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