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Will VR Matter

Mon, 17 Oct 2016 00:00:00 PST

When the echo chamber of modern tech punditry and giant company thinking claims something is the next big thing, usually either they’re too soon, way too late, or completely wrong. THIS WOULD BE A SIDEBAR IF I EVER BOTHERED TO ADJUST MY CMS DID YOU KNOW: Some technology executives are so good at not predicting the future, you can safely bet that whatever they proclaim in their public statements will definitely not be a priority at that company or the industry within five years, and have successfully done that at multiple companies over multiple decades. Is this the future? Getting the self-loathing and industry-loathing out of the way — the HTC Vive is the first product I’ve used in a few years that has felt like the future. That thrill of the novel, the squishy odd newness, the vague sense of uneasiness. Truly novel things have to cause uneasiness in early iteration or they’re not actually novel. I bought, used, and got bored with an Oculus Rift DK2 in 2015. It’s not that it wasn’t interesting, it just wasn’t interesting enough compared to the annoyance required vs. other ways to occupy my time. (Also, resolution was low, software wasn’t ready, nobody knows how to make good stuff yet, etc.) The Vive seems qualitatively different — moving from seated VR experiences (which only ever felt “right” to me if in a cockpit or similar simulation) to “room scale” VR with motion controllers is about 10x the hassle in setup, cords, and ridiculousness, but 100x the value in awesomeness. Setup I spent an hour futzing around with magical light cubes, too many cords, tuning a gaming PC that forces me to use Windows despite spending most of the last 20 years avoiding that OS at all costs, and afterwards it felt a little like the time I looked around my living room after playing Rock Band for a month and realized my life was full of fake plastic instruments. Is this really how I want to live my life? What if someone sees this? What is all this weird plastic ephemeral detritus strewn about? I was pretty sure it was a mistake and I would return the ridiculous monstrosity by the end of the weekend. Moments After spending even more time setting up “room scale VR” by waving motion controllers around a room, then having to do it again while reaching over a futon and furniture to trick it into thinking I had enough space, I was finally ready. The first time I loaded up Space Pirate Trainer, looked down at my hand, and saw a future space gun thing, it blew my mind. Not the blowing up the space drones for 30 minutes afterwards — though that was fun too. What sticks with me was looking at the virtual object that was mapped to a physical object that I was holding, and seeing it and manipulating it. That bizarre otherworldy interplay between physical, digital, real and virtual created a level of presence and weirdness and fun. That feeling is the future. It’s like the magic of the first time playing Wii Bowling but hyperwired into your retinas and with everything hitting your whole body and ten million times more intense. And not bowling. Will Anyone Care Translating existing popular genres of entertainment over has challenges. The weight, heat, power, GPU/CPU requirements, cords, and rest of the mess makes using VR for extended periods of time still annoying. I just want to dive into the metaverse, not fight with hardware. Probably It’ll get sorted out — though it might take another two or three generations of VR technology to make the annoyance factor low enough to bring it from the early adopters to a more mainstream audience. Nobody really wants to futz with cords, high cost GPUs, or touch Windows 10, even if it means that’s the only way to touch the future. The dividends of the smartphone wars make it seem reasonable to assume we’ll have the equivalent of what today you need a PC GPU for in a high quality VR self-contained headset unit with 4k-8k screens in the next 5 years (either by shovin[...]

Video Game Consumption, Q3 2016

Mon, 03 Oct 2016 00:00:00 PST

Regency Solitaire This game is so good I can’t really even explain it. I’m not going to try. ★★★★★ Videoball VIDEOBALL is one of the most completely realized thoughts on game mechanics ever made in any medium. I like VIDEOBALL a lot. Even though it appears nobody plays it. ★★★★ No Man’s Sky It’s not as good as any of the gameplay trailers which are basically aspirational ads and not actual gameplay, as the internet will gladly tell you. I’ve played 46 hours. It’s pretty amazing, and feels like some of the most incredible exploration moments in gaming. And also terrible and boring and awful and monotonous and addictive and garbage. It’s a masterpiece while simultaneously being a huge disappointment. Maybe in a year it will be 5 stars. Or zero stars. I don’t know. ★★★ Shardlight A post-apocalyptic point and click adventure game published by Wadjet Eye Games, so, yes I enjoyed it a lot, as all previous evidence would suggest I would. Feels like a believable world, great character, good writing, acting, puzzles. It’s good! ★★★★ Event[0] Finally a first person adventure mystery game where the main NPC is an MS-DOS machine with Dr. Sbaitso! Event[0] is beautiful, interesting, and ambitious but the limits of its tiny world - both the dimensions and size of the ship and the limits of the “AI” Kaizen - hamper its ability to convey a complete, coherent, and rich interactive experience. It’s not that I think games have to be “long” to have “value” — just that this one doesn’t feel complete, and ends up seeming a bit disappointing. I want more highly memorable, short 5 hour interactive experiences, I just felt this one didn’t quite hit, but applaud the effort. ★★★ Kathy Rain A mystery point and click that feels like it’s trying to be Gabriel Knight but I felt ended up being only pretty good rather than memorable and awesome. Enjoyable but forgettable. I expected I’d like the protagonist more but Kathy just sort of annoyed me after a couple hours. ★★ ABZU The succession from Flower to Journey to this feels like each iteration the creative team gets closer to making the game they really want to make in terms of a visual interactive experiences. But also maybe what they really want to make is just a movie? But you can’t make a wordless cg movie of a dude swimming for a few hours, so, we have ABZU. It’s very pretty and you can meditate on a rock while fish swim around you — proving that what consumers really want is just After Dark aquariums. ★★★ Abandoned I was expecting that Quardrilateral Cowboy would blow me away like the other Blendo Games but it’s so finnicky I gave up after a couple hours feeling that it was too unfun. I’m not going to talk about Mighty No. 9 other than to say I probably should probably just start blocking Kickstarter at the DNS level. Virtual Reality I bought an HTC Vive and played a lot of VR stuff that I’ll write about separately. [...]

Sim Travel

Mon, 12 Sep 2016 00:00:00 PST

I put my sim back into my iPhone 5S for a couple days and railed about how the 6 series of phones are slippery garbage — and after two years the hardware and software hasn’t adapted to larger screen usability.

(Why are home screen icons still filled from the least accessible part of the screen?)

· · ·

Putting your sim into a 3 year old device feels like the promise of time travel, but it’s nothing like that. The now and future won’t be stopped by anyone’s gadget defiance.

(Then I pre-ordered a jet black iPhone 7.)

Pre-Apple Event Sept 2017

Tue, 06 Sep 2016 00:00:00 PST


Rumor: iPhone that looks like an iPhone 6 sans headphone jack.

What I want: iPhone that looks like anything other than an iPhone 6.


Rumor: Watch will now include GPS.

What I want: Watch with always on display.


The standalone 5k display and updated Retina MacBook Pro that has modern processors / GPUs that I would instantly buy are rumored to still be months away.

I’m increasingly afraid I will just give up and buy an iPhone SE.

· · ·

I don’t want to spend my time on a giant two-handed phone — I prefer real, powerful computers with giant displays and large iPads for the rest of the time.

The 6 has probably been the only iPhone I own that I felt strong dislike towards.

Apple’s product line feels increasingly hostile to my preferences.

Maybe It Just Makes Me Crankier

Mon, 05 Sep 2016 00:00:00 PST

Well that was a weird summer. (On multiple levels.)

· · ·

Whether social media isolation can actually ameliorate the negative impact of social media is still an open question for me, despite a few months of evidence. It’s hard to evaluate when your test subject is yourself and there are large uncontrolled variables.

Just Add Nationalism and Emotional Human Interest Stories

Fri, 05 Aug 2016 00:00:00 PST

micah: I hate the Olympics.

clare.malone: Wait. Really?

harry: Really.

clare.malone: I have never heard anyone say that. I’m not being hyperbolic here.

You don’t even like one event?

harry: I watch baseball and football. Those are not Olympic events.

natesilver: The Olympics is sports, packaged for non-sports fans, which is slightly offensive if you’re a sports fan.

Is Donald Trump Blowing it? FiveThirtyEight

Eric Andre at the RNC

Thu, 28 Jul 2016 00:00:00 PST




The only political coverage that matters.

That sure was VIDEOBALL

Wed, 27 Jul 2016 00:00:00 PST

VIDEOBALL is a game that you can not quit.

Mostly because Action Button Entertainment literally did not implement a quit function in the initial PC version.


VIDEOBALL is one of the most completely realized thoughts on game mechanics ever made in any medium.

(If you’ve been reading Tim Rogers’s work for years this makes intuitive sense.)

Mostly though, it’s fun.

It’s beautiful, simple, colorful, and engaging. The charge mechanics are so carefully crafted and pleasing it feels like pure joy each time you pull off a play just right.

And, on top of that, it has incredible sound effect design, music, and voiceovers.

Highest possible recommendation.


Tue, 26 Jul 2016 00:00:00 PST


TECHCORP logo from Mr. Show Season 1, Episode 2 — “What To Think”

Every time I watch Mr. Show again I see something other detail that’s amazing.


[HBO Now]

Video Game Consumption Q2 2016

Mon, 25 Jul 2016 00:00:00 PST



Expectations couldn’t have been lower. id hasn’t released a good game in years - rage was abysmal, Doom 3 a debacle. Carmack is off making magic VR goggles. Doom as a franchise is more than 20 years old. No review copies were sent out in advance — almost universally a sign that a publisher is expecting bad reviews.

So that Doom is a masterpiece of beautiful and horrific carnage, capturing what made doom bizarrely terrifying and awesome when it rocked the PC gaming world in the 90s, is one of the amazing surprises in gaming this year.

It’s fast, unlike the plodding cover based shooters that followed.

The weird over the top violence is mixed with a rhythm-based mechanic that finds a way to turn the ever-increasing carnage of monstrous demons and overwhelming odds into an intense flow when it works.

It’s level design again harkens back to the original weirdness of strange architectures, combinations of science fiction and demonic and horror.

Spoiler: you’re going to fight demons in hell.

Spoiler: it’s going to be awesome.




I have loved every sci-fi point and click adventure game Wadjet Eye Games has published. I loved this one too.

Great writing, art, atmosphere, and puzzles. It’s excellent.


Wolfenstein: The Old Blood

Pretty good! Came for free with Doom, which makes it seem less good in comparison, despite being free.

Wolfenstein The New Order was somewhat refreshing and fun, this felt more plodding, less fun. More forgettable.


Batman Arkham Knight


The PC version of this game was such a mess at launch they stopped selling it and I never played it. But now, in the future, graphics cards are more powerful and I guess they fixed some bugs and it’s kind of awesome?

I’m Batman! Wait, why is Batman in a tank? Am I Batman? And if so why am I in a tank?

I mean, if you are asking these questions instead of enjoying SCREAMING THROUGH GOTHAM IN THE BATMOBILE then why don’t you just EJECT YOURSELF from the Batmobile at high velocity up into the skies of Gotham and glide around and then land on a building and kick the crap out of some villains?

Now do you feel better?

I read Marvel comics, not DC, and thus do not care about any ideological purity or character guidance or nonsense in DC cartoons, games, or other media. I can just enjoy that every generation gets the Batman they deserve, and right now we need one that requires an insane amount of graphics power, and a fucking tank.


or maybe ★

I honestly don’t know but I played like 50 hours of this and all the DLC, sorry.

Are There Viable Open Source Slack Alternatives?

Fri, 22 Jul 2016 00:00:00 PST

Some are close, but I believe there will need to be serious investment in native mobile applications for the existing open source solutions to get there. What Is Slack Slack is incredibly popular, high growth, proprietary chat software. You should probably try it if you haven’t already, it’s nice. What IS Slack It’s a little more than that. Key elements that make Slack Slack — real time chat asset hosting and sharing (images, links, etc) search of text and assets understandable authentication and permissions client software for web platform for automated users (bots) native mobile clients for iOS and Android with push notifications a bunch of social norms and behaviors around talking to coworkers (with emoji and gifs) 1-5 are nearly a commodity at this point in various forms, though generally not packaged very well together as a system. The value of 6 can mostly be replicated by competing platforms as de facto standards emerge, but hasn’t. 7 is actually a competitive differentiator for Slack right now, and is the focus of the conclusion of this piece. It may seem like I’m mocking 8 but I’m not. Setting the cultural context and norms for communication software matters a lot more than people think, and how software makes you feel is part of why people will or will not use it. (This is something that open source software, and software generally, ignores.) All communication and social software is about people, and how they feel. When you breathe culture and personality into software, it has an impact on that. 1 Why Use Slack Slack is a great way to get the above with very little hassle in a hosted, integrated offering with momentum. I like the software! It’s nice. There’s an attention to detail, polish, and craftsmanship in what they’ve made that is very admirable. I have friends that work there, and they’re all nice too. Why Not Slack Cost may be an issue, though for most business usage I doubt that will be the deciding factor. For personal usage, it seems cost prohibitive if you want to keep access to your archives and get the “full” experience. Bigger issues that may be important to you: data security and ownership federation long term viability of Slack Technologies Inc. cost structure in long term long term viability of proprietary protocols, closed source code vs. open protocols lack of control over your own communications archives and destiny uptime and stability government surveilance, end to end encryption, privacy You can argue that exports and backups and documentation can mitigate a lot of the above but in 2016 it feels like real time chat communications platform should be something anybody can spin up and use without hassle, and without having to deal with a giant VC funded US corporation, no matter how benevolant you think those entities may or may not be. Much of the above I think are just fundamentally not going to be addresseable with centralized, hosted solutions (privacy, surveillance, encryption, ownership). All the convenience of magical self-hosted centralized software comes at a cost, some people may deem the tradeoffs not worth it. For me, while I work on proprietary software and have for many years, I choose to spend some of my free time pretending to be an open source curmudgeon, sometimes, and want to understand what the alternatives are. The older I get, the more it seems like RMS was right more often than I ever thought. Money Even if you don’t care about any of that, there’s probably viable businesses in getting open source slack alternatives up to parity and selling services or other complements around it. Slack has hundreds of thousands of paying users and is growing — there’s hundreds o[...]

Living In the Era of Infinite Computing

Fri, 08 Jul 2016 00:00:00 PST

Yesterday I wrote about how technology at scale is itself a commodity.

So if scaled computing infrastructure and tools to use them are now commodities, what’s the complement that is becoming more valuable?

  1. collection of unique and gigantic data sets (big companiess, governments benefit)
  2. ability to do something compelling with data (data backed product innovation, data science, you should have paid more attention in statistics!)
  3. products and services that don’t rely on data (give up, go home)
  4. products and services that get worse with more data (left as an exercise to the reader)

More cynically, tracking, surveillance, or other means to continually gather and improve data sets, which is kind of terrifying.

Distribution was a critical capability — but distribution today is often just the free byproduct to a data gathering effort that makes that distribution profitable. Television and newspapers could sell access to an audience on distribution alone, they didn’t need the audience to ping back everything they did to the TV station to be stored for eternity.

As sensors and computation become cheaper, more ubiquitous and more embedded in more places, the owner and aggregation point for the data produced becomes more and more powerful.

I feel like I see a lot of people talking about consumer social media, user activity at scale and the matching ad tech behind it, but less so some of these others that seem a hell of a lot more important than targeting ads —

  • Insurance companies — health care usage and outcomes via claims, financial and claims data
  • Financial institutions — transactions, credit, asset changes at scale
  • Telcos — cellular data — as internet enabled devices and transportation adds networking they get tracking of vehicles, people, objects 24/7

…and of course

  • State-level actors — government intelligence agencies, surveillance at scale

Increasingly option (3) seems to a path worth looking at from my perspective.


Technology At Scale is A Commodity

Thu, 07 Jul 2016 00:00:00 PST

One explanation for Google’s early success is that it was derived from the application of computer science at scale. This scale was not just a difficult technical achievement fueled by incredibly smart technologists, but so difficult that competitors didn’t pursue similar efforts due to difficulty, uncertainty, and cost until they were proven out. Google crawled the web faster, then did complex graph analysis on it nobody else did or even could do, creating a better search experience. Gmail provided effectively infinite storage for email — a gigabyte — at a time when competitors were limiting storage to an amount that required user attention and deleting — single or double digit megabytes. Moore’s law may slow as we reach physical limits, but the unit economics of things like computation, memory, and storage fall, and fall faster at scale. So as you grow Gmail, unit costs decrease as usage increases and technological advances carry you ahead. This isn’t a long term defensible play in and of itself: competitors can swoop in and realize these same cost advantages, as the big webmail providers did quickly. But now, you don’t have to be a giant company to make that play. Scale at Scale Amazon Web Services (and the similar efforts from IBM and others) have made computing power at scale itself a commodity. Tiny startups have access to it with minimal capital, and they can realize much of the advantages of huge scale before hitting it themselves. Companies like Google could develop innovations like Gmail by asking questions - what if storage was so cheap users never had to delete an email? And then build out the solution to deliver it. Crazy Technology Ideas Are Sensible Now Probably the coolest feature I ever product managed at Google started with a conversation that went something like “Hey, this is computationally infeasible but could we brute force the linking between books via quotes? Hash every sentence or n-gram and compare?” “Well, that sounds computationally impossible. So no, not that way. That’s well, that’s not going to happen. But, yeah, maybe. Then brilliant research scientists went off and wrote ground breaking software , comfortable in the fact that they had access to nearly infinite computing resources to run giant mapreduces on to solve it. I don’t want to discount the high cost of complexity and technical achievement in something like popular passages or similar work — just that getting great engineers to solve problems is not the scarce resource. If you want to do something crazy today, the gating factor is not owning a data center, or having access to tools to handle large amounts of data, or getting access to smart engineers. Open Source While AWS has made scaled computing a commodity, open source software increasingly makes complex tasks like machine learning more accessible to more people and cuts their costs too. It makes sense for Google, Amazon IBM and others to invest and distribute these tools — they drive additional usage of the scaled computing platforms. While hiring is difficult we have plenty of brilliant people who will jump to work on interesting giant problems (with enough compensation.) The cost of scaled computing continues to drop and become more accessible, and the tools to leverage it become cheaper and cheaper. Conclusion: companies won’t win on scaling infrastructure much of groundbreaking computer science 10 years ago is now a commodity a lot of what we think of as groundbreaking CS today will be a commodity in 10 years [...]

Try Shorter Forms

Wed, 06 Jul 2016 00:00:00 PST

“What IRC thing?”

“Well, clearly someone doesn’t read my web site.

“Oh was that the most recent thing? That was… too long.”

Post-modern IRC

Wed, 29 Jun 2016 00:00:00 PST

The last time I regularly used IRC was sometime in college to keep up with the underground classic arcade and console game piracy/preservation community. I didn’t pay much attention to IRC itself — it was just an interesting way to communicate with a weird subculture I was on the periphery of. Now that I’m looking at IRC with fresh eyes as a technologist and conscientious objector of modern social media, all the wondrous beauty, potential, incomprehensibility and flaws seem all the more apparent. Protocol Unlike proprietary modern tightly coupled solutions, IRC is a protocol with an RFC from 25 years ago. So it runs everywhere, there’s clients for every platform, servers galore, and whole ecosystem of related software. There’s a certain durability and comfort to these kinds of standards running on commodity hardware with an open source operating system. You can be pretty sure if you set some unix server to run IRC, you’ll be able to keep using IRC in some form years from now. I love boring software now in a way I never thought I would. If you choose some hot shit modern chat app thing, who knows where it will be in a few years. (On that note, does anybody still use XMPP? Wasn’t it funny that in the late 90’s when using XML for everything seemed like a modern and awesome future-proofing idea?! We’ll probably feel that way about Javascript in 20 years.) Usability Nightmare Unlike proprietary modern tightly coupled solutions, IRC is an old school protocol where everything is an incomprehensible nightmare of disparate configuration files, arcane commands, usability nightmares, security flaws, and duct tape and chewing gum to keep it all together. It’s great though. Really. Really? Really. Maybe. Missing Pieces Ignoring the general incomprehensibility of IRC and the vocabulary that is required for a user, setting up a private IRC server actually isn’t that bad as far as services go. At its core, typing in a box to send a message is more or less something that makes intuitive sense once you get people there. (That was one of the only things that people could figure out how to do on Orkut and social networks.) Some of the challenges with IRC — authentication and identity — IRC has always had a weird hodgepodge of “services” built on top to try and handle identity to fill the gaps but it feels particularly awkward now in an age of single-sign on services persistence — the ephemeral nature of IRC is kind of wonderful, but makes it hard to keep up with things, and the weird world of bouncers and loggers to fill in are not super easy to comprehend or deal with it mobile — native mobile clients for IRC exist but the protocol (and the lack of push notifications easily available) make using IRC as a modern messaging platform on the dominant platforms challenging to normal human beings who aren’t in front of a keyboard all day Don’t Let That Stop You Never one to let usability, security, or sanity stop me in technical endeavors for antisocial software, I now have a setup that includes: IRC daemon — ngIRCd set up to only allow connections from my server preconfigured web client that connects to it for easy access — Lounge logger — LogBot bouncer to enable persistent connection for myself and BFFs — znc Mac client — LimeChat iOS client — Mutter with push notifications no friends actually using it I declare that a huge success, personally. Anyway, give it a shot. Relive the glory days of the webarrific discussioney board but in realtime over IRC at Or do[...]