Saturday, December 30, 2006

I came to a conclusion about Mac pricing just now

For about a week, a friend and I have been debating in email the finer points of Mac pricing vs. PC pricing. I argued that PCs are commodity machines and will always be cheaper unless the configuration is exactly what Apple configures them at, since they have control over their own volume pricing. He argued that Macs are better price for the quality. I argued that no one pays full price for Dell. Blah blah blah, yada yada yada.

Then I just realized something: Macs should be cheaper. That's right! They should be cheaper because you can't do as much with them as you can with a PC. They're not the standard. Macs are not the platform that 90% of the world's custom software is written for, or run office on, or play games on. They don't even come with a 2 button mouse or Windows pre-installed.

According to my calculations, about 73.4% of my daily work can't be done on a Mac. At home, 26.7% of my leisure time can't be done on a Mac (games and Xbox media connect). Averaging those out, I should only have to pay about 57.5% for a Mac as I would for a PC. But does a Mac cost that? No. Actually, it costs nearly the same or more as most PCs I'd buy. Ergo, the Mac is not worth it. Quod erat demonstrandum.

ps - Most of this is meant to be a joke, but it is true that I feel I'd get more done with Windows.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Just say "no" to Java

I feel like a free man: I've uninstalled Java from my machines. I'm not using Eclipse anymore for editing Python, and I sure as hell don't want Java applets running in a web browser.

Most of all, I got really tired of Java continually bugging me for updates. Why is it that anyone who installs software on my machine feels the need to install their own update manager? Adobe, Real, Sun, Flash. Microsoft is the only justifiable one, IMO. Worst of all is InstallShield, which is a Macrovision trojan horse that's difficult to get rid of after you install any recent InstallShield software.

Good riddance! It will be interesting if and when I'll install Java again.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Shout out to EnvironmentCalifornia

I'll give this shout out just because the guy seemed like a nice guy.

Sitting here watching Stan Winston's classic film Pumpkinhead in Hi-Def, and someone knocks on the door.
  1. Whenever someone comes to our door, i'm suspicious in general because hardly anyone ever does that, including our neighbors.
  2. Whenever someone knocks on our door instead of ringing the bell, they are definitely not someone who knows us.

Anyhoo, the guy was representing this EnvironmentCalifornia organization, and he started out with "I'm with Environment California, and we're fighting for clean energy...".

Now, if you're for solar and wind power, don't ever pitch me that way. Living in San Francisco, I've been pitched with that line many, many times and I have learned to come back with the immediate response "Oh, you mean nuclear power?" Of course, this caught him way off guard, just like everyone else who I do this to.

For some unknown reason, "clean" power advocates don't seem to include nuclear power. He responded with a bunch of hemming and hawing and then said something about the nuclear waste, which I replied "Oh, actually if it wasn't for the Clinton Administration cutting the IFR project, that wouldn't be an issue." He didn't know what to say for that, so he talked about the solar effort that they've pushed through in California.

For that, I commend them. I'd love to have solar power because solar power and electric cars = freedom. Imagine if you could get all the power you needed without having to pay any bills, having to gas up your car, etc. That, my friends, would actually help Democracy -- no more pressure to have cheap gas. No more fighting for oil, pollution is low.

That said, I don't really want to cover New Mexico with solar panels to accomplish this, because it doesn't help the freedom aspect and is a huge environmental risk. Therefore, I'm pro nukes. Hopefully some environmentalists will get behind that, and the guy at my door just now had an open mind about it at least. Kudos to him.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Donald Trump v. Rosie O'Donnell

It's probably no surprise that I hate Rosie O'Donnell. Most people do, I think.

But Donald Trump's comments after Rosie called him a "snake-oil salesman" are just classic. I guess when you have $5b to your name, you can say whatever you want. If you watch one stupid video on YouTube this year, make it this one:

Actually, this is another good one (unrelated to Trump and Rosie). My wife thought it was dumb, I think it's pretty well done.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

"Search while you type", please stop implementing this

I'm so tired of everything having to be all Javascripty and do searches while I type.  I just don't need it.  Why?  Because it makes it that much slower.  Let me type in the entire word, then you can search.  Unless your search engine is so ungodly fast that it will return relevant results in 1ms, I don't want this feature.

The thing that makes me feel this way is Office 12.  It insists on searching for everything while you type, and is much, much slower as a result.  Now I read on Thurott's blog that Thunderbird is doing something similar.  When will it end? 

Monday, December 18, 2006

I thought today, maybe I should switch to Mac

Tim's going to rip me for this post.

One of my co-workers recently bought a Mac laptop that he brings to work.  Once in a while we discuss a few things about it, and generally we all give him a little bit of crap for owning a Mac.  We're all a bunch of Windows geeks and Linux and Mac is just unthinkable for most of us.

Well, yesterday's WTF/E post got me pretty down about Microsoft's direction right now.  I think WPF is actually pretty cool.  I think ultimately something like it is going to take over for UIs (be it WPF, Flex, OpenLaszlo or whatever).

But let's look back in history again.  In 2002, I bought my copy of Visual Studio .NET the day it came out.  It's almost 2007 and we still do not have .NET out there as a realistic platform for developing consumer Windows apps.  Vista will fix that, but how long is it going to take for Vista to have a meaningful amount of uptake?   In 2004, 50% of Windows users were still not running XP.  That's right:  3 years after release, half of the people out there were still running W2K, 98, ME, 95, NT 3.5.1, NT 4.0, whatever.

Granted, XP was not released during the go-go years of PC buying, so maybe that slowed its uptake.  Or is it still going to take 3 years for Vista to have a majority of the installed base?  Or longer, due to different hardware requirements of Vista vs. XP at the time (XP was not more demanding on hardware than Windows 2000)? 

The thing that went through my mind today after talking to my newly anointed Cult of Mac™ coworker is "Would it be better doing my hobby coding on a Mac?  Would I be pulling my hair out less?"

Let's look at the facts:

  • API is changing less... more on this in a second
  • Apple at least isn't doing one thing with one hand and something totally different with another (well, except for that Java thing they dumped).  Microsoft can't seem to decide if they want C++ or C# to be their main language for app development mving forward... and that debate's been going on for 5 years.
  • Has a hobbyist following, so software I develop might get more attention than if it's for Windows, where basically no one gives a damn.

I had done some Mac OS X development while the OS was in beta and just after release (pre-.NET .. after .NET came out, it was all over for that phase).  However I had done some NeXT development back in the day and enjoyed it a lot.  Nothing serious, just messing around for the most part.

The first thing I Googled was "Cocoa vs. Carbon."  I was wondering what API most Mac developers are using these days.  It turns out (after checking with another coworker as well), that there is no good answer to this.  It's mostly religious right now.  You either code in Objective C with Cocoa or you write in Carbon with C bindings.  There are no C++ bindings to the Mac API and Java is deprecated.  Ok, that all kinda sucks.

Then I thought about this a little more.  Actually, if any platform out there has more legacy baggage right now than Windows, it could be Mac OS X.  Cocoa uses Objective-C because that language was chosen in 1986 or whatever by the NeXT team.  To this day, they haven't been able to shake it for a mainstream API using C++.  Ditto for Carbon.  Carbon is mostly a legacy API from the Macintosh Toolbox days, and just has C bindings.

I guess the point is, even though Microsoft seems really confused right now, they have some good ideas.  Apple doesn't seem confused, but I just don't see where they're going in the future.  They deprecated the language (Java) I'd probably want to actually use for coding a Mac without a pure C++ API.  Are they planning on having their own language for programming their platform (Objective-C) forever and ever?  It seems absurd.

I guess the end result of my thought experiment is that I'll just stick with my Windows and develop for WPF in the future.  I don't really see the upside of going to a Mac.  Seems too legacy.  Even Linux has less legacy issues in a lot of ways.  I'd like to see what Apple has up their sleeve in the future, but that's about it.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


I'm working on a Windows Sidebar gadget for a friend's website, just out of interest of having that gadget available to myself on Vista. In doing so, I wasn't so happy with the abilities of HTML/Javascript to do what I wanted graphically, so I decided to take a look into WPF (a new feature for Vista).

Turns out that just the other day, Microsoft released their "Flash killer" known as WPF/E. It runs on Mac and Windows without the .NET Framework. Interesting.

Well, I'm having a hell of a time trying to get it to work at all for my needs. I'm having to embed XML in script tags in HTML to get it to show just a black box. And even then, I can't seem to get it to draw an image.

So I went around searching on the MSDN website and came across this thread. I decided to attach one of the posts by "Daryl" to my blog just in case this post or forum ever went away. This guy absolutely hit the nail on the head in every way when it comes to what .NET developers are asking about Microsoft right now. For about 5 years, they've had the technology to put all of these dorky web applications out of business with .NET, and haven't done anything with it. WPF/E seems like they again have missed the mark on what the market really wants.

I'll shut up now and quote Daryl's post. It's excellent. The rest of this post is quoted from Daryl, I didn't write it.

Barak Cohen wrote:

Thanks for this feedback. mini applications is a scenrio we look into. It would help us if you an others will try to drill down in to the scenarios you envision and prioritize you needs from the platform.

It's good to see Microsoft people hanging around public forums and maintaining their own blogs. I'll offer you some free advice, which you didn't ask for: people on the internet will give you brutally honest feedback which your co-workers and subordinates would never dream of. People on the internet don't have to eat lunch with you, they don't have to sit through meetings with you, heck they don't even have to deal with the tiny, uncomfortable moment when you pass in the hallway going opposite directions.

And in that vein...

"Mini applications is a scenario we will look into"? I guess I don't understand what the point of WPF/E was supposed to be. A lot of people (myself included) thought that the whole reason you would port WPF to different platforms was for writing applications, which would then run on those different platforms.

WPF, everywhere. What do we do with WPF? We write applications. With WPF/E, those applications can run everywhere -- even on my mobile device. Simple enough.

Now we get our first look at it, and there are no UI controls? What are we supposed to do with this? It plays some media files, and it has drawing primitives. There is absolutely nothing in the December CTP which Flash hasn't been doing since 1996.

If this is all WPF/E is going to do, you may as well throw it away. Flash has a ten-year head start. It has thousands and thousands of developers. It has full-featured authoring tools available today (including some free ones); it has a UI library (Flex).

So when I hear MS people saying "mini applications is a scenario we will look into", I think to myself "Look into? What the heck have you people been doing since PDC'05? You disappear for 18 months and come back with a simple media player that doesn't even understand mp3's?"

The "scenarios I envision", Barak, are all the same scenarios which people like me have been paid to develop since before .NET 1.0. They're some of the same scenarios people currently use Flash for, despite Flash being a *** to develop with. You know, applications. Chat clients, picture sorters, a check register, that cool thing on my bank's website which lets me create a single-use credit card number, minesweeper, my SSH client...

Applications. The stuff we run on our computers every day. The stuff google tries to imitate using Javascript and DHTML, with limited success. It's hard to code functional applications without things like buttons and menus and drag-and-drop and file dialogs.

This is so obvious I'm having a bit of trouble typing it, but here it is in black and white: Take XAML AND .NET, which are good, and use them to replace HTML AND JAVASCRIPT, which stink. Call the whole thing WPF/E. Is that clear enough? When you browse to a site and instead of getting index.htm you get index.wpfe, your job is done.

I don't just want to embed an island of XAML in my page, I want to use <GridLayout> to layout the whole page because even with CSS, getting HTML to layout and resize intelligently will drive you crazy. And I want the content of that page to be surrounded by <TextFlow> tags instead of <div> tags. Am I being clear?

I think a lot of .NET programmers are honestly a bit perplexed by Microsoft right now. There's this whole new XAML paradigm for coding applications. A declarative UI model -- it's certainly a big shift away from the code-generator approach of Visual Studio 2005.

It's going to take a lot of time and work to learn a whole new way of building applications. I find WPF very interesting, because I'm a geek. But my boss doesn't pay me to find things interesting. As a professional developer, I'm wondering what my return on investment is going to be if I spend all that time learning this new XAML way of writing applications.

Up until a few weeks ago, I had assumed that one payoff was going to be greater reach. I mean, the whole point of creating a markup language for your UI design is that you can push it out over the internet, right? I thought if I learn XAML, I would be getting a native-app language and a browser-app language at the same time.

But lately I've noticed Microsoft talking more and more about AJAX as a cross-platform tool, and meanwhile XAML seems to be rotting on the vine. Case in point: there are about a hundred XAML clocks out there (what is it with XAML and clocks?). Yet not one of them can run in my Vista sidebar, because Microsoft went with HTML and Javascript for gadgets. What's up with that? WPF/E seemed like a brilliant play for Microsoft, but now I'm hearing that the ability to write applications is "something we'll look into"? If it's not for writing applications, what is it for? More clocks?

Make no mistake: Cross-platform application development is coming. If it's not WPF/E, it will be Flex or SVG. People won't settle for anemic, HTML-based applications once there's something better. I'm enough of a C# fan that I hope you guys make something of WPF/E. I'm actually quite intrigued by XAML.

But I can tell you this: When the people at Adobe look at WPF/E in its current state, they smile. And when they see people from Microsoft saying "applications are a scenario we will look into", they laugh out loud. I think you really had them scared for a while.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Carrier Landings

I'm watching a Discovery Channel show called "Anatomy of the FA-18". It's a great show, but I have a question: why do we still have our boys making aircraft carrier landings by hand? Isn't this something that can be computerized by now? You'd think it would be a lot easier to get a computer to automatically land on an aircraft carrier than to train our pilots to do it.

Actually, why do we have our guys in the plane at all? Shouldn't they be able to fly these planes remotely by now? It's 2006 already. From 200 miles away, the control latency would only be 2ms. Seems pretty reasonable to fly from that distance, or does it?

Monday, December 11, 2006

I don't want to hear about the '72 Dolphins anymore

Is there a lamer sports story than the '72 Dolphins and how, whenever a modern team nears perfection, we hear about their undefeated season?

The '72 Dolphins only won 14 games. These days, teams play a 16-game season.

The winning percentage of their opponents that year was an abysmal .364. The best team they played were the NY Football Giants, who were 8-6.

Oh yeah, there was no salary cap.

So basically the '72 Dolphins going undefeated is about as meaningul as the 1942 Bears going undefeated: it's not meaningful. It's a different era with different players and a much, much tougher environment to try to do it in.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Getting annoyed with ad-driven websites

Once in a while, there's a site that doesn't care about advertising (like this one).  Most of the time, every blog post you ever see referred on Digg or Slashdot is covered with ads.  How lame.

What's really lame is when sites get a "facelift" that is purely designed to show you as many annoying ads as possible.  For example, Yahoo TV Beta.  I'm thinking, "Great, I can go look up stupid movies I'd like to see."  Wrong!  The site narrows down the listings to 10 shows per page and makes you click through enumerable pages.

You see, if they actually cared about you, they'd make it with all 200 shows called "Santa Claus" on a single page.  But no, you have to click through 20 pages to see all of the listings, which are in a random order -- with no less than 10 ads per page.

What's really ridiculous are tech reviews.  All of these sites out there like HardOCP or AnandTech are designed to make you click through as many pages as possible just to see what the heck they think of the product.  Hence, showing you as many ads as possible.

Once again, I'm on the prowl for a good ad blocker for IE 7.  Anyone have any to recommend?  Firefox's adblock works pretty well, but I don't use FF anymore.

Monday, November 27, 2006

"Cyber Monday", "Black Friday"...

Are clearly a scam, right?  The deals are limited at best.  The best time to buy stuff is when no one else is buying stuff, which is obviously not these two days.

I'm not sure "cyber monday" is even true.  It smells like bullshit come up with just to try to make another shopping "event" day.   Why would you go online shopping today?  It's a workday.  I don't have time to sit around looking at Amazon all day.

I was thinking about this with respect to cars on the way to work today.  I'm wondering if now is a pretty good time to buy an SUV.  They've gotten a bad rap.  They guzzle gas, etc.  People hate them.  That means there must be good deals to be had.

Moral of the story is, if you're looking for a deal, you should try to find them in places where other people aren't looking.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Xbox 360 movies coming tomorrow...

.. and if Microsoft would just send me the box to send back my Xbox 360, I'd be on a path to actually buy some of that content someday.

Something I don't understand about Microsoft's media strategy: why would I want to buy media that I can only watch on my Xbox 360? It would be one thing if I could buy these movies and watch them as WMVs. But it seems like they're locked to the 360. What's the good in that? I have a dead 360. If I didn't get it fixed by MS, does that mean that I would lose all of my downloaded movies forever, or until I bought another 360? No thanks.

BTW, some "analysts" out there are predicting the 360 will fail because it has a high software attach rate. "Attach rate" is what tin-eared, graph-paper brained accountants* call the amount of accessories and software people buy for their new device. If you buy a 360 and 5 games, your attach rate is 5. Well, the attach rate for the 360 is 5.1, which is, I guess, pretty high.

But, you see, in the bizarre world of "analysts", everything you ever thought was right is now wrong. These guys claim the 360 will fail because this high attach rate means it's only being bought by hardcore gamers.

Uhm, I hate to break it to these guys, but the console costs $400. Of course it's only being bought by hard core gamers right now. The PS2 gets bought by everyone because it's $129.

What they should have said in their report is that the attach rate really is irrelevant. It's too early to tell either way. But they can't do that because they're analysts. Basically they get paid to sit around and write stupid reports on numbers that prove nothing to earn their $300,000 - $1m bonus for this year.

* - "Tin-eared, graph-paper brained accountants" phrase credit goes to Jello Biafra.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Guitar Hero II

Really fun. I guess it doesn't matter that my Xbox 360 has to go back for repair because I'll probably be playing this for the next couple weeks anyway.

However, the song choices aren't nearly as great as they were on the first version. Did the person who came up with the original set list leave the company? Did they sell spots on the setlist to the record companies?

I'm glad they finally included some Van Halen, but "You Really Got Me"?! That's like Van Halen on training wheels. It's not even their song, it's a cover. There are probably 15 Van Halen songs that would have been better than that! Here are a great 5:

  • Unchained
  • Jamie's Cryin
  • Ain't Talkin Bout Love
  • On Fire
  • A little song some like to call PANAMA?!!

How anyone can choose one Van Halen song to have in Guitar Hero and not have it be Panama is beyond me. Panama is an textbook example of a perfect rock song for that game.

And as much as I like the kitschy nature of Guitar Hero... like having the drummer explode at the end of "Tonight we're going to rock you, tonight"... putting Freebird on the game is just wrong. It's funny for about 2 seconds until you remember how shitty that song is. I would have much rather had Sweet Home Alabama if I had to have any Skynyrd song.

And as much as I like finding out about new music, I'm not sure why there have to be any bands we've never heard of on Guitar Hero. Like who the hell is "The Sword"?

On Guitar Hero 1, when I read through the setlist, I mostly said "Yup, those are some really good guitar bands or musicians, or at least those songs kick ass." Like Cowboys from Hell. I think I've played that song like 100 times on Guitar Hero.

On Guitar Hero 2, I think they've lost their way. I mean, come on... CHERRY PIE? If you have to put a cheesy band on there, at least pick a cheesy song that has some staying power, like Def Leppard's "Hysteria" or "Photograph", or just about any AC/DC song.

I can give them credit for at least one obscure, cool choice: "Message in a Bottle" by the Police. Andy Summers probably never got enough credit for the quality of his guitar abilities. This almost counteracts them putting Franz Ferdinand on the first game

And still, no Metallica. Two versions of this game and no Metallica?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

New rule: no more early console purchases

After being on the phone with Microsoft for about an hour tonight, I came up with a new rule.. I'm not buying any console again until it gets shrunk like the PS2 or PS One like 3 years after release.

Granted, I've gotten a lot of great use out of my first version PS2.  I bought Guitar Hero II tonight and pretty much played it for 4 hours straight.  But would it have mattered if I had waited until now to play all of the games I loved for that system?  

I also figured out that I've gotten the most entertainment out of any console ever from of PS2.  More than PS1 and more than my Genesis.  Let's break down all of the games I obsessed over for this console:

  • SSX, SSX Tricky, SSX 3.
  • All Maddens from 02-06
  • Metal Gear Solid 2
  • GTA 3, Vice City.
  • Guitar Hero 1 + 2

Those games have provided a massive amount of gameplay.  I probably would have kicked myself if I had bought only an Xbox or Gamecube in retrospect. 

So the moral of the story is to wait and see what has the best games in a couple years.  It's not worth dealing with early hardware problems, like I am now with my Xbox 360.  Not only will the hardware get cheaper and more stable, but the games get cheaper.  PS2 games used to be $50.  Now many of them are $40 since they're the Old and Busted compared to the New Hotness of the 360 and PS3.

Oh, and by the way, what the hell are these US companies like Microsoft thinking when outsourcing technical support to India?  The people over in India are really nice and helpful, don't get me wrong.  However, many just can't speak English very well.  A call takes 5x longer and just pisses me off in the process because I have to speak very slowly and have things repeated back to me. 

The benefits of outsourcing are a myth.  The communication, latent knowledge and timezone barriers defeat the whole point.  But that's another post for another time.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

I agree with Thurott... User Account Control won't be in Vista very long

It's just too annoying to use.  Either software makers need to start digitally signing everything or we're going to have to click about a billion, zillion times to get through every UAC dialog for everything.

It hasn't been too awful to deal with at home.  At home UAC is rarely getting in the way.  However, at work today I got the chance to install the RTM on my second machine.  I ran my setup scripts that I distribute for project setup.  While it helped me find a few bugs in the setup scripts, I had to enter my password (because my machine is part of a domain, UAC requires a password, not just a click through), at least 15 times. 

UAC's a good idea, but I don't think it came together in Vista and should probably just go away.  If we have to click for everything that might possibly compromise our system, coming from the way XP treated binaries, we'll be clicking very often (as I found out today).

11/17/07 - Mark the date. It's the Beginning of the End of the Game Console

I think Bill Gates has said that the PC always can rise to any challenge and can move into nearly any market because it's built around commodity hardware.

Once upon a time, supercomputers were very custom machines.  The Cray-2 was cooled with Fluor-Inert.  The Connection Machine 2 had 32,000 1 bit processors.  Crazy design things like that.  Now supercomputers are clusters of machines that use AMD Opterons or Intel Xeon processors.

Ten years ago, PCs running Windows weren't taken as serious graphics workstations like SGI or Evans and Sutherland boxes.  Now they put those guys out of business.  Now if your 3D software didn't run on Windows or Linux about 5 years ago, you're now out of business.

For years, PCs weren't taken seriously as servers.  Now they are -- and where has Sun gone, or HP-PA, or RS/6000 or any of those?   Blips on the radar compared to x64 servers these days.

PCs weren't taken seriously as under-the-TV appliances.  Now, with Media Center, they are.

(Do I even need to mention that Apple finally abandoned their custom platform and went to commodity PC hardware?  Didn't think so.)

And finally, PCs are not taken seriously for console-type entertainment.  Which brings us to where we are today.

The PS3 and Wii that are being launched this weekend mark the death nell of the console as we know it.  Next stop is no surprise... it's a PC that acts a lot like a console. 

Take one look at it and you can see the PS3 is the creation of a consumer electronics company.  It's being billed as an all-in-one entertainment console for your HD-TV.  Sony has gone as far as to claim it's "a computer."   One of the selling points is that you can browse the web for it.  Another selling point is that you can download movies and games.  It has a proprietary media format in Blu-Ray.

And it costs $600.  

Whereas the $300 that the PS2 sold for might have been equivalent to a $1200 gaming PC at the time, today we could build a pretty reasonable gaming PC for the $600 price tag of the PS3.  And it has all of those selling points mentioned above.  Where's that PC price point going to be if and when Sony tries to launch the PS4?  Given the way prices have gone over the last few years, $600 will buy you a monster quad-core PC in the year 2011 or 2012.

And let's look at what Sony had to do to make this console.  They had to invent and fab a completely new processor architecture.  They had to build all new dev tools since the PS2 and PS3 are very different to code for.  And on and on.    The ROI is dropping fast for consumer electronics makers that want to enter and stay in this market by building custom hardware like Sony has done here.

Nintendo had a good idea with the Wii:  make a Gamecube version 1.1 with a new controller and "novel" gameplay.  My bet: next time Nintendo won't even release a console.  They'll build their games around a PC and build custom controllers (if the Wii controller concept takes off).  Why on earth would Nintendo keep manufacturing these consoles if the Wii is successful and they prove they don't need to?

The original Xbox fits the bill of a commodity console more than the Xbox 360.  It's pretty clear that's what Microsoft was thinking when they released the original Xbox.  I think we'll see that again.  The Xbox 3... errr 720... errr.... 4... will probably look a lot like a PC again.  You might even play PC games directly on it.  Maybe it's just a special configuration of DirectX 11 or 12 hardware that lives up to some standard. 

After hearing all day about people paying $3K for a PS3, or waiting in line for hours and hours, I couldn't help but realize that this probably marks the end of the console run.  The ROI isn't there if we don't see game consoles die off to commodity PC hardware.   It's the way everything else has ever gone with the PC, because it's the cheapest and most effective method for growing a market around technology that's continually plowing ahead.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Gears of War froze my Xbox 360 while PAUSED.

I paused the game, came back 5 minutes later, and it was frozen.

I've had I think one or two freezes on my 360 -- both in Madden.  I wrote it off to cosmic rays or whatever.  But now Gears of War has frozen my 360 three times in less than an hour of playing the game, once while paused. 

I'm starting to think Microsoft really did drop the ball with the Xbox 360 manufacturing as everyone claimed they did.  Previously I thought it might have been overblown since I've only seen one "ring of death" on the 360, it was one we had at work.  But if the console hangs and freezes after being in a consumer's hands for 6 months, what's that supposed to mean?

I guess I'll call Microsoft tomorrow and see what they can do for me.  Probably tell me to shell out another $400 on an Xbox.  Yeah right!  How about I just won't buy anymore games for it?

Reselling launch consoles should be banned

Basically you should have to sign a contract that you're going to buy the console for yourself.

The PS3 launch in Japan was completely out of control.  Read this post on Kotaku, it is very interesting and scary.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

IronPython for ASP.NET!

It's finally here: IPy for ASP.NET!

Technical merits of Vista over MacOS X

Truth be told, MacOS X seems pretty ok.  I was really excited before it came out because I had used NeXT for years in the 90s.  But my perspective changed over the years after working on Windows and with .NET.

I installed Vista RC 2 about ten days ago on my desktop machine and have been pretty impressed.  Since almost all MacOS X vs. Vista comparisons are purely superficial, it occurred to me to compare the two on purely technical merits.  Here are some major ones:

  1. .NET Framework 3.0 and Visual Studio 2005 provide  a superior development environment.  In my experimentation with Windows Presentation Framework, I've been impressed with it as a UI and drawing toolkit.  WCF (Windows Communication Framework) makes me cry in a good way since I am currently working on web services at work.  The .NET 2.0 framework is what I already use every day and wouldn't trade it for anything else out there -- the WinFX improvements in Vista are spectacular and finally gets .NET into the hands of users.
  2. Choice of hardware configurations.  I'm not sure why Apple aficionados don't take this point seriously.  I want to be able to configure a laptop with a better graphics card than what Apple offers.  If Dell doesn't offer what I want in a desktop replacement laptop, I can order it from Sager, or Lenovo, and so on.   On the desktop side, I can build my own machine from Newegg with exactly the parts I want.  This is not possible with a Mac.  Secondary to this... there's also no guarantee that any aftermarket part I'd want to buy for the Mac would have drivers.
  3. DirectX has better hardware and driver support than OpenGL.  OGL now lags far behind when it comes to working with hardware shaders and plays catchup with DirectX.  While you might think this only affects games, WPF leverages DirectX capabilities in everyday apps.
  4. Embedded SQL engines are rising in popularity.  I've used them for my baseball and basketball statistics mining, which is admittedly a special case, but I see SQL needs on the rise.  For this embedded SQL, Microsoft now offers SQLServer Express.  Apple offers SQLite (CoreData).  While I actually like SQLite, I'll take SQL Express between the two.  SQLServer 2005 is really, really good.

Honorable mentions -- not necessarily technical (in no particular order):

  • Being able to play DRMed music from Rhapsody on my Xbox 360 over Windows Media Connect.
  • Windows Media Center.
  • Games -- not the least of which is Majong Titans :)
  • All major hardware and software products get released with Windows support  (unless from Apple, of course).
  • Microsoft's UI philosophies have now moved ahead of Apple's.  I agree with choices made in Aero more so than OSX.  I also think Vista's accessibility features are excellent.

In any case, I'm excited to have the Vista release installed on my machine and millions of others.  Finally independent developers can start releasing .NET applications without the added download of the .NET framework!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Bridge n' Tunnel Crowd

Why is it the Bridge n' Tunnelers are always the ones who come into the city and screw everything up?

There was a shooting in the Castro last night at 15th and Market, which is only a 5-10 minute walk from our place. 15th and Market is generally one of the safest corners in all of America on a normal night. In fact, the Castro is very safe (although there has recently been a spat of rapes, normally it is very safe).

But on Halloween night, when the Bridge n' Tunnelers come to town, someone gets shot. Is this a surprise?

I think we should only let San Francisco residents and some number of their friends into the cordoned off area next year. In Madison, where their Halloween party has gotten out of control for several years in a row, this year they sold tickets to State Street. The result was a fun time without the use of pepper spray (imagine that!)

The Castro is fun on Halloween, so why should San Franciscans pay for our police and medical services to deal with the aftermath of the idiots from out of town?

Wii Sports "not all it's cracked up to be"

According to IGN

Monday, October 30, 2006

PS3 uses 380 watts?

According to reports on Kotaku today, the PS3 uses 380 watts. No wonder Sony is trying to bill it as a computer. Even under full load, my Pentium 4 PC with a GeForce 6600 doesn't even come close to touching 380 watts.

Oh, and the Xbox 360? 160 watts. Maybe up near 180 at load. I've actually measured it.

Hacking your Xbox 360 to "backup games"

Reading the news about the Xbox Live fall update, and noticed in the comments someone saying they modded their 360 to play backup games. Yeah, "back up your games".... this is the biggest bullshit reason I've ever heard to hack your Xbox.

Never in the history of playing videogames on CD -- which is about 17 years for me, since I first fired up The Manhole to see what the CD-ROM hype was about -- have I ever messed up a CD or DVD based game where I couldn't play it anymore. The only time I've had disc errors, it's been the problem of the console or reader, not the disc itself.

So don't fool yourself if this is your excuse for modding your Xbox. You're doing it to do pirating of some sort. Either you're downloading copyrighted stuf on Torrent or you're hacking games on the console. Admit it.

On a side note, today HardOCP has an article about the Xbox Live Operations Center.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Apple has that smug kid, Microsoft has Tom Skerritt!

Just noticed that Tom Skerritt is the host of See Windows Vista. Compare and contrast:

smug lamer versus badass tom skerritt

Yeah, that's what I thought too. Tom Skerritt can kick that guy's ass! Skerritt has trained Top Gun candidates, he's had to deal with Jodie Foster in Contact. He even dared to be in a Poltergeist movie with that weird blonde girl even after the Poltergeist curse was well known.

Oh, and he faced an Alien coming out of John Hurt's chest.


Tom Skerritt is a badass.

BTW, if you want to see some of the cool apps that are being written with Windows Presentation Framework, check out that See Windows Vista site. I just downloaded the New York Times Reader and it's a really great app that shows what WPF can do.

Trying out for Full Metal Jacket

My brother sent me this classic... watch it before it gets removed from YouTube for one reason or another.


Friday, October 27, 2006

Hilarious Jack Thom(p)son pic

He spelled the name wrong but this pic is hilarious. It's a spoof of the game art from "Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney" for the Nintendo DS.

Objection by ~torokun on deviantART

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Visual J#... seriously, who uses this?

I was just going through my machine and uninstalling things I never use when I came across J# for the umpteenth time since Visual Studio .NET premiered.

No offense to the folks at Microsoft who support Visual J#, but who on earth uses this software?  If you use this, and somehow come across this blog, please write a comment!  I'd really like to know why Microsoft keeps supporting this, when it seems virtually useless.

Driving a Prius and then flying in a private jet does not equal greenness

Granted, flying in a private jet is the only way to travel these days, but TMZ does have a good point about the hypocrisy of these "green" actors:

By the way, is TMZ AOL's most popular site right now? Haven't we come full circle when the media companies who hire the actors then sell gossip on them on distribution channels that they own (like AOL... or, more ominously,Time Warner Cable). I think the entertainment loop is almost complete. Soon we'll have media barons starting wars again like Hearst.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The hype about Vista min-spec

I bought my wife a new laptop last week (Dell has amazing deals on Core Duo Inspirons, if you're in the market).  In any case, I decided to take her (aka my) old laptop and install Vista RC 1 on it.

Now, this laptop sucks.  It's a Compaq Presario 1700, 1ghz Pentium III, 512M of RAM, 20G disk.  No built-in Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.  Purchased in January 2002, it was a low-to-mid-range laptop even at that time.  I went to Fry's and found one that had a reasonable price/performance ratio and bought that.

But here I am running Vista without issue on this machine.  It took a long time to install, though it did on my desktop. It also doesn't run Aero (no accelerated hardware graphics).  However, it is running the OS well and with no additional driver help from me.  I think I will have to install an ATI driver though because it can sometimes seem a little hitchy when scrolling with the mouse wheel in IE7 (I use a mouse on all laptops).  Even without a real video driver, it seems to be keeping up with my typing in Windows Live Writer.  Not bad.

I'm getting more excited about Vista thanks to playing around with Windows Presentation Framework and Expression.  I really like WPF and am porting my perennial basketball computer software to it.  I should have that posted in a week or two.

In any case, for all the hype about Vista's minspec, this really ancient crappy laptop that was barely holding on with XP is running Vista really great.  So I have no idea what all of the anti-MS crowd have been talking about with respect to Vista minspec.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Gears of War looks pretty good

Demo video that was posted to YouTube.. skip forward to 3:45 for gameplay.

As much as Gears of War has been overhyped, I'm pretty impressed with the battle mechanics.  I like the speed which the player moves from cover to cover and slams in there.  I agree with one of the commenters on YouTube that the AI looks pretty lame.  Did any of the bad guys get shot by the AIs in this demo?  I hope that the real game has smarter cooperative AI than this.  One of GRAW's (Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter) major failings is that the AIs in cooperative multiplayer online are horrible.  My buddy and I just picked them off as they came up a hill one after another, that was the one and only time I played GRAW in co-op.

As far as AIs go, I have to imagine that Army of Two has to have a superior AI if it is to be any fun. Here's an Army of Two trailer that's all prerendered and tells us nothing about the game except that there are two soldiers.

Digg is pretty worthless

To get to the front page, all it requires is having a bunch of your buddies vote for your blog.  I've noticed the same blogs come up on Digg's front page over and over and over.  And if it's not from one of the same blogs, it seems like everything that gets dug these days is a "Top 10 list".  Top 10 reasons Mac is better than Windows, top 10 reasons Vista is better than Mac.  Whatever.  It's all really boring.

No matter what the Web 2.0 crowd thinks, there's something to be said for manually editing news.   The most meaningful news still comes to me that way.  This is why I keep my Wall Street Journal subscription.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Lumines Live

There's a problem with Lumines Live's microtransaction design. It's not the idea of microtransactions, it's that the idea is being applied to Lumines.

Here's the thing: the idea of splitting a game into separate purchasable pieces is a good idea for both the consumer and the game publisher. On the consumer side, if I'm a casual gamer and don't want to pay $50 for all levels of the game, I shouldn't have to. On the publisher side, the game maker can make $10 from the base version from people who wouldn't pay for the full version. That $10 is money they wouldn't have seen before. Makes sense and everyone can be happy. And maybe someday the person will pay more to upgrade a little, or more levels can be released. Great.

The problem with Lumines taking this tack is that its.... hello... Lumines?! It was overpriced when we all paid $40 for it on PSP and, in my opinion, it's overpriced at $12.00 on Xbox Live Arcade. The game has been overhyped since day one. It's Tetris Advanced with a downtempo soundtrack. Why would I pay $35 to get all of that game on XBLA? At most, I'd pay $10 for the whole thing, which is what games like Zuma and Geometry Wars cost. Lumines is not a disc-shippable game on a console. No one would pay full price for it... in retrospect, I'm surprised people did on the PSP (including myself, but I bought into the hype from my neighbor at work)

Let's see a game like Splinter Cell DA on XBLA, with microtransactions that end up costing $60 for the full thing. Then casual gamers can buy a part of the game and, like I said, that's $10 or $20 the game publisher wouldn't have seen before since they wouldn't have spent $60 on the game up front.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

I wish everyone would use referrers!

Suddenly one of my posts from last month got hundreds of hits yesterday on this blog, and for some reason a lot of the entries neither have a referrer nor a network location in Google Analytics.

Anyone who might be reading this, can you tell me where it was posted that it got so much attention? It's nice to see so many visitors from Apple, Danger, Nvidia, Microsoft, Sega and others. Mailing list perhaps?

Monday, October 16, 2006

I hate the blogosophere, Part 1: Conflicting Priorities

In the course of a couple posts in the blogosphere, you'll see this:

The True Cost of Standby Power


A Closer Look at Folding @ Home on the GPU

Now, what are we supposed to make of things when the same people who are concerned about 2 watts of standby power are running their machines all the time with some protein folding simulator? Furthermore, what should we make of it when these folks are running said folding simulator on a GPU -- easily the most power hungry component in the computer beyond the motherboard/CPU.

Going flat out, a system with an Nvidia GX2 consumes upwards of 240 watts. 240 watts! Yet in the blogosphere, people tell us we're supposed to be worried about 2. People need a reality check.

Has advertising videogames become like fashion advertising?

Are the benefits of videogame consoles so intangible that we need to make ads that don't show any gameplay, or the console itself? On Kotaku this morning, the fanboys are ripping Sony for their new PS3 ad, but both Microsoft and Sony took that tack with their advertising for their latest consoles.

So have video game consoles become a fashion statement like a pair of jeans? You know, like the Levi's ads where there's basically a story completely unreleated to jeans and the benefits of those jeans?

Here are the absurdites for you to look at:

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Dual's Cool but should I wait for Quads?

I've long said I was going to update my machine to a Core 2 Duo as soon as they arrived.  Well, they're here, but I still haven't upgraded.  My current desktop machine is 2.5 years old and is a Pentium 4 2.8ghz AGP.  It's starting to show its age when playing games like Battlefield 2, which it can barely play before freezing anyway.

So in pricing out a new Core 2 Duo machine, I came up with a number around $1200.  Doesn't sound bad.  But I started thinking, should I wait for the quad chips that Intel will be pushing out the door soon?  Furthermore, should I wait until next year when they roll out a 45nm process? 

Right now the quad core Kentsfields are 65nm.  From a power and heat standpoint it would make sense to wait for the shrink on those bad boys to 45nm.  Better yet, it might pay to wait until the 45nm quads are not just two core 2 duos slapped into the same packaging (Kentsfields draw about 130 watts at idle).

Now you may ask, "Why, Trimbo?  Why do you care about such things like process?"  The answer is twofold.  I want a computer that can handle upcoming games for several years -- hence the desire for a quad core processor.  The other half is that I don't want a hot and noisy computer.  I don't want to buy another Prescott (aka PressHOT)  and have to deal with thermal issues while playing games. 

How you know you're in San Francisco in the movies

Everywhere a character goes outside, you hear cable car bells dinging. Check it out sometime.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Xbox Live going free? Why?

XBL is arguably the best thing about my Xbox 360.  I love it.  I don't mind paying $50 a year for it.  It's the price of one game per year, not unimaginable, yet I get tons of demos, trailers, and of course online multiplayer.

So why is it fanboys out there like to say that now that Sony is going online with the PS3, XBL would be free?  I don't get it.  Microsoft would be silly to give that away -- it's awesome!  Millions of people are currently paying for XBL in its current state.  I don't really want jokers on there who aren't willing to pay to be on there.  I certainly don't want the cheater of the month on there -- and Microsoft having a credit card in hand helps prevent that.  (This isn't directly related to credit cards, but Bungie's classic "Call the Waaahmbulance" article is a must read.)

XBL could probably be cheaper.  I cancelled it once for my original Xbox becuase I wasn't using it enough.  On my 360, I can't imagine cancelling my gold subscription.  $50?  For what they give me, it's no biggie.

Fundamental UI things we need to fix

I just spent the last 38 minutes and 29 seconds helping my mother, who is 2000 miles away, hook her network printer into a new laptop her work gave her.  Helping people with computers over the phone is amazingly frustrating -- and it's no fault of their own.  It's the fault of UI choices programmers made years ago and we can't seem to lose today.  Here's my list of things we need to somehow overcome.

#1.  The double click vs. the single click 

This is probably my biggest pet peeve.  It's not clear when someone should double click to activate something or single click to activate it.  I blame three groups of people for this confusion:

  1. The folks at Apple who decided to ship a one button mouse.  If we had had a two or three button mouse, there would be no discrepancy here.  But in trying to make things mechnically simple, they made the UI more complicated.  (Let's not foget one of the original Macintosh's massive failures in UI:  that you drag a floppy to the trash to eject it)
  2. Either Marc Andreesen and/or Eric Bina.  Whichever one of them decided to make hyperlinks activate in Mosaic with a single click instead of a double click immediately confused the entire world.  Today, you still see people double click on hyperlinks in web pages.
  3. Microsoft for making it so you can put the Windows explorer into a "single click" hyperlinkesque mode.  Why did Microsoft try to make the Windows Explorer web-like?  Ugh!

A huge concern I have for the future are all of the web UI designers who are making hovering an active event.  Egads.  Now people are going to be afraid to move the mouse, much less know to click or single click.

#2. The Forward Slash vs. Backward Slash

First of all, why are these two on the keyboard in the first place?  Can't we all agree that slashes can generally go in a single direction?  You hardly ever see anyone use the back slash in print.  The backslash is almost exclusively used by programmers since it's such an obscure character.

Yet, some genius at Microsoft decided to use it to separate files and folders circa 1980 or whenever, and now we have to deal with it daily for network paths.  I agree that it's kinda handy to have slashes in filenames, but did we have to use the backslash to separate those paths?  Why not use the colon like Apple used to? 

Someday, we can only hope that Microsoft might make it possible to use using the backslash.  I'm not even going to start ranting about drive letters in this post, but that's yet another huge failing that continues even in Vista.

#3.  Windows XP mode vs. Windows 95 mode of Windows Explorer

What was someone at Microsoft smoking when they decided to allow old UIs to run in the Windows explorer?  It took at least 10 minutes longer to help my mother out with this problem because the IT guy at her work configured her machine in Windows 2K explorer mode and my machine is in Windows XP explorer mode.  At my work, we actually have some software that has never been corrected to work for Windows XP explorer mode.  The software vendor has not fixed the bug and just tells you to run in Windows 2K mode!

Did Microsoft get rid of this backwards UI option for Vista?  One can only hope, but somehow I doubt it.

Those are my rants for today about UI.  Maybe one day we can hope UI designers will think forward about the decisions they made.  God forbid some hover interaction a Flash guy designs becomes a precedent and 20 years from now and we're still trying to help people over the phone to work around it.

Please not Lou Pinella!

Rumors are all over that Lou Pinella is going to be the Cubs' next manager. Dear Tribune Corp. : please, no!

The Cubs just tried hiring an old time manager in Dusty Baker. His reign in Chicago was no less than a travesty.

How is he a "proven winner"? His career record is barely above .500. This guy has only won anything once without A-Rod, Unit or KG Jr. -- that was the 1990 Reds who won the World Series. That great 2001 Seattle team that won 116 games had to go 5 games against the Tribe in the ALDS and only took 1 game from the Yankees in the ALCS.

Cubs fans want Joe Girardi. He's a leader in the town and we're willing to give him a break for as long as he needs to make a good team.

"Joe G" (as I like to call him) grew up in Central Illinois and went to Northwestern. Seeing as Illinois is very small, he has a connection to my family. According to my mother, my grandmother was friends with his mother who lived in Metamora, IL, when my grandmother taught at Metamora High.

Joe G told the Cubs crowd when Darryl Kile died before the game on June 22, 2002. In retrospect, I've thought only Joe could bring such a sad message to an ordinarily rowdy crowd in Chicago and have them pay attention to it.

Girardi is the perfect Cubs manager. Please hire him over Pinella. Lou Pinella is one of those old timey baseball guys that GMs just like to hire. Take a chance and hire a Chicago/Illinois guy who was in the Cubs organization before. Pinella is not a Cubs guy. He's not a Chicago guy. He's not even a National League guy.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Why are Macs getting more popular?

There is an article about this over at

I don't really think there has been a mad rush on Macs outside of the blogosphere, but I agree that Macs are increasing in popularity. My answer to this question is very simple: people use their own computers for less. Many people spend so much of our time inside of a web browser that it's hard to notice that it's on a Mac or on a PC. A lot of these same people have gotten burned by Kazaa or other Spyware on Windows, and it sounds safer to be on a Mac. They end up not really noticing the difference because of point #1.

For people like myself, it's almost impossible to consider moving to a Mac. I'd have to use Mono to use .NET. Mono's not bad, but it's also not VS 2005. I also have games that I like to play on my PC, which of course run on DirectX. Finally, one of my favorite programs is Rhapsody, which also doesn't run on a Mac (except in a web browser!)

However, this week when I was asking advice for possibly purchasing a laptop as a desktop replacement, I got a bunch of friends who are Mac fans recommending to buy a Mac. Here's why I wouldn't do that, in a nutshell:
  • BootCamp or no BootCamp, Apple does not support Windows innately. Until Macs ship from Apple with Windows pre-installed with a "Designed for Vista" sticker on them, BootCamp doesn't make up for this. I don't want to buy a Mac to run Windows and then find out Vista SP 1 wouldn't work on it (for example).
  • I really have no desire to run MacOS. It has some fancy features, but I just don't see the point when I have everything I need on Windows. There's also no killer app on Mac that I'm dying to have and can't have on my Windows box.
  • The hardware is somewhat cost competitive these days, but there lacks a benefit of theat hardware in light of first two points. Again, there's no killer feature about their hardware that isn't available from a PC vendor that supports Windows from the factory.
So, to my buddies who keep pounding on me to buy a Mac, thanks but no thanks! My last Mac is a Powerbook G3 that's collecting dust in my cube at work. I dropped $3100 on that thing, sold my PC, but then ended up buying a PC again within 6-9 months. It's just a path I tried a while ago and doesn't make sense anymore. Maybe later.

ps - I used to be a die hard Cult of Mac™ kind of guy in the 80s and 90s. I only owned Apple stuff from 1983 -> 1996. Except for my brief foray into owning a Mac in 1999 (aforementioned Powerbook), mostly what I do on a Mac is doodle around and wish I had a PC running Windows to get stuff done. But to each their own.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Would the person who wrote ObjectDataSource please step forward?

I'd like the programmer of ObjectDataSource at Microsoft to write something in the comments about why on earth we cannot bind to any property of an instance that is not a value type. WHY? What were you thinking!?

For those not in the know about this, I should be able to write the following in ASP.NET when using an ObjectDataSource in a GridView: <%# Bind("SomeObject.Name") %>. In straight C#, this would translate to RowObject.SomeObject.Name. As it stands, you can only bind to value types in the properties of the RowObject. So I could do <%# Bind("Name") %> to get to RowObject.Name. But I can't get at any properties of that SomeObject. If I try that, I get the error "A call to Bind was not well formatted. Please refer to documentation for the correct parameters to Bind" when trying to build the project.

Folks, this makes ObjectDataSource worthless for any reasonable object model except the most basic of the basic. It means you have to tear your objects apart and hand them to the GridView, just as you'd have to do if you weren't using ObjectDataSource.

If someone has any other ideas about this besides subclassing ObjectDataSource, feel free to step forward. Otherwise, allow me to say "WTF?"

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Why pay $1300 for a console?

I really don't understand why people would pay $1300 for a Playstation 3 pre-order receipt (and then the PS3 itself) on Ebay. The most absurd part isn't the gadget envy. The absurd part is that you could buy a Blu-Ray player and a new PC for the price you could just buy the pre-order and the PS3 -- and that's with no games!

Folks, it defeats the point of the console to pay this much. Stop the madness or next time around nobody gets consoles cheap. I wonder if Sony should have just offered the first 500,000 PS3 off the line for $2000 a pop. How about $5000 a pop? How high could they go? Whatever the sustainable price for those "special edition" PS3s, they'd get all of the profits right up front instead of letting idiots sell their consoles on eBay and profiting. Those people aren't even fans, whereas the people paying $1300 are.

Anyway, let's just hope some of the few PS3s out there actually get in the hands of some people who actually want one for Christmas, rather than jerks who will buy them and sell them on eBay, or GameStop employees who are (reportedly) hogging them to themselves.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Vodafone running away from 3G

I had no idea how true my last post on the GSM/HSDPA topic would turn out. See this article.

Margins are higher on 2G handsets. Margins are higher on 2G service. Vodafone needs to make money right about now, so 3G is not their focus. No wonder I didn't see any 3G handsets out in the Vodafone store (see picture) when I popped in, nor did they have the Motorola V3x out to see. You'd think the RAZR design plus 3G capabilities would be flying off the shelves? Nope. They had it on a sheet of paper somewhere on a wall and didn't have it out to see.

Meanwhile, in a different universe, T-Mobile USA just announced they're spending $6b on deploying an incompatible version of HSDPA, which uses 1700mhz/2100mhz. The 2100mhz, btw, is not the same band used in Europe. It just happens to be in the 21xx mhz range.

Now why on earth a company would spend $6b on an incompatible format of HSDPA is beyond me, but that's what T-Mobile is doing. I wish them luck. Even CDMA vendors in the US have a better roaming strategy. They deploy on 850/1900mhz, which is used pretty much everywhere they use CDMA, except Japan and parts of Eastern Europe (450mhz).

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The British Pound

When I was visiting the UK last week, a woman we met in Scotland told me that the rest of Europe refers to the UK as something like the "UK Ripoff".  I can't remember the exact term she used, but it was a lot more catchy than "UK Ripoff".  "United Chargedom" or something.

The bottom line is that England and Scotland are amazingly expensive.  An 8-day trip there rivaled the cost of my honeymoon because of the exchange rate.  My honeymoon was twice as long and in a far more exotic locale in the Southern Hemisphere.

I know it's a dignified thing to have the world's most expensive currency, but maybe it's time they start thinking about devaluing the Pound a little bit.  Better yet, maybe they should move to the Euro.  A friend who is returning home to there next week for a vacation was complaining that he'll barely be able to afford the time off because of the exchange rate.  It seems absurd that a guy who lives in Silicon Valley finds he'll be stretching his budget by returning home to England.

Something to think about.  I loved my vacation, but I'd think twice about doing business there, unless I was of course exporting their money for goods made here or in China.

Howard Stern moved to satellite, no one cared..

Saw an article this morning about Sirius and XM adding subscribers. Sirius has 5m subscribers, and Mel Karmazin credits stern for adding 1m custoners to Sirius. While this might be a winning proposition for getting some subscribers, it pales compared to the 12m listeners Stern had when he was free. The Washington Post talked a little about this recently.

Most radio is successful because it's free (i.e. ad-sponsored). If it wasn't, people wouldn't listen. The more people you have listening, the more advertisers will pay. When you charge for the content up front, the balance doesn't work out as well because you have no hope in getting the size of audience. Think of YouTube. Would we pay to watch stupid videos on YouTube? No. But we will go there in droves because it's free.

But actually what these articles made me think of is about his free speech battles. Given all the conflict that Stern has had with the FCC, his audience up in arms over the FCCs fines, etc.. few care that much what he says on the radio to pay $132/yr to listen to him. I guess that's what the price of free speech is in Stern's case, and most of us just don't think he's worth that.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Please stop saying "iPod isn't in danger" when talking about Zune...

Those of us who will buy a Zune aren't going to do so because we care about the iPod. We don't. We hate the iPod. I have two Nanos and still prefer to use my 4 year old Creative Zen. I want to be able to listen to my subscription music on a device. iPod doesn't offer that. End of story.

The only problem is that Zune supposedly won't support Rhapsody. This sucks, because I've had a Rhapsody subscription for a number of years. But I am getting a little tired of the shell game that Rhapsody plays with songs. I save a playlist 6 months ago and half of the songs are now only 30 second samples (this is happening to me as I write this) because they've been removed from the subscription playlist. Very annoying.

To the Diggers out there who want to make Zune-iPod comparisons every day: please stop mentioning the iPod in EVERY Zune article, you're not changing my mind. I'm definitely going to buy a Zune. I want an end-to-end subscription system that will work with my Xbox 360, which I'm guessing they will do with Zune music (since J Allard is in charge of Zune). Microsoft has the ability to offer that and Apple does not.

So far this is the only iPod-Zune comparison that's been any good. Especially "If Detroit Tigers pitcher Joel Zumaya threw an MP3 player at my head at a blazing 104 MPH, would it hurt?" LAWLLERS

Monday, October 02, 2006

Got problems? Enter Rehab!

Mark Foley, the congressman who sent unseemly IMs to a 16-year old, has entered rehab for alcoholism.

There you go, there's the easy out. This is pretty much what everyone seems to do these days if they get busted for anything. "I did something wrong, therefore I have a terrible disease called alcoholism that's to blame." I have an idea, how about, even if you're an alcoholic, you're still responsible for your actions.

By the way, if someone is in Congress, shouldn't we hold them to higher standards than everyone else? Shouldn't he have at least had in his mind, "I've drank a lot tonight, I'm going to hit on a child. Wait wait, I'm in Congress, that would be really, really bad?" I can understand Cletus not holding himself to a higher standard, but someone in our Congress? Just another one of the 2.5 trillion reasons we hate our Congress.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Mysterious World of 3D File Formats

This is not the sexiest 3D graphics topic but it's one that affects me every day.

I remember the first time I tried to get a model from one package into another, I think it was around 1993. I had a DXF file that came from AutoCAD. I was trying to bring that into Softimage. This ended up being a nightmare of trial and error because some stuff wasn't supported, so I had to get the file re-exported from those guys about 15 times, hack the file by hand, etc.

Fast forward 13 years later -- we're in the same boat. In trying to get some files converted from Maya to/from Softimage, I've tried 3 different converters over the last year (Collada, FBX and dotXSI), and all have their own idiosyncrasies, failings, etc. Plus, no matter which package you're using, the importers and exporters generally have very poor error reporting, so it's very hard to debug what aspect the converter is barfing on.

I have three things I want to port from 3D package to 3D package:

  1. Points in space and their related meta-data. Either it's a vert with polygon connectivity and bone weighting information, a nurbs patch, a camera with camera details, or whatever.
  2. Animation, constraints and expressions.
  3. Materials and textures.

Let's start at the bottom... surprisingly, #3 is the most reliable if you're just using a Phong or Lambert shader. It's when you get into custom shaders that this falls apart. Collada is, so far, the only format that has any kind of solution for custom shaders. It requires you to write CGFX, but it's better than nothing.

Animation generally works out -- except for the constraints and expressions part. Maybe we could all agree on a common bytecode/CodeDom type solution for being able to port expressions from package to package. I know, that's asking a lot, but given that the technology exists out there in the world already, maybe this isn't that hard.

It's the first bullet point that breaks all the time, and you'd think this would be the easiest one. Hard to believe that in 2006 we have not figured out how to perfect conversion of this from package to package.

So here's what I'd like to see: all vendors push on Collada more than any other format. Sorry, I just don't want any more custom formats like DXF, FBX or dotXSI. Right now, FBX is the best format for conversion betwen Maya and XSI, which is bad for the industry because it's proprietary and because it doesn't support all platforms (XSI Linux is not supported by FBX).

So I was kind of sad to see that Microsoft is pushing FBX with their XNA Framework instead of Collada. Microsoft are the XML kings, you'd think they'd go with an XML format, so why are they doing this? Is it because Collada started out as a Sony thing? It would really help all of us if Microsoft would just join with Sony on this one, then we could finally point 3D vendors to a single format with the requirement that they support it as their #1 conversion format.

That format should be Collada for the good of the community. We've wasted too much time on this for decades. It's time to stop screwing around.

You can read more about Collada here. Would my post be more convincing if I said that Google supports Collada? Also check out all of these videos of people using Collada.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

GSM is Dead; Long Live GSM

My trips abroad usually involve a little side venture to the Vodafone store to get a SIM card for my GSM phone.  I find it convenient (and geeky) to have a phone when I'm over there.  I did so last week while in the UK.

One of the things that surprised me was how few people were using WCDMA handsets.  I figured by now it would be in the hands of a lot of consumers.  More surprising is how few were being offered at the stores (with the notable exception of Three of course).  I checked out Orange and Vodafone company stores, as well as Cell Phone Warehouse and Phones 4u in Edinburgh.  Few had 3G phones out on the shelves, or had signage related to 3G plans.  Only Three was actively advertising anything about it.

Same thing is true here with our GSM providers.  T-Mo doesn't even have 3GSM/WCDMA deployed.  Cingular has it deployed but has like one handset. They actually lie on their site and say that EDGE is 3G.  Not even GSMWorld makes that claim about EDGE.

Meanwhile, on this side of the Atlantic, take a look at two of the main providers:  Sprint and Verizon.  They've made massive rollouts of EV-DO service (see: Sprint, Verizon) and almost all of the phones priced $50 or above on Verizon are EV-DO enabled (Sprint has less phones with EV-DO--3 by my count).  Both have PDA services that use EV-DO (Sprint: a couple Treos, Verizon: a bunch more). 

Which brings me to my next observation... I hardly saw any recent Blackberries (only saw older models) or any Treos in the UK.  The only data services I saw people using were PIX and TXT messaging.

Getting down to the point of this post, it's shocking that the GSM customer base has still not migrated to higher standards like WCDMA or HSDPA in one of the world's most lucrative mobile markets (the UK).  Where are the deals on cool 3G technology, like we have here in the US?  Why didn't I see Vodafone pushing Vodafone live?  The only advertising I saw for any 3G service was being able to check your Hotmail on Three.

What it speaks to is the relative lucrativeness of the technology.  The United States' CDMA mobile providers seem to be proving that the Qualcomm technology path has a much, much faster rate of high speed services growth than the GSM technology path.  Looking at the GSM Association statistics, 11% of CDMA users are now on EV-DO, only 4% of GSM users are on any form of W-CDMA (most of which are in Japan, I think).  On the EV-DO side, a huge number of those are in the United States, the most lucrative mobile market in the world, thanks to the consumer push of Verizon and their VCAST services, and Sprint's mobile data push.

Final thought.... Vodafone, a stock I own and have now owned twice over the last five years, should not sell that Verizon Wireless stake they have under any circumstances.  It's easily proving to be their most valuable growth asset in a huge lineup of assets they acquired in the 90s.  I guess as a shareholder, I should be indifferent.  I own part of that network through Vodafone's stock, and whatever they do with it, I will end up owning part of it or getting a cash payout.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Yahoo making employees use vacation for Xmas

Now this is interesting, courtesy of ValleyWag

When SGI did this to their employees, that was the beginning of the steady downfall of that company.   I don't think Yahoo is in that position, but maybe the pressure to keep advertising income look good is forcing them to make this move.   Are we at the beginning of the downward trend for the online advertising bubble?

I am back from the UK

So I have a bunch of stuff to write about. See above.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Wii60? Guess not.

Nintendo announced yesterday that the Wii would retail in the United States for $250 on November 19, 2006. With a second controller, that will easily kick the price over $300.

For the past few months, most people had been anticipating a lower price because, unlike PS3 and 360, the Wii is not really an innovative machine in terms of graphics and CPU power (it lacks High-Def, etc). It innovates in gameplay via its controller. Someone coined the term "Wii60", a clever way of saying "Buy a Wii and an Xbox 360 instead of buying a PS3 -- both consoles will cost the same as the $600 PS3!"

In the end it turned out not to be true... Wii60 would cost $700+ with dual controllers, PS3 will cost around $650 with dual controllers. Though you could get the cheaper version of the 360 and cut the price down by $100.

Personally I have very little interest in the Wii. I enjoy playing HD games on the 42" plasma, or using the VGA cable I got to connect my 360 to a 20" Dell LCD computer monitor. Since my favorite game is Madden, and I play a lot, I can't really really imagine playing for several hours on end swinging my arms around with the Wii controller. I suppose I'm not really the Wii target audience, but I thought my Gamecube was a great console in the last generation.

Btw, what's up with J Allard's gamerscore? He really played 30 seasons on Madden 06? Did he simulate it for the achievement? I'm a huge Madden fan and I didn't even get that far. I didn't like the 360 version compared to the Xbox version last year. This year's 360 version is much better, though.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Ice cap melting in winter

Well obviously a lot of people who come to my blog lately are interested in the environment. The San Francisco Chronicle has an article this morning describing how our northern ice cap is melting in the winter.

I wonder if the northern cap would melt faster than the southern cap because the northern hemisphere is more industralized, having cut down more trees, etc. Or does heat diffuse out on a global scale?

I'm only going to write about loan consolidation...

...and put AdSense on my site. Or not. But check out the most expensive adwords.

Of course, Trimbo is ad-free. I tried adsense one time on one of my sites and made a total of $0.70 over 6 months. I guess I didn't write enough about insurance or loan consolidation.

Based on this I might as well do a little SEO here to get some more viewers: save money with 0ur looooow car insurance / loan consolidation rates! Lawyers Lawyers Lawyers!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Google's main product improving lately

Their main product being Google's search engine, of course.

I've noticed that Google's giving better results than about 6 months ago, when I started using Yahoo search for the most part. Google had been overrun by SEOs and it was annoying me. Now Google's search index is updated much more often than the competition, especially Microsoft. I'm not sure if this is their strategy to get rid of search spam, but it seems to be a much more enjoyable experience all around. I see news articles in the main index sooner, and I'm seeing a lot less spam.

Bottom line, it looks like I'm back to using Google for search, though I still like My Yahoo a little bit more than personalized Google.

Monday, September 11, 2006

More Software Efficiency Shout-Outs

I wrote a small comment on Mark Shuttleworth's blog in response to the furthered Ubuntu development of XGL/desktop effects/compviz, etc. 

While I think those are neat in terms of getting more popular acceptance of Linux, maybe the thing to do is focus on the "green" ness of Linux, instead of developments that make it less green.

Anyway, the purpose of this post is I wanted to give a shout-out to software developers that might be wasting cycles. 

The requirement is, this is something about the runtime that isn't constantly needed, but is costing overhead all the time.  Obviously if you're playing a game, or doing number crunching, or scanning your disk for a document, then you'll need the power you can get.  What I'm looking for are things that have needless overhead.  For the most part, I'm throwing these out for discussion, I don't have hard numbers (the exception is Vista).

  • Windows Vista Aero.  I called this one out on Shuttleworth's blog specifically because I've actually measured the effect of running Vista.  It uses an extra 20w at idle over XP on my machine when running Aero just because the GPU is fired up and running its fan.
  • MacOS X UI.  See Windows Vista Aero.  There's really no way to measure what kind of power the UI is using, since there is no mode for OS X where the fancy effects are not active, I think (I'm not a Mac user).  But I think it also uses the GPU for its fancy effects, so mark this one down.
  • MacOS X - Objective-C.  Again, I'm not a Mac user, but I was a NeXT user, so maybe someone can clear this up for me.  When I was using MacOS X a few years ago,  Objective-C's pre-binding, late-binding, all kinds of binding takes a lot of cycles compared to C++ or C apps written in Carbon.  Should this be on the list?
  • Java and .NET.  I wonder how much we are spending by having these languages be interpreted by the CLR/JVM instead of compiling them to machine-native code with a garbage collector?  The JITting has become really amazing for both of these.. the performance is really good.  But it still makes me curious.
  • Bittorrent.  People leave their computers on all the time to try to make a download faster when, if it's legal material, they can probably get it from a fast download site somewhere.  Conceptually, I like Torrent in terms of network traffic.  However, it's probably incredibly inefficient when you take into account all of the computers, routers, switches, fiber, etc.
  • PDF.  I'd be curious to hear more about PDF vs. HTML for a lot of documents.  I get sent PDFs all the time when it probably doesn't demand that much.
  • XML.  Is really wordy and people are using it inefficiently out there in the world.   It's being used for all kinds of data storage that should really use a SQL database or just plain old text files.  I wonder how much XML is contributing to wasted cycles out there, just because people are too lazy to use a SQL database.
  •  Object-Relational Mapping.  Speaking of that, how about ORM instead of just coding your own SQL queries in a DAL?  ORM seems very inefficient in the automated/no-coding ways that are out there (like ActiveRecord), compared to coding up your own queries (well, when the queries are complex, of course -- but who knows how many people using Hibernate to handle everything about their large JOIN code?).

Just a few that I could think of.  Post more into the comments, or feel free to refute some of these.  The goal isn't to get people pissed off.  The goal is to get people asking whether we should pay more attention to efficiency in software as a green practice.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Why Web Apps Could Be Bad For The Environment -- the Layman's Version

I was telling a friend about my last article about this topic and he mentioned it might be good to write a layman's version. So here it is.

When you use a word processor like Writely on the web, it potentially uses a lot more electricity than when you use a word processor on your computer.

Three things can increase the effect of this:
  • There is software running on the computers at Google that store the information. This takes dozens or hundreds of computers to store the information for the users. Just the fact that you're involving two computers to do the word processing of one person means you are adding to the electricity used for the task.
  • If the programs running on the computers at Google are inefficient--it is not in the case of Writely, but imagining it was--this adds to the number of computers they need to have on their end to handle all of the users.
  • Lastly, the program you actually see is running through your web browser (Internet Explorer or Firefox). The programming language used to create this experience (JavaScript) is not known to be very efficient compared to the programming languages used to create a desktop application like Microsoft Word or even OpenOffice (those languages are called C, C++ or Java in the case of OpenOffice).
To reiterate an analogy to cars: imagine if you need to transport a small cardboard box and you buy an SUV to do it instead of a Hybrid car. You've spent a lot more on gas than you really need just to transport the cardboard box.

However, it should be said that desktop applications like Microsoft Word are not completely off the hook on this! Those applications are getting more complicated all the time, needlessly so, and wasting electricity in the process. If the upcoming Office 12 takes 1 second more to do a mail merge than the current Office 11, that adds up. I don't really know if mail merge is slower or faster, but imagine the millions of people who are doing mail merges out there. When my computer is just sitting there, Windows Vista takes 20 watts more than Windows XP, because of the fancy new graphics Microsoft has added to Vista. Imagine that across a billion computers and it becomes clear that if Microsoft had made this more efficient instead of spending time on needless features, it could actually have an impact on global electricity use.

All I've been trying to say with this is that computer programmers who allow inefficiencies to stay in place because it's easier, or to make a quick buck, should own up to their responsibility when that inefficiency is pushed out on a wide basis. Like, for example, the internet. This is not morally different than carmakers pushing SUVs. They do it because it makes a quick buck and it's easy.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The natural cycle of warming

I've often said that it doesn't really matter whether humans are causing global warming -- we should get off of oil and coal anyway because of the socio-economic concerns surrounding those fossil fuels and localized pollution problems (ever been to Pasadena on a bad smog day?).

Well, more indications are coming around that there's little we can do to stop global warming when it starts (for whatever reason, humans or not). Courtesy of USA Today, America's Hotel Newspaper.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Team Xbox's take on Sony delay

 Granted, they're biased from the domain name, but their phoney interview with Kutaragi is pretty classic.


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Your AJAXy Rails app is ruining the planet; or, "Green" Software Practices

I was reading a blog the other day touting the slowness of Ruby and this concept occurred to me:  using "developer efficient" languages is ruining the environment. And if you look around, all of us who use these inefficient technologies are counting on hardware makers improve efficiency so we can continue the habits we prefer.  That's just not right.

An Analogy to cars.

Consider for a moment if you're driving a gas-guzzling SUV.  You believe that they should just find more oil, or that carmakers are responsible for making cars more efficient.  You believe that we should bomb OPEC to get you cheap oil.  Anyway you cut it, the responsibility isn't yours.

Or imagine you're somewhat energy conscious and own a fuel efficient car.  You desire the electric car, or the solar panel, or fusion.  We geeks have been screaming for years that these things need to have time spent on them, yet we ourselves refuse to drive 55mph instead of 70mph, which would use a lot less gas, or take the less convenient but more efficient public transportation around here. 

And still carmakers keep churning out gas cars.  Why?  Because it's easy and it's profitable, and we don't care enough to spend the money to get away from that.

Back to code.

Guess what, we the lazy programmers using AJAX and Ruby on Rails or Python to gain programming efficiency are the same way.  If you cared about the environment, you'd use C++, or at least Java or C#.

Face it:  every layer added between your code and the hardware costs something once you scale it up, just like it does for a million gasoline cars.  In the case of web pages and applications, that something is electricity.  Most of which is generated by fossil fuels.  Most of which comes from coal mines or oil imports.

If your code is 50% slower than desired on a machine that takes 150w at full load (i'm being generous), that's a wasted 150w, because you need a second box.   If your code is 90% as fast, that's still 150 watts wasted -- you still need a second machine to get the same performance as the optimal solution.  Those numbers suck.

Right, It's all about Scale

Now imagine you have a farm of these machines. 

Now imagine a co-lo the size of Google's site in Oregon filled with that inefficient code.

Now imagine that you've written code that pings the shit out of your machine just to get someone's AJAXy email, or to fill a search box interactively.

Now imagine all of those browsers out there running horribly inefficient Javascript code just to make your little app.

The bottom line is that it adds up.  Every CPU cycle burned on interpreting your "10x faster to program" scripting language code is a cycle that could have been used to get some work done using a lower level language.   And every router or browser client dealing with your bullshit is also wasting electricity in the process.

And if you look at solutions that David Heinemeier Hansson had made for Rails' scalability, they always come back to buying more machines.  Yes, I agree that Rails is desirable when compared solely against developer time.  However it is NOT desirable when compared over the long term with scalability, air conditioning and electricity costs.  If I can do on one sever what it takes to do on 10 with Rails, I would certainly spend the time to do what it takes on one.  If the funding wouldn't last long enough, then I guess the idea wasn't that great, now was it?

I guess it all comes back to social responsibility

If you care about the environment, you'll try to make the most efficient software solution to the problem, not just wait for hardware manufacturers to make the uber-efficient hardware solution to accomodate your software programming whims.

If anyone ever reads this post who has a vested interest in Rails, they'll probably be all pissed off and defensive.  Well, don't worry, you're not alone.  Python is also in that category, and I love Python.  Frighteningly, I think the most "green" language out there right now is C++, C or Objective-C, followed by Java and C#.  Once you get down to assembly, the amount of energy spent in maintaining the code is probably too high for the energy benefit.  It would be interesting to see some real numbers on "green" language choices and development practices. 

One thing is sure, green software practices probably don't involve javascript and AJAXy code.  Imagine all of the servers, routers and clients it takes just to tell you that you have 5,000 results for a search on the word "Jimmy" as you type it.  That scale is just insane.

Save the planet, defeat the terrorists, code in C++.  I kind of like the sound of that, even though I don't practice nearly enough myself.

ps - even if you don't believe humans are the cause of global warming, consider the socio-economic reasons to get ourselves off of oil and coal as incentive enough to cut back on fossil fuel use.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Imaginative Game with Wii Controller

From YTMND, of course.

Whoa, can this be true?

A quote from this story:

More than 50 million downloads of gaming and entertainment content from Xbox Live Marketplace to date
Over 2 billion Microsoft Points sold to date
When I read the first item, I wasn't that impressed because a lot of stuff can be downloaded via Xbox Live for free. I've downloaded a lot of demos that way (Dead Rising, Saint's Row, many XBLA games).

But then I read the second item and said "whoa." Each Microsoft Point is worth $0.0125 -- so 800 of them come out to be $10. This means that Microsoft has sold $250m worth of Microsoft points. That's huge. It basically means that every owner of an Xbox 360 so far (about 5m of us) is willing to spend ~$50 on games and other materials via download. Considering that we spend $50 a year on Xbox Live Gold in the first place, this is no small feat.

In addition to my Xbox Live Gold account, I've purchased $25 worth of Microsoft Points to buy demos and such over the last 6 months -- about $12.50 every 3 months. Granted, this is not much money when you look at what a typical Dead Rising sale can make @ $60. However, it requires no middle men. No trucks, no disc manufacturing, etc.. There are no retailers involved. There's just a website and "microtransactions" that have a weird math scheme to make it seem like you're spending less than you really are.

To really put this in perspective, consider how long it took Apple to get to $250m of revenue from iTunes Music Store -- it took selling 250m songs, which took a number of years IIRC. It certainly took longer than 9 months. But really consider how many users it took to reach that. Way more than the ~4m on Xbox Live (60% of 6m XB360 owners).

I've long said that Xbox Live might be Microsoft's best online play yet, and these stats seem to be showing that. When I first bought an Xbox circa 2002, I was not thrilled about paying a yearly subscription fee to Microsoft to be on this network. I had been playing Madden around the same time on my PS2 with the online adapter and hadn't paid anything to do it. As it has turned out, I've really enjoyed the controlled experience of Xbox Live, to the point where I don't mind paying for the Gold subscription. The community, the reliability and the ease of use are all worth paying for. I'm glad to hear it's going this well for them.