Google Checkout sees poor customer satisfaction: Duh.


2007-01-21 19:01

Google Checkout Sees Poor Customer Satisfaction, says Slashdot.


I recently tried using their system to buy something from a company I’ve been buying stuff from for years. I got $10 off, but it cost me about three hours of work. Google’s system makes it so the vendor never sees my “real” email address; instead, they see a magic one used by Google to forward mail to me. The idea is, if the vendor spams me, then Google can stop them. Brilliant!

Here’s the thing: It doesn’t work that way in practice. You see, because Google Checkout can supposedly stop the mail, they make no effort at all to track what mail I might or might not want. In particular, right after I got my order confirmation (definitely want that!), I started getting promotional mail, aka spam.

Well, here’s the problem. Remember how the address is secret? There’s nothing in the mail I receive (from Google) that the vendor could use to identify my complaint. They [b]can’t[/b] say “stop mailing this guy”. They have no ability to do anything but send mail to “everyone Google thinks should get our mailings” or not send it. Since some people probably want the mailings, that’s a rough choice to face.

Google ignored my initial support requests and complaints. Also, the “stop getting this mail” link didn’t work. I tried again, and again, and eventually it worked. (By this time, we’re talking maybe five or six mailings over a couple of weeks, multiple queries to Google and to the vendor, and so on. Searches of FAQs… You get the idea.) There’s just one problem.

The ONLY option available is “block every last piece of mail from this vendor”. That’s it. So if I’d gotten this done right away… No shipping confirmations. If I had a problem with the product, no way to communicate with the vendor through the “secure” channel Google’s supposedly providing.

And, if I buy from them again? The spam hydrant goes on again. There’s no way to express the concept “I want order confirmations, but not promotional mailings.” The ability to shut off all mail has blinded them to the possibility that you might want to shut off only some, and the net result is a useless system which replaces the slim hope you had before of getting order confirmation, but not spam, with an ironclad promise that you [b]will[/b] get spam until you take steps that [b]will[/b] block all legitimate contact from your vendor.

Neat idea, guys, but it needs work. Like, say, you need to not send promotional mailings to people who don’t ask to be put on the vendor’s promotional list, and you need to distinguish between transaction-related mailings and promotional ones.

Of course, they don’t much care. So far as Google’s concerned, the moment I succesfully got the contact stopped, everything’s done. Granularity of control is not something that Google Checkout is yet interested in.

This isn’t to say they’re worse than PayPal. Google’s incompetence left me getting promotional mailings I didn’t want. PayPal is part of eBay, who have spammed me with actual malice [b]and[/b] (later) with incompetence. Google doesn’t really have the flexibility to express preferences. On the other hand, eBay’s attitude towards them is worse; spam industry people refer to the act of changing people’s account settings to “I want promotional mail” without notification or permission as “ebaying preferences” because they were pioneers in the field.

Devil, meet deep blue sea.

Peter Seebach



William Carlos Williams is laughing in his grave


2007-01-20 12:51


I have damaged
the cat
who was trampling
my keyboard

and who
probably held
sentimental value
for you

Forgive me
but I get jumpy
when I can’t see
the screfdgdtsen

The original remains my favorite love poem of all time.

Peter Seebach



Why Nintendo seems to be winning


2007-01-15 19:11
Comments [2]

I’ve been hanging out on a PS3 board (because I’m doing paying work on the PS3 right now), and I’ve noticed something. Many of the PS3 fans are absolutely confident that the Wii will “get boring” once people are “used to the controls”. They’re seeing it entirely in terms of novelty value; that the controls are attractive only because they are unfamiliar.

It is not so.

The Wiimote is not fun until you get used to it; it is fun because you are instantly used to it. Expecting people to “lose interest” and prefer games with traditional controls is like expecting that every computer artist and CAD designer in the world is going to suddenly realize that, in fact, they’ve pretty much gotten all of the novelty value out of tablets and they’d rather use a mouse.

Let’s use a concrete example. Since the earliest computers I can remember, there’s been bowling games. When I was a kid, we had a giant computer with a dishwasher-sized disk drive unit; a Wang Systems 2200. It came with a small selection of sample games written in their own variant of basic, including football, bowling, and golf. The bowling game worked like this. It drew 10 little vertical lines on the screen (these were probably just pipe characters — | — but I don’t know, not having seen them in twenty-five years; the machine definitely had no graphics, though, so they were text). A little line with a caret at the end moved back and forth at the bottom of the screen. When it was pretty close to lined up with a good spot, you hit F15, and the caret moved up the screen and you got points.

A number of systems have had bowling games since then. On the Atari 2600, you got ten little squares, and a very slightly non-square thing which rolled towards them. For quite a while, controls were not much more complicated than aligning the ball with the pins. On the gamecube, Super Monkey Ball had a bowling minigame, which had a line from your starting position bounce rapidly back and forth across the lane; you pressed a button and the ball shot out at whatever angle it happened to be aimed at; most of the time, this was not what you wanted.

In every one of these games, the control system was a fairly indirect abstraction. The more recent ones might have some kind of system for imparting spin, but it was always an abstraction; you would, for instance, press a button, or move a joystick.

In the fairly simplistic bowling game in Wii Sports (the pack-in game for the Wii in North America), bowling works like this. You hold your arm in front of you, in essentially the posture most people use when bowling. You hold down a button on the control; the button is held with your finger in a way consistent with a natural grip of the device, so it just feels like “holding on”. You swing your arm back, and then forward, and when you want to let go of the ball, you do. Spin? If you turn your wrist while bowling, you can impart spin to the ball. You use a joystick to set your initial position and intended angle, but once those are set, the actual control over speed and spin is essentially the same as actually going bowling.

My four-year-old nephew, Michael, is a big fan of Wii bowling. His accuracy rate isn’t very good; sometimes he rolls the ball backwards. But he can bowl, and he enjoys it. He enjoys it so much that he made us take him out bowling, in fact. (He’s not big enough; we eventually settled on having Matt pick him up and swing him, so Michael could drop the ball, and this allowed him to get it moving down the lane fast enough that it didn’t confuse the bowling machine.) But that’s the thing; apart from the four-year-old not having the physical size and strength to bowl, it’s pretty much the same. He does a little better on Wii bowling, because the minimum strength bowl is a little harder, and actually knocks pins over.

(And yes, I just compared Wang bowling to Wii bowling.)

This, I think, is why Nintendo codenamed the system “revolution”; because it really is a revolution in game interfaces. The variety of options is incredible. When you add in the secondary “nunchuk” controller, you have fully independent motion and tilt sensors for both hands, not to mention the Wiimote’s option of being used as a pointing device. Even in the early (and often fairly rough) games available for the Wii, the controls tend to be effortless.

For another example, let’s look at the “Marvel Ultimate Alliance” game, available for Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii. Like most modern games, MUA is based on a 3D engine; you see the game from an overhead perspective, at an angle. Many 3D games give the user a certain amount of control over the camera, and MUA is no exception. Most games implement camera controls as a sort of alternative mapping of the buttons on the controller; say, you hold down a given button, and while you’re holding down that button, the joystick that otherwise moves your character will instead move the camera. There’s other options, but what they have in common is that moving the camera pretty much always prevents you from controlling the game normally; it ties up a finger, or a thumb, or a button, and makes it so that certain game actions cannot be performed while using the camera.

On the Wii port, the camera is turned by tilting the nunchuk controller left or right. Tilt harder, it turns faster. This doesn’t interfere in any way with any other control the game has; you can continue interacting with the game normally while doing it. Not only that, but it’s essentially free of mnemonic load; you don’t have to remember it or think about it. You don’t have to remember which finger it’s on. By the time you’ve spent five or six minutes playing, the camera is just always facing the way you’re trying to look.

Sony’s “sixaxis” controller has accelerometers too, but it is in essence a traditional controller. It has no pointing device; you can’t aim it in the direction of the screen and expect a game to know where you’re pointing. However, that’s not the only way in which it’s an also-ran to the Wii controllers. The obvious one is simply that the Wiimote and nunchuk are independant; you can tilt them in different directions, you can move them independantly, and so on. So, of course, that gives you more simultaneous controls. There’s a more subtle difference, though. Like every controller since the Nintendo Entertainment System’s original rectangular box with a D-pad, the sixaxis is designed to be a two-handed controller. (There have been rare exceptions to this rule; many joysticks are one-handed.) What this means is that the motion sensing of the sixaxis has to be used as though you were wearing handcuffs. You can only move it to those positions and orientations in which your hands can retain their essential relationship of being about five inches apart, facing each other. You can’t move your hands separately, and you can’t even move them in many of the ways you can move a single hand alone.

So, Nintendo has the best controller the console world has ever seen. Yeah, there are a couple of games out there that might not play well on it, and Nintendo sells alternative controllers for use in those rare circumstances. Still, in a “number of playable games” comparison, the Wiimote wins by orders of magnitude.

That’s not the whole story. They have also done something innovative at another level; they have made development cheaper and easier than the competition. At a time when developers are struggling to recoup the costs of games which cost $5 million or more to make, Nintendo is offering mature development tools and a fairly straightforward system. The Wii is often criticized as being little more than an upgraded version of their previous system, the Gamecube. There’s some justice in this; the CPU and graphics hardware of the Wii appear to be very close indeed to mere 50% overclockings of essentially the same hardware the Gamecube had, although the Wii has substantially more memory. (They may have additional features, not just more speed; I don’t think anyone knows.) On the other hand, the Wii has wireless networking built in; neither the 360 nor the cheaper model of PS3 has this, so your next option over is to buy a separate gizmo and set it up, or to buy a $600 console instead of a $250 console.

But Nintendo’s decision to forego High Definition (HD) gaming is another big draw for developers. Even famous developers who are working on getting every last drop of power they can from the PlayStation 3 have been skeptical of the benefits of HD; Kojima Hideo, the developer of the Metal Gear Solid series, dismisses HD, claiming he is not at all interested in it — and that he plans to develop something for the Wii as soon as he can get his current project shipped. HD means higher resolution; that means that developers need to develop more detailed models and more detailed textures for those models. These are large portions of the cost of game development, and the costs of higher resolution models and graphics are higher. A system that simply doesn’t output high-definition signals could be substantially cheaper for developers to target. Throw in Nintendo’s lower price, and the extra years of polish their developer tools have (given the close relationship to the Gamecube tools), and you have a very attractive deal; developers get to work with something genuinely interesting (and nearly all game developers are interested in interfaces; you can’t do much with a game if you don’t care about how it is controlled), and they get to do it cheaply.

Tack on that the Wii’s impressively successful word of mouth campaign has it outselling the PS3 by at least a 2:1 margin, and you have all the components for a very, very, successful system. Developers like to target systems with a large user base; users like to get systems with a lot of games. The Wii may offer them both an opportunity to get what they want, at a much lower cost for both users and developers than the competition.

Playstation and Xbox fanatics dismiss the Wii as a toy. The “Revolution” codename seems especially apt when you consider the effect that Nintendo is having on the multi-billion dollar games industry simply by realizing that, yes: A console is, in fact, a toy. Here’s to a toy that is cheap, well-built, and fun to play with!

Peter Seebach

Comments [2]


Amiga RDB disk partition unpacking utility


2007-01-11 14:19
Comments [6]

I’m too lazy to publish this properly or clean it up.

There are a number of programs and utilities and things out there, even operating system mount utilities, to access or mount Amiga disk images.

That’s great, but they are really utilities to access Amiga partition images. If you have an actual physical hard drive (not a floppy) containing multiple partitions, it’s not immediately trivial to get the partitions extracted so that other utilities (such as adflib/unadf) can read them.

Enter “amiga_rdb.c”. This trivial program, written in 100% generic ISO C, should be able to read a dumped image of a raw Amiga hard drive, and extract from it all the named partitions on it, in ADF format (which is, in fact, just the raw bytes of those partitions). The header it’s reading is called the “Rigid Disk Block” or something similar, or “RDB”. NetBSD/amiga interprets them natively, which is neat, but the entire point is that I don’t have any Amigas handy right now.

I have not tested this on big-endian systems, but ntohl is pretty commonplace on Unix-like systems, and should translate correctly on either sort; if you don’t have it, just assume it forcibly interprets a big-endian 4-byte long in big-endian format.

Sorry for the lack of real formatting. I just want to make sure the next guy who needs to do this doesn’t have to spend the thirty minutes it took me. For future reference, the IDE standard sucks badly. It took me longer to find a machine that was physically capable of booting with an early-90s IDE disk attached to it than it did to do any other part of this. SCSI disks that old, if they spin up at all, Just Work.

Special thanks to Dave, whose hard drives I needed to read.

Since this seems to be acting up: amiga_rdb.c

#include <stdio.h>
#include <string.h>
#include <errno.h>
#include <stdlib.h>

/* */
/* Copyright 2006 Peter Seebach. No warranty of any sort, but good * luck! */

part(FILE *f) { off_t here = ftell(f); char text32; int ret;

if (fread(text, 1, 4, f) != 4) { fprintf(stderr, “rdsk: can’t read partition header (%s)\n”, strerror(errno)); exit(1); } text4 = ‘\0’; if (!strcmp(text, “PART”)) { ret = 1; unsigned long bsize, heads, secs, tracks, low, high; unsigned char len;

fseek(f, here + 0×24, SEEK_SET); fread(&len, sizeof(char), 1, f); fread(text, sizeof(char), 31, f); text31 = ‘\0’; printf(“partition: %.*s\n”, len, text); if (len >= 0 && len < 32) text[len] = ‘\0’; else text31 = ‘\0’; fseek(f, here + 0×84, SEEK_SET); if (fread(&bsize, sizeof(long), 1, f) != 1) { fprintf(stderr, “rdsk: can’t read block size (%s)\n”, strerror(errno)); } bsize = 4 * ntohl(bsize); fseek(f, here + 0×8c, SEEK_SET); if (fread(&heads, sizeof(long), 1, f) != 1) { fprintf(stderr, “rdsk: can’t read heads (%s)\n”, strerror(errno)); } heads = ntohl(heads); fseek(f, here + 0×90, SEEK_SET); if (fread(&secs, sizeof(long), 1, f) != 1) { fprintf(stderr, “rdsk: can’t read blocks/track (%s)\n”, strerror(errno)); } secs = ntohl(secs); fseek(f, here + 0×94, SEEK_SET); if (fread(&tracks, sizeof(long), 1, f) != 1) { fprintf(stderr, “rdsk: can’t read tracks/cyl (%s)\n”, strerror(errno)); } tracks = ntohl(tracks); fseek(f, here + 0xa4, SEEK_SET); if (fread(&low, sizeof(long), 1, f) != 1) { fprintf(stderr, “rdsk: can’t read low cyl (%s)\n”, strerror(errno)); } low = ntohl(low); fseek(f, here + 0xa8, SEEK_SET); if (fread(&high, sizeof(long), 1, f) != 1) { fprintf(stderr, “rdsk: can’t read high cyl (%s)\n”, strerror(errno)); } high = ntohl(high); printf(”%ld-byte blocks/cyl: %ld\nlow: %ld\nhigh: %ld\n”, bsize, heads * secs * tracks, low, high); { int i; char name64; FILE *out; unsigned char *block = malloc(bsize * secs * heads * tracks);

sprintf(name, “%s.adf”, text); out = fopen(name, “wb”); printf(“saving partition %s, %d cylinders of %ld bytes\n”, name, (int) high – low, bsize * heads * secs * tracks); for (i = low; i <= high; ++i) { printf(”.”); fseek(f, i * bsize * secs * heads * tracks, SEEK_SET); fread(block, bsize, secs * heads * tracks, f); fwrite(block, bsize, secs * heads * tracks, out); } printf(”\n”); fclose(out); free(block); } } else { printf(“unknown partition type: %s\n”, text); ret = 0; } fseek(f, here, SEEK_SET); return ret;

main(int argc, char **argv) { FILE *disk; long b; long bsize; long next; char text5; text4 = 0;

if (argv1) { disk = fopen(argv1, “r”); if (!disk) { fprintf(stderr, “rdsk: can’t open file (%s)\n”, strerror(errno)); exit(1); } } else { fprintf(stderr, “usage: rdsk file\n”); exit(1); } fseek(disk, 0×0, SEEK_SET); if (fread(text, 1, 4, disk) != 4) { fprintf(stderr, “rdsk: can’t read disk header (%s)\n”, strerror(errno)); exit(1); } printf(“disk header: %s\n”, text); fseek(disk, 0×10, SEEK_SET); if (fread(&bsize, sizeof(long), 1, disk) != 1) { fprintf(stderr, “rdsk: can’t read blocksize (%s)\n”, strerror(errno)); exit(1); } bsize = ntohl(bsize); printf(“block size is %ld\n”, bsize); fseek(disk, 0×1c, SEEK_SET); if (fread(&b, sizeof(long), 1, disk) != 1) { fprintf(stderr, “rdsk: can’t read partition blockno (%s)\n”, strerror(errno)); exit(1); } b = ntohl(b); printf(“partition should be at block %ld\n”, b); fseek(disk, b * bsize, SEEK_SET);

while (part(disk)) { fseek(disk, 0×10, SEEK_CUR); if (fread(&next, sizeof(long), 1, disk) != 1) { fprintf(stderr, “rdsk: can’t read next blockno (%s)\n”, strerror(errno)); exit(1); } next = ntohl(next); printf(“next partition: %ld\n”, next); if (next != -1) fseek(disk, next * bsize, SEEK_SET); else break; } return 0;

Peter Seebach

Comments [6]


Dove foundation astroturf!

(Personal, Religion)

2007-01-07 21:35
Comments [3]

So, a while back, I wrote about the lying telemarketers at the Dove Foundation. According to some of the comments, people who have talked to them have found out that, in fact, the alleged operator is just a set of recordings being played back in vague relation to what you say.

The Dove Foundation is one of those entities whose underlying “mission” is stated so dishonestly that it makes peoples’ skin crawl. They claim to be “protecting children” from “bad media”. Of course, their definition of bad is based on a sort of whited-sepulchre version of Christianity, where the triumphalist theological masturbation of Left Behind, complete with self-righteous delight at the suffering of non-Christians, is upheld as a moral virtue. By contrast, anything that has any hint of “occultism” (by which they mean “magic that isn’t performed by Protestants”) in it is condemned. Violence is totally acceptable, as long as it’s based entirely on religion, but any other violence is vehemently rejected.

I oversimplify a little, but frankly, I only wish the above were just empty hyperbole.

Anyway, I’ve had a lot of interesting comments on that piece, but the two newest really highlight just how ethically empty these people are.

Our first exhibit, posted just two days short of ten full months after the original post:

Idiots!!!! The Dove Foundation is just trying to protect your children!!! Or have you already murdered(aborted) them. You liberal dyke hags sicken me!! Go to hell!!!

Now, let’s give a quick check. Does this post come even close to anything compatible with Christianity? Hmmmmmm.

The Gospel According to St. Matthew, Chapter 5, Verse 22
But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

I think “Idiots!!!!” comes close enough to qualify. But hey, it’s just Jesus, a well-known sympathiser with liberals and troublemakers. No problem.

Consider the tone and language of this comment. It’s amazing, isn’t it? Can you feel the love? I sure can’t.

But what’s most interesting here isn’t the venemous tone. I mean, we’re all used to people who are very proud of how Christian they are being unrepentant assholes to everyone else. We’re used to people who would rather wish us to hell than pray for our souls. That’s sorta normal these days.

What’s interesting is the unqualified, unsupported, assertion that the Dove foundation scammers are “protecting children”. From what, exactly? I don’t have any kids of my own, yet, but I certainly have kids around me. (Fewer than I used to. Given our correspondent’s tone, I assume the offense was intentional.) You may rest assured that we take every step possible to protect those kids. When Michael walks around playing superheroes, and saying he’s “breaking the bad people”, I tell him he shouldn’t break anything he can’t fix. It’s a heavy concept for a four-year-old, but unlike the Dove people, I’m willing to talk to him about the real issues, not pretend that hiding body parts from him will make him holy.

But hey. There’s more. A mere six hours and twenty minutes after the first one, we get another:

Oh, my gosh. That’s horrible! An organization that wants to protect children from the crap on TV. Even worst, they understand the importance of families? Who do they think they are? What gives them the right to care? Those bastards. lol

If I were them I would keep calling on speed dial, just because any adult that thinks their entertainment is more important than the health and welfare of child, deserves a lot worst than a call.

Get a life!


Now, there’s something you should all know. Comments on my blog are “moderated”. I post any comment that I don’t think is spam, even if it’s hostile or obviously false, but I do filter them. What that means is, the second comment was posted when the first comment was not yet visible.

So. Isn’t it interesting how similar the terminology is? Both of them call us “idiots”. In a language with as rich a supply of rhetorical invective as English, that’s sort of unusual already. But the talk about protecting children… Interesting, no?

To claim that the Dove Foundation “understands the importance of families” is so insipid as to be laughable. As to protecting kids from crap on TV, well, that’s an interesting way to spin it.

In the end, I think these two people show exactly why organizations like Dove are dangerous. They promote a kind of willful rejection of considered thought and dependence on external validation. Our correspondents show that they have no interest in raising their own kids; someone else has to do it for them. They can’t be bothered to make their own choices about television, so they want someone else to make ours, too.

The speed dial comment, I think, summarizes it. These people cannot conceive of an alternative to their own desires. They can’t imagine people who are trying to raise children to be adults, not just to be bigger, hairier, babies. And so they advocate harassment in the pursuit of a good cause, just as they advocate murder in pursuit of a good cause; the promotion of their particular exceptionally narrowly-defined view of Christianity.

Right and wrong, it turns out, are nothing more than team jerseys to these people. They’re just words for “us” and “them”. Cruelty isn’t the problem; differences in taste are.

Anyway, thanks as always for the comments. They were enlightening, and certainly helped explain certain things.

Peter Seebach


Comments [3]


Debunking... chocolate?


2006-12-31 10:14
Comments [1]

This is one of the finest pieces of investigative reporting I’ve ever read:

Dallas Foods debunks Noka chocolate.

It turns out that this insanely pricey boutiquey chocolate is just mass-produced chocolate bought from a particular vendor and, uhm. Cast. Into small squares. You know, like anyone could do at home.

Beautiful investigative reporting. If we’re lucky, their PR shill will post a comment on my blog pretending to be someone else. Watch carefully.

(For more, read about Dan, tireless defender of Noka chocolate, and PR shill extraordinaire.)

Peter Seebach

Comments [1]


Why gamblers lose money.


2006-12-30 02:41
Comments [1]

I found a card in the park. On one side was a detailed (and possibly even correct) chart of when to make which bets in a blackjack game to maximize your chance of winning.

On the other side was a Betting System. You know, a pattern of bets that is supposedly guaranteed to improve your odds. Here’s this one:

A betting system

So, the summary is this: If you win, you increase your bet. If you lose, you reset to your “normal” bet. The idea is that this will maximize the payouts of “winning streaks”, so you get more money when you are winning.

There’s just one tiny problem: It doesn’t have any effect at all, except to make you lose money faster if you win a couple of hands. Doing the math may be instructive, but it’s also a lot of work. The simple way to see it is this:

After each hand, either you have won money, or you have lost money. However, either way, your chances on the next hand are exactly the same as they would have been on any other hand. Betting more right after winning doesn’t do you any more good than betting more right after losing. It has the arguable advantage that, if you’ve just won, you have more money available to lose, but… That doesn’t really help you; you’re just betting that money too, and thus having a real chance of losing the money you just made as well as your regular bet.

They love to invent terms, but in the end, all the systems are bunk. (I’m not talking about, say, card-counting, which does work — which is why many casinos ban it.)

And as long as there are people out there willing to spend money to be told how they can definitely win next time, there will be people making money off them. Selling “systems” to gamblers is about the only way, other than running a casino, to consistently make money off gambling. Lots of people go broke betting that there ought to be a way to take advantage of “winning streaks”. No one ever goes broke underestimating the intelligence of the general public.

Peter Seebach

Comments [1]


PS3: First impressions


2006-12-29 04:38
Comments [3]

I have a PS3 now. It’s for work.

Thus, a few first impressions:

1. It is loud. I have a dual G5 system (2.0GHz, a year or so old), an Athlon 4000+, and an intel-based Mac mini all sitting at my desk. The PS3 is louder than the other three systems put together.

2. It is not exceptionally efficient at some tasks. I asked it to format the disk, splitting it into 10GB for PS3 stuff and 50GB for Linux. This took 215 minutes. Yes, that’s a tad over three and a half hours. To put it in perspective, if it wrote every single byte on that disk at the speed of a slowish drive, it would take about three hours. Given that there’s no need to do anything for the part of the drive being assigned to Linux (it was, after all, a factory-blank disk), it shouldn’t even have needed to do that. I assume the intent is that zeroing out the whole disk prevents people from filling the disk with PS3 stuff, then repartitioning and getting access to TOP SECRET FILES. Which they could get by putting the disk in another machine anyway. DUMB!

3. The basic UI is sorta mediocre. Having both this and a Wii, the Wii’s menu is IMHO more pleasant to interact with — of course, some of that is because the Wii has a pointer, and can give rumble feedback when the mouse goes over a button. The PS3 just has to have huge and complicated scrolling menus. Also, the very austere black and white motif just plain doesn’t look that nice; I’d rather see a bit more use of color.

4. The HDMI to DVI thing is good, but not perfect. My monitor is 1050 pixels tall; the PS3 identifies it as supporting 1080p (that is, 1080 rows per frame), and can even drive it like that — except that it gets occasional frames of pure static. Setting it to 1080i (540 rows per frame) seems to work just fine.

5. There is not a single game for this machine I want or care about.

6. I have no interest at all in Blu-ray movies. Why should I want a special way of making movies marginally better that limits me to a single expensive player, when I can buy regular DVDs and see them on anything I want?

7. The PS3 won’t drive my regular monitor, because that monitor doesn’t support the special copy-protection feature they require.

And here’s the thing: Everywhere you go on this box, you are reminded that Sony is in charge, and this hardware is not really yours to use, but theirs to let you use as they think best. Region coding back and forth, special limited access to the hardware for Linux (you don’t even get real access to the disk, you get filtered access that prevents your system from even SEEING the part of the disk used by the PS3), mandatory copy protection on the video output, etcetera.

This system is, fundamentally, built to keep you from using it. The system’s capacity is artificially reduced by the fact that parts of it are full-time dedicated to protecting it from possible unintended uses. The desire to provide “copy protection” trumps any question of “how can we make the best gaming experience possible” or “what would make this hardware useful”. The disc format used is designed first and foremost to increase the level of control given over movie-watching, making it as hard as possible for people to do things like “not watch all of these previews again” or “watch a movie that they picked up while on vacation in another country”. Well, that, and to give Sony royalty shares of the new technology, instead of one of their competitors. Nevermind that many of us would rather just have plain old DVDs which we can play in everything we own.

It’s gonna be an interesting project, and honestly, I expect to enjoy having it around and using it for some software development, but I think Sony has not yet learned anything from all their other fiascos. This is the company that installed an actual rootkit (software to gain control of a Windows machine and hide the fact from other software) on untold numbers of computers to try to reduce the frequency with which people copy songs from audio CDs they have legitimately purchased to iPods they use only for their own use.

They have not learned anything from this. More’s the pity; if it weren’t for that, I think the hardware would be incredibly attractive.

Maybe they’ll suddenly develop a clue and a future firmware update will open the machine up for third-party development on the whole machine, not just on a carefully-selected subset that’s supposed to prevent people from developing anything that Sony doesn’t want developed.

Peter Seebach

Comments [3]


Today's cool idea


2006-12-27 22:01
Comments [1]

I think there should be plastic bags using a plastic which dissolves in contact with saliva, but not in contact with water.

This should be eminently doable; we have a pretty good idea which enzymes human saliva contains.

Some number of kids suffocate every year because a bag gets stuck over their mouth and they can’t breathe. If the saliva that presumably gets on the bag from being over a kid’s open mouth broke the seal, even a little, they would be fine.

If you can do this, and make money at it, more power to you.

Peter Seebach

Comments [1]


ChristianForums: Defining marriage, part 2


2006-12-26 01:42
Comments [8]

So, to follow up from part 1, I’ll resume the story later in 2006, some time after the rules were revised to eliminate any reference to the definition of marriage.

Our story starts, not at ChristianForums, but at IIDB, where a former CF staffer (“oftenbuzzard”, at IIDB, aka “buzz”) makes an offhanded remark (October 11th):

Call me crazy but removing a person from CF staff who is in a transgendered “marriage” does not seem radical to me. I was not on staff at the time, but from your description in threads here…. I think Erwin made the right call.

This post was, for the record, not edited by staff; it might have been considered a flame, but by the time forum staff got to it, a substantial chunk of smackdown had already been administered on the wisdom of someone professing to be a pastor making snide remarks about other peoples’ marriages.

Anyway, other posts by this same poster crossed a number of lines; he had been gradually getting out of hand for a while. For instance, he responded to another poster with:

Your profile says you are 14 years old.
You will be in my prayers, my young friend.

Now, nearly anyone would already recognize the insult, but there was also a sarcastic “rolleyes” smiley in the original post. He denied that it was insulting, insisting that offering to pray for people isn’t insulting. (In and of itself, I don’t think it is; in a context like this, it’s condescending and insulting.) He was put on notice that he must agree to abide by the rules. (He summarized some of these events in his CF blog — but changed some of the names to blame the innocent.)

So, what do you think happened next? Simple. He went to CF and starts asking about what the rules are for the “married” icon in a user’s profile. Pure coincidence, do you think? The new thread was started on the 16th — only a couple of days after the previous hullabaloo died down.

The official answer is provided: The requirement to display the wedding-ring icon is that you selected “Married” in your profile. Our ex-staffer goes on to promote the idea that CF ought to adopt a formal standard and enforce it. The thread is closed.

A couple of days later, our friend posts a comment about a Christian tattoo site, directing it specifically (and by name) at a poster who has a long history of difficulty refraining from flame wars when tattoos are brought up. He is banned from IIDB on the 17th.

A couple of things happen.

One is that two users — ksen and rnmomof7, both Calvinists and close to buzz both personally and theologically — show up at IIDB claiming that Buzz was banned for insulting me. Untrue. Where would they have gotten that idea? Good question. But that’s not all.

On the 18th, ksen announces a new policy. According to this new policy, people may only declare themselves married if they are in a marriage consisting of one man and one woman. This policy is announced by someone who has publically stated that he believes that buzz (a friend of his, and a fellow Calvinist) was banned for his comments about my marriage.

In addition to the public announcement (which my logs show as being around 11:30 AM in my time zone), there’s a private staff discussion thread.

In that thread, someone asks the question:

ksen, in the US, if a person gets a sex change, they can be legally identified as the opposite sex, and can legally marry. There was a question asked about this recently in the rules forum – how does this ruling apply to this not altogether hypothetical situation?

ksen responds:

This must be seebs.

Ask him if his wife is a female. If he can’t answer “yes” unequivocally then he can’t use the married icon.

In later discussions, while denying that specific users were discussed in conjunction with this policy, ksen claims that he was the one who brought this policy forward. He claims there is no relationship to the banning of his buddy or his buddy’s decision to bring this up, but… He also makes a couple of other claims.

On the 19th, a full day later, ksen writes:

I NEVER said I considered you marriage invalid. Why would I? I know nothing about your marriage. Believe it or not some things that happen at CF actually have nothing to do with you.

So, he knows nothing about my marriage. Sure, the moment anyone mentioned a sex change, he was the first to mention my name.

He also reminds us, on the 19th, that he believes this is why our buddy was banned:

Apparently he can’t since he’s now banned for goring your particular ox.

But that’s okay. Really, he’s not aware of any problems:

Why should your rings be in danger?

Nevermind that he’s the one who, a day earlier, said that I had to meet particular standards (and given that he brought me up in that context, he presumably believed I didn’t) or I couldn’t keep them.

He claimed this was not a fishing expedition, but in context, I just plain can’t believe it.

So, anyway, time passes. They start trying to remove the wedding ring icons from a gay guy. My profile is, indeed, reported. Lots of public statements are made. We’re told that the language was always supposed to be there, it was just an “oversight” that it was removed. Not so; the person drafting the rules intentionally omitted that. We’re told that nothing changed, that this rule always applied to profiles. Not so; it was only ever applied to the content of posts before, and only indirectly. We’re told that staff do not gossip about users. Not so; staff exchange a number of speculations about what genitalia my spouse has.

In a fairly large thread, rnmomof7 first claims that God has appointed her in authority over the users of CF, and then goes on to state that she does not consider me validly married. In the public thread. This post is not edited, on the grounds that it is a personal opinion, and not a flame… In fact, had it been anyone not a conservative Calvinist saying it to just about anyone else, it would have been edited, but the executive team in charge of the site have a number of conservatives who were pretty mad at me. (I have since been told that any possibility of editing that post ended when flesh99 posted the contents of that staff thread on his blog. Why? Because it’s obviously my fault, and at CF, if you are party to breaking the Sekrits, it is not a violation of the rules to attack you.)

After more feuding and in-fighting, the rule is established that no gossip and searching things out will be ceased (well, eventually), but the rule will remain.

The question is, why? I mean, apart from the pure vengeance aspect, in which ksen and rnmomof7 beat me up because they blame me for their friend’s ban (even though they’ve been told repeatedly that it wasn’t a factor)…


The problem ChristianForums has is that it’s trying to be open to everyone, and that means compromise. On the marriage icon, there has to be a compromise between people who are horribly offended when anyone they don’t think is validly married gets to claim to be married, and people who claim to be married. You know, like the way we compromise in normal society between ravening lunatics who physically yank the rings off other peoples’ fingers, and the people who are just going about their business wearing rings.

The fact is, the arguments for this rule are all in vehement and consistent opposition to the site’s stated purpose, of uniting Christians. They are there because the site has a huge number of staff, especially the more dogmatic Calvinists, who feel that the best way to unite Christians is to exile the people they don’t think are good enough Christians.

And, for now, they’re winning, which is why I can’t post there. If I post there, moderators dredge up three month old posts and send me nasty notes about them. The open flames directed at me stay, because the people who posted them are friends with people in power, who will believe just about anything bad that’s said about me.

Ksen did eventually apologize for bringing up his beliefs about my spouse’s genitals in the staff forums. He has not identified a source for those beliefs, nor, I think, has he quite reached the point of understanding why the question was never any of his business.

IMHO, a great portion of the tragedy here is that all of these people seem to have bought into the notion that plumbing matters more than commitment. Not that they agree on how; some believe it’s the sex you’re born, others that it’s the sex you’re currently equipped for. But they’re very convinced that somehow this matters more than, say, anything else. Like commitment.

A lot of these people believe that, if I had dumped my spouse for being transgendered, that’d be a good and pure and clean and holy thing, and that this kind of ritual purity would mean more to God than love and commitment do.

And I am sad about this, because this means these people have never really found the point of being married. If your spouse came home and said “You know what? It turns out I’m transgendered. I’m not the sex you think I am, that’s just a sort of weird accident. I might get it fixed.”, and you immediately started worrying that your marriage was invalid… You haven’t gotten the point yet. There’s more to be had; you can be closer, you can be more in love. Keep working at it. One of my friends, in defense of these people, said it takes a very special kind of person to stay in those circumstances. Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it; the whole point of marriage is to become that special for someone, and to have them be that special to you.

But this definition will never be acceptable to the evangelical community in America, which uses divorce, disowning, and other tactics to eliminate gays and other undesirables from their family structures. When Jesus comes, they’re going to be all shiny and ritually pure, and as far away from the sinners as they can manage. Which, I think, may turn out to be rather bad luck for them.

Anyway, that’s most of the story of the marriage icon. There’s a lot more. There’s lies and abuse and so on. If you want copies of some of the threads, feel free to ask; I have, of course, saved just about everything.

Oh, and if you’re wondering why I wrote this post now, and not another time?

Because some years back, I saw in another person what God sees in all of us, just for an instant, and I said “‘til death do us part”, and I have never looked back. Against that, the question of whether my spouse is “male” or “female” is the most trivial of details; you might as well ask whether I’d get a divorce if my spouse wore a different-colored shirt, or changed hair color.

And twelve years ago, today, we exchanged rings. Happy anniversary, sweetie.

Peter Seebach

Comments [8]


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