21 December 2005
15 December 2005
09 December 2005
In the second half of his talk at When 2.0, Will Wright talked about success and failure in the game the Sims. Players don't mind failure, as long as they understand why they failed.
In the Sims, as in real life, there are lots of ways to fail. The slide shows what can happen on the road to success.
The game designers spent a lot of effort illustrating the failures, and players enjoy exploring them. I thought back to SimCity and how you could have traffic jams, crime, fire, earthquakes, and even Godzilla stomping on buildings, and I remembered how it was fun to actually push the limits of the game to explore how to make things break, and then how to make them work.
Good games allow people to explore and think about things more broadly than they might have otherwise. Failure in a game world is OK, and by failing, you can make a better model of how things should work.
at 8:55 AM
07 December 2005
He described how he designs games, and how a building a model of something can help in understanding the relationships between the objects.
To illustrate this, he described the following problem. Let's say I want to invite you to my home. I could show you a satellite map of the area and let you find your way.
But this isn't very useful. There's much more detail in the image than you need to find my place, and it gets in the way.
Instead, I could give you a map like this.
This isn't as realistic, but as a model it captures the important information and presents the relationships clearly.
When he was designing the Sims, Will started with a physical model of the environment. Little model houses on a green hilly surface with paper streets and blue water. The physical design allowed him to think about the sort of interactions that could occur in the game, before he started writing algorithms. He said that Robert Louis Stevenson took this approach with Treasure Island. First, he drew a map of the island, with places and currents charted, and then he imagined himself at each point on the island, to see what it would be like to live there. Stevenson spent three weeks doing this before he began writing.
Will then talked about game design, and how many games (linear board games, chess, Myst, Doom, and the Sims) have topologies that a gamer quickly recognizes.
For instance, a board game like Life has a linear path, with the game state explicitly displayed on the board.
Chess, however, has a tree-structure, where every move you make, and every counter-move your opponent makes, leads to a complex branching topology that eventually leads to an end.
Myst too has a linear sequence. You must solve a sequence of puzzles in order to proceed. Doom and other level based games allow more freedom, but this collapses at the end of the level (you can do whatever you want, but you have to kill the Boss, or get the key, and the new level starts cleanly from that point).
In the Sims, he wanted players to pursue a balanced approach to the game. If a player pursues a solely social or material path, they eventually reach a local maxima where they can rise no further. In order to get on to a balanced strategy, the player actually takes a hit (the yellow area in the diagram represents a lower score than the light blue) before they again progress.
It was a great talk. I'll post more from it tomorrow.
(Digg this story and read the followup)
at 12:02 PM
06 December 2005
Riya is doing some interesting work in applying face recognition to auto-tagging photos. Even with inexact algorithms (the best face-recognition software is far from perfect), the problem becomes much easier when you only have to deal with the hundred faces that a particular user might have photos of.
Tantek Celik of Technorati spoke about applying microformats to online organization of information. This is one of those places where a simple solution might work better than the best-designed semantic web system. Microformats are simple enough that you can use them on a web site without having to adopt XML, new publishing software, or in fact, anything beyond what you're already using.
Worktopia has a really interesting business model, providing on-demand meeting and workspace to groups that need it. Their premise is that workforces are increasingly mobile and distributed, and so traditional (fixed) office space does not serve the needs of these new workers. Instead, they occasionally need space (for meetings, kickoffs, and such) and Worktopia is aiming at the heart of this niche.
Finally, Ben Cruz of Demand ID talked about better ways of reaching people who would like to see live events. In the current reality, for many events, including live music, most tickets are not sold, but are given away in the week before the show as the promoter realizes the show isn't going to fill the venue. Promoters do this because news of a half-full venue, if it made it down the line to later tour stops, would be a self-reinforcing failure.
at 2:04 PM
24 November 2005
Flickr now has Guess Where NYC, Guess Where LA, Guess Where London, Guess Where SF, and even a group I started, Guess Where Berkeley.
I love these groups. People submit pictures they've taken of local unusual and recognizable places; the other members then try to guess where the pictures were taken.
Following the SF group, and occasionally posting a picture or a correct guess, has made me pay more attention to the city. Now, when I walk down a street, I'm looking for interesting images and also for places that someone might have posted to the group. I notice the details and colors of buildings and alleys.
at 4:40 PM
23 November 2005
at 12:50 PM
In the tech world, the term AJAX is used so heavily, I'm sometimes surprised to see it in other contexts.
at 12:45 PM
22 November 2005
07 November 2005
Amazon now lists a 212 DVD set of every Star Trek movie and TV show ever
made released on DVD (no Star Trek Animated Series for you). It goes on sale Nov 15.
For people who call in sick for a 24-hr marathon or a convention, this release is going to be a serious blow to their accumulated personal days. Amazon doesn't list the total number of hours, but it's got to be over 100hrs of Star Trek goodness (and badness, lest we forget Star Trek V).
at 1:08 AM
04 November 2005
A congressman published some of former FEMA-director Michael Brown's emails during the crisis. Here's an exchange between Brown and one of his people on the ground (pdf):
From: Marty Bahamonde
Date: Wed Aug 31
Sir, I know that you know the situation is past critical. Here some (sic) things you might not know.
Hotels are kicking people out, thousands gathering in the streets with no food and water, Hundreds still being rescued from their homes....we are out of food and running out of water at the dome ...
Brown's response? "Thanks for the update. Anything specific I need to do or tweak?"
Full email here: brown.emails.pdf (pdf)
at 11:38 AM
03 November 2005
The Wikipedia runs on 120 servers across multiple data centers. The main one is in Florida, with the others in the Netherlands, France, and South Korea.
All of the hardware is managed by volunteers, with no formal schedule and no hierarchy. All coordination is done via IRC -- whoever's on takes part. In an emergency, the admins have each other's phone numbers.
Like most open-source projects, there's a core set of users who do most of the work. 615 users (0.7%) account for 50% of the edits. I believe 0.7% means of all editors. Anonymous users account for 18% of all edits.
Wales says that one of the key features of the Wikipedia is real-time peer review. The recent changes page is watched by hundreds of people daily, and users have created tools to monitor these feeds and automatically detect likely problem edits.
He then talked about the decision-making process, pointing to the Votes for Deletion page. While users "vote" for whether or not to delete a page, the vote is actually a dialog where they come to an understanding of whether the page has merit or not. The vote isn't automated or formally counted -- there's no 2/3rds majority rule -- instead the process is flexible and reasonable.
Wales says that almost every programmer who sees this wants to automate it, but doing that would lose the human dialog and community while at the same time making the process easier to game.
at 9:23 PM
01 November 2005
I can hear the editors doing the "D'Oh!" smack now.
at 10:25 PM
25 October 2005
24 October 2005
Insane specification, or RDF geekery? You make the call.
The other week, I found RELATION: A vocabulary for describing relationships between people. It's a proposed language, in full RDF glory, with definitions for "siblingOf" and "knowsInPassing" and helpful examples of encodings in HTML.
I passed it along to a few friends, and one of them, who runs the Questionable Utility Company created "EX: a vocabulary for describing former relationships between people".
noLongerOrientedTo -- property
No really, I'm glad our relationship helped me realize that I'm really gay/straight/furry/celibate. Because you're great! And if something so good didn't make me happy, it must have been something about me. It's not you, it's me.
at 11:14 PM
16 October 2005
I tracked down several sources for this crucial fashion accessory.
First, there's Billabong, with a lovely die cut and embossed cassette belt buckle of some random metal for under $10.
Then, there's the White Trash Boogie Cassette Buckle for $17. Note to aspiring bboys and bgirls, do not purchase fashion items with the words "WHITE TRASH" stamped on them.
Never content to leave well enough alone, the same source has a Cassette Player Belt Buckle. OK, now that's cool, but only if I can play my Devo mix tape while walking around the office.
Finally, Urban Outfitters lists a discontinued recycled cassette buckle. For the DIY crowd, they include a picture that shows how it's done.
at 12:26 AM
From this, I found Tim Barsky's page. He's associated with Fillmore Rocks. He's a human beatbox and flutist, and he does both simultaneously. Check out his video (mov) or his mp3.
More wonderful weirdness is here on his downloads page
at 12:11 AM
08 October 2005
Stewart asked the audience if anyone knew where the phrase originated.
From my seat, I said "soylent green".
Here's the soundclip of the original use.
at 5:11 PM
She said "no, I'd go to True in the Haight."
For most of the panelists, the web wasn't a place to shop. And when they did, they used comparison shopping tools like Froogle. There was almost no mention of Amazon.com, and only some reference to eBay.
at 10:58 AM
07 October 2005
at 4:58 PM
at 4:57 PM
Mena Trott of Six Apart and John Battelle at Web 2.0
Originally uploaded by ptufts.
at 2:52 PM
Sergey responded that Google's cafe probably is in the top 100,000 and that there's room for improvement.
It's pretty clear -- others want to measure Google as one thing, while Sergey views it as another.
at 2:07 PM
06 October 2005
I first met Philip shortly after he started Fucked Company, and I still have his autograph ... on a Pets.com visitor parking sign.
at 10:31 PM
05 October 2005
Analygis, Google Maps Mania, Yahoo maps mashups, Ebay + Google Maps, SimplyHired, London terrorism maps, and Trulia real estate search
at 4:05 PM
at 2:16 PM
01 October 2005
Search & Destroy and Kenka, St Mark's Place, New York City
Originally uploaded by ptufts.
I was in New York for a wedding and reception earlier in the day, and found this restaurant after getting some amazing pierogies at the wonderful Veselka, just a few blocks away, so there was no way I could fit another meal in. Next trip, though, I will certainly come here.
at 7:27 PM
02 June 2005
Two years ago, I bought a Panasonic DVD-S35 dvd player. Nice features and cheap as anything.
18 months later, the player died.
Being a resourceful kind of guy, and having a lot of experience fixing things, I thought I'd take on this challenge.
It turns out this DVD player has a known weak point, the spindle motor. This is the motor that spins the DVD. The motor tends to start flaking out after 12 to 18 months of use. The symptom is that, one day, some DVDs won't play, and eventually, DVDs aren't recognized at all because the motor can't spin them up to a speed where the optical head to read the data.
So, most of you might toss the player at this point and move on. I did not.
I tracked down the part number for the spindle motor (Panasonic RXQ1016A Spindle Motor Ass'y) and ordered it from PartStore.com.
I got the part after having looked at disassembly instructions for a similar model dvd player. It looked like I'd have to open the case, undo two screws, put the unit back in, and hit play.
I was so, so wrong.
First, the DVD-S35 turns out to be a particularly fiendish unit to work on. So I tracked down an on-line copy of the service manual at a Russian service manual database.
Now, a service manual for this player is part fact, and part fiction. Fact: there are a few codes you can enter to see how worn out the player is. Fiction: parts are replaceable.
Getting the case open wasn't hard, but getting to the spindle motor assembly required taking out approximately: five ribbon cables, seven normal screws including two fiendishly tight jeweler's-type phillips screws, three springs, two axles, one gear, two plastic holder pins, two boards, and four solder points.
Yes, Panasonic uses solder as a structural element.
This was the case from hell. I spilled blood opening it. Following the disassembly instructions, it became clear that I was the first person to QA these. The instructions were obviously wrong in a few places.
Eventually, I removed the four solder points. I pulled the first plastic holder pin.
I pulled the second of the plastic holder pins.
The head snapped off.
Gah. Enough is enough. I curse the day Panasonic put their good name on a disposable home DVD player.
And I promise never to try to repair a $35 DVD player again.
Until the next one breaks.
Update: The replacement is a Yamaha DVD-5750. It's built like a tank and has been around long enough (over a year) that people have had enough time to really beat on it and review it. I am quite happy with it.
06 May 2005
Sprinting at this level is measured in hundredths of a second, and relaxing even a half-step early can mean missing a qualifying time or record.
The runner in the center has crossed the finish and is decelerating. The runner on the left is a few steps from the finish and concentrating on following through to the end of the race, while the runner on the right is crossing the finish and checking to make sure he's done before he slows down.
at 1:52 AM
29 April 2005
24 April 2005
I'm doing some research into my family history. I'm looking for Miranda Kathleen Tufts and her mother, Myra Jane Conerly Tufts. The only information I have is that they once lived in Bexar County, Texas. Myra Jane is the mom, John Marshall Tufts was the dad, and Miranda is the daughter.
If you are Miranda or Myra, or know them, please let me know.
at 7:21 PM
18 March 2005
He's very down-to-earth about his project. It's not about technology, it's about being nice to people and encouraging them to participate.
I've been contributing to Wikipedia for two years. When I first started, I made a half-clued edit. Another user, rather than flaming me, thanked me for contributing and showed me what to do next time. Two years later, I'm still contributing.
Jimmy said that most of the edits come from between 600 to 1000 users. At my rate, I'm probably in the top twenty-thousand in terms of contributions.
But it's not about rank, it's about the outcome. Plus, he was nice to me. So I'll keep contributing.
at 6:53 PM
25 February 2005
17 February 2005
Yesterday, I went to Rasputin Records and bought the DVD of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. It's a great movie, but the US import DVD (Dreamworks Home Entertainment) sucks.
What's so bad about the import? The subtitles are for the deaf. Every character name is spelled out. Every sound effect is spelled out! Atmospheric scenes are broken up by jangling subtitles announcing "[background chatter]", "[female voice on loudspeaker]". A major character gets shot and the subtitles helpfully add "[screaming in agony]".
"[Batou] At least this holo isn't subtitled"
The annoying subtitles take away from a great movie and make amateur fansubs look professional. I wish Dreamworks had taken the tiny extra step of, say, watching this DVD before shipping it. I mean, this must have been an error -- all Dreamworks had to do was strip out all the [words] [in] [brackets].
I'm tempted to rip this DVD and download a fan-created subtitle track. No, even better, I'll rip the DVD and write a dorky Perl script to strip out the bracketed words. Then, I can recombine this track with the movie and burn a new DVD and ...
If you want to see this movie, wait until Dreamworks fixes the subtitles.
On the plus side, the video on this DVD is quite clear, and the audio (Japanese and Director's commentary in Japanese) is crisp.
And, of course, the movie is great.
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
Director: Mamorou Oshii
at 12:22 AM
01 February 2005
This is so cool. Pepakura Designer is a program that takes a CAD file as input and prints out paper with the folds and cuts indicated so you can make your model.
Pepakura Designer software
"Pepakura Designer allows you to create a development for paper craft easily from 3D data used in 3D CG software.
This software is open to the public as shareware....You need to create own 3D models with another 3DCG software (ex, 3D Studio, LightWave, Softimage and so on). If you don't have any 3DCG software..."
Runs on MS Windows. Free trial download. ~$40 if you continue to use it.
Here are some models people have made with Pepakura Designer.
Images from http://www.ne.jp/asahi/to/n/ and
at 8:34 AM