Angry Robot

Guns on the Table

First off, since the piece is tied in to the iPhone launch, the issue of buying into marketing hype is mixed in with the issue of reflection-free dependence on technology. Now clearly neither is a good state of mind, but they are different creatures. Technology dependence has to do with life priorities but often etiquette in particular (love the bit about “guns on the table”). Yet, we all need some degree of technology in our lives; even if you give up email to only write physical letters, that’s still using technology. We do not all need marketing in our lives. Our world would be a far better place if all the marketing departments fell into the sea, right now.

I see the point about acquired ADD. That happens to me if I’m on the computer enough. There are too many inputs, and you never spend long enough doing any one thing to give it proper attention, nor do you let independent thoughts bubble up from within yourself. You are constantly reacting to stimuli. There, I just answered 2 emails.

I’m not beyond considering that rolling back to older technology is sometimes a good idea. I think urban centres would be better off reverting to bike-and-public transit systems, for example. Even so, sometimes better technology means newer stuff. About 50% of my complaints about my computer environment could be fixed by a display that was as readable as paper.

But the single most important thing is to reflect on it all, and be aware of how any one thing left unchecked can adversely affect one’s life. The unexamined life not worth living, and all that. But I mean you could move to the farm and write paper letters, or you could just quit out of for a few hours. Control your kung fu.

Shut up about the iPhone already

Those lucky Americans have already gotten their iPhones. Here’s John gruber’s first impressions, and those of Steven Frank. Combine those with the critics’ takes that I linked to during the week, and… dude. It sounds pretty good, that’s for sure. There are weaknesses, such as the speed of EDGE and the virtual keyboard, but nothing deal-breaking.

We don’t even have a date for when this thing launches in Canada. No earlier than the fall, and it could be a lot longer than that. Also, Rogers’ data plans – and voice plans for that matter – are on the exorbitant side ($130 a month for a blackberry? no unlimited plans?). So we will all admire from afar. Which is not the worst thing in the world, seeing as the iPhone will definitely be revised within a year. Although the only things I’d be hoping for, realistically, would be faster data speeds, larger memory, GPS and third-party apps.

Oh, and I’ll do like the title says and shut up about the thing now. Maybe. It’s hard, it’s in my geek DNA.

Smarter Feedreading

I’ve gone through this myself. At one point last year, I realized I was spending maybe two hours a day trying to keep up with all my feeds – to no avail. I was well informed on many issues, but there was a certain amount of angst as I saw the unread count spiral out of control despite my best efforts. So I set up a ‘quarantine’ folder, put a whole ton of feeds in there, and told NNW to not update them. Phew! It felt good, but it still requires vigilance, considering I want to be able to add new feeds from time to time. So I must still prune the bad feeds, and think hard about how much value certain feeds have to me.

I definitely prefer less-frequently-updated sites now. I love reading Gizmodo, but sites like it will kill my news inbox, so they’re something I visit on the web when I have time, maybe once a week. I had high hopes for BuzzFeed, seeing as it was meant to be a filter of sorts, but it could be the next quarantine because I can’t deal with 17 celebrity “buzz” items a day.

So I wonder if the next stage of news reader development might attempt to make it easier on those of us who want to spend less time reading feeds. There are two ways I can imagine this happening. First is some rethinking of the ‘unread items’ count because not all feed items are of equal value. At the bare minimum, one could choose some feeds whose counts should not be, er, counted in the total. But there may be more graceful ways to do that, based perhaps on choosing an image rather than a number to communicate the urgency of the feed pile: a big stack of paper or a clean desk, depending on the number and importance of incoming feed items.

How to determine importance is a good question. This could be based on one’s own activity with the feeds, perhaps. If one clicks a lot of links, or posts items to delicious or to one’s weblog from that source, it should be ranked higher. Plus a manual weighting mechanism could help. Facebook’s mini-feed system would be something to look at: you set some weighting in the preferences, and then it will only show stuff you don’t want to see as much if there’s nothing of the good stuff to show. Another way to go would be to use social data. NNW would have a good head start here because of NewsGator, who already measure how many links are incoming to individual items.

That brings me to the other thing: duplicates. As an apple nerd, I certainly hear about it when Apple announces a new product. I hear about it many, many times over. If my reader could tell via text or link matching when a bunch of items are all fundamentally the same thing, that would be great. And then, grouping by topic could be done on the fly, showing the x number of articles that link to the news in question. That would make it easy to mark them all as read right away. The data on which feeds were often posting duplicates would be handy to have during the pruning phase of feed readership.

Worth mentioning: I am so far from being a programmer I have no idea how impossible or not these ideas are.

Viva Pinata

As many have noted, it’s a game wasted on children. It’s far too complicated. You want to get pinatas to a) stay in your garden and b) mate, but each species has different requirement for those two stages, and as the game progresses the requirements get pretty fussy. On top of that you have various outside threats to your pinatas’ happiness, and the fact that in the game, as in life, not all pinatas get along. I had those fox things massacring my little hombres willy-nilly before I realized I could just beat them with my shovel – or better yet, sell them!

The essence of the game – play game to earn value to upgrade assets to counteract increased difficulty – is nothing new. But the sheer open-endedness of it is refreshing. I played some Call of Juarez and that thing is as linear as a train ride to Montreal, which is to say: almost quaint-feeling, nothing like the millions of possible things you could do in your pinata garden. And it should be said that not shooting anything for a while is a refreshing break, whether you be soldier, psychopath or Xbox 360 owner. Don’t shoot anything, but also: concentrate on creating a beautiful space. Nice little message, there. Forgot games could even say that.

The downsides? Ultimately, a fair bit of what you will be doing is navigating through menus. Pretty menus, but still. And even a 3-second loading time to get to the store menu, which isn’t much by today’s game-loading standards, still feels like you’re surfing on dialup when you have to do it every couple of minutes. Also – in order to get pinatas to mate, after their requirements have been met, you have to manually point one pinata at the other. That isn’t necessary to get them to eat things. You can still manually tell them to eat something, or you can wait and hope they eventually do. I don’t see why mating doesn’t work that way as well. Part of the fun of the game is in the serendipitous events that occur, and spontaneously exploding species populations would only add to that.

But really, those points are pretty minor, and as you can get this game for around $30 now, it seems like a good pickup.

On The Sopranos Finale

In general, the problem with Mr. Harris’ argument is that foreshadowing Tony’s death does not imply that he actually dies in that scene (or immediately after it). Symbolism of death – the “Members Only” reference, the orange, The Last Supper – does no more to establish that Tony is at risk of death than the way he went to bed cradling a machine gun the episode before. By building a frenzy of tension without actually showing any violence, the goal is ambiguity. If Chase wanted it to be clear that “life goes on” he would have shown it that way, without the montage of potential threats. If he wanted it clear that Tony was killed, he would have shown him get shot. But we have what we have; to me, the scene is more powerful as an illustration of the nonstop anxiety Tony will face throughout the rest of his life, rather than a coded death only to be appreciated by symbol nerds. But it’s ambiguous, so I can’t say my take is right either.

All the discussion and controversy sure is exciting though. It’s not every day that art has a profound and widespread impact on our society. And the scrutiny people have brought to bear on every frame of that last scene – it’s reminded me of some ideas about “internet-enabled art”, but I’m going to leave those to simmer a while longer.

One last thought, though. Anxiety: isn’t that what the show has always been about?


Here’s a summary of the Halo 3 “ARG” up until the present. This article claims a Microsoft spokesman says the campaign is called “Iris”, and is written by Bungie’s Frank O’Connor – 42 Entertainment, the creators of “The Beast” and “I Love Bees”, isn’t involved. In a week, Iris has had an AI posting on the forae, mysterious poetry being emailed out, lots of glyphs in image files, a comic strip, a MySpace page, and real-life demonstrations in various cities staged by The Society of the Ancients. The speculation is that the aforementioned group will show up at Stonehenge for the solstice on the 21st. Fastest moving ARG ever?

Wep Apps on the iPhone


The issue of whether third-party developers would be allowed to write apps for the iPhone is a heated one. Steve Jobs threw some wood on the fire by announcing to Mac developers today: sure you can! Make web apps with AJAX!

Frankly, I consider that a better answer than many do, since I’ve been of late pleasantly surprised by Google’s excellent posse of apps. And hey, there are some nifty widgets out there, and those are just li’l web apps too (sorta). And we assume there is some work being done on getting web apps to work offline. Which is one of their huge disadvantages, and if it’s solved in some meaningful way, one would have even less reason to hate Jobs’ latest statement.

But isn’t it a bit odd for a maker of platforms (PC, iPhone, iPod) to argue in favour of web apps? Aren’t web apps the things that make platforms increasingly irrelevant? If you made an awesome web app for the iPhone, people could conceivably use it on their PCs or Windows Mobile phones. Wouldn’t Steve be better off advocating iPhone-only apps?

Yes he would, and he will. This is only a stopgap. But its presentation leaves something to be desired. Presumably the motivation for the AJAX announcement is to give developers something to work with now – having heard them clamouring to develop for the iPhone, he threw them a bone (kinda). But the way he announced it, without stating that a proper SDK is on the way, makes it sound like he lamed out on them.

The Future of Television in Canada

So, news clips may fare better on the web, but live events will still play better on TV.

The report gives some reasons why the industry is far from a state of collapse: people are investing heavily in HD sets, indicating they’re not abandoning TV for internet video any time soon; cable and satellite subscriptions are very high in Canada compared to other countries; while some ad revenue is leaking to the internet, the overall ad-market pie is still growing; and Canadian broadcast companies and producers may be able to themselves earn back some lost revenue by building web properties themselves.

Part of the changes happening are the same as in the US – the growth of internet video, a move towards on-demand viewing, whether over the internet, cable pay-per-view, or iTunes. And the more general spectre of people spending more time online than watching TV, whether they’re on YouTube, Facebook or just emailing. In the US, the broadcasters have already responded by putting their shows on their websites (with ads, natch) and selling them on iTunes. In Canada, that’s not so simple – they must buy the online rights to these programs from the US companies, who are at the moment charging too much for any Canadian broadcaster to want to buy them. And that’s because of the much larger issue here: Canadian channels make their money airing the big US shows, and are forced by law to funnel some of the money they make into Canadian production. So with the growth of internet distribution, they are in a much more precarious situation – no longer the only way to get to the content.

The other Canada-specific issue is the role of government. Our government regulates TV and film to support domestic cultural production; it does not regulate the internet. So if people increasingly go to the internet instead of TV, the government cannot use Canadian content requirements any more.

The report wisely suggests government intervention on the supply side: tax credits and more funding for Canadian new media. This is essential. But on-demand programming still needs CanCon requirements. On-demand portals (whether Rogers on-demand or, say, iTunes Canada) should be required to carry a certain amount of CanCon. That’s not enough, though, as they could simply let cheap shows languish in the long tail. They could be required to spend a certain amount of their marketing budget on Canadian properties.

Of course, that does nothing about sites like YouTube, the sixth most popular site in Canada. So I’d like to just raise this one issue, although in somewhat of a half-baked state. US channels use geo-blocking (based on the physical location of your IP address) to prevent Canadian viewers from watching shows on US sites. Also, US magazines of a certain size are forced to create Canadian versions that have some CanCon and carry Canadian ads. There are similar laws in place to force Canadian ads into US programming on TV. Why would something similar not be possible for big US sites? First, YouTube and Facebook could be forced to sell Canadian ads to Canadian viewers. Secondly, a portion of that ad revenue could be required to go into developing Canadian content, just as we require of Canadian TV channels.

Now, I’m not saying every US blog with AdSense should have to do a blog post a week on Canadian issues. But we should think about it for the top-20 internet properties.

Anyway, for those of us in the TV, film or internet industries in Canada, that report is definitely a must-read.

Halo Interactive Series?

From an interview with Shane Kim from Microsoft game studios: “Bungie is working directly with Peter Jackson on the Halo interactive series.”

What exactly does that mean? Is it a series of games? Is it a TV series with forked narrative choices? How is it distributed?

Is it Halo’s Next Top Spartan?


It’s a little off the topic of this blog, but hell, if you can’t self-link on your own site, where can you? Anyway, the first new work from skitfaced in a couple years: Knifekowski. WARNING: much swearing, violence and ambient pornography.

Civ III Mod Teaches Canadian History

Neato. “The game allows players to take control of one of Canada’s early European or Aboriginal civilizations, making important decisions ranging from planning their settlement and crops, to determining when to wage war or make peace.” It’s a free download here, if you already have Civ 3.

CB2 Child-Robot With Biometric Body

Researchers in Osaka have just invented THE CREEPIEST ROBOT YET. Man-child that barks like a seal… take your hand away, researcher! Robot or no, that’s not appropriate.

Jokes aside, it’s pretty fascinating. Be sure to watch the videos.

Jonathan Coulton: How I Did It

The musician writes up how he managed to go indie, web-style.