I’ve been a smartphone user for a few years now.  The funny thing is that about 90% of the features of a smartphone I don’t care about.  Here is the list of things I don’t need my phone to be able to do:

  • Play music/MP3
  • Play video/watch TV
  • Play games
  • GPS navigation
  • Make fart noises
  • Twitter, Facebook and 99% of the Internet

Now, here is a list of all the features a phone needs for me to love it:

  • Make/receive phone calls
  • Text messaging with a full keyboard because I 442833 trying to type with a 12 key phone pad
  • Sync my contacts with other sources like Google or Exchange over the air

That’s it.  Really.  So simple, and yet no one does it.  At least not that 3rd point, unless you get a full blown smartphone and pay $70-$100 a month for service.  Sure, a camera on the phone is nice, but I don’t need it and use it so rarely that I wouldn’t miss it if it were gone.  But its the contact sync that is the deal breaker.  Every non-smartphone I’ve owned could sync, but you have to buy software and connect it to your PC to do it.  Lame.

I could be wrong.  Maybe there is a phone out there that does just what I need and doesn’t require a large monthly payment for service.  But if there is, I haven’t found it yet.

The Littlest Server

I have eight computers in my house.  The wife and I each have a “main” machine, identical Dell XPS machines we bought a few years back.  We have a Media PC where we download and watch TV shows (it has 6 analog tuners, which was awesome until Comcast ditched analog and the PC can’t handle 6 digital tuners, but it makes a good media server).  There is a PC in the bedroom (when the last DVD player died we just moved an old PC in there to watch stuff on – bonus, it lets us watch Netflix Instant in bed).  There is an iMac, which barely gets any use at all, but we sometimes drop it in a room that we want to stream music to.  I have a netbook and the wife uses my old laptop for portable computing around the house and out of the house.  And lastly my wife’s old laptop that she lugged to England while she went to university over there about 8 years ago.

As someone who does web development for a living, one thing I’ve always lacked at home was a server.  Sure, I’ve installed the dev environments on my main machine to be able to test things out, but I’ve never had a server that worked like a real server.  Monday I decided to rectify that.  Not wanting to buy a new machine I had to repurpose an existing one.  Obviously, the main machines were out, as was the Media PC, the bedroom PC, the netbook and the laptop the wife uses.  So my options were the iMac or the decade old HP laptop.  The iMac still serves a purpose, and not just as the occasional music streamer, but from a web development standpoint I sometimes use it to see what sites I build look like under other browsers.  I might still turn it into a server one day, for now though I went with the HP laptop.

The HP Pavilion n5150 latop.  This beast had Windows ME installed on it.  Yes, I said Windows ME.  This, above all other reasons, was why it was chosen for the server.  Plus, I like the idea of being able to put the server on a shelf out of the way where it doesn’t take up much space.  My current webhost (Dreamhost, who I am very happy with) uses Debian OS based servers.  As such, I decided that Debian would be my choice as well.  I downloaded the network install ISO, burned a disc, put it in the laptop and booted up.  It took about 2 hours, maybe 3, to finish (the network install puts the base OS on and then downloads everything else).  Clearly, the PIII-600MHz processor, the 256MB RAM and 10GB HD are woefully below the specs of a PC you’d actually want to use these days, but as a little web server it chugs along just fine.  Then I put MySQL and a few other bits on it and it is ready.

I am excited as I move into the next phases of my own little side projects, both the business app that will make me rich and the zombie web games that I’ve always wanted to build.

Movie Round-Up: November 12th, 2009


Let’s face it, I’m a Roland Emmerich fan.  His movies are usually slightly (highly) absurd but they all end pretty much the same way: the triumph of the human spirit.  Plus, the special effects in this film look pretty damn awesome.  Some people will complain that its just “CGI vomit” but seriously, how else would you show the destruction of the world?  Do it for real?  Anyway, I’ll be making a trek to the theater to see this on the big screen, because that really is how these sorts of films should be seen.

Pirate Radio:

This movie is fictitious tale about the pirate radio stations broadcasting rock ‘n roll to the UK in the late 1960s.  None of it is actually true, but it is based on real elements (like pirate stations running from boats off-shore and the Marine Offenses Act).  Don’t go here looking for facts.  But for some good music and fun about a group of guys blasting rock music for the people of the UK in defiance of the government, this movie is where it’s at.  Well written, well acted, and well filmed, this movie is fun and funny through and through.  The box office for this film is going to suffer opening opposite 2012, but perhaps after you’ve seen the awesome FX laden destruction-fest you might consider seeing this one for a good laugh.


I’m not too big on machinema.  It is usually rather goofy, and the repetitiveness of the animations, since makers are limited to what is available in the game, drive me insane.  Which is why I actually enjoyed ‘The Craft of War: Blind’ by Percula.  Rather than just live inside the game, which -don’t get me wrong- takes talent to craft stories out of, he took all the graphics from the game and then used professional animation software to choreograph and render his work.  So clearly, from the start, this isn’t truly machinema.

A number of people on the various places this video has shown up have complained about the music choice, using words like “utter shit” to describe it.  But I think most of that comes from a disdain for the artist or the song without any consideration to how the music complements the piece.  Given that machinema has used all sorts of music, from classic fantasy style music through to Linkin Park, I don’t think any music choice is really out of place, and in this case it fits perfectly with the style, pacing and attitude of the video.

Percula is, reportedly, out of work, having been laid off.  However, if this is a sample of the usual quality of his work, then I don’t suspect he’ll have any trouble finding another gig.  Although, I might suggest he expand his search to fields outside of gaming.  With his sense of pacing and story, he might find work in Hollywood.

Without further ado… the video:

[vimeo width=”500″ height=”300″][/vimeo]

I’ve been a user of for quite a while now.  Originally I would just hit it up occasionally to find a band or song and listen to it and maybe find some new music I’d never heard before.  Then, when the wife and I started having guests over to the house, either for parties or dinners, I put a PC up in the kitchen and dining room area where we could pick an artist and have random selections play in the back ground while we cooked, ate and hung out.

Then something happened.  With the idea that a television show could showcase and promote music through the site (something I still think every TV show should consider), I found myself spending entire work days on, winding my way through genres of music.

So, I finally took the plunge and actually signed up for a free account there so I can actually store favorites and all that stuff.  This means, of course, I now have a profile there.  If you happen to also use the site, feel free to add me as a friend, and if you want to, let me know your profile so I can see what you are listening to.

The Rock-afire Explosion

If you are anything like me and grew up in the 80’s, you probably went to Chuck E. Cheese or Showbiz Pizza for someone’s birthday or some other special occasion, or maybe you just went for the fun on it.  Both places had, in their dining hall, animatronic bands that would play songs while you ate.  I haven’t been to one lately, so I can’t say if they still have them, or if the shows are any good, but I do recall the last time I went (on a first date when I was 17 back in 1992… I wonder if she remembers that date, heh) the dining hall remained well lit while the band performed, which was kind of a let down.

Anyway, it seems that the band from Showbiz, The Rock-afire Explosion, is experiencing a resurgence.  A guy, a car salesman, bought himself one of the animatronic bands and with the help of the original designers is making music videos for more current songs.  They made a documentary about it.  You can see videos of several performances by searching for “Rock-afire Explosion” on YouTube.

I just wasted an hour watching this stuff, and I am bound to do it again.  I want to go to a Showbiz now, although I figure it won’t be as cool as these videos, and I would love to see those old pizza party places make a comeback, old-school, with the darkened dining hall, music and light show.  If I have kids one day, I want to take them there, or some place like it.

Thanks to Cyanbane for the heads up…

The Problem With User Rankings

Not too long ago, on the Conquer Club website, they implemented a new system for player ratings.  Previously it had been based on an eBay style positive/neutral/negative scale with a comment.  You simply voted weather your experience playing them was positive, negative, or neither and then said something like “played all his turns in a timely manner” or “excellent team mate, worked well together” or “stupid dumbass only attacked his own team”.  Anyway, they switch over to a 4 stat 5 star rating system.  If you don’t care to follow the link, the short version is that after you play someone you can leave them a rating which is a rating from 0 (no rating given) to 5 (excellent) stars in 4 categories: Fair Play, Attendance, Attitude, Teamwork.  And the rating isn’t revealed until the game goes into the archive (no more ratings can be made on that game).

Going back to the eBay style ratings system, I hated it on eBay, largely because it was heavily retaliatory.  I once bought my wife a cello on eBay.  I didn’t buy the best model out there, I just wanted to get her a practice cello so she could start playing again (seriously, I’m not going to spend five grand on anything for anyone if there is a chance its just going to sit in the corner collecting dust).  The one I bought arrived and the bridge was not set up, which I expected.  What I did not expect was to wind up driving around to about two dozen music stores in an attempt to get someone to set up the bridge and have none of them willing to work on it because it was an “off brand” they didn’t sell or support.  I ended up setting it up myself, and did a very poor job of it, and after I gave it to my wife we finally found a music shop where someone relented and set up the bridge and tuned it.  So, I went to eBay and left a review of my purchase experience.  I was limited by the number of characters, but I said, “sale and shipment fine, but cello was ‘off brand’ and most music stores would not set up bridge or tune it.” and I gave him a neutral review.  To which, he replied by giving me a negative review that said “clueless user, DO NOT SELL TO HIM AND DO NOT BUY FROM HIM, liar and cheat!”  Now, because this was the only review I had, I ended up over the next 6 months unable to buy anything.  All my bids were refused.  The entire time, I was talking to the cello guy trying to get him to change his review.  I had been totally honest and had not given him a negative review, I just felt that anyone who purchased his items might want to know about difficulty getting service on those items.  Finally he relented and changed the review to neutral saying, “inexperienced eBay user, expects to get more than he pays for”.  After having a few more bids of my dropped, I just stopped using eBay.

As this relates to Conquer Club… well, I played a game with some people and I rated most of them 3 out 5 in most categories, except attendance in which case missing zero turns got people a 5, the occasional missed turn got a 4 or 3, and every player who dead beat (missed three turns in a row and was kicked from the game) got a 1.  Once the games got locked down and ratings were revealed, I got a flood of private messages from people complaining about getting a 3.  But looking at the rating scale:

0 means No Rating.  Or in other words, I don’t feel like I can judge you on this.

1 means Bad.  A rating of 1 means you sucked at whatever it was.

2 means Below Average.  This means you performed worse than I would expect.

3 means Average.  Meaning you performed as expected.

4 means Above Average.  You exceeded my expectations.

5 means Excellent.  You are awesome.

In most cases, people are Average.  To get Above Average in Attitude, for example, you just need to be gracious when you lose… or win.  To get Excellent, you need to also chat and be a good natured guy.  If you are silent the entire game, I cannot give you anything other than Average because there is nothing to base it on.  The ratings are from Bad to Excellent, not from I Want To Kill Them to Didn’t Piss Me Off.  There is a phrase where they call something “going above and beyond” and this is what they mean, you have to go Above and Beyond the Average to get better than an Average rating.

The problem is, people don’t see it that way.  3 out of 5 is a 50%, its halfway, and 50% is failing.  Most user based rating systems end up being all but useless for the same reason.  People being rated expect to be given the highest score possible unless there is a problem, and even then most of them want to still get the highest score possible after explaining or fixing the problem through other channels.  People rating others get pulled into the retaliation loop where they are giving higher ratings than they should because they don’t want to be rated poorly themselves.  And then most importantly, the site/game/whatever that is using the rating system, if they allow comments, usually have the length limited to the point where meaningful comments are not allowed.

I don’t know if there is any solution… you want to have the ratings to assist you in avoiding problem users, but the ratings can be, and are being, gamed so you don’t even know if a problem user is really a problem user.

Best TV/Web Cross Promotion Ever

Have you ever been watching a TV show and heard a song that you wanted to know what it was or who sang it? Even worse, it wasn’t on the CW so they didn’t tell you at the end and you had to go digging around the Internet hoping that someone else who watched the show knew the songs and put it out there somewhere that Google could find it?

Last week saw the premiere of Swingtown. Its set in the 70’s and is about a couple that moves a few blocks from a cozy middle class neighborhood to a more upscale rich neighborhood across the street from a couple who swings. If the use of ‘swing’ there confuses you, it means to have an open marriage, sleep with other people as well as engage in group sex. The show was okay… nothing really ground breaking, and I didn’t even find their allusions to sex all that graphic or shocking. I’ll probably keep watching it through the summer because there isn’t much else on.

However, the best thing during the broadcast was a little blurb saying “if you want to hear the music from Swingtown again, go to Last.FM” and they gave out this link.

Pure genius. Every single show that has music in it needs to hook up with Last.FM and do this. Simply awesome. I mean, I’ve used that site before, during dinner parties or regular parties or just while I’m working… normally, you pick a band you like and you get to hear them and other bands similar to them. But this, putting together a streaming soundtrack from a TV show… this is truly inspired use of the medium. No more guessing what the song was, just go to the show’s Last.FM page and hear it again.

I repeat… every single show that has music in it needs to hook up with Last.FM and do this.

Undead or Alive

4 out of 13 nots.
for bad zombies, worse jokes and even worse music

So, a little over a week ago, I decided to sign back up with NetFlix, which I had canceled a while back just because the wife and I were watching so much TV and buying so many movies that we never had time to watch our rentals.  Now with TV in flux and not buying movies, we’ve got time… plus, since we use a PC to watch TV anyway, it gives us a great way to take advantage of the movie streaming available from NetFlix.  Furthermore, as I work from home most days, it also gives me an opportunity to stream movies I might otherwise never see to my other laptop while I slave away on program code.

And this is how I came to watch Undead or Alive, a zombie western comedy.  It was… bad.  The zombies were corny and goofy, the jokes were lame (in fact the movie never crossed the line from “mildly amusing” into “funny”), all in all not really a good film, or even a good bad film.  Don’t see it.

More after the break… Read more