Fool.com: Lemony's a Lemon for Viacom [Motley Fool Take] December 31, 2004

Fool.com: Lemony's a Lemon for Viacom [Motley Fool Take] December 31, 2004

The Lemony Snicket movie underperformed.

Major bummer for the franchise including the video game my ex-studio produced.

Everybody is looking for the next Harry Potter, but of course, the next Harry Potter is going to be the one written by J.K. Rowling.

I really like the Snicket franchise and in fact it was my idea that Amaze try to get the Snicket gig. (Amaze ended up getting the gigs for five SKUs: PC, GBA, Xbox, PS2, and GC - that's very unusual for a single company to get so many SKUs!)

I've had a hypothesis for some time (the last couple of years) which the Snicket experience confirms: while there are a lot of "tween" books (and a vibrant "tween" market for books) there are very few "tween" books that translate into other media. I think it's because those "tween" books have a certain voice that no one has figured out how to translate to movies or games.

Certainly the Snicket books are all about language - they are almost a parody of themselves. The Unauthorized Autobiography of Lemony Snicket contains an index that is hilariously self-referential. How do you translate that to images?

Anyhow ... it's the kind of movie that will do great on video, I think. Maybe that will give the franchise a second wind.

(Note: January 10, 2005 - Snicket movie is up over $100m now.)

The Picture of Everything

Jack Brummet sent me this link. Scroll down and choose "The Picture of Everything." There is no direct link.

It's an enormously detailed poster with, well, if not everything, then certainly a lot of stuff.



(This is definitely my most popular blog entry.)

I managed to visit every Disney theme park around the world in one year. (Plus I saw "the big model" of the new Hong Kong park at Walt Disney Imagineering.)

I thought it would be cool to post a picture of each castle from Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Tokyo Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris.

However, since I'm originally from California, I take Disneyland somewhat for granted, so I never took a picture of the Disneyland castle!

Here are the other castles as photographed during my travels.

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom:

Walt Disney World Cinderella Castle (C) Stephen Clarke-Willson

Tokyo Disneyland:

Tokyo Disneyland Cinderella Castle (C) Stephen Clarke-Willson

Paris Disneyland:

Paris Disneyland Sleeping Beauty Castle (C) Stephen Clarke-Willson

The Paris castle was designed by my friend since second grade, Tom Morris (not the golfer), and it is spectacular, so it deserves another picture. This next picture looks (to me) like a picture of a model but this is the real castle.

Paris Disneyland Sleeping Beauty Castle (C) Stephen Clarke-Willson

Here's a picture of the top spire of the Paris castle, which has been broken (tilted) for many years. It was broken in a big windstorm that hit the park in 1999.

Paris Disneyland Sleeping Beauty Castle Broken Spire (C) Stephen Clarke-Willson

[Updated 2008 01 21]


Finally! A picture of the castle at Disneyland. Indeed, I finally dug through my pictures and found one of the Disneyland Castle, from 2004. That castle is pretty hard to photograph because it's pretty small and so it's easy to get a lot of other objects in the picture. I  decided to quit fighting it, and got the "Partners" statue in the foreground to solve that problem.

Picture of Disneyland Castle by DrStephenCW

(Click for bigger picture.)

© 2004 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.


CD Quality

My wife gave me a couple of Christmas CDs for Christmas and so I popped them into the DVD player for some background music while we opened presents.

I realized this might have been the first time in a couple of years that I had listened to a CD without ripping it first and then listening to the MP3!

I even listen to MP3s in my car, which has a CD changer and doesn't know anything about MP3, because I create mix CDs from MP3 sources! Or I listen to MP3s via a portable device and a cassette adaptor ... or I listen to my Duo-Aria which is an MP3 player that goes straight into the cassette deck!

Regardless, it's been a _l_o_n_g_ time since I listened directly to a CD.

I honestly couldn't say if they sound better than the MP3s. I think it would take a listening test with headphones or a listening lab to hear the difference, if there is any.

© 2004 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.


The Right Game

It's Christmas Eve and as I reflect back on all the cool games that came out from Christmas this year how important one single thing is:

Making the right game for the market.

I love Ratchet and Clank 3: Up Your Arsenal. I think it's a perfect game. The levels are great, the weapons are awesome, the pacing is great, the character control is great, the cut scenes are funny, and it's only $40.00 besides.

I'm enjoying playing Halo 2 as well - it's a lot fun but the execution is no where near as good as Ratchet and Clank - the graphics pop, the cut scenes slow down (a lot) and this in spite of being on twice as powerful a machine.

Nonetheless, Halo 2 is going to sell in the high millions while Ratchet and Clank will sell well but not as well as Halo 2.

Which just goes to show - more importantly than execution is making the right game for the market - and Halo 2 fits the Xbox demographic perfectly.

And it also goes to show that even a perfectly executed game aimed at kids instead of older teens just can't compete.

As the realism of the next generation becomes apparent, kid-oriented or family games will have an even tougher time in the market.

One reason is that you can find kid and/or family games for free on the Internet. Who needs a $150.00 console to play those?

Another reason is that kids don't have discretionary money - older teens and young adults do. And they aren't going to buy Ratchet and Clank 3 in the same numbers as Halo 2.

Parents who buy games for their kids only do so once or twice a year - at Christmas or a birthday, whereas older teens and young adults buy games all year around.

So, it's tough times for kid games and family game in the console market.

To be sure, a couple of games a year break through, for instance a Sponge Bob game.

But in general, even licensed family games are a tough sell today and it's only going to get harder.

© 2004 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.




This is a new free program from some kids at the Washington State University EECS program.

It's a huge improvement over the incredibly old "MS Paint" program that comes with Windows.


Savoir Flair by Polly Plat

Savoir Flair by Polly Platt

I just received a Skype call from an old friend Sang Han who normally lives in Korea but has spent the last year in France finishing an MBA. Sang published an article at my Above the Garage web site in 1999.

He reminded me that the French are known for being very difficult to get along with!

My wife and I went to France to celebrate 20 years together and we were recommended the above book Savoir Flair by Polly Platt.

It was a life saver. We followed most of the rules in Savoir Flair and had a terrific time. The French people were incredibly nice and helpful.

Here's a picture of the Eiffel tower (at night, of course) from our trip:

Eiffel Tower at Night


Long Long - Using the GNU Compiler Collection (GCC)

Long Long - Using the GNU Compiler Collection (GCC)

This is awesome. On Windows they have DWORD (for double word) and QWORD (for quad word).

The rest of the world (I think this is a standard) has "long int" for a double word and (this is the great part) "long long int" for a quad word.

I think it would be cooler if it was called "really long int", because that extends into the future better.

For 128 bit platforms, you could have "really really long int", and so on, forever. That's much better than "long long long int."



Skype is a free internet phone service. My friend Colin called me from France. Skype is free for calling from one Skype client to another. You run the client on your PC and then use the mic and speakers from your PC or laptop (or your cool Bluetooth headset).

The amazing thing is that Colin called me on my home number. I didn't have Skype installed. For just a few pennies a minute Colin was able to make an international phone call. According to Colin you just deposit about $10.00 with Skype and then you can make cheap calls to regular telephones.

Skype, and even Vonage, which I learned is supposed to be pronounced "Von'-Edge" (emphasis on the first syllable) - are great examples of viral marketing. They are so cool that you want to get your friends in on it. And the more friends you get in on it, the cheaper it gets, because any Skype-to-Skype or Vonage-to-Vonage phone call is free.

Likewise for most cellular services these days - in service calls (calls that stay within the cellular service) are free.

The thing is ... over 50% of American households now have broadband.

And there is really no reason to pay crazy long distance charges when you can use Vonage or Skype.

Regular telephone service is dead. It's just a matter of time, and not much time at that.

The complete destruction of a business is going to be something to see - it's going to be 10x worse than anything that is hitting the airlines now. It's as if matter transporters were invented. That would be the end of the airline business. Internet telephony (actually, any kind of packet-based telephony, including modern cell service) is destroying the old telephone business.

I have a friend that is spending $500.00 to $1000.00 a month on business calls. He switched to Vonage for the business rate of $50.00 a month. That's a 10x or 20x improvement! It was a no-brainer for him to risk the setup fee and try it out - he ordered it and a week later called me on his Vonage line.

It's incredible.

© 2004 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.



Jack Brummet is posting poetry at his blog.

For instance, this one.

I wrote a poem in college. I've been searching for the original but I can't find it.

The poem went something like this:

The Ivory Tower

It glistens from afar

Shiny and inviting




You can see it’s

    c r u m b l i n g

And peopled by ants.

For some reason the professors I worked with didn't like it.

© 2004 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.


TV reruns need to be online.

I'd love to be able to watch shows in order, at my convenience, and I would even tolerate commercials to do so.

Comcast OnDemand claims to provide this, but the fact is they only have a subset of a series' shows online.

It is easy to modify Windows Media Player to have only a pause button (you need that, of course!) and to disable fast forward. Of course, leave rewind intact, and add in "8 seconds back" like on TiVo.

Get to work people! I have shows I want to watch!

© 2004 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.

Miss Digital World

Somehow I missed the Miss Digital World contest.

I designed a female person once.

It's hard work.

This is the female person I designed and implemented (with 1996 technology [PowerAnimator]):

Cindy with short hair

At one point in time she had longer hair, but hair algorithms are a major pain-in-the-ass. Here she is flipping her hair:

Cindy flipping her hair

Her name is "C.I.N.D.-E" (pronounced Cindy). C.I.N.D.-E stands for "Computer Intelligence, Non-Deterministic - Experimental."

© 2004 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.



In an earlier entry, I spectulated about poor implementations of the DOS file system on various portable gadgets.

It turns out the "DOS" file system is called NVFS and has come to the forefront because the Treo650 potentially holds less data than the Treo600 because of a switch to NVFS from some internal RAM-based thing that is super efficient.

I searched a fair bit and I couldn't find an organization or reference for NVFS so I'm not too sure how much of a standard it is ...

© 2004 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.



I want to decommission my Firewire hard drive before it completely dies.

Since it was used as my "backup" drive it has all kinds of potentially sensitive material on it.

I found a great freeware program to "scrub" the disk and remove all trace of the data that was previously stored upon it. (I have deleted all of the files, but that doesn't count for much.)

It takes a _ l_o_n_g_ time to scrub a disk. It's running now and I'm guessing it will take a couple of days to scrub all of the free space on the 120 gigabyte drive.

It's worth it though. It's apparently quite easy to harvest data from old hard drives.

It's important to scrub the drive before it dies - otherwise the only alternative is to take a hammer to it, which I have done in the past to a couple of drives and a laptop that was way past it's prime.

© 2004 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.


iPod Defrag Update 4

I plugged my iPod into my USB 2.0 connection and then went away from the computer to watch TV. It was just one show, and I thought, how much could the battery go down in one hour?

Apparently, the answer is, "all the way down." When I returned the iPod was still working, but the battery bar was empty.

Jack Brummet wrote in one of the comments that I should use Firewire instead of USB 2.0 for the simple reason that the Firewire connection powers the iPod.

In fact, I used to use Firewire, but I had problems where removing my iPod would cause another hard drive on my computer to crap out with a "can't write file" message.

So I switched to USB, where I've never had a problem connecting or disconnecting a gadget.

The hard drive on the Firewire port is on its last legs - it started making an awful sound - and the drive I bought to replace it is USB 2.0.

When that old hard drive dies or I disconnect it, then I'll put the iPod back on the Firewire port, and I'll have a happy iPod.

This experience lends more credence to the notion that the #1 power draw in the iPod is the hard drive and over a couple of years of usage it can get fragmented and lessen your battery's lifetime.

© 2004 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.



It's the day after Thanksgiving, and one thing I am not thankful for is Spam.

Jeff Petkau told me about Spambayes so I decided to try it out.

I get about 50 spam emails a day - considerably less than Bill Gates, who is said to get 4,000,000 a day. (His email address has always been billg@microsoft.com.) I suspect they authenticate email from inside Microsoft so at least internal mail gets to him. Steve Ballmer said in an interview that "almost a whole department is dedicated to filtering Bill's email."

Even with Spambayes, which is pretty good, I still get about four emails a day into my main inbox and then about 15 a day that are marked by Spambayes as "almost Spam."

Spambayes works well enough that I've gone back to publishing my email address: stephen@above-the-garage.com without resorting to replacing "@" with " at " and that sort of thing.

I still say that if they would just make getting an email certificate from Verisign or whoever cost $1.00 a year then we could all just set our email programs to accept certified email only and the problem would be solved. But at $15.00 a year it's just too much to ask.

Oh well. This problem will be handled in the next year or two.

© 2004 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.



It's Thanksgiving, 2004, and I'm grateful for innovation.

I saw an article that said Vonage telephone service over the Internet (VoIP - Voice over Internet Protocol) had lowered its price to $24.95 a month. A day later, I paid our regular telephone bill, which had about $26.00 in long distance charges on it.

*Light Bulb Turns On*

So I ordered up Vonage off their web site and a few days later a Linksys telephone adaptor arrived. I plugged it in and presto, another phone line!

Vonage provides unlimited long distance all over the US and Canada. So our long distance charges should be, well, *ZERO* from now on. (I think it was about $.10 a minute.)

If the new Internet phone works out really well, we'll try to switch our regular home number over to Vonage, since it costs $25.00 a month just to have a "regular" phone line.

Actually, we don't have a "regular" phone line. Our "regular" phone service comes over cable and is provided by Comcast. We get almost all communication services over cable: telephone service, Internet, and TV. Now we are getting additional telephone service over cable, but now using Vonage/VoIP whereas the Comcast digital phone service uses some kind of proprietary protocol. (There is a battery backup in the garage to support the Comcast telephone service.)

The only other communcation service we get is cell phone service, which is from Cingular, which just merged with AT&T, and is GSM-based, and now the biggest cell carrier in the United States. Everyone tells me Verizon has better coverage but I really like our GSM phones - I like that I can buy a new phone and just move my chip over to the new phone and it's up and running. A couple of years ago, I would just pop the chip into my PalmPhone and it was ready to go. I didn't have to tell the cell phone company that I was using a different phone.

(I also like roll-over minutes and free cell-to-cell phone calls if the person you are calling is on Cingular as well, which is now about 46 million people in the United States.)

GSM phones are also handy because if you get a tri-band or quad-band phone you can use it in various places around the world (not everywhere, most notably not in Japan, where they have their own system).

I went to France and wanted to take my then-new tri-band phone. I called up Cingular and said, "I'm going to France, will the phone work?" They said yes.

I get to France and the phone doesn't work. I can't call Cingular because you can't call a US 866 number from France, at least not in any way I could figure out. It's not a big deal, so when I get back, I call Cingular and complain that the phone didn't work. "Oh, you need the international calling plan enabled. It's free." The M-Fs didn't bother to tell me that BEFORE I got on the plane for France.

I read somewhere that telecommunications companies are the most hated companies in the world. They passed up used-car salesmen.

I can understand why these companies are hated so much, but if you ignore the fact that they frequently charge you for things you didn't do, and charge you for taxes that don't exist, and don't bother to tell you to enable international calling before you go to France, then you just have to be amazed at the incredible technology we can use to communicate.

And it's only getting better and better.

So this Thanksgiving, I'm grateful for innovation.

© 2004 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.


Krogroth Game Boy

The launch of the Nintendo DS - which they are trying to position as a different platform from the Game Boy Advance, even though it is compatible with the Game Boy Advance, and ought to be called the Game Boy DS, except Nintendo is afraid that sounds too childish - reminded me of my original Game Boy.

I put every add-on I had on it and took a picture of it. I call it the "Krogroth Game Boy" after the big bad unit in Total Annihilation.

One of the first games I ever produced was "Caeser's Palace" for the original Game Boy. It was a gambling game and it sold very well over the years.

There was a bug in the original release of the game where if you crossed over either $32,768 or $65,536 the game would give you negative money or something.

It never happened in testing because nobody at Virgin ever thought anyone would possible go "double or nothing" enough times in a row, which is pretty much what you had to do to get that much money, so we never saw this bug. But when you sell hundreds of thousands of copies which are probably played by two or three people each, then something like a million people are playing your game.

Since it is fake gambling, of course people are going to try to double their money on every bet.

And some small percentage of those people will succeed!

The fix was (I think) literally one bit - changing a 6502 math instruction to handle the carry differently.

If you called up Virgin and told us the game crapped out, we would just tell you that you broke the bank and good job! If you really complained, we would swap your game for a fixed one.

For awhile Nintendo threatened to make us recall every game! But the odds of the bug happening were truly small, so we were allowed to let it slide. Of course, the next run of the game had the fix in it. (I can tell you this - most games shipping today have far worse bugs than that.)

Anyway, in honor of the Game Boy DS - I mean, Nintendo DS - I present to you Krogroth Game Boy.

Krogroth Game Boy - the biggest Game Boy ever! (C) Stephen Clarke-Willson

© 2004 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.



For some reason, the wonderful people in Japan have named a soft drink after me.

Stevia Soft Drink from Japan

It's really more of a Gatorade style drink. It looks like it's a can of sweat but really it's something to drink if you've been sweating a lot, which, if you are in Japan in the summer, could be quite a bit.

© 2004 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.



I was feeling abused back in January 2001, so I decided to make a picture that represented my feelings.

First, I took a picture of myself, trying to look as pained as possible. Notice the glasses are crooked.

Stephen w/o bruises

Next, I added some bruises and blood with Photoshop.

Stephen with bruises painted by himself

Lastly, I showed it to Clay Corbisier, who is an artist with a very good naturalistic sensibility, who said, "I can do better than that!" This last one is his version. It's very good. It makes my wife want to throw up.

Stephen w bruises painted by Clay Corbisier

(You can click on any of the pictures above for a bigger version so you can see the gore at much higher resolution. I recommend looking at the bigger pictures for Clay's version so you can see the detail in the scratches bruising.)

This article © 2004 by Stephen Clarke-Willson. All Rights Reserved.


Slow down there, partner

We have an emergency cell phone for the kids, which hopefull will get very little use. We use Virgin Mobile because when I went shopping for the emergency phone it was the best deal I could find. Basically, for $20 every THREE months, we have emergency phone service, so the kids can phone home, if necessary.

I got impatient when I was adding my $20 today, and hit refresh to find out what was going on with my top-off payment (as Virgin calls it):

Slow down there, Partner. It'll take us a sec to process your request, so give your mouse a rest.

Pretty cool - first, because it's funny, and secondly, because (hopefully) it didn't charge my card twice!




Jack Brummet brought this amazing movie to my attention.

Zoom blends seamlessly between complex images. The idea is simple (and clever), which is to place a series of images, one inside the next, and zoom in, expanding each new image as you go.

The thing is, to make the Zoom look good, you have to filter the "unzoomed" or small images and connect them seamlessly to the larger, containing image. Since this doesn't make any sense without a picture, look at this credits page for Zoom, and click on the X's in the boxes - they show the pieces that make up the larger Zoom picture.

This got me thinking.

Graphics programmers have to worry about “Level of Detail” (LOD), which means creating different shapes and textures for objects depending on how far away they are from the camera.

The trick is to blend between the different models without anyone noticing, so that as one approaches an object, an increasing amount of detail is visible.

Zoom does a terrific job of matching the smaller, filtered images to the larger, original images.

As I considered the problem of managing the level of detail of graphics, it occurred to me that the same principles - filtering and visibility control - could be mapped onto sound.

Does your stereo have a "Loudness" button? You're supposed to turn that on when your stereo is playing at low volume, to increase the bass levels, so you can hear them better. (Why is it called "Loudness" instead of "Quietness"? I don't know, but this article tells you more than you want to know about it.)

Basically, the Loudness button changes the way the music sounds at low volume. Sound at low volume is akin to graphics that are far away.

Since graphics people generate LOD (Level of Detail) models that differ in the distance (both in terms of shape and texture) and carefully blend between them, it makes sense to me that if someone truly wants to make great audio, they should mix several versions of their music at differing audio levels and then the hardware - your stereo - should blend between these versions to present the best possible sound, depending on the volume setting of your stereo.

There are new audio formats that have high bit rates, like 192 kHz, which most people think is overkill. (Yes, SACD discs sound better, but this is probably because they were mastered with great precision instead of the normal crap you hear. After all, very few SACD discs come out each year, and Sony insists that they be mastered with great precision. A smart guy in the AES of the PNW told me this – but I can’t remember his name.)

Instead of making the music higher resolution, how about recording multiple takes at different volume levels - I think that could be a much better way to use all those extra bits.

I think this is a frickin' brilliant idea. Of course, no one will do it, because it would be a ton of work. Still, it could be cool in special circumstances, for instance in some kind of art installation.

This article © 2004 by Stephen Clarke-Willson. All Rights Reserved.



I've already mentioned how great the newer digital cameras are at low-light picture taking.

This first image is a picture taken "normally" with my Sony camera:

First night picture

This second image was taken using a special "accumulation" mode where the camera takes a series of pictures and adds them together until it thinks it has enough light for a good picture. It's a kind of multiple exposure. You have to hold the camera still or it gets blurry.

Second night picture with multiple exposure

Pretty cool! This was something I always wanted to do with a digital camera: shoot a lot of pictures and then add them together so I could "see" in the dark better. Now it's built-in to my Sony camera. Cool beans!

© 2004 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.


This site details many of the changes George Lucas made to THX-1138 when converting it to DVD.

And you've probably heard (or seen) that he made more changes to the "final" versions of the original Star Wars Trilogy.

Maybe he should spend his time making his current movies better...



Richard Branson's TV show was on last night.

I met him a few times while I worked at Virgin Interactive.

The time that most sticks in my mind is when David Bishop, who was head of game design at Virgin Interactive, and I were talking with him in a hotel lobby in England, or Chicago, or somewhere.

At the time, Virgin Atlantic flight attendents or pilots or somebody was on strike. David, without missing a beat, said to Richard, "So how much money are you losing each day?"

I about died inside. In America, at least, you're not supposed to talk about money too much. For instance, my sister-in-law has a cattle ranch, and the first question city folk want to ask, is, "Really? How many cattle do you have?", which, in cattle ranching country, is the same as asking how much money you have. As a result things get awkward quickly in the conversation.

But Richard didn't blink. He kind of thought for a moment, and then said, "Not too much. It costs a lot of money to fly the plane and if it is just sitting there it isn't too bad, since no one is getting paid."


I remember another conversation about airplanes with Branson's brother-in-law, Robert Devereax. Robert wanted us to turn the computers off at night to save electricity costs. I said, "No, that's not a good idea - it's much healthier for the computers to leave them on, but we can turn the monitors off, since they consume a lot of power and make a lot of heat."

Robert said, "Sounds like a 747. You don't want to turn it on and off too much - not more than once a day."

Now, I have to admit, I had never thought of a 747 as something that would have an on/off switch, so this was quite a revelation.

Anyway, I like the show - his crazy-ass personality shows through. As I mentioned elsewhere, as well, he can add and subtract and actually says "no" to bad business plans all the time, so it's interesting to see him "fire" or basically say "no more for you" to the contestants. He takes his time and has some heart about it, which is obviously a big difference from Trump.

© 2004 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.


Paul G. Allen Center

I went to an IEEE talk last night about RFID at the Paul G. Allen Computer Science and Engineering building at the University of Washington (UW).

What a beautiful building!

Paul G Allen CSE building at UW

Not a CRT in sight - all flat panel displays everywhere you looked.

There is Wi-Fi throughout ... but you have to have an EE or CS account in order to log into the network!

That's very unfriendly to guests.

What are they worried about? Hobos camping out in the CSE building and using up Wi-Fi bandwidth?


Or maybe ...

I receive a news letter from a Washingtonian (state, that is) named Gary Foss. He aggregates news stories. Here's what he wrote today:

Once again, exit polls received a black eye in the presidential election. By the time most of the polls closed in precincts across the country Tuesday night, real numbers began to suggest that the early estimations that had been so upbeat for Sen. John Kerry were over-inflated - so much so, that FOX News Channel decided to quit using the exit poll results Tuesday evening, calling them inaccurate and unreliable.



Consultant Dick Morris says: "the possibility of biased exit polling, deliberately manipulated to try to chill the Bush turnout, must be seriously considered…..This as no mere mistake. Exit polls cannot be as wrong across the board as they were on election night. I suspect foul play." http://www.thehill.com/morris/110404.aspx

I don't think it was an organized conspiracy... I'm thinking that a lot of people continued with "Answer the Opposite Day".

Yup, that's the ticket.


Apparently it's National Novel Writing Month. It's abbreviated NaNoWriMo, or just NaNo.

Coincidentally, I've been writing a novel, and it's about NaNo - except I mean Nanotechnology.

I'm up to about 35,000 words. The goal for a NaNoWriMo novel is 50,000 words.

Also, I've been working on my novel since May, 2001, when I did a story outline. I was curious how hard it is to actually write a novel, so on an airplane ride to San Jose to the Sony Developers Conference on March 6, 2002, I wrote the first chapter on my Palm Pilot Prism, which had a fold-out keyboard attached.

Now it's November, 2004, and I'm still not done.

It turns out it is easy to start to write a book but hard to finish a book. It's not so much writer's block for me that slows me down - I know what's going to happen. It's just the size of everything that went before weighs me down. I worry too much about keeping it consistent.

Also, I don't think the book will make it to 50,000 words. It might end up 5,000 or 10,000 words short. Does that make it a novella?

I plan to sell it online, shareware style, for a few bucks. It will be cheap - it's meant to be read during one or two airplane flights (depending on the length of the flight).

People who've read it say it's not bad for a first effort.

The main thing I have left is a big chase scene / fight. Frankly, the idea of it is kind of boring. Maybe I should rethink that and come up with something that gets my juices going.

Then maybe I would finish.


Plausible Shipability

Jon Mavor, who co-founded Adrenium Studios with me (actually, he was first, and then I and Jeff Petkau got involved), has come up with a cool term to help people decide when something is “done enough” to move onto the next stage of a project.

The problem with making a game is that there are a thousand things to do, at least, and if you spend too much time on one thing, then the other things never get done!

I have a saying I heard from a Microsoft guy who was working in Multimedia, who said he heard it from an old boss at Apple, which is this: “Shipping is a feature too.” (A Google search turned up a couple of references but nothing definite on who originated this term.)

So, in order to focus a team’s attention, Mavor came up with the idea of “Plausible Shipability,” which means, you can stop working on a feature if you can imagine the game could possibly ship with the feature in the state it is in.

After all, when the whole game is done, you can always go back and improve a few things - that is, if you didn't waste all your time on one single feature.

Louis Castle, founder of Westwood Studios, said once at a Game Developer Conference talk that the best way to improve a title is to find the five worst things about it and cut them! In terms of a “quality percentage”, this will improve the title the most, statistically speaking.

If you spend a long time on a feature that might ultimately get cut, then you’ve really wasted a lot of money.

So take Mavor’s advice and get as much of the game done as possible, so you can find out what works and what doesn’t work, and then cut the things that suck, and polish the things that matter the most.

And then ship the game.


National "Answer the Opposite" Day

I think we need a national day called "Answer the Opposite Day." Basically, every time someone calls up with a poll about who you are going to vote for, you just answer the opposite. Undecided people can just pick a candidate at random.

Now, many people will rejoice in national "Answer the Opposite Day" but not everyone will.

That means the pollsters will have no idea what's going on.

Watching the candidates scramble based on polls with an error rate of +/- 20% should be hilarious.

I nominate tomorrow, Sunday, October 31st, as the first annual "Answer the Opposite Day."

Thank you.

iPod Defrag Update 3

I defrag'd my 15 gig iPod last night. I don't know how long it took, because it used up the whole battery before I woke up in the morning. Luckily it apparently finished before the battery died.

I thought the iPod was supposed to get power while it was plugged in ... but maybe only with Firewire and not with USB 2.0, which is what I'm using.

Later, I recharged the iPod battery to full, and ran the disk check program on it. Again, it finished before the battery died, but no way eight hours went by before the battery was used up. I wasn't watching, but I'll guess about three or four hours tops.

This supports my claim that the disk drive is the single biggest drain on the iPod battery - because running the disk check program hammers on the hard drive and does nothing else.

Apple says the iPod will buffer up 25 minutes of music into RAM - so it only wakes up the hard drive every 25 minutes, if you listen to a playlist in order. (So this is another way to extend battery time - use a playlist, so the iPod knows what to play next, and can buffer it all up at once.) According to an interview with Steve Jobs, the latest iPods have longer battery life, not because the battery is better, but because the power management component of the iPod is "much more aggressive."

If you want to use up your battery, jump in a random fashion from one song to another without listening to very much of each one.


iPod Defrag Update 2

Okay, I tried it out on my iPod Mini. Since the iPod connects to the Windows PC and shows up as a removeable disk drive, you can run the standard Windows defrag program on it.

That worked ... slowly.

As it was, the Windows defrag program said my iPod didn't need defragging, but I did it anyway just to watch the colored bars change and all the blue parts merge together.

But it probably took about an hour to defragment the 1% of the drive that needed fixing up.

Next, I'll let it run all night on my 15 gig iPod.

iPod Defrag Update 1

The "BlogSphere" is amazing.

I responded to Leander Kahney's post about his iPod battery life on my blog, and he responded to my post on his, and then someone else commented on that, which I will repeat here:

Update: Evan Zimmerman writes, "Best bet is to use Diskwarrior to rebuild it once it's mounted on a Mac. Serves roughly the same purpose as defragging but doesn't require the drive be wiped out."

On the PC, since the iPod mounts as a disk drive, it's possible you could just run Windows defrag. Maybe I'll try it out on my Mini because it won't be too hard to reinstall all my music if I (or Windows) screw it up.


More Virgin Digital Licensing Agreement

From the official Virgin Digital Music Download Service licensing agreement (emphasis added):


This License allows you to install and use the Virgin

Digital Software. The Virgin Digital software, and all other software made

available by Virgin Digital on or through the Service, are protected by

intellectual property laws and your use of them is governed by this Agreement as

well as any applicable end-user license agreements. You may not reverse engineer

it. You may not copy it. You can take an occasional screenshot if you want to

show family & friends, but that’s about it. Please don’t hack it. We worked

really hard on this thing. Okay, finally, we recently saw the following

disclaimer on a competitor’s usage agreement: THE SOFTWARE IS NOT INTENDED FOR




SEVERE PHYSICAL OR ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE. What does that mean? Who would use

music software to operate a nuclear facility? Did they put that disclaimer in

because at one point someone did in fact navigate an airplane by using their

music software? Is that even possible? I can’t imagine it is, but hey, if they

feel that it’s necessary to put that stuff in a software usage agreement, well

then so do we. Needless to say, when we think about it, we get pretty creeped



Pokemon Rocks

Pokemon Rocks came to Seattle Center.

Everyone got a free video tape.

I was reminded of a story where my son Sam had 79 precious Pokemon killed when my younger son Thomas pressed the A button several times in a row while playing with Sam's Pokemon Red game.

There are a few games that have the "repeated A" flaw, including Ratchet and Clank (well, a minor variation on it, but the result is the same - if you aren't careful, goodbye save game!).

I think the Samurai Jack game I worked on has it. Oops.

© 2004 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.

iPod Size

If you are thinking of getting an iPod you might wonder what kind to get. Well, if you have a ton of money, get that fancy new G5 that looks like a giant iPod!

Okay, don't do that.

Basically, if you want the most stylish thing and you don't have a ton of music online, then get an iPod Mini.

Otherwise, get the biggest iPod they make.

I had a Mini mainly because it was a firewire-compatible 4 gigabyte hard drive that I could use to move files (multi-gigabyte game prototypes) back and forth between work and home. Of course, once I got it, I started loading up more and more music.

Later, for free, sort of, (well, by accumulated credit card points), I got an iPod 15 gig. I couldn't resist - it was free (shipping and all).

Now it turns out I have about 27 gigabytes of music files on my PC. The net result is that I have to actively manage what I put on the iPod 15 since it won't hold all of my music.

That's why you should get the biggest iPod you can - you just sync it up and let it copy everything. The whole idea is to take your music with you and decide what you want to listen to on the spot. So having to manage which subset of your music you copy to your iPod makes it less than completely cool. (Bigger iPods come with the iPod dock, which costs an outrageous $34.00 separately.)

Of course, nobody knows whether you have your complete music library with you, so you still appear cool, even with a Mini. In fact, if appearing cool is your goal, then get a Mini, because owning a Mini says, "I don't care how cost-effective this is! It's cool! Which means I'm cool!"

(Update: I swear I didn't know this was coming a few hours ago when I created today's blog entry ... but a couple of hours after posting, Apple annouced the iPod Photo which has a 60 gig hard drive! It's expensive. Buying a 40 hour iPod which holds 100% more music for 25% more cost made sense. But I don't know about this iPod Photo thing - it costs $600.00 for the big 60 gig version! Still, my point is the same - buy the biggest iPod you can afford. You'll appreciate it.)

© 2004 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.


iPod Defrag

Wired has an article about different ways to get a new battery for your iPod.

That's good to know.

But better to know, which the author apparently didn't fully appreciate, is that defragging your iPod will extend it's battery life - over doubling it.

After a few years of use, your songs will be scattered all over the hard drive. The iPod has to work harder to grab all the pieces of a tune and play them back in order.

If you defrag your iPod, then your songs are stored in a contiguous spot on the hard drive, and the iPod does less work - much less work - to play them back.

The only way I know of to defrag your iPod is to reformat it, and then copy all of your songs back to it. It's worth it! In the article, the author's playback time went from 3 hours to 8.5, just by defragging his hard drive.


Vice President

I've been a Vice President of SomeKindOfDevelopment twice - one time I was responsible for about 180 people and the second time about 70 people.

Once the job grew beyond about 50 people I didn't like it as much as when it was small, so both times, instead of moving on to some kind of Better Vice President job I reverted to being an "individual contributer," as big corporations call worker bees.

I like being an "IC". I like making stuff. As a VP I would always be jealous of the ICs that were making all the products. The best thing about being VP was running around and seeing all the cool stuff that the ICs were making.

Sometimes I couldn't resist and I would poke my nose into making something, even though I wasn't an IC, and was supposed to just get ICs to do more work.* I performed the opening ragtime music for the SNES and Genesis versions of "The Jungle Book." For Demolition Man on 3DO, I coded up a thing that ran on SGI machines and read the digital output of a film scanner, which we used to get some cut scenes from the movie into the game.

At Adrenium, the build system was set up so I could check something out and tweak it! On Azurik I fixed a few engine bugs before some key milestones.

I like being an IC.

The hard part is switching back from VP to IC. This is hard for people to understand because it seems like a step back. Maybe it is for some people.

But not for me.

*People love the idea of a hands-on VP until they get one. The fact is, poking your nose into the IC's domain is risky - the ICs have ways of doing things and they don't like it when a potentially ignorant VP touches their stuff. The flip side of messing with people's stuff is that you get a genuine appreciation for how hard or easy their work is; my experience is that people really appreciate it if you know how hard their job is. I actually spent a lot more time messing with people's stuff than I indicated above - I would just screw with something and then never check it in, and the experience of fooling around with stuff helped me sanity check our work processes.

© 2004 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.



I spent the last four years working on video game platforms - PS2, Gamecube, and Xbox.

Now I'm back in the PC world and more specifically in the web world.

My web site at Above the Garage Productions has always been super-minimal. This was to reduce maintenance time and also because this guy, who is an expert, said it should be super-minimal. To be honest, he also suggested some things to make navigation easier, but I never did them, because the time to maintain my site was my number one concern.

Web technology has advanced considerably in four years! I've been catching up. You can get free industrial strength databases (MySQL), you can get free servers (Apache or IIS, which comes free with Windows XP Pro) with massive amounts of programability, you can take people's money from them all sorts of different ways, and finally the bandwidth available has gone through the roof.

My main site is hosted by pair.com. For $29 a month, I get a gigabyte of disk storage, a gigabyte of bandwidth per day, the ability to run MySQL, tons of email accounts, ftp access, and complete reliability. Hosting a server at home used to be a pain, because you generally had a dynamic IP address. Now services like TZO make that a non-issue for about $25 a year.

And this blogging service, blogspot.com, is free. Ron Gilbert wrote to me and told me about my RSS feed. I didn't know I had it! Summaries of all of my posts are available using the "Rich Site Summary" or "Really Simple Syndication" format at http://drstephencw.blogspot.com/atom.xml . And of course, now there is XML to deal with, which allows web sites to talk to each other in a structured format.

Blogspot seems to serve up my RSS feed in a readable format if your browser is not XML aware. If you visit Ron's RSS feed, then you can see the XML tags that encode the summary.

(Here's a free newsreader than can read RSS feeds.)

The crazy thing is the number of languages available for programming your web server. VBScript, JScript, JavaScript, PHP, Perl, Python, C++ (with or without .NET), and anything you want to design and plug in. And then there are a crazy number of COM interfaces if you're working on Windows.

Here's a stream-of-consciousness subject change - the guy who invented COM lives near me. How do I know that? Because I saw his car, an expensive Lexus LX 470 at my local library, and the license plate said something like "COM GUY." I used to hate COM, primarily because the first document I read about it said boldy and incorrectly, "COM solves the interoperability problem," or some such nonsense. COM plus about a hundred other tools helps manage the interoperability problem, would be a better statement.

The history of Microsoft interoperability attempts is really something: OLE, COM, COM+, the Visual Basic VARIANT data type, which is actually useful, and now more interfaces and more complexity with .NET and XML.

When I was first learning Windows, I hated it too. I was raised on Unix and I adored the simplicity of the interfaces. On Windows, each interface had its own craziness, and there was no consistency at all. This is because lots of different people made up lots of different interfaces and no one was really in charge of it all. Now, I have adapted to it, and I just assume each interface will have its own set of rules, and I attack it with that in mind.

Anyway, "COM GUY", if I ever actually meet you, no hard feelings. You did in fact create a better interoperability standard than what had gone before (within Microsoft), and it's still the basis for the current Microsoft standards, such as they are, so that's a pretty good achievement.



Speaking of the W Hotel, they have a funny sign in their parking garage:

W Hotel Parking Sign

(Click on the picture for the whole sign.)


I went to a Real Networks presentation today at the W Hotel in Seattle.

Rob Glaser was supposed to come and give a keynote address.

Instead he was there on video.

It was kind of like this, except Glaser didn't smile at awkward times.

It was pretty cool. They passed around a phone that was playing some very high-res video. It was interesting in that the video was postage-stamp sized, like in the old days, except it looked good! The reasons for that, I believe, are:

  • In the old days, it was 8-bit video on your PC, but the cell phone was 16-bit "Hi-Color".
  • In the old days, it was a jerky 5-7 frames per second, but the cell phone was 30 fps.
  • In the old days, the pixels on your monitor were bigger, but the cell phone had really densely packed, beautifully tight pixels.
I was impressed with Real and the quality of the presentation. Usually these kinds of things are horrible, but they stuck to a tight schedule and dumped a lot of information in a short period of time.

The DRM solution I'm working on uses Windows Media, because, well, it's free for use on the Windows platform. Free is a good price.


Virgin Digital Licensing Agreement

I downloaded the Virgin Digital on-line music store software. I glanced at the license agreement, and it's so funny, I'm going to reproduce parts of it here. Virgin is the only company I've ever heard of with the guts to make an agreement like this. (There is similar silliness in the Virgin Mobile (cell phones) license agreement.)


This software is licensed to you only for the reproduction of music and/or video that you own or have the expressed right to use as the software allows. Any attempt to reproduce copyrighted material that you are not expressly permitted to use is not legal, not good for the economy, and not nice. Furthermore, it is not cool, it is not kosher, nor is it the kind of thing that your parents would be proud of. Put the kibosh on it. Hey, are you reading this thing? I didn’t think so. Nobody ever really does, do they? Except the lawyers who write it. Think about it - you’re a lawyer, making god-knows-how-much and hour, and this is the best you can come up with? Lame.


ACCD Codec

I couldn't burn DVDs for the longest time. I could burn CDs but not DVDs. The symptom was that after starting to burn the DVD, the drive would become inaccessible, get starved for data, and give up.

The question was - why was it becoming inaccessible?

Writing to various tech support people at Plextor and Roxio was useless. "Reinstall the software." Shit.

It turns out the problem was that some software - either from Creative or Real Networks - had an "auto launcher" system that would scan CD and DVD drives for new content in order to automatically launch the correct player. As soon as a little data was written on the DVD, it would grab it, and not let go! Then the DVD burner software would crap out.

This was extremely hard to track down. So I'm posting this in case anyone else has the trouble. Of course, the reason it was hard to track down was because it was an interaction between two different applications. So there was no single customer service organization that could answer my problem.

The Roxio people thought that reinstalling their software would fix some registry keys and clean things up, but they were wrong.

The Creative and/or Real Networks people don't know anything about the Roxio software. I don't know which was the problem because I turned them both off and I've been afraid to turn either one back on! My guess, based on the name ACCD Codec, which showed up in an error log created by Roxio Easy CD Creator, is that the problem was with the Creative Control Center application. This was made more confusing by the fact that one version of Easy CD Creator actually came with a Creative CD drive.

It was a confusing tangle.



This is a really great reference page about Windows Media Player. What an astounding amount of information! Unfortunately, some of the links into Microsoft are broken - Microsoft must have reorganized their web pages.

How do people have the time to write this stuff up? It's very impressive.


20 bits

It turns out that people can only hear 20 bits of resolution. So why 24-bit audio? It's (1) easier for computers to manipulate, and (2) when you mix several (or dozens) of 20-bit tracks together they can use up the extra bits to avoid clipping or overflowing.

It also turns out that the best analog-to-digital converters (ADCs) can only encode 20 bits. At 20 bits, minor temperature fluctuations in the resisters that make up the encoder can even flip a bit. So 20 bits is about the limit for recording a live performance.

The great Wendy Carlos* masters her new releases with a trick that emulates 20 bits of information in only 16 bits, so her latest CDs supposedly encode 20 bits of information. I'm not so sure myself, but since Wendy has shown herself to be the equivalent of a walking spectrum analyzer, I'm inclined to believe her.

Did you know that MP3 files can encode 24 bit audio? They can also encode a 48 kHz sampling rate, which is higher than CD. So, a well encoded MP3 file can in principle sound better than CD.

That's cool beans!

* Wendy Carlos created Switched-On Bach, which introduced the Moog Synthesizer to the public and became one of the most successful classical music albums ever produced.



Cheap video cameras with pretty good quality have created a wonderful world of small independent films.

Check out these by Jeff Fitzsimmons (sound design by Drew Cady):


and this three-parter by Virgin alumnus Doug TenNapel:


When Doug worked at Virgin he had a notebook full of crazy ideas and sketches which he luckily kept to himself and didn't show the management. Virgin Interactive internal development was the master of the movie property adaptation, but not good at all at original stuff. Doug's original ideas would have been wasted at Virgin. Luckily when Dave Perry split to form Shiny he didn't have a game idea ... and Doug's notebook filled the role, hence Earthworm Jim was introduced to the world.

Another Virgin Interactive alumnus is John Botti. John had prototyped an entire game called "Greed" and about 1/3 of the levels were done. It was a perfectly fine platform game, especially for the time, because it was a bit on the edgy side, compared to other things in the day. That got cancelled. John also talked us into letting him spend $100K or so on a video shoot of crazy wi-foo stunt work, which he planned to rotoscope into a game. This is long before the Matrix.

That never went anywhere either.

This leads me to my hypothesis: some organizations are good at adaptations and some are good at original work, but the skills of one do not really help you with the other. Trying to get original work out of an organization that is skilled at adaptations is very hard, and vice versa.


Satellite Radio

Howard Stern is jumping to Sirius satellite radio for $500 million.

That's not a typo. Well, as with most of these kinds of announcements, the deal is "valued" at $500 million. That means that a big hunk of it is probably tied to the number of listeners he brings to the party. Sirius, the satellite company, hopes to get 1 million of his current 12 million listeners to jump to satellite radio.

It occurred to me that I haven’t tried out satellite radio as a “pay radio” option, but then I remembered I got it for free once when I rented a car in LA.

The experience wasn’t perfect. We spent too much time in tunnels and parking garages in LA driving back and forth between the west and east sides of the Hollywood hills and the reception was interrupted too often. Also, it was hard to figure out what the buttons on the radio actually did, since it was integrated with a regular radio. It's not something you want to do while you are driving - you'll crash.

Interestingly, Sirius is hoping to use Stern to bring in more advertising revenue. I think if I’m paying for my radio service then I don’t want any ads. Even the little ads on NPR bug me, especially that Microsoft ad: “Our passion and your ability to do stuff and our ability to write code plus your future equals a really awkward sound bite.”

Anyway, the best result of all of this is that Howard Stern is giving a big fuck-you to the FCC by getting out of their jurisdiction. That’s way cool.


Olaf Unleashed

Olaf Unleashed

Speaking of Lemony Snicket... I noticed Count Olaf has his own blog now. The first Snicket movie is coming out in December. A game based on the movie and created by the studio I used to run is due in early November.

Interestingly, a theme in the Snicket book, The Grim Grotto, is that rushing into things is not always a good idea, which was the theme of a recent blog entry of mine.

Snicket Game

(Picture shot with my T616 Camera Phone at the EBX in Redmond.)


Cable Radio

Since I was checking out many of the online music services I realized I should check out the digital music service that comes with my digital cable box. My cable service is Comcast and we already get our phone service (land line), TV service, and Internet service over the cable, so why not trying listening to the equivalent of Internet radio?

The service on Comcast is called Music Choice and to get an additional cable box in my home office was only $5.10 a month, which compares rather favorably with the pay Internet radio stations.

There are some advantages to Cable radio over Internet radio. It never skips. It doesn't go away if you have to reboot. It doesn't time-out after awhile. There are 45 stations and they are all CD quality. The pricing is good.

Really, if you're willing to pay for radio service, cable radio is pretty good! The only real disadvantage I could think of is that you can't skip a song you don't like.

I doubt very many people use it though ... at the Comcast.com site there are only two references to digital music on the whole site (according to Google). One is buried in a FAQ "What is digital music?" and the other is in a .pdf that describes the remote control.

But I like it - I've had it on for a few days and it's good.


MP3 Sunglasses!


Now that's progress! Sunglasses with an integrated MP3 player!

Which reminds me ... why don't cell phones have USB connectors? Bluetooth is cool and all, but it's very slow, whereas a cell phone with a USB 2.0 connector and ton of internal memory would be just the thing to carry all of your data around with you ...

Tom Dowd and The Language of Music

I went to a special showing of this documentary (Tom Dowd and The Language of Music) at the Audio Engineering Society of the Pacific Northwest.

It was quite inspiring if you are any kind of engineer at all. Tom Dowd was a nuclear scientist that did some work on the Manhattan Project who ended up mixing a huge number of popular rock bands over the years.

One of the themes of the film was how mixing technology has changed, from the start, where the mix was determined by where you placed the microphones, to now, where it is all digital faders. (Tom Dowd actually invented the idea of sliders instead of big round knobs!) Dowd was mixing in eight track years before most other people.

I was reminded of a trip I made to Jamaica where I met Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records. We were trying to raise some money and I told him that at that time, in 1995, we had just crossed over the boundary from 2-D/8 or 16-bit stuff, to 3-D and the start of 32-bit stuff. This was a key boundary and it was a good time to start up a new publisher, without the baggage of the past.

Remember, this was in 1995, when everything was switching to "internet time" and everything had to be done fast! fast! fast!

Chris picked up on this "sea change" immediately. He told us about how when he was running his recording studio, which is how Island Records started, he couldn't make up his mind about which 8-track machine to buy. He kept delaying the decision. Suddenly 16-track machines came out! So he bought those, and he had the most technically advanced recording studio around. Most notably, he said, there were things you could do, and that artists wanted to do, with 16 tracks that you couldn't do with eight tracks, without awkward bouncing and such like.

So everyone else in the recording business was stuck with 8 track machines while Island had 16 tracks. I learned from this that not everything has to be done fast! fast! fast!

These "sea changes", where the nature of the business you are in is changing out from under you, can make or break a company. A person I once worked for said I was paranoid because I was worrying too much about these kinds of changes. My response was to run out and buy "Only the Paranoid Survive" by Andy Grove.

I highly recommend it in these tumultuous times.

And for some more straightforward inspiration, rent or buy Tom Dowd and The Language Of Music.

This post is getting a bit long, but I have to say, for me, the movie was particularly inspiring because I have a Ph.D. in computer science and people sometimes think I am wasting my life in the software/entertainment business. So it was great to see a nuclear physicist very happy he made the career choice to engineer and produce records.


Microsoft Vows Fight on Patent Rejection

Microsoft Vows Fight on Patent Rejection

I have two digital music systems that can read the FAT file system format and play music. Neither one implements the file system correctly. You can't just format the MMC or SmartMedia or whatever card on your PC and expect it to work correctly in the playback device. (Neither one likes FAT32, which is even more unfortunate.)

I was wondering why it's okay for a floppy disk to be formatted with the FAT file system, but not these digital media cards.

I guess the answer is that you generally use a PC running Windows or DOS to access the floppy disk, whereas the digital device has to implement the file system on a non-PC device. So the implementations are knock-offs and not fully correct. I used to think it was just bad programming but now I wonder if it is to get around this bizarre FAT file system patent.

If anyone knows, leave a comment!


Overloading white space in C++

This paper by Bjarne Stroustrup is an April Fool's joke. And you'll only get it if you are a C++ programmer. But it is so well written that if you didn't notice the date you might think it was real.

The best idea in the fake paper is letting you write C++ programs using Unicode, which is a giant character set that encompasses all the characters in the whole world. (Unicode is used internally in Windows XP, amazingly.) It's fun to browse through and be amazed at the characters that have been tracked down and formalized as Unicode.

For example, Dingbats are an official standard. What could be better than having Dingbats as an official international standard?



We had a visitor recently who said that L.A. doesn't have a skyline. It's not as good as Seattle's, but it is sort-of there.

Here is Seattle's, as seen from a ferry approaching the city:

Seattle Skyline

Here is Los Angeles', as seen across a sea of asphalt:

Los Angeles Skyline


Forbes.com: Microsoft anti-spam effort dies

Forbes.com: Microsoft anti-spam effort dies

I still like my idea: lower the cost of a digital signature for email to a buck. Everybody buys one for any email accounts they care about, and everyone rejects mail that isn't digitally signed.

The end.


USATODAY.com - Virgin to launch commercial space flights

USATODAY.com - Virgin to launch commercial space flights

Speaking of Virgin ... Richard Branson is launching "Virgin Galactic" which will provide suborbital space flights for $208,000.00.

I met Branson a couple of times when I worked at Virgin Interactive. He's a walking pile of charisma, which is interesting, because he's basically shy.

I have a saying: there are two kinds of CEOs. The kind that can add and subtract, and the kind that multiply.

The kind that can add and subtract figure out how much something costs to make and then charge a bit more, thus making money.

The kind that can multiply are the ones that figure out how much something costs to make, then make a spreadsheet that shows if they sell huge numbers of the thing, they'll make money. These guys usually fall prey to "the big spreadsheet lie" and generally lose money - and lots of it.

Branson is the first kind of CEO - he only goes into businesses where the operating margin makes sense. He loves to find businesses that have high operating margins and then undercut the market by discounting a bit. As a result he's been fabulously successful.

He's also smart about when he unloads a company - once the market gets crowded he usually gets out.

The only problem with buying a company from Branson is that unless you really understand the Virgin culture and work to maintain it, you're likely to lose a lot of good people, as corporate-ness sets it. Virgin is one of those few "anti-corporate" companies that actually pull it off.


Gamasutra - Features - "Applying Game Design to Virtual Environments" [01.01.98]

Gamasutra - Features - "Applying Game Design to Virtual Environments" [01.01.98]

Another article - this one on Virtual Environments - by that same guy (registration with Gamasutra may be required).


No Exit Exit

Click for the bigger picture. (The picture is from some old bathrooms in the the LA Convention Center - in an old portion of the property that was not updated in the big expansion in 1993.)


Jack to the Future! (and Ratings Rants)

Finally, after much waiting, the final four episodes of Samurai Jack are going to air this Saturday on Cartoon Network.

I was lucky enough to work on a Samurai Jack game for PS2 and Gamecube. The development process had a lot of ups and downs but one of the "ups" was the chance to work directly with some of the talented people at Cartoon Network Studios that actually make the show. It's rare when you work on a licensed property that you actually get to meet with the talent (although that is starting to change, thank goodness).

We met with Genndy a couple of times and took some direction from him. He'd look at a model, make one change, and it was way better! Samurai Jack is a very stylized show and it was great to get inside Genndy's head a little bit and understand how and why that style exists.

Another highlight was when Genndy said, "That animation is pretty good!" I have David Hunt to thank for that.

The nice people at Warner Bros. and Cartoon Network gave me and a couple of other team members a cool maquette, which sits on my desk here at home now.

My personal opinion about making games for kids is that the rating system really gets in the way.

You can't make a low "T" game and have it succeed.

Let me explain: the ratings that matter are "E" (Everyone), "T" (Teen), and "M" (Mature).

The E rating has to be non-objectionable to parents of six year olds. That currently means almost no violence - even cartoon violence. If you have a game built around combat of any kind you get a T rating. This is because of the increased graphic quality of current generation games. The exact same game on PS1 or Nintendo 64 would get an E rating. Gameboy Advance "E" games can be quite violent because the depiction of violence is very low-resolution.

"T" ratings are divided into ranges: "Low T", "Mid T", and "High T". A game that used to be an "E" on the N64 would be a "Low T" on the Gamecube because of the better "more realistic" graphical quality.

Unfortunately, these distinctions between "Low T" and "Mid T" are not made by Moms and Dads when they go to the store to buy Christmas presents. So a game like Samurai Jack or even Super Smash Bros. which are made for kids 8-12 get "T" ratings, which completely misrepresents the situation.

I think there needs to be a "PT" or "Pre-Teen" rating. That tells Mom what she wants to know - this game has some action but it's okay for kids.

If we had "PT" then games like Sponge Bob which are definitely "E" games would have their place and then games like Super Smash Bros. and (of course) Samurai Jack would have their place.

Another problem with the "Low T" rating - print and online game magazines review the game and compare it against other more hardcore ("Mid T") games. "PT" would set their expectations correctly and we would get more accurate reviews.

It's kind of stupid for the ratings board to make these distinctions of "Low T", "Mid T", and "High T" and not make those distinctions obvious to Mom and Dad.

I would think the same distinction needs to be made for "High T" games. They need a rating too. Medal of Honor is an "M" game except that there is (1) no blood and (2) it deals with a historic event. So it is a "High T" game.

BTW, I'm not making this shit up. All of this "Low T" etc. stuff comes from a talk I attended that was presented by the ESRB. Medal of Honor was specifically addressed in the talk.

My undestanding is that the ESRB wants a pretty simple ratings system, which is why there is no "PT" or "HT" rating. I think that thinking was fine when Moms and Dads were less sophisticated about games, but games are mainstream enough and there is enough awareness of these distinctions that the overly simple system the ESRB has now is not doing anyone any favors anymore.

My proposal just exposes distinctions that the ESRB is making internally already.

Do you know how many people set the rating for a game?


Three people actually look at the game, but if two agree on the rating, then that's it.

I read a science fiction story once where statistics and polling were so advanced that voting for president came down to sampling one person's opinion. The rest of it was interpolated by computers.

The ESRB is almost there.


Too many words

I went down to Borders in Redmond to buy the latest Lemony Snicket book. I noticed that Neal Stephenson was going to be talking and signing books there later in the evening. I also noticed a lot of nerdy people hanging around. I actually noticed the nerdy people first, and then saw the notice that Neal Stephenson was dropping by, and it all made sense.

I met Neal Stephenson, who is a shy guy, so I'm surprised he is venturing out to talk to strangers, when I worked at Virgin Interactive and he came by to talk to me about turning Snow Crash into a cool CD-ROM game like 7th Guest. When I told him it would cost upwards of a million dollars he lost interest, as I think he wanted to fund it himself.

I like his books, in general. I even liked the Baroque Cycle - or I should say I liked the idea of it. I couldn't actually finish even the first book, although I tried.

There were just too many words.

I like my fiction in bite-sized hunks.

Maybe when it's all in paperback, and I can actually read it without injuring myself (the hardback books are very heavy!), I'll give it another try.

"Loved the Picture"

'Loved the picture' says Guy Johnson. Guy's site is here. He's proud of the fact that there is very little text in his web site - it's all pictures until you drill down into his gambling log.

"Kichiguy" is his nickname. In Japanese it means, "crazy person", as in "crazy, drooling, insane, lunatic, scary kind of guy."



Photo (C) 2004 Stephen Clarke-Willson

This is the Air France terminal at Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris.

My wife and I went to Paris (without the kids!) for a week to celebrate 20 years together.

A portion of this roof collapsed two months after we were there, killing several people.


(Subject change: Posting pictures with "Hello" is too easy. I might end up posting a lot of pictures. Except there is no automatic copyright notice. The "hello" people should add that as a feature.)


Okay - apparently I can upload pictures with "Hello", a free program that works with Blogger. We'll see how this looks. Posted by Hello

This is from a lightning storm we had here in Sammamish last June. It used to be impossible to get a picture like this without great skill and patience. But in this case, the picture was actually shot on miniDV and then I grabbed an interesting looking frame later on the computer. Again, this works because digital cameras are sensitive to low light.

Plog, Phlog?

I wish I could just paste pictures in here. I guess that would make it a "plog" - a photo log. No, it turns out a plog is something different.

How about a phlog? Yup - that's it.

Anyway, I have to type in actual HTML in order to put a thumbnail in here.

I have taken thousands of pictures with my handy digital cameras and some of them, perhaps by accident, are good.

My friend Guy Johnson, who loves taking pictures, says a good photo strikes an emotional chord in you. You don't need to stare at it - you take a look and hopefully POW!

My wife thought this picture of my daughter at an Ice Cream Parlor in Prescott, Arizona does that.

So click below, and hopefully, POW!

Ice Cream Parlor

"Knife, this is Variable"

"Knife, this is Variable." That's a line from a Tom Clancy book. It has nothing to do with this post.

If you are curious about audio compression, it is worth compressing some of your favorite music with a variable compression rate. Take your favorite encoder and set it to "VBR 100", which means "keep this music as close to the original as possible." It's an interesting experiment, because, for instance, the highest constant bit rate (CBR) that Windows Media allows is 192 kbps, but if you use VBR 100, the encoder will decide to encode music at up to 320 kbps!

You're more likely to have an mp3 encoder and you can do the same with that - set it to variable rate encoding at 100% and then play the file in WinAmp. You can watch the bit rate go up and down with the music.

It's tempting to encode everything with VBR100 and get the best sounding music you can get. The reason I don't is that VBR is a hack (a brilliant hack) that was invented by Real and doesn't work in all players. My minidisc software (SonicStage - what crap) in particular can't stand mp3 files that are encoded at more than 256 kbps and a VBR file is likely to jump up over that.

Also, every mp3 player I have seen can't seek accurately in the file, because the variable sized packets of encoded information make it impossible for it to calculate the correct location in a file. That gets annoying.

I've found that 160 kbps mp3 files rarely have artifacts that you would notice in everyday use. 160 used to be my default encoding rate but I've switched to encoding at 192 kbps for mp3 as my default because I feel it gives me some headroom in case I want to edit a file once or twice, which will cause recompression. For professional work, I encode at 192 kbps wma, which sounds terrific.


Bach to the Future!

CPU Bach is a program that Sid Meier wrote for the 3DO that composes music in the style of JS Bach.

If you download this (24 megabytes), you can get 101 minutes of very pleasant very-Bach-like music to listen to. It's really good. Listening to it reminds me of listening to an NPR Sunday morning show.

I have an old 3DO machine hooked up to my stereo with the CPU Bach disk in it. The program never gained much popularity because it was only on the 3DO. Meier put it on the 3DO because at the time it had superior sound output compared to the PC (this is 10 years ago?).

Anyway, turning on the 3DO machine results in it automatically composing and playing Bach-like music. So I captured 101 minutes of it which I put into this huge 240 megabyte mp3 file. If I posted that, and four people downloaded it, then my bandwidth limit of a gigabyte a day would be used up ... I needed more compression ... I listened closely to the music and decided that there wasn't that much going on frequency-wise, and that I could probably compress it down to a really small wma file that would sound good. So I did, and that's what's posted. The resulting file is only 24 megs and it sounds quite pleasant.

Bach to the future!


The Apprentice - NOT

At first I thought, Trump has really screwed the pooch on this one. He fired "the best guy". What kind of idiot would fire the best guy?

But Bradford wasn't the best guy. Trump's mistake was calling him the best guy and then firing him. But I guess he was trying to make a point.

It took me an hour to come around to Trump's point-of-view, which is that, when you have a really great advantage in business, don't piss it away, no matter how much you think "you don't need it." A successful business is always firing on as many cylinders as possible.

So Bradford was fired for over confidence. I know a guy who was over confident - he risked millions of dollars on a market play that didn't work out. He ignored one of Trump's main rules: minimize the downside and because of that the downside came and bit him in the ass.

My wife has a saying she likes: "never challenge worse," as when people say, "things can't get any worse!" Yes, they can!

Ask Bradford.


CBS Fonts

There has been a lot of noise about faked records of George Bush's service record in the Air National Guard.

This particular site (or try here if that doesn't work, or better yet, go here for a brief summary of the typography issues) goes into gory detail about how the fonts used are from Microsoft Word and a laser printer and not from a typewriter or whatever they had available in 1972. To be honest, I didn't read the whole thing - I got the point pretty fast.

But I did skim it all, and if you are interested in typography it is an interesting read.

Back in college (1985, 1986), Donald Knuth was writing his five book series Computers and Typesetting - it was a big deal, as it gave us poor slobs writing our Ph.D.s complete reproducible control over our papers. This was good! The old way of typing it on a typewriter and getting it exactly right was hard! A laser printer! A good thing! Incredibly detailed typesetting program! A good thing! (Martha Stewart would like typsetting with Tex.)

The cool thing was that Knuth would pay you if you found a typo in his drafts, which he published on the Internet. I found one, quite late in the process, and received a check for $2.56. I was so poor in college that I cashed it. Moron. I wish I had that check now - what a cool keepsake! (I did save an early draft of The TeX Book.)

My wife, God bless her, bought me the five book C&S series as my graduation present from the Ph.D. program. Since my "old family" was completely anti-intellectual (I am the only one to finish college out of four kids), this touched me greatly.

I wonder who CBS hired to verify the documents. Heads will roll over this one. A couple of more days of denial and someone is a goner.

(An alternate view that proposes that it was an old Selectric that made the documents is here.)



One of the companies that Ann Winblad has invested in is called Voltage. You can visit their site at (what else) http://www.voltage.com .

What they have to offer is digitally signed email without the overhead of the PKI - public key infrastructure.

I had been thinking that it is easy enough to get rid of all Spam - Verisign lowers it's cost for a digital signature to a buck, and everyone buys one. Presto, no more forged email. If the message isn't signed, it is easily rejected by Outlook or any email client.

What a simple fix!

But Voltage has gone one better - they derive a key from your email address and nothing else!

I have no idea how they are going to make money on this - it does require a server on their part to generate a key derived from your email address - so maybe they will charge for that.

Either way - get the price down to a buck a year, and no more Spam!