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!