian writes:

"What the genre needs is a visibly successful game that demonstrates the potential (or the reality) to make money. There has been no such game yet; the AI game came close, but I think that it simply was created before its time."

I couldn't agree more. It's well known that massively multiplayer online roleplaying games can be successful moneyspinners - EverQuest has 490,000 paying customers who generate $5m (net, I assume) for Sony--operating on a 40% gross profit margin.

"Unfortunately, I don't think it'll happen. While Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy, is undoubtedly a nice guy who would give this sort of game a second thought, I assume that Fox holds all the rights to Buffy; if not Fox, some similarly large and monolithic media corporation. Right now, such corporations are highly unlikely to look upon AI-type games as being useful, especially with the abject failure of Push, Nevada and the 'ho hum' performance of BBC's Spooks, both of which had significantly hyped AI-type games. So, Buffy Online would not be approved, and even if it was, I doubt they'd take the cheap route I outlined above and instead opt for someone like EA to have a go at it - and hence it would haemorrhage money."

It's here that my opinion diverges. Whilst Fox does hold the rights to the Buffyverse, Joss Whedon is, for all intents and purposes, someone who really does seem to Get It. When a season finale of Buffy was delayed due to the Columbine shooting, his response was that fans should just find the episode and suck it off the 'net - this is a guy who clearly understands what his audience wants and doesn't pussyfoot around them. It's obvious that if anyone were to be pitching a Buffyverse game--to Joss or to Fox or both--the decision is pretty much going to come down to the numbers on the bottom line. MMORPGs show that money--serious money--can be made in a from an online subscriptin gaming model. What remains to be shown is whether after the substantially higher production costs that an immersive fiction game would involve there'd still be a tidy net profit each month. What with EverQuest raking in 490,000 * $12.95 (a tidy $6,345,500) a month, and adding anywhere up to 12,000 players each month (granted, we don't know what the churn rate is), it seems that there just might be enough room in there to create enough content each month for rabid fans and have money left over for that all important profit. Just.

One of the other things Adrian says is that the Buffyverse's richness may well work against it in this case - it would restrict and constrain anyone seeking to write inside the universe. We'll take it as read that people won't want anyone playing around with the main characters. What must be remembered, though, is that you don't need to play with the main characters: with the MS brief for the AI promotion, Sean Stewart and Elan Lee et al managed to spin a world that, while connected to the AI film universe, wasn't pinned precisely to it. The AI game universe was distinct from, but rich enough in itself, to complement the AI film universe--and vice versa. It's entirely possible that with a Buffyverse game, a new scooby gang gains the focus, set before, during or after any of the television series. What makes the case of the Buffyverse interesting as opposed to the AI game universe is that there already exists a pre-made rich universe that fans are already interested in--there's a ready made audience that is geared up to delve and explore and devour your content.

Fine, one alternative to not wanting to dive into an established universe would be to limit the scope of your campaign. I'd argue that that goes against the grain of the genre: what's wonderful about this type of campaign--this type of game--is that it is so deep, that there are so many levels of richness. And I believe that in this instance--the one where there's a short blonde girl kicking vampire ass all over Sunnydale--Joss and co wouldn't shirk from that kind of challenge. I really think that he'd relish it. I don't think that the audience would settle for any less.

The money is tantalisingly close. Can someone show that there are five hundred thousand fans of Buffy who'd be willing to dive in and give even more time to their pride and joy? How many people have bought Buffy DVDs?

Update: Bronwen chimes in

Previously, on Buffy: Adrian weighs in, my previous article I've got a Theory and the one before that, Blurring the Lines. Tom also commented.

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I've got a theory

Tom asks - is there any way that an online Buffy game could emerge that could pay for itself?

To answer that, some backgrounding of the genre is probably in order.

One of the tenets behind the AI promotion was that it relied on something the producers called "Internet Archaeology". There's a great feeling of possession when you find your own diamond in the rough (in this case, you find the first in a series of sites that leads you down an ever increasing rabbit hole of a consistent, believable, dynamic and engaging universe) - so much of a feeling that you instantly want to tell everyone about it. It's viral. You want people to know. Which segues wonderfully into marketing campaigns.

The main problem with running something like this, an immersive and consistent world that reacts with and challenges its audience, is that it costs money. Lots of money. Forget doing this kind of thing on the cheap. If you want to do it well (and believe me, you do - when you're doing immersive fiction, right now you're catering to quite a discerning audience), production doesn't come cheap. If you want to capture the hearts, minds and eyeballs of your players, you'll probably be needing to push boundaries.

1. Your mother taught you to talk back
Nothing beats the rush of stumbling into a world and finding out that its inhabitants are alive. Fine, you may have the best writing in the world, and you might be able to bring it to life inside your head. But sometimes--not all the time--it's better when the characters start talking back to you. Interactive characters might make up for a sub-par story, but well-written interactive characters will do even more. And how would you implement this? If you're thinking of an impressive array of scripts parsing user input in a botlike manner, you're wrong. Get an actor who can take the script home and know the universe inside out. Get them answering voicemail. Get them calling people up. Get them answering email, get them being on the end of Netmeeting calls. Just get them out there.

2. Spill over, and don't mop up
Your audience isn't stupid, but that's okay. They know that what you're doing isn't real. If you're doing it right, though, they'll completely ignore that little niggling fact and get straight to enjoying your content (apologies for using the C word). In fact, they'll ignore that niggling little fact so much that if you start spilling over into the real world, if you start calling them up, if you start sending them letters in the mail. You can organise rallies. You can have people meet in libraries. You can have actors and actresses accost your players in the street. You can pretty much do what at any other time would be considered obnoxious and stalker-like behaviour, and they'll love you even more. Yes, it's weird. But it's wonderful. You will need writers for this--good writers. You'll need actors, actresses, makeup, venues, scripts, props.

3. This isn't Dumb and Dumber
Or, more accurately, you don't have to make it dumb and dumber. You can push and challenge and stretch. Each time you make that push and each time your audience manages to get past it, they'll be loving you even more. I realise that quite a lot of this article includes the word "love", but really, when it's talking about eyeballs loving what you've done, that's good, right? You will need to research. You will need to plan. Again, you'll need writers.

Pushing costs money
Those three aspects detailed above are easy to do badly. Terribly easy. Coincidentally, they're also terribly cheap to do terribly badly. We'll ignore that, and assume that you actually want to do this well. Where does the money for this come from?

Death of a Salesman, Birth of a Genre
Promotions. Advertising campaigns. If the money's coming through this route, then hopefully you'll be able to run a campaign with a Clue. Don't be self-referential. Don't scream that you're an advertisement. In fact, don't "be" an advertisement at all. Let your audience work it out. They will. The Buffyverse cop-out here would be any forthcoming Buffy movie. Then again, this kind of Buffyverse campaign for a Buffy movie would pretty much only attract the rabid fans who were going to see the movie anyway. It's debatable whether you can persuade people to part with money to this for promo campaigns anymore.

Subscription
Majestic, a subscription immersive fiction genre game, flopped and flopped badly, like a whale dropped out of a B2 bomber. Without getting into why Majestic failed (suggestions range from a not-too-hot storyline to the wrong kind of marketing), it's not entirely clear whether a subscription model would work at the moment. It does seem to be working for quality television programming: HBO can't be that unhappy with their lot right now. Can you attract a large enough audience to recoup your production costs each "season"? Let's say 100,000 players paying $15/month, giving you $1.5m/month. Let's say a season lasts six months. Can you make it work on a budget like that? Can you even get 100,000 players?

Selling eyeballs
Let's face it, it's cooler if it's free. You'll reach a wider audience and the barrier to entry will be immeasurably lower than with the subscription model. Imagine the Slashdot effect, but with people being paid to be Slashdotted. Say a couple hundred thousand people--guaranteed--to click through and pore over the content on a client's site. How much would you pay for that kind of attention? How much do you think someone would be willing to pay? If you're not willing to drive traffic, maybe you're willing to sully your artistic and creative vision by slapping pop-ups and ludicrously sized flash ads all over the place. Or maybe not.

Micropayments and the Tip Jar
You either think they're the salvation of the new, new, new economy, or you think they'll never work. Let's assume that we can discount the tip jar if we're working with $1m+ budgets, so we're left with micropayments--which doesn't really have a viable infrastructure yet.

Where do we go from here?
I said I'd answer Tom's question - how would a Buffy game pay for itself? Right now, it looks like the only real answers are promotions--persuading someone else to stump up the money for a dubious return--or the holy grail of a subscription model that actually manages to pay for the content and then some. I'd argue that the latter stands a good chance of working with Buffy. Granted, the television show is free to air - in the US it's free on UPN (though not in a lot of markets) and in the UK it's (eventually--after Sky have had their pick) free to air on BBC2. Then again, Six Feet Under and Sex and the City aren't free to air, and they manage to act as good anchor shows to HBO. The problem that we run into now though that, as wonderful as its critics and devotees think Buffy is, and as much praise is heaped upon it (Emmy awards notwithstanding), genre programming such as Buffy's doesn't bring in viewers in their high millions. Could this be something that the large online world builders--EA, Microsoft, Sony--can do with Joss and Fox?

Update: Adrian responds to this and the previous post.

Update: I've written a followup, Once more, with feeling.

Context: this is the second in a series of articles, Tom has a short summary of some of the history.

1. Blurring the lines
2. I've got a theory
3. Once more, with feeling
4. Give me an axe and show me where to point it
5. I lied (so many posts ago)
6. Under your spell

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Blurring the lines

The episode of Buffy that aired on Tuesday in the 'States had Willow googling - which was pretty cool. What's even cooler is that the person being googled (the googlee) actually has a site. Or, rather, Mutant Enemy (peple assume) have put up the site - check out Cassie's Poetry and Paintings. It's not exactly the same as the site shown in the show, but the poems are the same, and the eagle-eyed have already spotted that the site runs without Yahoo! Geocities' customary adverts. Just for fun - check out the meta tags on the site.

Is anyone else being freaked out about how similar doing this kind of thing is to the AI Game? And is anyone else positively foaming at the mouth at what a Buffy type highly immersive fictionn game would be like? Yeah. Thought so.

So here's the thing. Around AI, Microsoft and Steel Rain Studios weaved an impressive and immersive world. It reacted when it was prodded by hundreds of thousands of users - the best example of this is when a malevolent character was killed when it read a database of nightmares the players had put together. This was a world populated with believable people--thanks to the writing of Sean Stewart--who did believable things. Anyone who played the game will tell you with no qualifications that possibly the best thing about it was its writing, that it told a gripping, engaging story.

What do we have with Buffy? A rich, detailed universe, internally consistent. People who have written engrossing storylines, characters that viewers have come to identify with and follow with morbid curiosity. Wouldn't Buffy provide a wonderful, rich universe for some immersive storytelling? What would you give to get phone calls and text messages from the scooby gang? What would you do to go to a library, find a book reference and see that Giles has left you a note?

And if not the scooby gang, if not Giles leaving cryptic notes in dusty library books, if not wandering around cities looking for chalk clues on walls and learning about forensics to try and find out which demon's terrorising who this time round, the great thing about the Buffy universe is that although it's richly detailed, there's still room for maneuver. There was enough for Angel. There'd be enough for a game.

So, how about it, Joss?

Via Bronwen and MeFi. See also Tom's take.

Update: see the followup entry to this, I've got a Theory.

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More more more

As if Smallville: Superman The Early Years wasn't fun enough, rumours are circulating that the WB are commissioning a Young MacGyver-alike series. Provided it doesn't suck, woo!

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And for my next trick, blue eyes

" Six British couples have had healthy babies, whose sex they selected using a controversial technique to choose their baby's gender.

"The children, the oldest of whom is now one, were conceived after their parents were referred by a UK clinic for the treatment in America." [more, BBC News Online]

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It's like they were reading my mind

Wired talks about the American Neurological Association's annual meeting, covering brain imaging techniques. Volunteers' reactions:

""I felt like I'd fallen asleep while sucking on tinfoil," said one volunteer from California.

""I had a metallic taste in my mouth for hours. But it was cool to see how my brain ordered my legs to move, how it worked and processed data when I read a book, spoke or touched different objects."

"Another anonymous volunteer said he saw flashes of light and felt "loopy" for a half hour after the scan." [more, via Wired]

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Speed and skill saved boy

"The doors to the Bowie Health Center had just been unlocked, and Tom Lyons was catching up on paperwork before the usual parade of cut fingers, sore throats and headaches began. Mondays have a bad reputation with emergency room doctors, and Lyons knew the small suburban ER he ran would be bustling soon enough. He was savoring one last cup of coffee when he heard someone shout for him in the hallway.

"We've got a gunshot wound!" [more (Washington Post), via Mefi]

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Wednesday, 16 October 2002

Gestural Interfaces

"There was a lot of thought-provoking material in Steven Spielberg's movie "Minority Report". One scene that I found especially interesting was where Tom Cruise's character is using a computer-like device to sift through archived "memories" of a murder scene, looking for clues to determine where the predicted murder would take place.

"Usually, in a movie, a computer interface consists of someone typing line after line of full English sentences, each keystroke generating a beep, while windows appear at random and infinite levels of "image refinement" take place on a fuzzy, grainy photo of something, until it is finally perfectly sharp and clear. Not so in Minority Report.

"In this movie, there is an almost actually believable interface, although admittedly it is used for a very specific task. Cruise performs all the "data manipulation" using simple hand gestures, which the computer recognizes, presumably, by tracking the glowing LEDs on his glove's thumb, fore and middle fingertips." [more, via Steven Frank]

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I hate you all!

"Scientists believe they have found a cause of adolescent angst. Nerve activity in the teenaged brain is so intense that they find it hard to process basic information, researchers say, rendering the teenagers emotionally and socially inept." [more, New Scientist]

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Tuesday, 15 October 2002

Dear Diary

Mac OS X 10.2.2 to get journaled filesystem.

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Oops

Someone's going to lose their job today: 352kb pdf [via the Culture].

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Friday, 11 October 2002


Posh Frock

Wired redesigns, and were it not for a few stray &s; in HREFs, would have validated very nicely.

Update: Wired on Wired.

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Thursday, 10 October 2002

Shakey-shakey

Cocoa Gestures for OS X is an input manager that will enable gestures for all Cocoa apps. Might someone be able to do the same thing with Microsoft's Input Method Editor?

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Tuesday, 08 October 2002

And what did you today?

Today, I learned that BAD SOFTWARE KILLS.

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Monday, 07 October 2002

Tom breaks news, film at eleven

Tom blogs FaxYourMP.com's survey results that place Iain Duncan Smith at the bottom of the communicative MP league table. BBC News picks up the story.

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Sunday, 06 October 2002

Visual Perception

Adrian explains the optical illusion that has been doing the rounds:

" It all comes down to space, or rather, lack thereof. There are roughly 130 million photoreceptor cells in the retina of the eye, each of which individually making measurements of the amount of light falling on it. However, if you look at the optic nerve that conveys information from the retina to the brain, there are only 1 million nerve fibres. That's a contention ratio of 130 to 1, and the physiology of the situation dictates that one neurone cannot possibly contain all the information produced by 130 photoreceptors. There is a good reason for this, to do with the wiring of the retina and neural bandwidth limits, but you'll just have to take my word for it for now." [more]

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10rd, j00 r0x0r!

jwz [jwz.org, lj] has been updating the Lord's Prayer:

"0wr F4th3R, wh0 0wnz h34\/3n, j00 r0x0rs! M4y 4|| 0wr b4s3 s0m3d4y Bl0ng t0 j00! M4y j00 0wn 34rth juss |1|3 j00 0wn h34\/3n. G1v3 us th1s d4y 0wr w4r3z, mp3z, 'n pr0n thr0ugh a ph4t |. 4nd cut us s0m3 sl4ck wh3n w3 4ct lik3 n00b l4m3rz, juss 4s w3 g1v3 n00bz 4 l34rn1n wh3n th3y l4m3 2 us. Pl34s3 d0n't l3t us 0wn s0m3 p00r d00d'z b0x3n wh3n w3'r3 t00 p1ss3d t0 th1nk 4b0ut wh4t's r1ght 4nd wr0ng, 4nd 1f j00 c0uld k33p th3 f3i 0ff 0wr b4ckz, w3'd 'pr3c14t3 1t. F0r j00 0wn 4ll 0wr b0x3n 43v3r 4nd 3v3r, 4m3n!" [more]

May I suggest a subtle alteration:

0wr F4th3R, wh0 0wnz h34\/3n, j00 r0x0rz! M4y 4|| 0wr b4s3 s0m3d4y Bl0ng t0 j00! M4y j00 0wn 34rth juss |1|3 j00 0wn h34\/3n. G1v3 us th1s d4y 0wr w4r3z, mp3z, 'n pr0n thr0ugh a ph4t |. 4nd cu7 u5 s0m3 sl4ck wh3n w3 4ct lik3 n00b l4m3rz, juss 4s w3 g1v3 n00bz 4 l34rn1n wh3n th3y l4m3 2 us. Pls d0nt l3t us 0wn s0m3 p00r d00dz b0x3n wh3n w3'r3 t00 p1ss3d t0 th1nk 4b0ut wh4ts r1ght 4nd wr0ng, 4nd 1f j00 c0uld k33p th3 f3i 0ff 0wr b4ckz, w3'd 'pr3c14t3 1t. F0r j00 0wn 4ll 0wr b0x3n 43v3r 4nd 3v3r, 4m3n! kthx.

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Saturday, 05 October 2002

Put a big cat in it

Well, that was a successful upgrade. Of course, by successful I mean that everything seems to be in the right place, nothing appears to have gone missing in a drastic "FUCK! EVERYTHING'S BROKEN!" manner, and the much vaunted "Everything works. Faster." feature is apparent, if not announcing its presence by screaming in my face.

This time round, I did something I wasn't going to do. I was confronted by a shiny box, with three nice shiny CDs inside it and about three hours. I was going to just forget about it until I got home, back everything up, wipe the disk and then do a clean install. Oh no. The power of archive and install had gotten to me, which rather explains why the laptop had booted up again and I'd been bored to death by the now-bland Apple logo that killed happy mac, I did the computer equivalent of checking if my keys were in my pocket and I still knew where my wallet was. I did, which was just as well, otherwise I would've got that sinking feeling you get halfway on a horrendously long journey when you realise that a) you don't have your keys, b) or your wallet and c) the horrifically expensive plane tickets you bought.

The next block of time was taken up with upgrading Fink so that it worked with Jaguar. Clue for Fink people: please don't make curl use -s. It's disconcerting. You sit there, you see that curl was supposed to go grab something very important and Nothing Happens. Or, rather, things are happening, it's just that you're not being told. Everywhere else in pre-Jag Fink, curl would happily display a progress meter so you could see, well, the progress. Not showing a progress meter scares me and makes me anxious. Making me anxious is bad.

Last observation? Sherlock is a total waste of time in the UK. Don't bother.

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Friday, 04 October 2002

Stem Cells

Christopher Reeve on Radio 4 this morning argued for ES cell research. The Catholic Church defended.

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Puny humans!

BBC News wins best headline of the day with Puny Human Brain Beaten By Program. I for one welcome our new Program Overlords.

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First Words

My brother's competition, First Words, has launched - check out the contributions from famous people, then have a go and have a look at the other entries. Naturally, the site also has an RSS 1.0 feed.

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Thursday, 03 October 2002

IBlogU

Chris Raettig's company, thewarmcompany has made impswan - a sort of blogging back end that you talk to over ICQ. It's what Chris had been using at his personal site, so it's not exactly new, but the fact that it's been opened up to all and sundry is - check it out, it's exceedingly cool.

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Wednesday, 02 October 2002

Mac OS X Conference

O'Reilly's Mac OS X Conference is well and truly underway now. There's a trackback page listing blog entries covering the conference but by far the best coverage so far is on Jeremy Zawodny's Blog.

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Be a good consumer

The new Sony Clies are out:

"The CLIE PEG-NX70V (available in gun metal grey and silver) and PEG-NX60 (silver only) are powered by a 200 MHz ARM-compliant processor, and run the new Palm OS 5 operating system. Among the more notable features offered, the new devices enable users to take photos and record video clips, record voice memos, and wirelessly browse the Internet on a Wi-Fi (802.11b) network with an optional Sony wireless LAN card in - hold on tight - CompactFlash format, in addition to playing MP3 audio files and video games." [more, via Infosync]

Bloody hell, CompactFlash in a Sony device. Who'dve thought?

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OMT

Today:

More OMT and some exercises, this might be helpful.

Yesterday:

Object oriented modelling. Some notes and stuff that I should probably read: Joseph Bergin - OOP and OOP tutorial.

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Ole, OLEDs!

OLEDs are getting closer to market:

"Could the future of flat panel displays be OLED (organic light-emitting diode) technology? Eastman Kodak Company and Sanyo Electric Co. hope so. They unveiled a prototype 15-inch flat-panel OLED display, based on Kodak's patented technology, this week at the CEATEC JAPAN trade show." [more]

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Danger, Sidekick, Danger!

Stephen Frank from Panic reviews Danger's HipTop, aka T-Mobile's Sidekick:

"This is the best solution I've seen yet for wireless access to email, and one of the best for wireless web access. It includes a competent set of PDA utilities which are integrated OS-wide in an intelligent fashion. This was not a PIM suite bolted on to provide a checklist item on the box. The OS is a joy to use, and the controls / keyboard are second nature after the first few hours." [more]

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Tuesday, 01 October 2002

One, Two, Three, Four

... I declare an Ant War.

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Acrylamide

"Scientists have discovered how the potentially cancer-causing chemical acrylamide is formed in baked foods such as crisps and breakfast cereals. The discovery could lead to ways of reducing levels of the chemical in food, they say.

"High levels of acrylamide in some baked foods were first identified by a Swedish team in April, leading to widespread concern. Based on the results of animal studies, the chemical is classified as a probable carcinogen by the WHO. But its health effects on people are not known." [more, New Scientist]

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On writing

BBC News has a story on six reasons to keep a diary.

s/diary/weblog/

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Yours is mine is ours

Interesting Wired article on the history of user interfaces.

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