Category: Tech

E-mail: Real Life Inventory Management

I hate inventory management.

I’m not talking about retail, I’m talking about the “game” mechanic that exposes the hoarder in all of us. In most computer role playing games, your character(s) have a limited inventory space in which to carry all of the shiny things they find in that dungeon or abandoned space mine. It evolved from the rational mechanics of tabletop Dungeons & Dragons which places a limit on the amount of weight you can carry. It was annoying there, but computer games have taken it to new levels, and it rarely involves actual weight anymore. Here is more about it on TV Tropes… but follow that link at your own risk–you could end up browsing tropes for the rest of the day.


Duotrope Digest: The Value of Free

I just discovered that Duotrope Digest is moving to a paid model after being free for some seven years (on the donation model). Duotrope is a great resource for writers, including listings of a vast number of markets and a very useful submissions tracker for keeping up with what stories have been sent where. In all the time they’ve been on the donation model, they’ve never hit their targets, which either means their targets are too high, or writers are too tight (or broke).

I’ve donated in the past. About $10/year that I’ve seriously used it. Which is two, even though it covered a timespan of four years. The new cost is going to be $5/month or $50/year. That’s a little high, but I’d be tempted to pay, for the ease of their search features and the tracker. It’s a little high because unless and until I’m publishing regularly, that’s a bit much for a hobby. Still, they have the easiest to use features as far as I know, and I spend stupid hobby money all the time.

It’s not the price that really concerns me. At least not directly. As useful as the listings and tracker is the data mined from hundreds of users inputting their submissions. There are stats for the fastest and slowest responding markets. Every market gives an estimated response time, but those can vary widely in their accuracy. Through Duotrope, you could see if a magazine said “allow 60 days” but returned most submissions in less than a week. That suggested that one’s story held for 60 days had received more consideration. Conversely, you could see the markets which were simply chronically late.

If most writers using the service decide that the price is too high, as the early feedback suggests, the amount of data on all of these markets is going to drop enormously. Considering only 10% of users have ever donated, one could expect the data input to drop by 90% (depending on how active those non-donating users were). Not to mention most users did not donate $50/year, which suggests that fewer than 10% will subscribe.

Without all of the user input of response times, the usefulness of the Duotrope database could drop exponentially over the next year, leaving them with only two valuable services, market search and submissions tracking, which can be accomplished for free through Google, Ralan, and others I’m certain and a spreadsheet.

I like Duotrope, and I don’t want them to shoot themselves in the foot. Losing all the free users may take away their most uniquely valuable asset–A wide range of market response data.

If they kept the submissions tracker and search functions free, they would preserve the data collections functions and could charge for more detail on individual markets. Because I might pay $5/month for that data, but I won’t pay that much for a spreadsheet and a search engine.


The End of a World

I began playing City of Heroes eight years ago, roped into it by a friend who was much better versed in the MMO-landscape, having started with Ultima Online. I remember watching him playing UO and marveling that he was chopping wood. Since then, I still refer to the mind-numbing aspects of crafting in MMOs as chopping wood.

City of Heroes didn’t have any wood chopping. In the early days, it was a pretty stripped-down MMO, in fact. You were a super-hero beating up bad guys from the very start. Even if they were hoodlums hanging out in crate-filled warehouses (and my god there were a lot of warehouses), at least you didn’t start out by killing rats. You could also create your own costume, without being tied down to whatever crappy gear fell off the rats you were slaughtering. So from the start, you could have an avatar that looked like a hero (or later villain) from their creation. Another groundbreaking technology that came a little later was the ability to team up with your friends, no matter what level they were, so you didn’t have to worry too much about getting ahead or getting behind. This is something that seems so obvious, yet is still missing from most MMOs.

I wasted a lot of time on that game. I could have written at least a couple of novels in the time I spent traipsing around virtual warehouses.

But there were a lot of good times. Perhaps because it was my first MMO, it was a fictional world that felt a lot more real to me than Azeroth or the other fantasy lands I’ve sampled. Though I thought the forums were bad when I was a noob, they look like tea with the Queen compared to the cesspit of the WoW forums. Perhaps most important: It was a great way to share time and a hobby with an old friend (we’re both very old!) who has moved farther and farther away over the years.

Tomorrow, NCSoft is turning off the servers. In the flicker of electricity, a world will die.

I suppose it’s naive to think that something will always be there, especially something as ephemeral as a video game, but it sneaks up on you. I had begun to take it for granted. After many hundreds of hours playing it over the years, I didn’t plan on getting sucked in for any great length again. But I knew it would be around. I could log in and fly around Paragon City for a while, then go back to the real world.

Not anymore. Paragon City will cease to exist tomorrow night. It will leave behind remnants in old YouTube videos and dusty unused wikis. But no capes will flap anymore in its virtual skies.

There are some chances that it will return from the grave. But a true resurrection seems nigh impossible. Most likely, it will be a shambling corpse that will make me miss the real thing all the more.

It may not seem terribly important in this bustling world of fiscal cliffs and foreign conflicts, but for eight years a mostly gracious community formed around a game about being a hero. There are worse things.

So if you think about it this weekend, raise a glass in remembrance of the quiet death of a world.


Facebook, it’s not you, it’s me. No, really, it’s you.

I think I need a break from Facebook. Hell, I think I need to stop using it entirely. Maybe limited to promotion, if that ever becomes a thing (that works).

“People are stupid.” It’s the mantra of a close friend, and I’d be better served by using it as preventative wisdom rather than disgruntled venom after the fact. I know that people have different opinions and we grow by discussing them and blah blah blah. This is the freaking internet. I’ve been here for over fifteen years. You’d think I’d know what it’s like out there by now. Facebook is like AOL ten years ago. Not your first destination for high-minded discussions.

Le sigh.

I’m too weak to go cold turkey. But I’ve got a new (spring? May Day?) resolution. Stop engaging in political discussions on Facebook. Just stop it. People are talking but nobody’s listening. It’s like the stereotypical family Thanksgiving dinner.


The bird is the word

I’m trying to give twitter a chance, but it appears that my non-early adopter policy has bitten me in the ass. My real name has been taken by someone or something which posted a couple of spam links a couple of years ago and went dormant. He/it has 9 followers, all of whom appear to be other link-baiter pseudo-people. I assume these were created for Google juice. It really pisses me off, because I’d like to have the option of using my real name on twitter, but their account policy doesn’t allow for any remediation unless you have a trademark. Apparently, being famous can help. Perhaps I should trademark my name…

Notice that the policy suggests that an account will become inactive after six months of disuse. Yet they are obviously not enforcing this “requirement”. It makes me wonder how many inactive or barely active twitter accounts there are. After all, I’d barely used mine until the last few weeks or so. Add to this the possible plateau of twitter, and it paints a distressing picture of their future. Although a quick Google search for user numbers paints a more rosy picture.

I don’t know, maybe I’m being a curmudgeon. It’s not that I’m a Luddite… I get twitter from a technical perspective. But I am not the most social person to begin with, and a service that is basically a stream of people talking over one another sounds like a party with my in-laws. Yes, I’m usually the one sitting in the corner or sneaking outside.

So, I’m going to continue to experiment with twitter, but I imagine I’m not going to stop being pissed off about the dead spambot with my real name, and I’m starting to wonder if it’s a party that’s just not for me.

I’ll report back in a few months…


Where there’s smoke (Why the Kindle Fire is not a great tablet and why that doesn’t matter)

First off, the two reviews of the Fire that have resonated with me:

IGN’s review that starts: “I wanted to love the Kindle Fire. I really did.”

And Slate’s review titled “The Underachiever”.

So let’s start with the one thing that everyone can agree on: The on button sucks. It’s hard to turn on when you want to, and easy to turn off when you don’t. The lack of other buttons is also somewhat limiting. I understand the push to move everything to malleable icons that can be controlled by the UI, but I miss the home button from my iPhone and some volume controls would be nice as well.

Speaking of the UI, it is functional, but not slick. If I was hoping for something with the practical ease of use as iOS, I would have been disappointed. The primary function of the UI seems to be to drive one to the Amazon store at any opportunity. The home page is dominated by a scrolling list of icons for apps, etc. that one has used recently, in order of use rather than in order of most used. Under that are smaller “shelves” of pinned icons, which are far more useful. The upper scrolling list could stand to be shrunk down to the same size as the other shelves, and I’m hopeful that will be addressed in a future update.

The screen is a decent resolution and the colors are vibrant. Unfortunately, in sunlight, the glare is a serious problem. Though I had planned to pass along my e-ink Kindle, I think now that I will keep it for reading. The Fire is a little too heavy to comfortably hold for extended periods while reading even without the glare. Watching Netflix has the same problem, but I’m hoping that a case (possibly this one) will offer enough support that I won’t have to hold the Fire while watching.

The app store apparently has some serious holes, but the only one I’ve noticed is Flipboard. Pulse, however, does a decent enough job as a news aggregator. The included e-mail app is serviceable. The web browsing is not as snappy as the pre-release hype would have indicated, but it does well enough. The biggest problem is that the fonts are not easily re-sized and the type is rather small. Good thing I’m near-sighted.

As I said before, I think the speakers are rather good, so I’m not sure what the Slate reviewer is complaining about there.

The touch screen seems less responsive than I’m used to with my iPhone. I don’t know if it’s the fault of the touch system, the UI, or the cpu, but the processor is supposed to be a dual-core, so I’m guessing one of the first two. The keyboard is not big enough to “touch” type on, nor small enough to use both thumbs, so I end up using one index finger, but since I’m used to that from my phone, it’s not that big of a deal.

After all this kvetching, you would have good reason to suspect that I’m disappointed in the Kindle Fire. But I’m not. Not exactly. Did I want it to be a better tablet than it is? Sure, but then I also want Ed McMahon to show up on my doorstep with a million dollars. He stopped doing that over a decade ago, and a $200 tablet is not going to be perfect.

The Kindle Fire is good enough. It’s not as good for reading as an e-ink platform, but it’s good enough. It’s not as slick as the iPad and doesn’t have as many apps as iTunes or even the full Android store, but it’s good enough. It doesn’t browse the web as well as a netbook, but it’s good enough. And it only costs $200.

It may be revolutionary not for how good it is, but by how many new people it brings into the tablet market. I know that I would have put off my purchase of an iPad for at least six months more, if not longer, and the Fire got me to take the plunge early.

I like my Kindle Fire, and I suspect it will tide me over for quite a while. It streams shows and movies from Netflix just fine when I’m lying in bed, and I can check Facebook and Twitter and e-mail and my RSS feeds from the couch. Eventually, I will probably want to upgrade to an iPad, but I can easily wait another generation or two. Unless my wife takes my Fire away from me first.


Shouting Fire in a Crowded Theatre

Robert said I would blog about the Kindle Fire as soon as I got it. Proving him right once again.

First thoughts upon pulling it out of the box:

Wow, there’s not much in the way of documentation. In fact, none to speak of. One tiny 2×4″ piece of brown paper with instructions for turning it on.

It’s kinda small. The iPad is bigger.

Who needs documentation anyway? It just gets shoved in a drawer and never read anyway. So good on Amazon. As for the size, that minor disappointment disappeared as soon as I turned it on. I’ve never owned an iPad to directly compare the experience, but the Fire is plenty big for what it is.

The screen is nice and clear and colorful. Movies from both Amazon and Netflix looked good, although the Netflix streaming was a bit slow (I’ve had problems with their PS3 app, too). Book text looks crisp. The app store appears reasonably well-stocked. It’s missing a few of the apps that I’ve heard people rave about for the iPad, but I don’t think that will be a huge hindrance. The web browser works–it will take a few days to render full judgement. The speakers are freaking awesome: this little thing puts out better sound than just about any laptop I’ve ever heard, and it’s loud enough to fill a medium-sized room.

My biggest problem for it was that I couldn’t find the e-mail app. After an hour and a half of playing around, I turned the Fire off and it began to update. And once it had re-booted, there was my e-mail app, right where it was supposed to be. D’oh. Perhaps Amazon should have added that to their tiny instruction card: “Please allow the Fire to update before pulling your hair out searching for the missing e-mail app.”


What will the ruins of Facebook look like?

Just read a rather interesting article, The Ruins of Dead Social Networks. It brought back memories of sitting in my college dorm, searching through text file lists of BBS’s and dialing them up on a screechy 2400 baud modem to see what they had. Mostly, I was downloading files. Though there was socializing in those days as well, my virtual social life was spent on the larger national pay services. My “social networks,” in the current sense, were on GEnie (where a lot of science fiction authors hung out before the internet was the web & where some little known SF and TV writer announced “That Which Cannot Be Named”–later revealed to be Babylon 5) and, even further back, in high school, on the Commodore 64 network, QLink. I still remember when there was a mass exodus from GEnie to that new upstart (and supposedly much better) America Online, before they became merely an abbreviation, AOL.

Ah, nostalgia.

From the above article, here’s a link to someone who is trying to archive a lot of the old text files from the BBS days: Though I wasn’t directly involved in that scene, it still brings a twinge of vicarious nostalgia.

I guess if you’re looking for a moral, it’s just this: don’t get too attached to your Facebooks and your Twitters. Maybe they have reached a critical mass that makes them too big to fail. But the ruins of social networks littering the past suggests their time is limited.