March 31, 2012

Finished (Updated…)

Filed under: a/b,digital,documentation,doom,fail,hate,interfaces,losers,vendetta — mhoye @ 8:08 am

UPDATE: Scroll down. But they’re still finished, make no mistake about that.

I’ve mentioned in the past that RIM’s fundamental problem is that they’ve been shipping the same goddamn device, over and over again, since at least 2004. But check this out: on the heels of Blackberry’s recent announcements of collapsing financials and a management purge, I’ve just been informed that a new simulator is available for the upcoming Blackberry 9220, for developers to test on.

Noteworthy features include:

  • 320 x 240 resolution, 164 dpi
  • Memory: 512 MB Internal Persistent Storage, 512 MB RAM
  • 2 MP Camera, 5 X digital zoom
  • FM Radio

It apparently will play video, though at a maximum of 15 frames per second.

It’s got more memory, and adds wireless-N to the B/G (and, woo, an FM radio) but that’s the same screen and camera resolution that shipped in the Blackberry Curve 8320.

That shipped in 2007.

What. I. Do. Not. Even.

So, if you have RIM stock and haven’t gotten rid of it already, get out now.

UPDATE – Brought to me by Jasper in the comments: holy crap, check this out. The first mention of the 9220, dated 2008. Given that specs made perfect sense in 2008, this is craziness – Jasper rightly observes, it’s either been in development hell for four years, or they’ve just found a warehouse full of them somewhere and they’ve got to figure out how to get them out the door before RIM goes belly up for good.

I’m pretty sure – judging from the last of the comments – that this is just a numerical overlap. The first 9220 looks like the one they’re preparing to ship now, and the “9220 Curve” mentioned later in the comments (with specs that are significantly better than the 9220 of today, bizarrely) simply doesn’t exist.

Nevertheless – what a gong show.

March 27, 2012

A Different Kind Of Fear

Filed under: doom,future,parenting — mhoye @ 9:46 pm


So, yeah. That happened.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be in my garage defibrillating myself.

Fear In Its Purest Form

Filed under: awesome,digital,doom,interfaces,lunacy,vendetta,weird,work — mhoye @ 9:35 pm

More Of The Same

The one thing that makes gives me more of that bone-chilling existential dread than anything else in the world, the thing that makes me question the fundamental physical underpinnings of the universe and fear the answers, is code that stops working as you’re staring at it, at the exact moment you realize that it should never have worked in the first place.

Not cool, universe. Not cool at all.

The Banality Of Angry

Filed under: arcade,digital,interfaces,life,parenting,toys — mhoye @ 11:16 am

(Updated May 25, 2016, see below.)


I asked some people on the intuberwebs about good iOS games for kids, and I was a little surprised to see Angry Birds come up. I’ve played through it; it bothered me quite a bit, and my knee-jerk reaction to the claim that it’s a kids game was scowling incomprehension. “Are you people nuts? Did we even play the same game?”

Maybe I’ve overthought this. And maybe Angry Birds isn’t worth the sort of analysis I’ve put into Portal 2, but I believe in the medium of video game as art. Games merit reflection. And reflection is where we are revealed to ourselves, whether we like what we see or not.

Christian Thorne has written a bit about Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds that you should probably read, particularly if you enjoyed that movie. It’s quite well written – read the whole thing, for sure – but to give away the punchline, Thorne makes a compelling case that Tarantino is calling you, the audience member laughing away at his film, a fascist.

So why does Tarantino hate us so much? He hates us for liking his movies the way we do; he hates us because he can so easily bring us round to enjoying the sight of people being gathered into a closed space so that they can be exterminated. He hates you for how easily you can be pushed into the Nazi position, as long as the people getting killed are themselves Nazis. He hates you because you are the fascist and you don’t even know it.

Todd Alcott has written something very similar:

The movie doesn’t merely use violence, it’s about violence, particularly violence in movies, or in popular culture anyway, and the way it can be used to manipulate an audience, or a populace. It repeatedly gets you longing for violence and then, by the time it shows up, it’s not what you wanted or expected it to be. The movie as a whole doesn’t offer up easy answers, rather it asks extremely uncomfortable questions.

Angry Birds starts out by giving you a pretty simple motivation. Eggs missing, pigs responsible. You knock over pig structures and kill pigs, with volleys of particular kinds of bird. Cute noises are made, points are earned. All is well, except that the kind of things you’re knocking over changes a little bit at a time over the course of the game.

I might as well give away the punchline, too: you start Angry Birds knocking down the forts and castles of your enemies, the pigs. Halfway through, you’re destroying infrastructure: railways, power stations, airports and farms. By the end of it, probably without thinking about it all that much, you’re sending your troops to destroy hospitals, apartment buildings, churches and schools.

I’ve been surprised to see that Rovio have completely gotten away with this, too; I’d have thought that a video game you can’t win without killing everyone in a school would have caused some sort of outrage, but a veneer of cute is apparently all the stealth technology you need to stay off the culture-war radar. Even though all the magic video-games-are-evil-think-of-the-children words are right there, ripe for their ritual sanctimonious media abuse, Angry Birds is far and away the most popular portable game franchise in the world, and somehow that’s all overlooked.

If you take a step back from it, and think about what you’ve been participating in, Angry Birds starts to look a lot more like subversive social commentary than cutesy entertainment – to borrow from a line that describes Steven Spielberg’s work in much the same terms, for all its simple gameplay and ostensibly trivial narrative this a complicated, bitter game, with a deliberate sugarcoating that makes it commercially palatable.

It’s not a bad game, not at all. But the fact that it’s addictive and fun and that we keep playing as it gets darker and meaner (both morally and graphically, as day turns to night later in the game) without questioning or apparently even noticing it says something real and maybe important about us.

I don’t think I want that to get said to my kids just yet.

Update: Looking back on this post from 2016, I’d really like to know what the secret backstory of that first version of Angry Birds was. I strongly suspect that it was intended as a sort of Guernica-style antiwar art-protest game before it took off, one that people just didn’t get. But then suddenly it’s the must-have app for every platform and licensing revenue makes everyone involved so much money that all those sequels were inevitable. I wonder if that’s true; that there was a moment where everyone at Rovio realized that history had to be rewritten and nobody could be allowed in on the original joke. That not getting the gag had become the central part of their financial success.

This Internet, It Drives By?

Filed under: fail,hate,interfaces,lunacy,vendetta — mhoye @ 9:47 am

Last week I announced a software release to the enterprise mailing list. I promptly get back a one-word reply, mailed directly to me.

From: Grant Street
Organization: A***** L****
To: Mike Hoye 
Subject: Re: BeSDS now supports Thunderbird and Thunderbird ESR.
Return-Path: grants@**.***.au


Thanks, Grant.

This morning, I get:

7:14 -!- Irssi: Starting query in mozilla with User6708
07:14 <User6708> F`UCK YOU !!!!!!
10:38 <mhoye> What?
10:38 -!- User6708: No such nick/channel

Ladies And Gentlemen, a tiny fraction of the glorious joys of developing software for people on the internet.

March 8, 2012


Filed under: business,documentation,work — mhoye @ 3:09 pm

A friend I was having a conversation with the other day noted, quite correctly I think, that while Joel Spolsky has said many very silly things in his time, he’s also said about five very true things better than anyone else, so well that much can be forgiven. One of them came up today when we were talking about the high perceived cost of decent ergonomics compared to the real, properly amortized costs of wrecking up your wrists, back and workplace morale.

One of the true things Joel has said, on the real costs of buying your employees great equipment or buying them junk, is this:

“[…] The bottom line is that an Aeron only really costs $500 more over ten years, or $50 a year. One dollar per week per programmer.”

“A nice roll of toilet paper runs about a buck. Your programmers are probably using about one roll a week, each.”

“So upgrading them to an Aeron chair literally costs the same amount as you’re spending on their toilet paper, and I assure you that if you tried to bring up toilet paper in the budget committee you would be sternly told not to mess around, there were important things to discuss.”

And bear in mind: those are just the costs you can measure right there on the balance sheet. If you think cheaping out on your people doesn’t have much higher hidden costs, you keep right on doing what you’re doing. I’m perfectly OK with it, it’ll make it easier for me when the time comes for me to start hiring.

I’ve said this before myself – over a computer’s life, the difference the very best box you can get and a piece of junk is pennies per hour. It gets more extreme when you start talking about chairs, desks and ergonomics: they’re expensive, but the amortized costs are negligible and the potential downsides are huge; one manager I know here says that if it says “ergo” on it, he doesn’t even bother looking at the price before he approves the expense.

The moment you can afford, both in money and time terms, to think like this you pretty much have to.

I’m trying to get a Thing off the ground here, wranging VCs and assembling a team, and I was asked what I thought about employee expenses, tools, resources and training. What I said was:

  1. If it’s for the job, we’ll pay for it.
  2. If it seems extravagant, I’m going to ask you to make your case. If you can do that I’ll pay for it. In particular, if we can trade money for time I’ll pay for it.
  3. If we get something wrong, we fix it promptly.
  4. If you fuck us you’re fired.
  5. If we need to make more rules because of something you did, we’ll make more rules and you’re fired.

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