Happy Christmas, 2007

While it’s not exactly the reason for the season, watching Angela rock out to her new copy of Guitar Hero III – Legends of Rock (Wii) in her PJ’s is a pretty good reason to love Christmas morning. That kind of sums up the Christmas we’re having here in Richmond this year. We’ve been just relaxing, hanging out around the house, and enjoying Ainsley’s first Christmas. That includes playing lots of Nintendo.

Beginning Rock Godess

As much as I thought I was pretty hardcore for having been able to rock Ainsley to sleep by playing a couple of hours of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, I was yet again shown up by Angela’s amazing multi-tasking skills. She was able to play Super Mario Galaxy while feeding Ainsley. There has to be several reasons why I couldn’t do that myself…

So, anyway, have a very happy Christmas this year and enjoy whatever holidays you and your family celebrate!

What I’d Like To See Happen With The Apple iPhone

Initially, Angela was pretty excited about the Apple iPhone when we watched Steve Job’s presentation on the day of it’s announcement. The ability to have all of her electronics in one easy-to-handle device was very appealing to her, even with the high price tag and required cell provider switch (which we did, with some regret after the fact). Of course, this is the big draw to the iPhone for a lot of people, coupled with the amazingly elegant interface.

However, her enthusiasm soured as she learned that not only would her old handheld software not work on the iPhone, there was not going to be any sanctioned third party applications. Her handheld pharmacy data base is her killer ap and it’s non-existence is a deal-killer for her.

Big deal, right? Who else cares about a pharmacy database? But that is the big deal: there is a large pool of existing applications for the handheld market that don’t work on the iPhone and those users aren’t (and sometimes can’t) turn their backs on them just for a nicer phone experience. Sure, the iPhone isn’t just a PDA, but if it is to replace all those gadgets in someone’s pocket, it has to replace all those gadgets.

Apple was the poster child for long tail economics. The iTunes Music Store showed what was possible with infinite, free shelf space. Apple doesn’t write music or shows, they just re-sell them in a central and easy to use store. They even now have some software (even if they are just some rather unappealing games for the iPod).

So, in my opinion, the killer ap for the iPhone isn’t even entirely on the phone. Rather, it is a software store in the iTMS. Apple gets to set some barrier to entry which will help to screen out a lot ‘undesirable’ stuff, helping to ensure the stability and usability of it’s phone platform. This allows for software that goes way down the long tail to flourish and opens up the entire platform of the iPhone to users that might not have been able to take advantage previously. I think that this is the gateway that February’s SDK is going to present: Apple as online software re-seller.

The second part couples with this: getting existing long tail software onto the new platform. If we are to believe that the iPhone is a mobile version of OS X, then what is to stop it from running Palm or Windows Mobile software in a mini-virtual machine environment? Of course, there is some overhead with running software this way. However, it’s not too hard to imagine that a current iPhone can run at least a Palm emulator and software from a decade old mobile OS1. Sure, Windows Mobile might be more of a stretch, but it also doesn’t have the number of applications that Palm does (did, if the rumors of Palm’s death are to be believed). Therefore, a Palm VM would have the most reach down the long tail.

So that’s my half-prediction/ half-wish for the iPhone: An online store from Apple for third-party apps and one of those apps being a Palm emulator on the phone itself.

  1. One possible advantage the iPhone may have here is that it uses an ARM architecture processor, similar to that found Palm v5.0 devices. Of course, I don’t know whether Palm apps from earlier versions (v4.0 and earlier), which ran on Freescale processors, run on Palm v5.0. If not, this isn’t an advantage but a not-so-small hurdle. Further, the iPhone uses the ARM11 where-as recent Palms seem to use the X Scale. I’m not going to pretend to know enough about chip architecture to make any further assertions, other than to say this might be an advantage. []

Beatles Versus Led Zepplin

I always though the only things the Beatles and Led Zepplin had in common was that they were both genius, English rock bands who had a penchant for misspelling. While that is probably still true, what would it have sound like had The Beatles written “Stairway to Heaven?” Well, it might have sound like this:


That’s the Australian tribute band, The Beatnix, performing on a television show in the early 90’s (via BoingBoing).

Ed Coleman Leaving Gateway After Acer Acquisition

CEO (and cousin) Edward Coleman will leave Gateway at the end of January, Acer’s Rudi Schmidleithner will be taking over the integration of Acer and Gateway after this year’s acquisition. Well, here’s hoping that Edward and his family move back East. I sure look forward to talking to him sometime about his experiences there.

Nintendo Leaving Money On the Table

More than a year after the Nintendo Wii hit the market (did any ever actually ‘hit the shelves’?), there is only greater demand for the gaming console. As with everything on the internets, some theorize this is some conspiracy or marketing scam. Well, I’ve argued all along that it wouldn’t be a very good one. Seems that some analysts agree, estimating that the Big N of Japan is losing as much as $1.3 Billion in potential profits in lost sales. The only shining cloud is the general consensus that Nintendo refuses to sell loss leaders and still makes profit on every console, game, and accessory they sell.

Nintendo Trinity on the Wii

Last month’s release of Super Mario Party saw the completion of the latest generation of Nintendo’s flagship titles for it’s newest console system: the Wii. Along with the release title of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and this August’s Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Mario, Link, and Samus are all present on the Wii and in three of the most amazing games. Ever.

To be honest, I’ve not gotten too far in any of the games, having had the time and energy to only put a few hours into each one1. I have gotten fairly far in each and have played them enough each to comment on just how amazing each is.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princesrated a 95 at Metacritic.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was, of course, a launch game (and, like Super Paper Mario, a Gamecube port). In an admission of my lack of commitment to gaming, I still haven’t finished the game. All the same, it remains to be a wonderfully fun game and probably one of the best of the Zelda series. The control scheme is possibly the least like senseless waggling of the Wiimote of any Wii game yet. The spatial motions seem to make sense, which is good because there are quite a lot of moves to master in the game. Like almost all of the modern Nintendo games, this one has a great and intense story. This really draws the player in, but doesn’t really allow for casual gaming. As much as I wanted friends to be able to jump in and play around to see how great it was, this just isn’t a game and story that allows for this sort of thing. This game is an epic novel that rewards attention, time, and dedication; much the opposite of many Wii games.


Metroid Prme 3: Corruption

Metroid Prme 3: Corruptionrated a 90 at Metacritic.

As for Metroid Prme 3: Corruption, I am not really a fan of — nor particularly good at — first person shooter games2. But I mean wow. This game is so much fun due to its perfect balance of shooting action, exploration, and puzzle solving. It isn’t particularly difficult to explore and complete most of the tasks but I can imagine that to be truly fast and efficient this game would require a lot more skill than I have. Efficiency is something that the Metroid series has traditionally rewarded and I suspect that MP3 has that aspect in it. Also, this game really captures a lot of the exploration and back-track elements of the old-school Metroid games. In spite of the lesser horsepower in the diminutive Wii when compared to other 5th generation consoles and PCs, this game has beautiful visuals and amazing detail. I believe that this represents the greatest first-person shooter ever created.


Super Mario Galaxy

Super Mario Galaxy – rated a 97 at Metacritic.

The delayed Super Mario Galaxy was probably one of the most anticipated Wii games since the console’s release over a year ago. Having not had much desire to play many of the 3D Mario games, I found myself pleasantly surprised by this game. The controls and camera angles make playing the game very natural. Galaxy has some of the same nods to Mario games of the past that Super Paper Mario does, and even much of it’s humor (though with a few less cracks in the fourth wall).

These games represent the quintessential set on the Wii with respect to Nintendo’s heritage. Of course, you still have to consider Wii Sports as an important Wii game for its demonstration of the control mechanisms. However, the three games above, represent Nintendo’s advanced story-telling in combination with the innovative controls, as well as paying tribute to the characters that put Nintendo on the map.


  1. I had considered writing this article months ago, including Super Paper Mario as part of the big N Wii trinity; a game that I’ve come withing about ten minutes of beating (pathetic, huh?). However, SPM is kind of a platform/rpg hybrid and was seen as being outside of the true Mario legacy. That being said, it is an amazing game and loads of fun. Also, it could be argued that the Metroid Prime series of games aren’t really full-on Metroid games, either. Me, I’m just interested in some really great games, so I’ll not be too picky. []
  2. Although, I must admit that Bioshock and Portal look great and Halo 3 almost makes me consider buying a 360 – (but not really). I still can’t think of any reason other than "cheap Blu-Ray player" to want a PS3 []

A New Direction For My Career

Bentley

As a result of our moving, I have taken a position of Senior Technical Writer with Bentley Systems, Inc. Specifically, I’ll be working with software in the structures group. In the past three years, Bentley has acquired several big names in structural engineering software: REI (STAAD), RAM International, and more recently TDV GmbH (RM). I think that a number of engineers were surprised to see this move by Bentley (at least I was), particularly given the perception that STAAD and RAM were major competitors. However, as I’ve learned a bit more about the company and what the direction of the structures group appears to be in, it has become clear that they have in place a remarkable suite of structural applications. What’s more, they are position themselves to provide software for virtually any structure type or size. Along the way of polishing the elements to build this toolbox, they are integrating all of them so they are better equipped to work in the future world of Building Information Modeling, which is the new hotness in the construction and engineering world.

So, let me back up a bit and explain how I got here.

Though I have to admit it felt at first like taking a long shot at the time, I sent out some resumes to some engineering software firms to gauge their interest in hiring a structural engineer to work remotely. I was pleased when two companies, including Bentley, were interested. I did my best to learn all I could about the positions and products of both (I have been a career user of the products now in Bentley’s line, though). After learning more about what they had in mind for both their software and this position, I realized that this was indeed the correct career path for me. To put another way, I believe that while both are excellent positions, I wanted the job I felt was not just a good fit for me but a great one.

It is a bit daunting to leave behind a career in design, but at this point it really feels like the natural background for the work I’ll be doing in the future, rather than a total career change. The knowledge in design and working in a consulting office will be indispensable as a technical writer as well as to serve as a liaison between engineering clients and software programmers; getting to talk to them about what they’d like our software to do and present to them how they can achieve that.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about being so apprehensive about total life changes. Well, when this job came together, something inside me clicked and everything just felt right. It’s not most people’s idea of a dream job to work mostly at home writing and talking about engineering software, but it kind of is mine. I’m genuinely excited about the work I’ll be doing as well as the company I’ll be doing it for; one that really seems to be providing a great set of applications and is moving the industry forward in terms of technology and how to benefit designers.

Also, for the first time in my life, being a nerd isn’t a social drawback; it’s a lifestyle and a marketable skill set.


Freakosecurity

If you only read one interview with security and cryptography expert Bruce Schneier today, make it this one hosted by Freakonomics co-author Stephen Dubner, with questions submitted by his blog readers. Loads of great links to posts and articles by Schneier on issues of security, most of which comes down to questions of economics (and why it is on the Freakonomics blog). Just one short quote:

I write my passwords down. There’s this rampant myth that you shouldn’t write your passwords down. My advice is exactly the opposite. We already know how to secure small bits of paper. Write your passwords down on a small bit of paper, and put it with all of your other valuable small bits of paper: in your wallet.