bestkungfu weblog

Designing for bankruptcy

Filed in: games, Thu, Mar 2 2006 07:16 PT

Shock of shocks: no American car company has a vehicle listed in Consumer Reports’ 2006 Top Picks. My new Civic bounced the Ford Focus, which was the only American car on the 2005 list.

I did a lot of test driving and research before we picked the Civic. Even though I heard almost exclusively bad things about American cars, I still gave the Ford dealership a shot, driving the 2006 Focus and Five Hundred. Simply put, they sucked out loud: poor performance, cheap materials, and often goofy design choices throughout. The Focus was shockingly disappointing: I had a battery-powered go-kart when I was 6 that had nicer interior trim. Seriously. Better acceleration, too. By contrast, my Civic has a solid feel, good pickup for a 4-cylinder, and the layout of the controls is clean and usable.

The auto industry is a tricky business: it takes years for a product to get to market, due to safety testing and supply chain issues, so you need a crystal ball to determine some of the things you’ll need to please buyers. But when I see stories about 10,000 layoffs here and 30,000 layoffs there, I know that it isn’t solely an issue of high labor costs, as the automakers often claim (hell, Hondas are manufactured in the US, too). In fact, I’d say that most of it is that American manufacturers haven’t gotten the religion when it comes to simple, utilitarian design principles, and as a result they’ve been getting crushed by Japanese and European competitors for the last 20 years.

It’s not like they haven’t proven they could do it. My last new car was a 2000 Mercury Cougar, and I still miss it. The interior was well-constructed. The dashboard display had four dials and a mileage display. The air conditioning system had two knobs. The stereo had no more buttons than were necessary. I never fumbled for a control when I needed it, from the day I rolled it off the lot. What made the car great for me to drive was that it let me do what I wanted without any cognitive friction, and otherwise got out of the way. If they could make more mass-market cars that did that, and fewer of the monstrosities they have on the market today, then maybe, just maybe, American car companies won’t be blazing a trail to obsolescence.


Filed in: games, Thu, Aug 26 2004 12:04 PT

I love the Olympics. And I love this site. DFL contains a listing of last-place finishes in the 2004 Games.

But the great thing about this site is that the guy who is putting it together isn’t laughing at the athletes, he’s actually praising them. Which we all should do: when you look at the worst Olympic performances ever, I think 99% of us would be hard-pressed to beat a single one of them. Though I’m pretty sure I can beat Eric Moussambani’s 1:52.7 time in the 100 meter freestyle, the worst ever 5000 meter run is still almost 8 minutes faster than my personal best. And it was run in 1976.

(I do admit that I want to go to Calgary for a week someday to try to beat the Jamaican bobsled team’s time. I think that’d be fun.)

Your quarterly poker post

Filed in: games, personal, Mon, Aug 9 2004 17:33 PT

I have to gloat a tiny bit here. I won my first poker tournament. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the one I had intended to play.

I left the house around 10:30 on Saturday morning to go over to Goldie’s, where there’s a $20+3 buy-in no-limit hold-em tournament every day, only to find out that it’s too popular: I’d have to be there at the door at 10am if I wanted a chance to get in on the action. I went home dejected, commandeered my wife’s PC, and hopped on UltimateBet to get rid of my poker jones for the morning.

I ended up playing a sit-and-go tournament (10 players, with 50% going to the winner, 30% for second, and 20% for third). I lost my first hand on an unlucky card on the river, and ended up with half the chips of the rest of the players. From there, I played well enough to get back up from 465 to 1565 tournament chips. Then, I had some fun.

I drew a J9 suited, saw a flop that read T82. Sweet: I have an open-ended straight draw, and the bet to me was 20 chips. I call. The turn card: 7. Score. I go in for a few hundred chips, get two callers, and then someone raises back at me. At this point, I have the best possible hand, and there’s no flush draw out there, so it’s not hard for me to push all of my chips in. And then, something magical happens: I get four callers. Suddenly, on a table where there were seven players nickel-and-diming each other for pots, we now have 7000 chips in the center, and I own them. The river card doesn’t help anybody, and suddenly, the game is all but mine. I busted three players in the same hand, and left a fourth with 300 he lost on the next one. After that, I sat back and watched one player bust the other, and then I beat the last one head-to-head. Out of nine players, I busted five of them personally. I didn’t win much, but man, is it fun to have the big stack for once. I think I’m going to try to get into another brick-and-mortar tournament soon.

You want Olympic coverage, eh?

Filed in: games, media, Web, 10:26 PT

The Olympic Games (technically: the Games of the XXVIII Olympiad) start this week in Athens, and while I’ve been a huge Olympics fan since childhood, I’m also an American, which means I’ve suffered through the worst TV coverage in the world most years.

Four years ago, USA Today interviewed me based on a blog post I made on the same subject:

For the Winter Games back in 1998, I was glued not to CBS’ pathetic attempt at “coverage”, but to the CBC feed oat… er, out of Vancouver. I have $10 (American) that says that NBC’s three-channel coverage of the Olympics in Sydney this September still doesn’t have as many hours of live sports content as the coverage on CBC. NBC’s claiming 330 hours of coverage over 14 days — theoretically, 24 hours per day, split between NBC, CNBC, and MSNBC. I’m betting no more than half of that is actual coverage: the rest is filler. Any takers?

Well, this year, NBC is claiming 1200 hours of coverage, between NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, Bravo, Telemundo, its HDTV outfit, and the USA Network, part of its recent purchase of Vivendi. And I really want the coverage to be successful. But in order to do that, they have to get more, you know, sports into that 1200 hours. What we’re stuck with is a days-long personal chronicle, with hundreds of athletes’ stories, cued up just in time for their dressage or qualifying heat. I don’t want to see all of that. Maybe a little, but not all. I want to be able to track, say, the archery events, by watching all the athletes compete, not just how Jimmy from Colorado Springs overcame a hangnail days before the competition, and then his medal-winning performance.

I’m not going to be able to pick much to record, either, unless I cherry-pick shows for TiVo to record based on NBC’s Web site. The coverage shows up on my TiVo in 6-hour blocks. Not good. PVRblog has some ideas on how to get around that.

So I’m going to hope for the best, and if NBC once again dives headlong into the up-close-and-personals and 10-hour tape delays, I’ll have to see what CBC has to offer again this year. I’m lucky to be in a border state where CBC is available on cable, because their news and sports programming are far superior to what is available down here. It’s an added bonus to find that their coverage of the athletes isn’t nearly as nationalistic as ours, either.

If both of these plans fail, I will have to resort to the Web — but not in the way I wish I could. The International Olympic Committee has for years jealously guarded its content, even to the extent of threatening to expel the Norwegian licensee for inadvertently putting too much of it on the Web in 2000. The IOC sells the rights to the Games on a country-by-country basis, and their contracts prevent posting most 2004 content unless the traffic originates from the network’s broadcasting area. Want some of the BBC’s wide selection of Web feeds? You’d better be doing it over some bangers and mash. If you’re outside the UK, no video for you. An AP article titled Olympics to Have Broad Online Offering buries the lede, which is the hoops you’ll have to jump through just to get into your nation’s walled garden to watch what video is available.

Artificial borders frustrate me. If companies can operate across borders, then so can content. This is the first Olympics where filesharing of events is likely to be in full swing, but it is certainly not the last. I want to be sure to get the content I want, live or archived, wherever I may be from. And if I choose to watch it in Catalan, that should be fine, too. The IOC is an organization that celebrates the gathering of the world’s cultures in the physical world, and at the same time prevents it online. This is not the path we want the Internet to take.

So the opening ceremonies are on the 13th. Between now and then, I think that’s plenty of time to work out a good plan to BitTorrent our national feeds around. Perhaps by 2010, when the next contracts are prepared, the IOC and the broadcasters will get the hint that sharing their media with the world for two weeks every couple years isn’t such a bad thing after all. If they don’t figure it out by then, it could happen that someone will have figured it out for them.

Button-mashers: stop the madness

Filed in: games, sports, Wed, Aug 4 2004 17:45 PT

Since this year is divisible by four, we get to suffer though another Olympics game. This time it’s “Athens 2004”, a button-masher just like all the others.

Being a bit of a video-game historian, I can point to 1983’s Track and Field console as the pinnacle of athletics game playability. There were only three buttons, spaced well apart, to execute all of the moves. It was fun, it was exhausting, and sadly, it was never repeated.

I can also state authoritatively that every Olympics video game I have played since then has absolutely sucked. Since the NES-style joystick took hold, the entire physics of the original Track and Field was obsoleted for all but the most hardcore players, who bought arcade joysticks for their game systems. Even now, over 20 years after T&F, the A-B button-mashing treatment lives on, despite the addition of 310 new controls on the modern gamepad. Some of the minigames in the Olympic category may have skill elements to them, but most of them still focus on button-mashing.

Do these people not have money to test this stuff on users, or are they just too lazy to? These games don’t even hold a candle to party games like the Mario Party or Fuzion Frenzy series. It’s understandable for a video game company to buy the rights to a franchise like the Olympics to make a quick buck every four years, but, well, maybe next time they can put a little effort into making it, you know, fun. This quadrennium, I’m sitting it out.

The elevator speech challenge

Filed in: games, Wed, Jul 28 2004 22:30 PT

Here’s a challenge for y’all. Feel free to respond in comments or by trackback. There’s a Gmail account in it for the winner, for the six of you who don’t already have one.

Scenario: You have just walked into an elevator and found yourself next to the one person you’ve always wanted to persuade. You can say anything you want to sell this person on your position, but you only have one minute before one of you reaches your destination. For the purposes of this challenge, let’s say one minute equals 150 words.

So make your elevator speech in 150 words or less. (Optional: if it’s not obvious, explain who your victim is.)

I will do mine on Web accessibility once this thing gets rolling. Count your words carefully on this one, because I may just truncate the ones that are too long…

World Poker Tour event robbery

Filed in: culture, games, Tue, Jul 20 2004 09:23 PT

The French journal Libération reports that the World Poker Tour event at the Aviation Club de Paris was the target of a robbery Tuesday afternoon during the final. The thieves made off with 76,000 euros, made it out to their motorbikes, then realized they’d lost the keys. They ended up stealing a refrigerator truck to make their getaway.

I wonder if that’ll make the WPT coverage. Probably not. It was a little bit of the “far west”, as the French say, right on the Champs Elysées.

Update: Here’s an English-language version of the story.

Things I didn’t do

Filed in: games, personal, Mon, Dec 8 2003 05:31 PT

I did not buy Dance Dance Revolution Ultramix complete with the mat for myself.

I did not open it shortly after I got home, because I couldn’t wait until Christmas to play it.

I did not spend the evening playing it when I should be packing for my trip.

I did not send a message to friends I know who just got the same kit, threatening to challenge them on Xbox Live.

I did not shop for a hard mat, because they play better. Nor did I shop for newer dancing games.

I also did not watch celebrity poker.

Nor did I play poker on Yahoo today.

I especially didn’t increase my stack.

Because these things would be wrong, and perhaps indicate something about my personality. (Incidentally, the Seattle Times ran an article on new video game markets today. Curious timing for all that which didn’t happen.)

Go Sox! Go Cubs!

Filed in: games, Tue, Oct 7 2003 05:59 PT

The Boston Red Sox are going to the American League Championship Series. The Chicago Cubs are going to the National League Championship Series. If you’re a fan of the underdog, even if you don’t like baseball, this should be an outstanding sports week.

I need to explain the significance of these data points. The last time the Sox won a World Series was 1918, when they beat… the Chicago Cubs. The last Cubs world championship was in 1908. The baseball fans of Boston and (north) Chicago are perhaps the most long-suffering fans in all of sport. If either team hoists a World Series trophy later this month, it’s almost unfathomable what would happen to their hometown.

If you believe in Cinderella stories, you can’t help but wish for a Cubs-Red Sox World Series. For someone, the curse will be lifted.

I give it a 1-in-3 shot. The Cubs can probably win their series, but Boston has to face the hated Yankees. Keep hope alive, people. This is the best time of the year to be a sports fan.

Update: My friend Michael was wearing a Red Sox hat in Oakland (and getting pelted with peanut M&Ms) during Game 5. His description of the scene is worth the trip, and loaded with pictures and video.

The Real Revolution in Gaming

Filed in: games, tech, Wed, May 14 2003 03:13 PT

CNet reports that Sony’s making a handheld game system.

Sweet. Stay tuned for the return of the Xboy rumors to go along with it.

I’m excited to see that they’re willing to go ahead and challenge Nintendo, presumably because in their weakened state the other console makers can smell blood. (Although to me it seemed eminently logical that if Microsoft wanted to dip its toe in the console market, it would have just bought Nintendo, since it already has the Nintendo campus surrounded on three sides in Redmond.)

Gaming is the perfect vehicle to accelerate mobile technology: presently, mobile phone vendors are still cranking out games that my 11-year-old Game Boy would have put to shame, and trying to sell them like mobile gaming is the Next Big Thing. (It is, but not the way they’re doing it. Update: (15 May) The miserable Nokia N-Gage review makes the point.) The PDA makers are a shade ahead, but despite their efforts, I still keep a Game Boy Advance around for when I want to waste some time. Something had to give, and my feeling is that time will show it was this.

This is the birth of a new race to miniaturization and convergence, powered by a market (kids) that will not buy an item unless it’s both insanely cool and disturbingly cheap. Witness the first handheld computer with 1.8GB of (read-only) storage for under $100, around 2006. How’s that for cool?

I-told-you-so moment: I predicted games would push mobile computing five years ago, and today the mobile, PDA, and now game system manufacturers are backing me up.

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