Sunday, December 28, 2008


Apparently there's a version of Ubuntu Server specifically built for VMWARE appliances. Pretty fucking slick. Wish I had known about this a couple months ago when I was building all my VMs. Looks like it's basically just a small foot print version + a "specialized kernel" plus some nice management tools for automating VM builds.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Great film. I can't wait to see Part Two. The depth of the story telling is really refreshing for a modern "bio-pic" I'm always disappointed by the very casual entertainment oriented approach of most of these films. The truth is, history is actually complex, sometimes mundane, and almost always a spider web of related events that requires the viewer to have some clue. It's very hard to simplify a movement, revolution, war or lifetime into a 2 hour movie and do the topic any justice at all. I understand the point of most films is entertainment but given that fact I wonder why bother making this type of film a all if you're not going to take it seriously? Just make Batman Part 8 and everyone will be happy. Leave the real serious films to people who are willing to approach the topic properly even if it means not being a commercial success.

Anyway I can't really review a movie in detail so I won't bother trying. All I can say is the acting, direction, screenplay -- everything is fantastic. The pacing of the movie really stood out to me. Nothing feels too rushed or simplified. Everything seems to play out in some scale model of real time. It's a film that takes its time when it needs to but moves the story forward also. I'm interested in watching it again already which is a rarity. Usually I don't need to see even a good movie more than once every 4 or 5 years. It would be very interesting to que up the Motorcycle Diaries before watching Part One. I haven't seen it in many years but I seem to remember it being an excellent film also.
First of all, as a disclaimer I don't own any gaming consoles. I just follow the industry because I'm interested in the strategy behind it and I hope someday gaming will mature & develop enough to really interest me. Right now it feels a bit too much like being 6 years old and playing with action heros in the bathtub. The stories are bland repetitive grinds to the next check point. The voice acting is universally terrible. There's just nothing there to keep me interested. Occasionally something new and interesting comes along and I can be drawn in for a while but I've never had any ability to grind away at every new video game for hours chasing a carrot on a stick like some people. I admire them for it because I assume it is a lot of fun (to them) and it's certainly more constructive than watching TV or any other passive entertainment source.

When I do play games I tend to like something quick & simple. It seems contradictory based on my critique of modern games as not being interesting enough but a straight forward puzzle game or shooter at least has nothing to be ashamed of. It is what it is. You can't have a bad story and bad voice acting if you don't bother to fake either. There's a lot to be said for accessibility & brevity in entertainment. I'm an extremist -- either give me no-substance or give me more substance than I can take. The middle-ground is just too mediocre.

Anyway, the point of this entry is to look at why the Wii is so successful. Without any official numbers yet it looks like the Wii dominated x-mas sales. I consistently see people bitching about how this toy that doesn't even do HD can be dominating the 360/PS3. The important thing to remember is this is coming from people who absolutely despise the idea of a quick & fun game. They crave the 15 minute tutorial, memorizing & mastering a dozen button combos, memorizing & mastering points on a map, etc. They don't want 30 minutes of fun gameplay, they want 30 hours of gameplay. They'll figure out how to make it fun (somehow) It seems to me it's a hold over from the early days of video games where selection was more limited and games were expected to be longer, harder, and more of a grind. These people seem to have developed more of an enjoyment of the physical process of pressing buttons and sitting on a couch for 6 hour spans. The actual quality of the game itself is largely irrelevant to them. It simply has to satisfy some basic elements of traditional gameplay and offer a comforting and familiar experience.

The success of the Wii is purely based on the fact that most people don't feel this way. They don't have the time to spend 4 hours doing "missions" so they can get a new item and be rewarded with 4 more hours of "missions" It's simply a different mindset. I think it's possibly a generational thing -- not age per say but experience. Anyone who missed the period of gaming between the late 80's to late 90's has a different standard for what makes a game fun. Hardcore vs. casual perhaps -- although it's hard to say some Nintendo fanatics aren't hardcore. It's maybe more of a time management issue. It's no secret there is a serious lack of good third party software for the Wii but it seems to be irrelevant towards sales. Why? Because the average Wii owner probably only wants 2 or 3 games a year. If Nintendo can provide that directly the need for a healthy third party ecosystem is diminished. Unlike Sony & Microsoft, the Wii hardware itself is profitable. Nintendo is a very profitable software company independent of Wii hardware revenue. The average 360/PS3 owner are probably more interested in buying 10 games a year and it's unlikely either Sony or Microsoft could deliver enough games first-party to satisfy them. So the model for Sony & Microsoft is far more dependent on third parties.

So in the long term it's going to be interesting to see how sustainable the blockbuster & hardcore gamer market is versus the smaller, more accessible, casual game market. It seems the blockbuster game market is showing some signs of slowing down, or even collapsing entirely. While there are many high profile games that make a huge profit there are increasingly more and more very expensive games falling flat on their face. It's very similar to the movie industry where only known properties tend to be developed into blockbusters -- either remakes, sequels, or derivative works of literature & comic books. However there are many cheaper movies made that can turn a profit without being #1 at the box office or dominating DVD sales. They are able to do this by finding a very specific style or sub-genre and executing it very well.

So to wrap it up, there are 5 specific things the hardcore/blockbuster game market should do to become more relevant to the masses or, in time, they are going to become marginalized niche players:

1) Shorter, cheaper, more episodic content. (downloadable)
2) More exploration into less mainstream titles. Spend less to develop it, appeal to a smaller audience & sell less copies, but make more money in the end.
3) Stop puking out bad sequels or you'll destroy your cash cow. They have to show some restraint here. You can only go back to the well so many times.
4) Cheaper consoles. Subsidize it with a a subscription model if you must (xbox style) but the days of $400+ consoles has come and gone. You can only get away with that when you don't have any real competition.
5) Start moving away from buttons & joysticks. This model is 30 years old now. It still has some life left in it but the success of the Wii and games like Rockband/Guitar Hero show people are very interested in alternative control systems.

Monday, December 22, 2008

iPhone Nano

There is some pretty credible evidence out there now Apple is working on a lower end iPhone model for 2009. True or not I'm willing to speculate:

Just as the Shuffle isn't really an iPod in any classic sense I would expect any lower end iPhone model to not really be an iPhone in any classic sense. (no touchscreen, no app store, no wifi etc)

There's no practical way to cut the current cost of the iPhone 3G by $100. Reducing storage only saves you maybe $20. Reducing the size of the touchscreen makes a touch keyboard impossible and breaks existing apps. You simply couldn't use most app store apps on a screen even 70% as big as the current iPhone. (too small, not enough DPI for accurate input) Downgrading to EDGE saves you almost nothing. Downgrading the processor power is pointless. (breaks third party apps) So there is basically no way in hell Apple can reduce the current price of the iPhone in any significant way without producing a product that no one would want anyway.

So based on all that I would bet the iPhone Nano would be just what it says. A Nano with a phone built in. No bells & whistles. The UI would be engineering to have an iPhone look & feel but the device would probably continue to run either the classic iPod OS (vxworks I think?) or perhaps it would be the first iPod using Darwin but it would retain the simplicity of the iPod line and any connection to full blown iPhone/Touch OS would be purely cosmetic.

So why would Apple do it? Simple.. To offer an iPod AT&T can give away to people for free with a contract. (or a minimal fee) Apple got into the phone business knowing that phones would completely replace stand alone MP3 players someday. This is just the next logical step. They can ensure the iPod and iTunes Store stay relevant in a post-PMP, cell-centric world. It's interesting to note the new Nano is easily the most cell-phone looking iPod Apple has ever sold. It actually looks more like a cell phone than the iPhone does. Just add a mic & speaker, update the software, and you're all set. As long as Apple does 3 core things well it will satisfy a huge market:

1) Play music & video as well as existing iPod models (check)
2) Make phone calls as well as existing iPhones with a similar UI experience (pretty easy to pull off, check)
3) Be something you can walk out of an AT&T store with for $49 or $99 depending on storage. (check)

As an extra cost cutting measure I would expect there to be no requirement for a data plan.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Recent things of interest

Destroyer: People have been telling me about this band for years but the name always turned me off. Sounds like bad death metal (I guess that's a redundant term) Turns out they're fantastic. Not at all what you'd expect from the name. I really like the Destroyer's Rubies album the most so far. I have all the albums but I'm kinda slowly digesting them. It may take me at least a year to actually process these.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy: Fucking bleak stuff. I haven't read a book in a while that made me uncomfortable like this one did. The writing style is very engaging for this type of story. Very much a first person type of feel to me. Not much (if any) wasted time on information that's not important to the story. I'm a fan of these type of books in general. I'm suddenly motivated to re-read The Earth Abides which is another end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it type of story. Those two, plus Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and probably The Stand by Stephen King are definitely the best of the genre.

Frost/Nixon: I liked it but I was definitely hung up over the actor who plays Nixon. It sounded like he was suppressing a British accent. Nixon, being such an iconic character, is pretty hard to pull off. I don't think anyone will be able to beat Hopkins at it. I totally bought him as Nixon 100%. Going back to Frost/Nixon, I think the actual raw footage of the interviews would be more interesting to me.

Milk: Pretty good but overrated. It's a solid political bio pic. Nothing more, nothing less. I did like how they mixed vintage footage into the film at various points. My biggest problem with this film would be how casual and rushed the murders are. I wanted to know more about that character and his motivations. I guess I'm probably bias against all bio pics because I'm constantly frustrated by the lack of detail and scope. Clearly these movies are intended to be a brief entertaining story but I'm naturally interested in getting the whole story.

My Name is Bruce: I'm a fan of Bruce Campbell so I downloaded it. Had a few funny lines. Definitely not what you'd call a good movie but I'm glad I downloaded it anyway.

Indiana Jones 4: I saw this with the aide of the wonderful RiffTrax project by Mike Nelson, Bill Corbin, and Kevin Murphy (among others) and I have to say -- this movie is just as cheesy as the previous 3. I'm not sure why people were so upset over it. Yeah it's campy, the story is forced and has huge logical holes, so what? Did you SEE the other 3? I feel the same way about the new Star Wars movies too. They're really no better or worse than the originals but everyone remembers the first time they saw Star Wars so they view it with equal parts nostalgia and fact. The truth is, they're not very good movies. Out of all 6 I'd say 3 & 5 are the only films I think stand out as being good movies.

New Star Trek movie: I have no problem with them rebooting the series for basically the same reasons listed above. The original wasn't that good. They can hardly do worse. My only problem with what I've seen from the trailer so far is they turned Kirk into an emo kid. A single blog post that covers both Star Wars & Star Trek? I don't know how to explain it. The winter kinda makes me crazy. Nothing to do. Hostile universe outside. I really try to spend the period between October & March catching up on entertainment stuff I didn't have time for over the previous year(s) At this very moment the idea of re-watching some Star Trek DS9 sounds appealing. Sad really.

Starship Titanic by Terry Jones: Somehow I never read this one even though I've owned a paperback of it for about a decade. Good book. It would make a fun movie if handled right.

Since it's freezing fucking cold and I have nothing better to do I think I might re-read the Dark Tower books this winter. It's an epic amount of material but luckily I've forgot most of the details now so I can enjoy it from a fresh perspective. I ended up listening to 5-7 in audio book form but I've never heard 1-4 in audio. The audiobook versions are amazing. Excellent voice acting. Really immersive stuff. I'm looking forward to hearing 1-4 in this format.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Someone tell this machine I'm not a machine

I realized I haven't posted anything on this blog in a while. Been busy with work and personal stuff. Also the "i" part of my iPhone touchscreen wasn't working for a long time so writing a blog post was not all that easy. I usually do rough drafts on the iPhone in my spare time and edit them later. Without the rough drafts I can't be motivated to do it. Anyway:

After the vicious never ending election cycle I always like to check out between election day and inauguration day. Fatigue becomes a factor. So far the transition seems to be going very well. It seems both extreme liberals and extreme conservatives are upset at Obama right now so we must be getting this thing just about perfect. Neither one of those groups has much business setting policy in this country anymore. I consider myself a liberal but the extreme left is just as dangerous and disgusting as the extreme right in most cases.

Clinton at State is obviously a good move. She knows how to play hardball. She proved in the general she was willing to be loyal to Obama and be a good solider. Since there was enough disagreement between Obama & Clinton on health policy I think it probably makes a lot of sense to keep her away from that business.

Keeping Gates on is a brilliant move. It's dangerous to replace a guy who has actually managed some level of success in Iraq with someone (anyone) who might be wanting to shake things up. We can't really just wash our hands of Iraq at this point. We're involved, the exit strategy has to work. The most important thing is we have a President elect who actually wants to leave. Gates can figure out the details.

I'm a big fan of Richardson so I'm happy to see he's on board. We've got the Democratic all-star team going here.

I wanted to see Kerry involved in this administration but we've got a lot of battles to fight in the Senate and we definitely need him there right now. His experience in actually getting laws pasted is going to be hugely helpful.

On the auto bail out: Pretty much gotta do it. We've bailed out other economies before (Mexico, Japan) and it worked out in the long run. We just can't lose all those jobs. I intensely dislike American cars so I have no interest in seeing the US auto industry continue to exist from a sentimental standpoint. I just think at this time we can't afford to see them go under. If we really push modern designs, electric, hybrid, hydro, etc we might even be able to see the US auto industry really rebound in the next decade. This deal could actually end up making the country some good money. The alternative is to print a fucking ton of unemployment checks and, eventually, welfare checks for all these people who lose their jobs. If we're going to be spending the money anyway I would rather see them stay at work and at least try to get the US auto industry back on track.

Not much happening in the world of technology lately. I've been reading about this interesting Google project to make x86 native code run as a browser plugin. It's still very early but it really opens a lot of doors. We don't really have anything right now that could deliver processing intensive applications locally. I'm not really sold x86 is the ultimate solution but it's a really good intermediate step. I can imagine a world where a site like YouTube might have a x86 VM plugin that boots a minimal Linux install and does all your video encoding locally using ffmpeg with absolutely no porting required by developers. The options are really endless. Security is a concern but hypervisors are fundamentally sound in terms of security. I think if they're doing it right the security concerns are probably not a huge factor. No matter what it can hardly be any more destructive than Active X or even malicious JavaScript.

Message to RIM: Stick with what you do best. The iPhone has you guys beat. The BBOS is ancient. Your core customers are happy with the product you're offering. What are you really going to gain making all these lame iPhone like devices? Either do it right or don't do it at all. There's a huge market of people happy with traditional BBs. Don't under estimate their loyalty.

That is all.