Archive for the 'Misc' Category

Beijing Olympics

Sunday, August 24th, 2008

Sadly, the Olympics are once again over, leaving me with Olympic cravings until the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics roll around. In a couple of years I can look back on this post and remember the high and low points of the greatest Olympics to date. I'm sure I've left out a lot from both lists.

Worst Moments

Here's a brief list of what I found to be the worst moments in the Olympics.

  • Taiwan – It's complete bullshit that Taiwan had to participate under a different name (Chinese Taipei), couldn't use their own flag and instead competed under the "Taiwanese Olympic Flag", and would not be allowed to play their national anthem in the event of winning a gold medal (which they didn't).
  • Brazilian Soccer – In one of the early games against an over-matched opponent, one of the Brazilian soccer players scored a goal. Right after the ball rolled out of the goal another Brazilian player kicked the living shit out of the ball, sending it into the back of the net again. What a dick move.
  • Underage Chinese Gymnasts – Screw innocent until proven guilty. Those female Chinese gymnasts are too young to compete. You can make the argument that the rule itself should be removed (I disagree), but until then it is a rule. I think the Chinese government is involved in falsifying documents in order to allow them to compete. I honestly hope the truth comes out and the Chinese are stripped of the team gold as well as the affected individual medals.
  • Gymnastics Judging – An Olympics cannot seem to happen without there being several incidents of questionable judging in a gymnastic event. The worst this time was probably the women's vault finals and the women's uneven parallel bar finals. The vault was a blatant overscore for a vault with many faults, not the least of which was the attempted landing. The uneven bars was a low score that led to a poorly understood tie breaker. I'd prefer to see the days where athletes had to share medal positions in the event of a tie.
  • Women's Softball at an End – Unless something happens, this is the last Olympics for Women's Softball. Ironically, the dominance of the American women is cited as the reason for dropping the event (as well as an incorrect association with baseball). It's ironic because the U.S. women failed to win the gold medal this time, losing to Japan (a team they beat in the semi-finals). It's not our fault that other countries oppress their women (more than we do). Are we advocating canceling any event in which a country is dominant? Kiss diving good-bye (China won 7 out of the total 8 diving gold medals available and only one Chinese diver failed to earn a medal of any color). But diving is nothing compared to women's table tennis. 35 or the 86 women competing in table tennis in Beijing were born, raised, and trained in China and for all of table tennis the figure is 55 out of 155. They're so dominant that no one else has any hope of winning unless they import a Chinese player. Cancel it!
  • Fernando Gonzalez's Lack of Sportsmanship – Although the outcome of the match may not have been changed, James Blake's ball hit Fernando Gonzalez's racket and Gonzalez knew it in my opinion. He's just too much of a gutless pussy to admit it.
  • Women's Fencing is Unwatchable – Despite the fact that the U.S. women swept the medals in individual sabre, I can't watch that crap. It looks like a school yard slap fight with tent poles. But, what makes it completely unwatchable is the banshee-like scream the competitors let out at the end of every point.
  • Olympic Boxing Needs an Overhaul – Besides the looming controversy about attempted scoring manipulation by one or more countries, the scoring system and its execution are deeply flawed. The scoring in the Paddy Barnes versus Zou Shiming fight was outrageous. Body shots are never scored. The current score is readily available to each corner. This encourages late fight running by the leader who is assured a win if he can just stay out of scoring range. One of the things I have always liked about boxing is that it's one of the few sports in which you don't even know the score. Oh, and the rounds are too short. The rules of amateur boxing cheapen an already declining sport.
  • Lisa Leslie Wearing All Her Medals from Past Olympics – Sure, she's very accomplished being the only athlete to win team gold in 4 Olympics, but wearing all your past medals to the current medal ceremony was tacky.
  • Olympic Racewalking – The fact that NBC showed Olympic Racewalking not once but twice in late night coverage instead of showing other events with more mass appeal is moronic. Archery didn't appear once in televised coverage. Even though racewalking has been an official event since the 1908 Olympics, the "sport" is ridiculous. It should be dropped from the roster. At the very least, show something better than an hour and twenty minutes of hip wiggling mall walkers.
  • Microsoft Ruined Online Coverage of the Olympics – I couldn't/wouldn't view any of the online coverage (which sucked anyway because there was no audio commentary) because, inexplicably, someone cut a deal with Microsoft so that viewing required Silverlight. As much as I appreciate someone trying to cram their, arguably beta, technology down my throat I would have liked a more widely adopted, relatively platform independent, working browser-based video playback option. Is something suddenly wrong with Flash? Way to drastically cut your online viewership numbers. I hope whatever check Microsoft cut for them was a big one.

Best Moments

There were so many great moments. Here are some that really stuck out for me.

  • Opening Ceremony – Despite a terrible accident during rehearsals and other inevitable controversies, it was easily the best opening ceremony in history. The whole thing was amazing. The 897 human powered movable type blocks routine was jaw-dropping.
  • Women's Soccer U.S. versus NorwayTwo early misplays by the U.S. led to two goals for Norway within the first four minutes of the game. They were the only goals scored in the game, but I enjoyed the fact that nothing is certain. The heavily favored U.S. team screwed up and Norway beautifully capitalized on it. Good stuff.
  • Michael Phelps – Some people grew tired of it, but I never did. I watched every heat, every race. I thought the men's 4×100 freestyle relay was the most exciting Olympic moment I had ever seen. That is until I saw the men's 100m butterfly a couple of nights later. For me those are the two most amazing races in Olympic history, swimming or otherwise. I wish they would stretch out the swimming competitions to allow swimmers the possibility of competing in even more events. As it stands, the required turnaround time between heats and events makes it next to impossible even though a swimmer may be a competitive threat in numerous events. This picture of Phelps with a mustache is another favorite of mine.
  • Mark Spitz – It's related to Phelps, but I think it deserves a separate mention. The interview Spitz gave with Phelps on NBC was very satisfying. Spitz was incredibly gracious and well spoken. It's very refreshing to see someone whose amazing record has fallen be so incredibly respectful of the next guy, especially after hearing so many cry babies claiming they were better in their time. Let someone else sing your praises. Spitz did it right.
  • Dara Torres – She's a great story in general (competing at that level at 41 years old is awe inspiring), but I was even more impressed when she worked to delay the start of a qualifying heat so the Swedish swimmer could finish changing out of her ripped suit. Nice sportsmanship. I wish she had won a gold, but she was still amazing to watch.
  • Usain Bolt – Dominance in sports is sometimes extremely entertaining. Watching Usain Bolt prematurely celebrate in the 100m dash and still set a world record was awesome. I don't fault him for showboating. He's young (he turned 22 during the games) and is at the top of his sport. At least he got serious in the 200m when he again broke the world record with a head wind. It was also good to see him and Asafa Powell dancing in the finish area after again breaking a world record in the 4x100m relay. It's too bad the Americans are such butterfingers at baton passing (both the women and men were disqualified in the heats for dropped batons), but they honestly didn't stand a chance anyway.
  • Volleyball – All of the volleyball was outstanding. Men's and women's beach and indoor were extremely entertaining to watch. Lloyd Ball and Logan Tom emerged as two of my favorite players for the indoor men's and women's teams respectively. It's a terrible shame that the men's indoor team had to labor under such tragedy.
  • India vs Spain Men's Table Tennis Singles – The Sharath Kamal Achanta (India) versus Alfredo Carneros (Spain) match happened in round 1 and wasn't for a medal. What made the match interesting is that the two train together and had the misfortune of meeting in the first round. The two were as friendly as possible given the circumstances, giving each other plenty of time, warning one another when their play surface or paddle became damp with sweat, and apologizing profusely for net or edge balls. At the end of the match it was even hard to tell that Achanta had won because he refused to celebrate in front of his training partner whose Olympics had just ended.

Thoughts on the "China Problem"

China's fucked up, there's no doubt about it. No one likes their human rights abuses, the number of people forced from their homes to make the Olympics happen, their record on the environment, their totalitarian government, and a plethora of other problems and issues the country faces. Should we have boycotted the Olympics? I don't think so. Once they were given the Olympics it wouldn't be fair the the athletes to support a boycott. You could make the argument that they shouldn't have been given the Olympics in the first place, but I would still have to disagree. Even though every success economic or otherwise only makes the current government look better I think that cutting off China from the world isn't the answer. They've proven their ability and willingness to remain isolationists for centuries. I like to think engaging them culturally and economically can help open them up and hopefully turn many of their current problems around. If it happens it'll happen slowly. Only time will tell, but I don't think boycotting the Olympics would make the difference.

Looking Ahead to Vancouver

The next big Olympics will be in Vancouver in 2010. I'm hoping there's no talk of a boycott because of Canada's well documented maple syrup abuses. I'm giddy with excitement that those winter games will kickoff on February 12th, 2010. That means it's only a year and a half away rather than a full two years. Plus, since they're in North America, I'm toying with the idea of attending. Unfortunately, that would mean giving up my 24×7 television coverage. Would being there live make up for the loss? I'll have to think about it.


Twitter Update

Saturday, May 3rd, 2008

As I mentioned in another post, I'm giving Twitter a retry. I must say I'm enjoying it a lot more now that I'm not trying to treat it like other mediums of communication both in terms of what I follow and in how I use it to communicate. I'm definitely more willing to tweet things that don't warrant a blog post or an email.

A great example of this is when I was able to find out that a former co-worker had left their previous job. While that might be email or blog worthy, most people wouldn't bother putting that kind of information out there, but he tweeted it. As such, I didn't have to wait for that information to make it through the traditional grapevine. For once, I even knew about the news before some of the other people I know.

While I'm using it to keep in more constant contact with friends and former co-workers, some people are using it for a lot more. This post as a few recommendations for using Twitter that I found interesting. I'm not sold on a few of them, such as event updates. I realize that quite a few events are using Twitter to update attendees on things. This just seems like an alternative to email lists and RSS feeds. Does Twitter have better penetration than email or RSS? Is it just that I have more noise in my RSS reader? Won't Twitter suffer from that eventually? I don't know. It just seems like using an alternative form of communication just for the novelty of it.

Another use I've seen is people soliciting feedback or getting votes on an issue via Twitter. I think that's a great use, but I don't think I'll ever have enough followers to do it effectively. There's a big difference between asking your 1-10k followers for feedback and asking 20 people. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I should tweet the question (and get feedback from 1 or 2 people).

The idea of using Twitter to create and track ToDo lists intrigues me, but again, I just can't get my mind around the advantages. While Remember the Milk seems interesting I haven't gotten off my ass long enough to try it. I hear good things though.

Foamee is another one that I like. You can let someone know that you owe them a drink for something. I haven't used it yet. Maybe I'm too stingy with my kudos. Maybe I'm just an asshole. Who could say? Is my reluctance to use these and many, many other services that integrate with Twitter another example of me being too set in my ways to "get it"? Maybe in another few months I'll be writing posts about how I've come around to using them.


Things To Do When You're Bored

Sunday, March 11th, 2007

Besides spending way too much time on Jyte this weekend, I took an initial stab at making a logo for Dr. Nick Riviera's alma mater, per Matt's suggestion.



Blockbuster, Tivo, and Greasemonkey

Friday, March 2nd, 2007

Someone asked for a Blockbuster version of the Netflix Greasemonkey script I wrote. I signed up for the free two week trial and got it working, I think. It's not very different from the original Netflix version, just some stripping of extra characters like "|WS|" or "|Unrated|" that Blockbuster adds to the title. Feel free to download it from here.


Update: BlockBuster made some minor changes that broke that version of the script. I've made some minor changes to fix things. I updated the link in the post to point to the new one. If you can't be bothered to find that link, you can get it here.

Update: I updated URLs to which the script applies and added quotes around the search title to get more exact matches. As always, you can get it here.

Update: Blockbuster started including the year of the disc in parentheses which would throw off the search so I stripped that information out before hitting the TiVo search site. I also changed the link to the TiVo site so that it would open in a new window/tab. I found myself always shift clicking the link so I just put it in the script.


eBay Documentary

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007

I've been trying to be a bit more focused with my television viewing. I recently started going through the Tivo guide and searching for documentaries every two weeks or so. You find some pretty interesting stuff buried in the wee hours or on channels that I don't regularly watch. One very nice documentary on eBay (The eBay Effect) will be showing again on CNBC a couple of times on 1/21/07. I highly recommend it.


More Online Madness

Saturday, October 21st, 2006

Dictionary Dancing

As I mentioned previously, my wife plays a lot of Disney's Virtual Magic Kingdom. VMK has been targeted at kids and is therefore "kid friendly." This means that they run everything you type through a very limited dictionary to prevent all that dirty talk. You can't talk about any personal details, exchange any personal information, or try to intentionally circumvent the filter. You can't even use numbers since a kid could give out their phone number to a pedophile.

This leads to the art of "dictionary dancing" where players use words that are in the dictionary to try and communicate information. For example, I might say my high score in a game was "too ate tree though sand" for 283,000. The staff mostly looks the other way on these types of exchanges, but you can still be warned or temporarily banned for such things. The more interesting thing is that certain word combinations are flagged and sent to an event log. The live log monitored by some Sulake staffer sitting at home. Phrases like "yeah who" are sent to them so they can evaluate the conversation and determine if, for example, that person is trying to communicate their Yahoo! name to someone. If that's the case you can expect a ban of some duration.

We Gotta Get Out of This Place

All of this leads to some pretty tame conversations in game. If you read my other post you know that a lot of adults wind up playing VMK. Since people crave better conversations and since VMK closes at midnight CST the "after hours" discussions have to happen somewhere. At some point a lot of players started having chats via IRC.

On one of the channels, any time a new person showed up (that no one knew) the regulars would put them through the ringer of questions. It's kind of like hazing. They'd ask them about their hair removal habits with regards to their genitals, anal / oral sex, penis / breast size (usually one person doesn't get both of these questions), public sexcapades, etc. After the introductory period the conversation was pretty normal, with slightly sexual tendencies.


After a while more of the players migrated to something called IMVU. It's 3D avatar chat. You can buy more adult clothes, perform more adult moves, etc on there. One of the more interesting aspects of IMVU is that players can "develop" their own in-game items.

They have a set of developer tools you can download that will allow you to create our own items based on anything in their catalog that is marked as "derivable." You can then use a simple paint program to change the opacity of areas of the item and the color of the item. Making your own t-shirt with some custom text would take you a few minutes. You can then pay IMVU credits to list the item in their catalog so others can buy it for a price you set. You then get a portion of those credits on every sale.

You can also completely create new items if you have more skill and access to a copy of a 3D modeling program like 3D Studio Max. The other cool thing is that IMVU makes it easy for developers to sell their in-game credits to other players for cash.

Numerous copyright enforcement issues aside, this is just plain bad ass. By making it easy for people to create stuff you have a nearly endless army of developers. Developers that in this case are paid for directly by your other customers. The lure of "easy" money as well as a fairly cool creative outlet keep the new ideas gushing in.

IMVU itself makes money by selling things like credits, the ability to have a permanent name, and adult passes (extra moves, full nudity, more access control to your IMVU home page, etc). And because it's not a game, people never "win" and stop playing. It isolates the social aspect of massive multiplayer online games. Of course the absolute king of doing all of these things is Second Life. I'll have to go into its strange details in another post.


It's a Mad x 4 (Online) World

Saturday, September 30th, 2006

I am constantly fascinated by the myriad of subcultures that pop up everywhere. These little groups have their own hierarchies, vocabulary, etc. These communities are centered around various hobbies, collectibles, professions, and any other of a variety of interests and pursuits. Like most people, I've experience some of these odd little groups first hand and thought it might be interesting to post about.

Virtual Magic Kingdom

Being a big Disney fan my wife enjoys playing Disney's Virtual Magic Kingdom. In short, VMK is a free multiplayer online game that is Disney themed and targeted at pre to early teens, even though an awful lot of adults seem to play it. There are in-game games like fireworks (a little like Missile Command) and Pirates of the Caribbean (ship to ship combat) that allow players to compete and earn credits. Credits are spent buying clothing, rooms, and furniture for the rooms. And that's pretty much it.

Although the game is free, Disney tries to use it to drive interest to other products. For example, when Herby Fully Loaded came out on DVD it came with a VMK card that had a code on it. Using the code in the game got you a helmet, shirt, pants, shoes, poster, and a couch that looked like the car. All of this in-game–no physical items other than the card. They've also done Disneyland vacation packages that included virtual clothing items.

Disney has printed a whole line of actual physical cards that have codes on them. You get the cards through a variety of promotions and use them in game to get virtual items in the game. They also give away "rare" virtual items in the game during different contests (like who can make the best looking room) also in the game.

The Haves Versus the Have Nots

Some of these virtual items are rare. Sure, another copy can easily be made, but they're not. (There was a short lived hack tool that allowed people to clone items directly from the trade window, but this was fixed. Plus the tool was being used to harvest passwords.) The number of a particular item in the game may be very low and because of this it becomes a prestige item in the game. Players that have them show them off while the players that don't have them desperately want them. Luckily players can trade items with each other.

A great example of a rare item in the game is a pair of green flip flops or simply "green flips." When VMK opened around May 2005 they were in beta. Some of the items available for sale for credits during the beta period were no longer available when the game officially opened. One of these was green flips though other color flip flops were still available.

The game is hosted for Disney by a company named Sulake (which also runs Habbo Hotel from what I hear). Sulake employees have avatars in the game to help players out by answering questions, settling disputes, etc. After the game opened they thought it'd be great to have a uniform to make themselves more easily identified. They picked a green t-shirt, green baggy pants, and green flips all of which had been made unavailable to normal players. The "value" of all of these items instantly shot up. Anyone that had acquired the item before it was taken out still had it. Unfortunately the number was very small with the order of rareness being shirts, pants, then flips.

Getting green flips in the game was next to impossible unless you were willing to trade a plethora of hard to find items and could find someone willing to part with such a prestigious item.

And Then There Was EBay

Some people finally began to clue in to the fact that you could sell these 1's and 0's on EBay. Strangely you could also sell the cards that had the codes on them, even though the code had already been used. Ah, the instant collectibles market. Is there anything sweeter?

The highest amount I've heard of green flips selling for was $1500. Here's a semi-recent screen cap of some closed EBay auctions for VMK items. Keep in mind that, besides the cards, none of these items are real.

VMK Ebay Auctions

One thing I found funny is that it is against your EULA to sell items from the game. This lead to many of the auctions listing a condition of sale being that you are not an employee of Disney or Sulake. Since the transfer of the item happens in game you could theoretically be banned for the sale. Sure you could try to use a second character to trade the item, but since all IPs are logged you'd have to jump through even more hoops.

It really doesn't seem to matter all that much to Disney though. VMK people are aware of the EBay auctions. Even though they're against the rules they are good indicator that people will spend money in promotions related to the game. On top of that it alludes to the fact that many more adults are playing the game than originally thought, despite the effort to market to 12 year olds.

Time to Cheat

Of course as soon as you start seeing real money rear its ugly head it's time to work the system. One way that VMK handed out super rare codes was to have web based games and quests external to VMK proper. These games would randomly hand out the "good" code in addition to spewing out plenty of codes for less valuable items. Eventually some people have figured out the URL patterns for the rare item codes and were able to skip the randomness altogether. They then turn around and sell the items for money to less industrious players.

VMK (Sulake specifically) became aware of the cheating and decided to ban all players that entered more than a set number of these super rare codes. Unfortunately the cheaters didn't enter the codes themselves–they just sold / traded the code. So, the wrong people were banned (and eventually unbanned with stern warnings).

Instant Devaluation

The disadvantage of the value of virtual property is that it can lose its value very easily. Recently VMK has been re-introducing super rare items from its beta period. Despite the fact that this makes the have-nots happy it sure pisses off the people that spent a lot of time and effort getting the item. This is especially true given the fact that VMK doesn't seem to communicate with its players very well. One day you log on and find out the item you paid $500 for on EBay is now selling for 500 credits (a very low amount). This has a tendency to piss people off, to say the least.

I know of two people that have made over $10,000 apiece selling these virtual items. When you think about the possibility of having $10,000 in virtual inventory instantly become worthless it might make you start to think about selling that shit off. So, not having a clear policy / agreement with their players about re-introducing rare items has caused Disney to drive its players to break their EULA, even though Disney doesn't seem to care.

More to Come

Like I said, I'm fascinated by these subcultures. I'm even more fascinated by virtual communities, the value of virtual property, how hosting companies manage their customer relations, and the new legal implications of it all. With that in mind I'm sure I'll have another couple of posts on related topics.


Feed Bigot

Tuesday, February 21st, 2006

I have already reached the point that I will not pay attention to a site's regular updates if there is no RSS feed. This is the 21st century, people! I will not live like a common animal, checking sites on a daily or weekly basis to see if they've added new content (isn't that how animals browse the web?). And yes, I know that there are other options for me to work around the deficiencies of these sites–but I refuse. That's why I'm a bigot. I'm intolerant of those that differ from me in terms of RSS feeds.

Well, I'm going one step further. I'm going to start unsubscribing to feeds that only publish titles or summaries. There just isn't any point to making me visit their site. Ad revenue? Include the ads in the feed if you insist. Is it that they have too much bandwidth and would prefer multiple people hitting their site rather than a smaller number of feed aggregators (ignoring the issue of repeated hits from desktop aggregators for the moment)? Oh, I know. They've done such a good job on designing their site that their pee pees would shrivel up if no one saw it.

I'm convinced that sites that attempt to deliver regularly updated content without an RSS feed will eventually atrophy and fall off the internet. As for people that only publish titles / summaries in their feeds: "You're dead to me boy. You're more dead to me than your dead mother."


As far as I know, the blog of the Barney character on How I Met Your Mother is the only exception I'm willing to make (there's a title only feed).


Another Potato Head

Thursday, December 22nd, 2005

If you know me, you know I've got a couple of Mr. Potato Heads. Well, there's another nice Star Wars themed toy on the market. That's right, the Spud Trooper is available, complete with a little potato masher instead of a blaster. Does it get any more brilliant?


Ring-a-ding-ding, Baby

Thursday, October 27th, 2005

I was talking about ring tones with some people at work yesterday. It reminded me that I had wanted to get better ring tones for my wife's phone. I don't need them since mine is on vibrate most of the time. In particular, I wanted the "They Meet" theme from Ms. Pacman. A lot of games have surprisingly good sound tracks, so it'd be cool to be able to do the whole thing myself. There are pretty good instructions on converting WAVs to QCPs on the SprintUsers forums which should work well for any phone that supports QCP ringers.

Now the only problem is that while MIDI songs that could be used as ring tones are pretty easy to find, crop, and transfer, I didn't have a MIDI file for the Ms. Pacman theme (plus, why would simply transferring a MIDI file to my phone be cool?). It turns out that the latest version of Mame32 (an arcade emulator) supports dumping the sound from the game to a WAV file. I loaded up Ms. Pacman and played to level 3 capturing the desired sound.

After that, I just loaded the WAV into my favorite audio editing program (the forums recommend WavePad although I have not personally tried it). I boosted the volume and then saved the file out to a lower quality mono WAV file. I then used the command line utility provided by Qualcomm called PureVoice to convert the WAV to QCP. Finally, I sent the file to my phone using the Phone Uploader web site that has worked well for me in the past. The uploader was originally intended for Sprint phones, but should work with quite a few other providers.

I'm happy with the end result. It seems like a good set of steps for converting any audio file to a QCP ring tone. I'd recommend trying it out if you're interested. It beats the hell out of renting a ring tone for $2.50 for 90 days.