Friday, May 30, 2008

I Am Impressed - Penny Arcade

Many readers here probably don't read game-based webcomics, maybe you think, oh, games, how unserious, or perhaps, oh, webcomics, also unserious, and if you combine the two, it's not even worth thinking of a sentence with which to blow it off, but I ask you to hold off on those assumptions for a moment and trust me to read on (you've trusted me to read this far).

My point will get interesting when I get to the children's charity and the exposition, so, with that little teaser, bear with me.

Two guys, many years ago (1998), started a webcomic, Penny Arcade. It's about games, mostly electronic, but gaming in general. Recently, they actually released a game, On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode One (yes that is supposed to be funny, but it's somewhat of an in-joke: it is intentionally overdone). What is really nice is that it is available not just for Windows (market share) and the Xbox 360 (mine is still choking on GTA IV, btw), but also Mac OSX and Linux. Those are relatively small market share (but really, Windows in corporate offices don't count for market share for games), but the PA guys know that their fans are tech savvy and use Unix-based OSes like OSX and Linux, and making the game available was a concern for them. So they did it. Was it a good ROI on the bottom line? Probably not. Was it a good ROI in terms of externalities and customer loyalty which are so difficult to measure that most people don't even know they exist? Yes, and they knew that.

So that was a really nice gesture.

Beyond that, the PA guys (Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik) also have a charity for children in children's hospitals, Child's Play. Amazing. They didn't have to do that. But they did. (Started in 2003.)

And they started an exposition, Penny Arcade Expo (PAX), a gaming exposition that is focused on the fans and players, not built around the companies (which are present, of course). Having been to comic cons, the Detroit auto show, Mac expos, and even an anime con, the logistics of bringing together an expo must be insane. They didn't have to do that. But they did. (Started in 2004.)

They do what they love, and they love what they do. It's not about branding, and making money is not the main concern (but everyone has to pay the rent, of course). Because of this, they do it well. PAX 2007 had 37,000 attendees. Child's Play 2007 raised $1.3 million US. (Numbers from Wikipedia.) Amazing.

How great is all that? I will tell you! Very great.

Also Wikipedia links:
People even make songs with accompanying videos about them.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Judson on Extinction

I hope you are all reading Olivia Judson's biology blog over at the NYTimes. I found her recent insights on evolution and extinction particularly noteworthy: apparently for quite some time until the 19th century it was generally thought that extinction was impossible. Amazing! I think the blogs are the best thing the NYT has going currently.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

OMG Level 8 (Or So)

Given the Internets, and an infinite number of monkeys typing stuff and making it available, we'd get Shakespeare (well that's the theory -- and if you understand infinity, it's also true). However, we don't have an infinite number, and we don't have monkeys. We have a lot of people (which I often find more useful than monkeys), some of whom like badgers (and mushrooms, but not snakes). (C/o RDP.)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Aufderheide on Copyright

Pat Aufderheide had a great presentation on copyright and researcher activism that was inspiring. She is doing copyright work in film, at .


I was ordered to try poutine, then we went on a mission to find it (they have it at Burger King but we did not go there). Find it we did.

McChesney on Media Activism

Bob McChesney is speaking on media research and activism. He feels we are still in a pivotal point for the Internet, although clearly there are parallels with radio (in the US it went to advertising and corporate control). Possibly the Internet allows more space for citizens, but some of this depends upon the OS and your ISP (what each allows).

Friday, May 23, 2008

ICA Montreal

I like this photo because I captured both of the Macs in front of me. A lot of people have laptops and if you are near the 4th floor you can get the wireless (like I am doing right now). The session is about telepresence (3742). Due to the contrast the camera can't pick up the screen.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Obama in Canada

Amazing. A lot of reflection, but it is an Obama shirt. Represent!

Chinatown Montreal

Ok at least it's a gate.

Old and New in Montreal

Not so easy to see in the photo but the sky scraper in the background is a great contrast.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bike Lane in Montreal

Dedicated bike lane here in downtown Montreal, with its own dividing
curb. Very cool.

Off To ICA on Air Canada

Air Canada has a USB port next to the seat-back screen. Huh!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Microsoft and the Digital Flag

Hope you've seen this, but apparently Microsoft is a bunch of idiots again (surprise surprise). The Digital Broadcast Flag was struck down, but Microsoft built it into Vista anyways, and now people can't record some shows (but come on, American Gladiator?). Unbelievable. So much for the personal in personal computers. If PCs were like this (locked down and burdened with DRM) when Bill Gates was at Harvard, we would never have had Microsoft. Ok maybe that's a good thing, but the reason is not so good.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Postal Rates Interface Overkill

I read that the price of stamps (here in the US) went up again. I still remember 22 cent stamps, in front of me I have some (somewhat obsolete) 41 cent stamps (yes it's now 42 cents).

But I didn't know what the new rate was, and I just bought some stamps recently (no, I don't remember how recently, but I've only used four out of twenty, it was recent). Were my stamps still good? The US Postal Service website would tell me! No, it wouldn't, not easily.

The home page says there are new prices, but not what they are.

The next page does actually say it's $0.42, but it is so small and hidden in with a lot of other data in a table, and who knows what mail service is called? (What is the difference between "express" and "priority"? One is fast, one is important? Isn't "first class" the best you can get on an airplane?)

So I did the rate calculator, which is fine if you know the weight of your package. (What is an ounce? Why don't we use metric for things besides large soda bottles?) Eventually I got to 42 cents, but it was a horrible experience.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Platypus!

A nice article about our favorite, the platypus, over at the NYT. Genetics, physical features, evolution. Has words like "diurnal" and "vinculum" (which I admit I had to look up using the handy OSX dictionary feature -- and although it is in the look-up dictionary, I now see it is not in the spellcheck dictionary, strange).

Friday, May 9, 2008

Microsoft, the Zune, and People

Two days ago, the NYT bits blog ran a small piece on Microsoft's Zune and possible future DRM issues (and NBC and NBC's content). What is amazing is not so much the piece (and the stupidity of the people at Microsoft and NBC), but instead that there are currently 195 comments and that there is so much hatred for Microsoft in them. Amazing branding. How could people hate a music player? (I leave that obvious exercise up to you, but if Microsoft can't figure it out...) What is astonishing is that sometimes people at Microsoft actually say the right things (but we have so many phrases about the gulf between intent and action... do as I say, not as I do... easier said than done...).

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Net Neutrality on BoingBoing Today

Over at BoingBoing today there are two posts (so far) about the all-important net neutrality. The first is Cory Doctorow's complaint to Virgin about Virgin's CEO dismissing net neutrality, giving Cory grounds to dismiss Virgin for breach of contract. The second is Senator Ron Wyden (D, Oregon) warning ISPs to defend net neutrality

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Played For Sure, You Were!

Although the story is a bit old at this point, TidBITS has a nice writeup about how Microsoft is... (how to put it politely?) completely betraying their customers with their cancellation of their "Plays For Sure" DRM music system (great name, the humor is incredible, especially since they were sincere about the name -- but probably it was just marketing, and who trusts that?). The TidBITS article also points to an amusing analysis of Microsoft's "we are screwing you over but continue to trust us" letter.

I am reminded of the Microsoft (re)makes the iPod packaging video from a few years ago. This is why we don't want Microsoft to buy Yahoo; Yahoo would be destroyed (in several ways). 

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Liveblogging Fordham & MSU Info Economy Conference

Former FCC Comissioner and current Indiana professor Barbara Cherry just spoke on common carriage and its history, and the application (or not) primarily in the US but also in other countries to broadband. Her point is that it is important for several reasons (often related to net neutrality), and that we will most likely swing back on that direction in the US. I hope so!