Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

Trade gift games for items on steam (beta)!  I know, you can’t trade used games.  Interestingly, this will create additional mild demand for games, adding value as a currency (and increased liquidity).

I wonder if that means some indie games will become common currencies.  Also, if I were feeling speculative, I’d open a fresh steam account, trade currency games into it, wait for their value to become inflated, and then sell the currency account on ebay to get a return on my investment.


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My thoughts exactly.

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I was skimming through this article on Naked Capitalism (yeah, yeah, lots of links from there), and I realized that the article refers to markets as…predators.  Then I noticed this is a common reference, that markets are thought of as a sort of parasite, sucking the capital from an area until it dies, and scurrying for cover.

Except markets don’t do that…market players do.  See, if there’s something for a part of the market to feed on, then another part of the market is offering that for sale.  And it says something that we consider the predators to be doing the right thing, while the prey, who the predators have by the balls, can get shellacked and it’s their fault.  They shouldn’t have played ball with the big boys.

But how, exactly, do you escape the Hobbesian state of a Global Market place (which by definition is rather inescapable)?  And what’s left when the hyenas have cracked the bones and suckled the marrow from even the meanest of suckers?

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I think I prefer it to any of the other social networking methods out there…except for one, key thing.

It still fails to support, seriously, personas rather than people.  For me, each site I visit and interact with derives from a persona…not necessarily what people know me as offline, but some subsection of my personality that’s relevant when dealing with that site.  It fails on the anonymity notion…fails to embrace that part of the internet.

See, it puts forward the illusion of real people…but with a modicum of effort, I could create a fake persona, get it on Google+ or Facebook or Myspace, and fool everyone.  In fact, I believe I could fool them faster than I could o na forum, because the users are led to have faith that these are, in fact, real people.  The social engineering is dramatically simplified by the way the sites look.

I prefer the anonymity to be obvious, so that deceit is inherently harder to pull off: we’re all hiding and we all know it.

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I was reading this article on the history of Myspace, and I came across this quote:

“Using .NET is like Fred Flintstone building a database,” says David Siminoff, whose company owns the dating website JDate, which struggled with a similar platform issue. “The flexibility is minimal. It is hated by the developer community.”

My first thought was “What?”.    Even in 2005 .NET had a robust toolset and was built on on established and well-supported webserver architecture: ASP.  Granted, it was easier to deploy on a LAMP server, which has a really robust community behind it, and JSP I imagine had a much larger population of knowledgable devs at the time, but still.

And this move to ASP was brought about because:

At that point it was too late to switch over to the open-source-code software favored by developers; changing would have delayed the site for a year or two just as it was exploding in popularity. The easiest move, says DeWolfe, was to switch to .NET, a software framework created by Microsoft.

What?  Why would that at all be easier than building a LAMP set up or Java-driven set up?  In any case you have to completely re-write the server…

And then I remembered I was completely nitpicking details that were mostly irrelevant.

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Barry Ritholtz accuses Microsoft of being both outmoded and uncool, or as he puts it, “The rich fat kid just wants to be cool”.

This is a common assessment, as his comments section alludes to.  Seriously, there is nothing sexy about Microsoft (a fact which Apple’s marketing readily leapt on).  At least, there’s nothing obviously sexy about Microsoft.  They’re an enterprise software company first and foremost, and enterprise software tends to focus on things other then being sexy; things like stability, consistency, and compatibility (this one is huge).  It needs to work, people need to be able to use it consistently for a long time, and they need to be able to use their software on their OS.

Seriously, this is a major reason for the lack of new features in Windows, why various legacy UI and OS services remain in place: because if they were ever removed, no business would make the leap.  Transitioning their end users is a gargantuan task that has created many hurdles for the Windows OS over the years.

Anyway, Barry asserts an extreme lack of innovation at the Redmond software giant.  This tells me that he’s a tech consumer, not a tech developer.  Actually, Microsoft has been involved in nearly every major tech innovation from the start, if not well before it actually gained a market foothold.

Let’s start with the internet.  Ritholtz accuses Microsoft of indirectly killing huge amounts of innovation during the 90’s.  That’s interesting; from my perspective at the time, Windows was the great enabler.  Windows machines were the massive, free, unexplored frontier that dominated the tech landscape.  Apparently he didn’t use any software at the time; a plethore of little programs floated around the Windows tech world.  What was lacked was an app store.  There was no internet to support a network effect with the critical mass of today’s.  No, people floated these around BBSes, usenet groups, and bargain bins full of shareware.

The internet gave everyone the chance to break free of Microsoft’s rule!  Except not really.  See, MSFT would always insure it had core enterprise apps available on its OS…and that’s it.  It simply couldn’t build everything people might want, so it insured devs had tools to make…whatever.  They built a platform and tried to make sure it allowed developer freedom…as long as they stayed away from core applications.  Yes, MSFT did abuse it monopoly position to secure dominance in these related markets.  But that doesn’t mean it stifled innovation outside of that realm.

During the first dotcom bubble, MSFT was actually at the forefront.  It was at the end of the 90’s when Microsoft launched IE6, solidifying its place as the premier web browser, crushing Netscape (until its re-emergence as Firefox).  Through brute force it created a unified business platform and innovative toolset.

It was after the bubble burst that MSFT began floundering.

First, it screwed itself by allowing itself to be seen (rightly) as a monopolistic asshole.

Second, MSFT has always failed primarily at initial execution, not innovation.  MSFT offered one of the first smartphone platforms ever: Windows Mobile.  Unfortunately, it’s timing was simply too early.  The hardware and infrastructure couldn’t support it except for some early adopters, and eventually MSFT moved away from that market to pursue other opportunities.

MSFT has been working on tablet and touch-based computing for ages as well; once again, they were too early and failed to have a hardware platform to push their software.

Hell, google home automation?  Google TV?  Apple TV?  back when Windows XP luanched, MSFT launched Windows XP Media Center Edition.  This included a UI that could be controlled by remote, and allowed the computer to be more readily hooked up to a TV and used as the central location for serving visual and audio media in the living room.  MSFT imagined the PC as the centerpiece of the living room, because they felt we would begin consuming more and more digital, network served media…and you would need a PC to funnel that.

Media Center Edition didn’t go anywhere, so MSFT had a canny idea: a game console.  While the original XBox was completely dominated by the PS2, it still established Microsoft as an entertainment contender and put what amounted to a wintel machine, running a what was essentially media center and connected to the internet, in everyone’s living room.  Ritholtz refers to this rather disdainfully, accusing them of buying their way in, but as a game developer myself, I have to give MSFT credit: they’ve been one of my greatest friends throughout my career.  Visual Studio is something I’ve used every day for a decade, and I don’t think I can ever give it up.  No other IDE matches it for usability and sheer power.  No, not even Eclipse, though it does give it a good run.

The XBox 360 cemented that position.  Microsoft now has a large installed base of people using what amount to Windows PCs connected to their network, using their apps and their licensed services.  Why would I buy Google TV or APple TV when I have an Xbox 360 (or PS3 or Wii, even)?  That insight was important and successful, and this was one of the few times MSFT has actually managed to execute decently.

The point is that MSFT is a highly innovative tech company.  They’re often wrong, but then, so is Google, as evinced by their many rather public failures.  What MSFT is not good at is its front-end and consumer marketing.

Let’s take Apple, here.  Apple does not do tech innovation as us engineers think of it.  The iPod was nothing new…there had been mp3 players for years prior to its introduction.  What the iPod did was innovate the hardware front-end into an existing base app: iTunes.  They then marketed extremely savvily.

The iPhone did very little other pre-existing smartphones did, under the hood.  However, its front-end was innovative and its marketing brilliant…and it tied into a pre-existing ecosystem with a large base: iTunes.

The iPad is, by engineering standards, a pretty staid piece of hardware with a rather uninteresting OS.  Once again ,though, the front-end was brilliantly executed and mostly intuitive, the marketing was great, and it tied into the iTunes network.

What Apple does isn’t make cool new tech.  Instead, it discerns when the time for tech is right to be introduced to the masses and then makes a really pretty wrapper for existing tech, marketing it like a devil.

Tech generally isn’t sexy, outside of a very small subset of the population.  Innovation there just doesn’t really ‘zing’.  The huge Intel announcement of their new transistor was completely passed over by Ritholtz, despite it being a pretty momentous tech innovation.  It’s just not sexy.

That’s like MSFT…much of what they do simply isn’t sexy, and they really are the nerdy kid Apple pegged them as.  I guess I’ll have some sympathy for that because, well, I am that nerdy kid, too.  I’m sorry I’ll never be cool.

I’ll just make your shit work, and when the next Y2K rolls around, I’ll make sure to take advantage of your rampant cool apathy about tech.

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I just read (most of) this article on Credit Writedowns.  It’s a good article, discussing some of the ways cognitive patterns that in many situations help us also hurt us.  Really, I can find nothing to complain about with the thrust of the article except this: it can be said only to apply to Americans.

That is not to say it does not apply to other cultures, but rather that I am unaware of evidence suggesting that other cultures, particularly cultures with distinctly different basic mores, would assert quite the same heuristics.  Sure, they’d fall prey to their own shortcomings, but I think it’s safe to assert the shortcomings would differ.

Really, this is an ongoing – and well-understood but little discussed – issue with American Psychology: most of the research results come from samples consisting of Americans, and can thus only be extended to…Americans.  In fact, they tend to come from college students, age 18-22, as undergrads are the most readily available research subjects.

I’m aware people know this.  I’m just nitpicking.  It’s still a good article, and I recommend reading it.

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