Marvel Comics on the Nook

I’ve been a Nook user since I got a free Color last Christmas and liked it enough to upgrade to the Tablet on day one (which honestly is a somewhat marginal upgrade) and also a long time Marvel Comics reader though a few years ago I had to decide financially between LEGO and Comics and then once my finances had stabilized I still wasn’t able to return to the comics because I just don’t have any space for them. So when the Nook Tablet announcement included news that Marvel would be publishing exclusively on the Nook platform I was incredibly excited.

Sadly that announcement said essentially nothing about what they would be publishing and several weeks in, some of the shine has worn off the thrill of finally being able to buy Marvel comics digitally however I can say that it has not been a total disappointment. Currently Marvel is only publishing trade collections for Nook and the selection is still somewhat small. Today there are a total of 48 items available in the special Marvel Comics section, and that includes the five new items that were the first new items in two weeks.

The pricing for the trades is decent, though probably nothing to look forward to if you have already bought any of these in print, generally maxing out at $16.74 (currently only for Planet Hulk) and as low as $5.59 for several good items. Most items are within a dollar of $10.

Users of the Nook software on other platforms should beware: These purchases are ONLY viewable on a Nook Tablet or Nook Color with the latest firmware. I’m hoping they open that up a bit some day and since I’m a Tablet owner I’m don’t have too much of a problem with it, but it really feels like a purely artificial imposition for no good reason.

The reading experience is pretty good if not perfect. The default display is a full page taking up the entire screen and the text is quite readable and the graphics come through well. If you want to see detail a quick tap zooms in for a closer look. Tilting the device into landscape mode will resize to display two pages which is handy for big spreads, though makes the text unreadable at that size. Additionally the TOC navigation is visual rather then by page number so it makes it really easy to move around.

The actual problem from my point of view is the what they are publishing and when they are publishing them. Early in the release cycle they published books on either side of the story where Captain America was assassinated without publishing the story where the assassination happened. They seem to be keeping with that kind of idiocy with this week’s publishing of Spider-Man trades on either side of the One More Day storyline, though hopefully they’ll follow up next week with that story as well. The assassination story I wasn’t as bothered by since I had already read that one in print. I have not read the Spider-Man story and so it feels a bit spoilerish to be reading what happens afterwards and I might wait till they correct that oversight before I actually crack that one open.

The initial point of this post however was to make a note of the items that are available when they are released since I can not seem to find anywhere else on the net that talks about it and figured it might be useful for someone else. I’ve been checking the store daily for awhile so hopefully will keep this up for at least awhile in some format.

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Environment and Path Variables in InstallShield

For whatever reason I have either never had a reason to use an Environment Variable for a Path Variable in InstallShield before now, or it’s been long enough that I forgot how to do it so this morning when I went in to try and set one up I was a bit surprised to find it to not be quite as straightforward as I thought it might be.

I had originally just gone straight to the Path Variables section of the IDE [EDIT: after creating the environment variable before starting InstallShield] and created a new Path Variable entry and changed the type to “Environment” however no matter what I did I could not get it to resolve to the value of the Environment Variable that I had already created. The help files were no help and I didn’t see anything in a quick search on the InstallShield Community Forums (which are normally a great resource for exactly this sort of problem). I had been using InstallShield 2009 Professional and verified that it worked the same ways in 2010 and 2011. Eventually I stumbled on to this method:

  1. Create the environment variable on the system first through the usual methods.
  2. Open the InstallShield project that you want to use the variable in. (If you have the project open when you create the variable it does not always propagate until you’ve restarted InstallShield. It’s a fairly consistent problem with Windows environment variables.)
  3. In Tools | Options on the Path Variables tab, make sure you have either “Always recommend…” or “Always display…” selected. If you want to use an environment variable that an existing path variable points to you will want to either modify/delete the existing path variable or have the option set to “Always display…”.
  4. Add or modify the location of a file in some part of the IDE and use the environment variable in the “Browse for File dialog”. This could be in a component or in something like the signing certificate file location in the Release settings.
  5. When the “Path Variable Recommendation” dialog appears make sure to select “Create a new path…” and enter a name that is identical to the environment variable you want to use.
  6. Go to the Path Variables section of the IDE and change the Type for the new variable to “Environment”.

If you did everything properly the “Current Value” field should immediately change to “” where “VARIABLENAME” is the name of the environment variable that you are referencing.

If someone knows of an easier way of doing this I’d love to hear about it!

Installations in Windows 8

If you follow my Twitter stream you’ll have noticed that I’ve been playing with the Developer Preview of Windows 8 this morning. I’ve gotten a couple of funny looks from the family but to me a new operating system to play with and especially one with as many interesting changes as Windows 8 is pretty exciting.

As an installation developer though I figured I’d take a quick peek at things and see what was going on at this stage. The short version is: Quite a lot and very little.

The big news for setup developers is the introduction of an entirely new distribution model for the Metro Style applications using an AppX package which according to the documentation is “An app package is a container based on the Open Packing Conventions (OPC) standard.”. So pretty much it’s a zip file with some structured content. There is API access to the installation system but for the most part as far as installation development goes for Metro Style apps: A person with my specialized skills is not needed. Honestly, that’s pretty much a good thing.

Of course this being a Microsoft product it does provide backward compatibility for older technologies and so I was unsurprised to see only a minor increment to the version of Windows Installer in this build to 5.0.8102.0 and continued to be unsurprised by the log output from a test installer I threw together to check for any non-obvious operational changes.

For your perusal:

The few little differences:

  • The USERNAME property in Windows 8 gets set to a generic “Windows User” instead of the username.
  • Even though the authored MSI does not have a LaunchConditions action in either the UI or Execute sequences it appears that Windows Installer on Windows 8 is attempting to run it anyway and gets an error.
  • A few small errors that appear to occur while attempting to update the progress dialog during execution.

At a guess the last two can probably be put down to defects of some sort, but the first one could be interesting if it is not another defect. The installer was executed under an account that was generated using my Windows Live ID so I generated a local user (Which can only be done through a currently non-obvious method) and verified that it shows up the same there. Though the USERNAME environment variable is populated properly so maybe this is just another defect. I know I have used that property for installations a couple of times and it would be problematic if it was no longer populated.

For completeness sake I also ran a couple of classic InstallScript installers and everything ran fine there as well and the log output from those didn’t have any surprises.

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My Gaming in 2010 (Part 2): Xbox

(Read Part 1 here)

My Xbox 360(s) are where I spent a large portion of my gaming time this year, and the platform continues to provide me with a lot of entertainment for the money I invest in it. According to my count I played 57 different games on the Xbox this year. Granted, I didn’t spent a lot of time on all of them but I do remember the experience with most of them distinctly and fondly. LEGO Indiana Jones 2 and LEGO Harry Potter were the usual kind of fun. Lazy Raiders and Lara Croft had a couple surprising points of similarity while being utterly different and very entertaining. Spending time supervising the kids while they messed around in Tower Blocks Deluxe, Kung Fu Panda, LEGO Indy 2, LEGO Rock Band, and We’re In The Movies was almost always a good time as long as we didn’t get too competitive. There are a few though that really stood out more then the others.

Being a long time racing game fan I had been looking forward to both Blur and Split/Second. So, along with the rest of the racing fans, was both thrilled and disappointed that they would be released right on top of each other. The good part was that there were going to be some obviously excellent racing games available for us this year, but the down side was that the social component of both of them was going to suffer since they appealed to essentially the same audience. Not everyone was going to be able to afford to buy both and then we certainly couldn’t play them at the same time. At first Blur was my favorite. The multi-player demo offered early in the year played smoothly and provided a great introduction to the game that really whet my appetite for more. However when the game did arrive the only good part was everything that was present in that demo and the single-player parts of the game were simply awful. Split/Second also had a demo before release and it certainly had some spectacular visuals but the gameplay felt somewhat slow and unresponsive which is exactly what you do NOT want in a racing game like this. It should be wall-to-wall adrenaline. When the full game for arrived though it was obvious that the demo had been only the very tip of the iceberg. With lots of game modes (many of which are actually fun to play), plenty of very entertaining tracks, a really good single player progression, and adequate but fun online play it was worth much more of my time. I still haven’t quite gotten gold in every single event, and I don’t have the chance to play online as much as I would like to, but if you have to decide between the two it should be a pretty easy choice. To be clear, I would not call Blur a bad game but if you don’t play online it’s a complete waste of time and money.

The most enjoyable amount of social time I spent playing a game this year was with the critical darling Limbo. The social aspect was a bit unexpected given that Limbo is a decidedly single-player game. There are no online options, other then a fairly half-assed leaderboard, but what it did provide was some hours to spend time with my partner J while we worked through the puzzles together. Heck, she even took the gamepad a few times and on one particular section was the only one who could get us through it. This isn’t surprising in the “A girl was playing Xbox!” sense, so much as it was surprising in the “J managed to get over her distaste for the complexity of the Xbox gamepad!” sense and along with the shared experience of watching that little boy die over, and over, and over, and over while we did the best we could to move him to the end punctuated with those ecstatic moments of success while solving a particular section it was some of the best time I spent with her this year. Even if the game wasn’t one of the best games I have ever played, and it is, and if the visual style just by itself wasn’t worth giving it a try, which it also is, and if the genuine moments of terror, fear, and despair engendered by the game were possibly the best emotional moments I’ve ever seen in a game, and again they were, the experience was worth it to be on the couch next to her and doing it all together.

The video game that I played with other people the most however was somewhat expectedly Rock Band 2 and 3. I have a preference for the Rock Band series of games over the Guitar Hero games that I have never quite bothered to figure out and so this year’s release of Rock Band 3 was something that I had budgeted for, especially with the addition of the new keyboard parts and associated peripherals. After a friend who played with us regularly had tried the keyboard she decided she wanted to be able to play at home and so it was nice to be able to sell off one of my old Xbox 360’s to her and replace it with one of the new 360 S consoles in the living room. We haven’t been able to play online together as much as I would like but it is a lot of fun hearing about her regular improvement in the world leaderboards on the Pro Keyboard song parts. I do have some mixed feelings about Rock Band 3. I think that the new deconstructed interface is almost ideal. I can work on challenges or sets or pretty much whatever and it’s really easy to do so with whoever I want to play with. Additionally making it really easy to find the music that I want to play out of four years of track packs and DLC is somewhat of a miracle. However I don’t find that I want to play Rock Band 3 by myself the way that I did with LEGO Rock Band or even some of the earlier titles. At the same time that they have made the game pretty much the ideal version of what it needs to be I just don’t find that I’m interested in it as a single player game anymore, and that’s too bad. Additionally I find it disappointing that there does not appear to be a way to use a MIDI bass guitar for the Pro Bass parts and playing them on the upcoming Pro Guitar peripheral just doesn’t sound as interesting. It is still a great game and will likely provide plenty of fun for me and my friends of the next couple of years and that’s something I have found hard to get in videogames.

My biggest disappointment of the year was playing Midnight Club: Los Angeles. I had an interval in the spring where I really wanted to play a new racing game. I had gotten pretty much everything I wanted out Burnout Paradise and Need For Speed: Shift just hadn’t kept my attention so it was time to look around for what else was out there. Looking around MC:LA seemed like a fairly good bet given the reviews I had found so I decided to give it a try. The first 80 hours I put into the game were fantastic. The open world environment was well put together with enough shortcuts and not too much traffic. The density of police was a bit higher then I would like, but it just made it a reasonable challenge instead of being too easy. The cars had enough differences to be noticeable and their variety was pretty good. The ability to really customize the vehicles visually fairly easily was a nice bonus and I found myself taking a surprising amount of time getting the look exactly the way I wanted it. The career progression was very well done with enough challenge to require some work but not enough to discourage me from trying the same race sometimes ten times before I was finally able to win them along with easy ways to go find an easy race I could just blow through when the urge struck me. So if the game was this good why did I stop playing suddenly on April 11th and never put the disc back in? One word: Bigotry. While you are participating in single player races the computer opponents will trash talk. The implementation is really pretty impressive with distinct personalities and well recorded voice-overs for all of it and just enough variety that it only gets mildly repetitive. However I was getting to the end of the single-player career and I ran into a particular opponent who’s entire set of trash talk consisted of homosexual and gender slurs. The first time through that race it was irritating, but I figured it was somewhat of a fluke or that I had misheard some of it. The second time I quit the race and moved on to some other events while I thought about it. The third time, I turned off the console. It’s unfortunate but when I’m playing online and run into idiots that use the word “faggot” like punctuation or think they’re funny for thinking it’s demeaning that a female might be a better player then others (even when there are other females playing and beating them while they are saying it) at least in that case I have tools at hand to do something about it. I can say something, I can mute them, I can even report them to the enforcement team but with a game I don’t have any of those options. I have already given the company that produced the game my money and there is no reasonable return policy on software (slightly understandably) so there is effectively nothing I can do about it. Heck, it’s even taken me eight months to be able to explain adequately exactly what the problem is in this kind of detail. The weird thing? I couldn’t find anyone online even mentioning it. I had expected that at least some of the gay gamer folks would have mentioned it somewhere, but there has apparently been complete silence about it and in some ways that was the most disappointing part. I still wonder about my decision to stop playing: It’s a great game and I would really like to finish it up, but I have to wonder what else is in there that I haven’t heard yet that just shouldn’t exist in a game at this point in time.

The big surprise for me though was a game called Just Cause 2. I had not initially been very interested in the game when it was released since I don’t really like Grand Theft Auto very much and this game was very much in that same mold. However the more I read about it the more it sounded like it might be fun, and so when Best Buy sent me a coupon for $20 off and when combined with some Reward certificates the price came down to $10 I figured I’d give it a try. The in game clock tells me that I’ve spent 111 hours running around the fictional third world country known as Panau and I think I’ve enjoyed almost all of it. The story is silly but fun. The voice acting is well done. The visuals are jaw dropping. But it is the game play that keeps me coming back over and over. I completed the storyline back in October and since then I have progressed past 75% completion for the entire game and it is still possible that I might try for 100% of the thousands and thousands of collectibles and liberating the hundreds of communities by blowing things up. My only problem is that I just can’t seem to get the hang of flying planes in the game. I don’t know if it’s me or the controls but I just can’t seem to keep them flying level enough or turn quickly enough to complete most of the races that require them and so that is probably where I’ll have to call it quits. Until then I’m sure I’ll spend a few more frigid winter days under the tropical sun.

The last of the Xbox games worth mentioning is Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Made by the same group that created one of my other favorite racing games, Burnout Paradise, it has just about everything required for a great racing game. While it has something like power-ups, they don’t feel nearly as gimmicky or unbalancing as the ones in Blur, and the primary Police vs Racers theme makes for a constantly changing and constantly challenging game that is just as fun to play single player as it is online. If you can find some other people to put on your friends list, the integration with their progress in the game makes for a constant stream of new things to do. All told, it’s a very good game. Unfortunately it doesn’t feel like it has quite the soul that their previous games had. It’s all really well executed and you can tell that they put a lot of work and polish into the game, but for all of that it still feels kind of hollow. I’m not sure why that is and it’s obvious enough to be slightly disappointing. Still, definitely worth playing.

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My Gaming in 2010 (Part 1)

I had a good year in 2010 on a number of fronts, and gaming in particular. I’ve been reading all of the retrospectives in the video gaming press and the idea certainly seems to have caught in my head, so I figured I’d try and put it to words rather then let it fester. I got about half way into writing this and decided to split it up over a few posts. In his post I’ll cover the intro and PC and web gaming. Subsequent posts will cover Xbox and mobile gaming.

This year I played video games on the Web, Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Xbox 360, Microsoft Zune HD, Palm Pre, Nintendio DSi, Microsoft Kinect, Microsoft Windows Phone 7 on HTC HD7, Nook Color, and at the dining room table.

Reading that list it is more obvious then ever that I’m really heavily invested in the Microsoft eco-system of products and I’m happy to say that this year really feels like Microsoft tried harder then any year in recent memory to make that worth my while. That is certainly not to say that they don’t have a long way to go on a lot of fronts: Why can I not “Play To” an Xbox 360 directly from a Zune HD, any WP7 device, or any of the other Windows boxes on my network? Why doesn’t the Zune interface on the 360 allow for local media playback? Why don’t my “hearts” in Zune persist across all interfaces? Among MANY other weird little missing bits. Still it does all work together pretty well and I’m fairly happy with it. But back to gaming…

PC gaming this year fell somewhat by the wayside. It’s been something that I’ve been doing a bit less and less of over the years but this year in particular really seems to have taken a big step back. I played a few fun little “casual” games, most of which I don’t really remember but I only played two “AAA” games on my PC this year and one lower tier MMO and I didn’t really do much with any of them. Those three in particular were Dragon Age, World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, and LEGO Universe. All of them are great games. They have oodles of fairly interesting content, are open to several different types of play, and generally look stunning but with all of them my interest just waned over time. I do still intend to finish the main storyline of Dragon Age, but I think I’ll be cancelling my WoW subscription again this afternoon and I’ have pre-payed for LEGO Universe through the end of the year but I just don’t know how much time I’ll be spending logged into it. Part of the problem is that I can not quite put my finger on what precisely about these games doesn’t hold my attention. Is it that they are too big and so I don’t quite feel like I’m getting far enough fast enough? Or is it related to a similar theme in my fiction reading where I’m just not interested in fantasy environments anymore but still have fun with Science Fiction settings? But if that was the case, why didn’t LEGO Universe have more attraction for me over the long term?

Some casual games on the PC that did stand out this year are all PopCap properties: I continued to play Plants Vs Zombies occasionally and both Zuma’s Revenge and Bejeweled 3 were released this year and managed to soak quite a few hours but after the initial time spent on them they have joined the collection of icons in the start menu that I tend not to think too much about. The game that I played the most on the PC for the umpteenth year in a row? Minesweeper.

LEGO Universe probably deserves a few more words from me. I was in the open beta for most of the summer and so I’ve seen it progress from a seriously buggy game to a fairly fun romp through a simplified MMO universe. Is it great? Well…. no. But it is fun and there is plenty there for people who want to spend the time in it. For me though I don’t find building in LU to be worth the effort when I could be doing the same sort of building in LDD or MLCAD and be able to share those creations with a whole lot more people. The animation options in LU do make it a bit of a different experience, but I got to do many of the same things in LEGO Indiana Jones 2 on the Xbox and I got Achievements for my Xbox Gamertag for doing it. I think I might show it to K and maybe M later this year and see what they think but without a solid social lure with people I know playing it I just don’t think it’s something I’ll be spending a lot of time with.

Games on the web suffered somewhat similar fates where I spend some time on them initially and after not too much time just stop playing them. Echo Bazaar (sometimes called “Fallen London”) held my attention for a good few weeks and was a lot of fun while I was still playing it. It’s still fun to see tweets from my friends when they re-light their candles. If you are looking for a Facebook style of game without having to deal with Facebook, it is absolutely worth a look. The other web game that I can remember is one I finally got around to in the last couple of weeks of the year: Zuma Blitz. I spent some time in 2009 exploring apps on Facebook and was generally unimpressed. I tried Bejeweled Blitz earlier this year and thought it was decent but it also didn’t hold my attention. So far Zuma Blitz is about at the point where I expect that my interest might either continue at the current level (where I pull it up a couple times a week) or decline to nothing and I think I would be happy with either of those options. However, I think if PopCap released a PC or Xbox native version of the game I might stick with it a lot longer. Not saying that I’ll spend any money on the game, but it certainly is tempting some days.

(Read Part 2 here)

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I retired two devices this week

For about the past year I have been using two particular devices for my communications and personal entertainment desires. This week I am retiring both of them. One of them was sleek and sexy and knew all the right buzzwords to whisper at just the right times. It was slick and looked really nice when it was all decked out but had a nasty tendency to be temperamental when I most needed it. I’ll always love part of it, and I already miss the way it knew how I wanted to use it. The other was a solid and dependable friend which definitely had some high moments but mostly was just there when I needed it quietly getting stuff done.

I do think it’s a bit odd to describe my time with these devices in terms that I might also use to describe my personal relationships with partners, but in many ways that is not an in accurate way of looking at their place in my life. I have a need for a certain amount of personal time in my life and the way that I tend to fill that time is by interacting with the objects that I fill my life with. I do find this to be a somewhat mixed thing. I don’t like thinking of myself as someone to whom stuff matters. To be more honest though there is my large LEGO collection, my King 2280s Euphonium and Reynolds American Baritone, my SF and Fantasy books, my comics, and then there is all of this Tech: Computers, game consoles, phones, and all of the dozens of little gadgets that I interact with all of the time. I have a lot of stuff and so it is not surprising that the two items that I spend the most time with I have a certain emotional attachment to and thus anthropomorphize to some extent.

I bought my Zune HD about one year and two weeks ago. My existing Zune 30 (in classic brown!) was no longer keeping a charge after having been used at least eight hours a day for three years solid. (It turns out it just needed a vacation. I recently plugged it in to see what would happen and it’s working pretty much just fine again.) I was already invested in the Zune ecosystem and so the relatively new Zune HD was the obvious choice to move on to. At first I wasn’t sold on the touch interface. It didn’t seem like it would be able to keep up with how I used devices and the lack of physical buttons for common task didn’t seem to be entirely wise. I was at least half right, but not in the distrust for the touch interface. That turned out to be intuitive and effective, both in being fast enough and well thought out so that it was just pretty easy to do the things I wanted to do. The physical buttons did turn out to be an issue however. For those of you unfamiliar with a Zune HD, there are exactly three buttons: Power on the top, Return to Main Menu on the front, and something best described as Show Controls on the left side. It was that third button that was really the problem in the long term and it has everything to do with being able to quickly do things like pause playback or adjust volume control. Having to hit that single button and then wait for the controls to appear and then look at the screen to make sure I was hitting the correct part of the screen meant the difference between being able to quickly start talking to people who stepped into my cube and holding up a finger to let them know it was going to be a second or two while I put something away. It was a nuisance and it was the worst part of the device but I did get used to it and it did work well enough and did not detract enough from the rest of the experience to spoil it.

About six weeks later I had finally had enough of dealing with an older hand-me-down Windows Mobile 5.x smartphone and wanted to spend a bonus from work on something fun, so I bought a Palm Pre from Sprint. I had played with it in the store a bit and had been following the somewhat bumpy launch pretty closely, but it did seem like the device best suited for me. I had played with various Android devices and just didn’t find that they worked the way I wanted them to. Constantly getting in the way or hiding the things in odd places they just seemed clunky and somewhat obtuse. The smooth and slightly rounded pebble of the Pre is still a beautiful shape and the smooth action of the keyboard slider honestly make for a somewhat sensual experience. The operating system, WebOS, itself though is where it really shined. I still think that the card metaphor and gesture system implemented in WebOS is the absolute best smartphone interface I have ever used, and possibly will ever use. It really is that good! Being able to manage running applications is absolutely effortless and actually makes sense. It’s almost perfect, even in the 1.x form that I used it. Alas, it was not always going to be such a great relationship.

I’m getting read to hand the Zune HD over to a new, and appreciative, owner. I can’t think of a time that it has let me down and I expect that it will continue to be a great and useful device for at least another year, if not two or even three. The same can not be said of that Pre. It started with not being able to find a case or screen protector that really worked. The sliding keyboard meant that a case had to be in at least two parts and ended up mostly being more weight and plastic instead of actually protecting anything. Those gorgeous rounded sides of the screen meant that any screen protector would come off in a stiff wind, much less being slid into a pocket, and those protectors were necessary because, unlike the Zune HD, that screen is all plastic and took a scratch if you looked at it funny. In late October I noticed that the screen just wasn’t being quite as responsive as it once had been and after carefully looking at it saw a crack starting. Right now that crack is one centimeter into the display after having worked it’s way over the side and displays noticeable flex when the keyboard is slid out. Without screen protectors the entire screen looks a bit like it’s been scoured with steel wool. No huge scratches but just seemingly millions of small ones. But it was that deceptively alluring sliding keyboard that turned out to be the fatal flaw.

Monday morning on my way to work I disconnected the power tether and got ready to put it in my pocket but the keyboard wasn’t responding at all. I power cycled it and everything was fine and didn’t really think about it. Monday afternoon I took it out of my pocket to look something up, and once again the keyboard was dead. Power Cycling didn’t work the first time, but did the second. That evening I went to a mall close to work to wait out traffic from a snow fall and when I went to Tweet that I had arrived somewhere safely the keyboard worked long enough to get into Yak but then took three power cycles to come back for about two minutes before it died again. When the person you are with stops talking with you the relationship is over no matter how much good will is left. So I went inside and bought an HTC HD7 running Windows Phone 7 from some nice people at the T-Mobile kiosk and I haven’t looked back since.

In less time and more careful use then the Zune HD, the Palm Pre super model with all the sexy curves looks like an octogenarian who spent far too much time in tanning beds when she was young and won’t talk to me anymore. The quietly dependable Zune HD that spent a lot of time in the same pocket as my keys (Where I never put the Pre) has some very minor scrapes on the bezel but an utterly pristine screen that I never bothered to put any sort of protective skin over. It boots up every time. The controls all still work perfectly. I still gets hours and hours of battery life. I’m going to miss her.

Why retire the dependable Zune HD? Pretty simply I do not see a need to carry around two devices anymore and the HD7 does 90% of the same things that my Zune does. It is also part of the Zune ecosystem and those things it doesn’t do I’m not certain I am going to miss. My big worry with the HD7 is that it is HUGE, and I have concerns that aspect could make it difficult to carry around but it fits in my pocket just fine and isn’t appreciably heavier then the Pre.

If I like WebOS so much why not get a Palm Pre 2? The two device issue mentioned previously is a big reason but the more important one is that I just don’t trust the build quality on the Palm devices anymore, and the Pre line in particular. A friend’s Palm Pixi is turning out to be an excellent little workhorse but I just can’t imagine they’ve solved the hardware problems on the Pre and don’t want to spend $500 a third year in a row next November when that one fails on me too. In theory I could do some sort of equipment replacement plan but right now the Pre 2 is only sold as an unlocked GSM device and my understanding is that carriers won’t offer a plan for those.

So, into the Windows Phone 7 future I go and hopefully this HD7 turns out to be more like the Zune HD then that beautiful Palm Pre.

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Thoughts on testing “Bantown”

After reading a theory about how #amazonfail might have happened it is a bit tempting to try and test the theory directly. If the theory is valid and Amazon has not changed their alleged feedback/delisting mechanism then it should be a fairly simple test to run.

I think it would be pretty tempting to initially target something that was similar on the other side of the political spectrum. In the #amazonfail debacle GLBT oriented works seemed to be the primary focus and the obvious knee jerk response would be to target something like ex-gay manuals or other strongly christian or right-leaning publications. I think this would be exactly the wrong target however for some pretty simple reasons.

The first and most obvious is that we don’t know if the theory is actually valid or not. It certainly sounds reasonable but there is no actual proof that I’ve seen yet and several people who seem to think there is evidence against it.

The second and best reason though is that there is no way to currently know who to go after. Flailing about at random targets is only really likely to reinforce any existing persecution complexes that seem to be so common on the other side of the fence. Any authors that might be randomly targeted because they wrote a book you don’t like may be in the exact same position as several of the people impacted by the alleged Bantown that happened with #amazonfail and would really just be censorship on a different group.

I think instead the ideal test target would be for volunteers to publish something via Amazon’s print-on-demand division CreateSpace. One of the options on that service is that for a 40% share of the list price Amazon will list the item in the main directory. Having a volunteer submit a target is really the only way to ensure that someone is not a victim of virtual mob violence. Next step is to get a small number of people to purchase the item thus ensuring that the item gets into the sales ranking system. I don’t know how many would be needed but one would guess that somewhere between 10-100 would be a good starting number. Since this would involve actual purchases I would think that donating the remaining %60 of the price to a charitable organization (The ACLU, EFF, EPIC, or CBLDF would be ideal recipients) would be a reasonable action.

Once the test item has established itself in the ranking system the next step would be to then have a staged attempt to remove the item through the feedback system. While it would be simple to just have everyone hit it at the same time, it might be more interesting to set up a simple ticketing system like a website where people enter an email address and when the test is ready a randomly selected set of the participants would be notified to go submit feedback and then notify the ticketing system that they have done so. Once some amount of time has passed the item’s status could be checked to see if the total number of feedback attempts has delisted it yet or not. If not, run the next batch. Heck, you could even use Mechanical Turk to source the feedback attempts. )For some reason I find it perversely funny to use Amazon’s own systems to test other parts of their infrastructure.)

The obvious downside would be that Amazon would still be making money from the initial purchases of the test item. Good research costs money though and the result might be worth the attempt.

No tag for this post.

Things you should know about HDTV

I’ve been running into a huge number of people who don’t understand what’s going on with HDTV lately, so I figured I needed to put something out for the couple of people who do read my blog.

  1. The HD broadcast switch is a funded federal mandate. (see item #3)
  2. You do not have to get rid of your existing TV unless you really want to. (see item#3)
  3. Every household in the US is entitled to two (2) coupons good for free HD to SD content converters. You can get your coupon from https://www.dtv2009.gov/. These are set top boxes that go from a standard pair of rabbit ears or whatever you’re using as an antenna to your TV and let you watch HD content on your regular old non-HD TV.
  4. You are getting something (two things!) from the government for FREE here people.
  5. If you plan to continue using a VCR or other SD equipment (Tivo series 1 and 2, Windows MCE, MythTV, etc) to record programming make sure that you get a converter box that can change channels on a schedule or can be controlled by your recording equipment. If your recording equipment has built in schedules of some kind they may not match the new HD lineup and schedule.
  6. Shop for a new TV carefully. Just because you buy a new “HD capable” TV does not mean you can just hook up an antenna and start getting HD content. Many “HD Capable” TVs sold do not include an HD tuner (though it’s better than it used to be) since for the most part the manufacturer’s figure that you will have either a cable box or satellite receiver that will do the tuning instead. A TV with an HD tuner will likely cost $100-$200 more than an otherwise identical model.
  7. Not all HD capable TVs are widescreen. Many manufacturers make several “normal” (4:3 aspect ratio) sets that are just as “HD capable” as their widescreen versions.
  8. Not all HD capable TVs are light and thin. I personally own a ~125lb 30in widescreen CRT that I really quite like except when I decide to move it up or down stairs. CRTs still for the most part look better than other competing technologies. The problem is that, as evidenced by my 125lb wonder of modern technology, the technology does not scale well to really big screens.
  9. “Plasma” TVs use much more power than a similarly sized CRT. Really big plasma TVs use proportionally more power. My brother heats his living room with his (Not a joke).
  10. LCD TVs use much less power than a similarly sized CRT. Really big LCD TVs use proportionally more power which may actually be more than your current 27in non-HD TV uses. Do not take the word of the salesman at the store on this one, get a Kill-A-Watt and find out for yourself.
  11. The biggest downside to many of the non-CRT technologies is that they can be very difficult to see anything when you are not directly in front of them (though it is much better than it was a few years ago). Some sets are much better than others. If the comfy chair is off in a corner you may not be able to watch anything on that big new thing heating the living room. Before you go to the store, figure out where you might end up trying to watch it from in your room and figure out what that distance and angle are and try and replicate it in the store to see what it will look like.
  12. A 30in widescreen TV has a picture that is about the same size vertically as a 27in “normal” (4:3) TV. Remember that the measurement is diagonal.
  13. You do not have to have cable or satellite to get local broadcast HD channels. Most satellite receivers get their local HD content from an antenna you hook up to the back of them. Some cable systems don’t display all of the local HD channels.
  14. Most cable systems highly compress their content so it is very possible that NBC/ABC/CBS/FOX/PBS/CW/etc might look better from an antenna in your area.
  15. Not all content from HD sources is really HD. There’s quite a bit of programming (especially children’s and daytime programming) that is still displayed in SD. Re-runs of Cheers and Friends will always be in SD. The HD source might make it look a bit better than the old SD signal though.
  16. Not all stations that are broadcasting in HD are broadcasting HD content at all. Up until Fall of 2007 my local CW affiliate in particular was broadcasting everything in 480P which meant the widescreen dramas (Like Smallville) get shrunk to fit the lower resolution and looked really bad on my widescreen set with black bars on all sides. (Thanks to Aaron for pointing out they had changed over) Still, it is something to watch for in your area, especially on stations that are not affiliated with the big four networks.

That’s all that I can think of right now but if anyone has any questions feel free to ask them. If I don’t know the answer I’m more than willing to look them up.

Looking for more

One of the things that I like about the Zune is that it has podcast support that is more like how I really use them rather than the way they work with iTunes. It’s not perfect by any stretch (Why can’t I squirt a podcast?) but it’s generally very good. Good enough that I’m looking for more content to listen to.

I have two very different kinds of podcasts that I listen to for very different environments. I find that I can’t listen to people talking without having to pay attention to them, at least if I want to get anything out of it. This is just as true of talk radio as it is of audio books. I also find that after 45 minutes of people yakking I get really, really bored pretty quickly but I find items less than 10min long to not be worth the effort to fiddle with the player to listen to (Not perfect #2: Can’t put them in playlists). Which is really unfortunate since I otherwise would have a couple of really short items that I do like (The Engines of Our Ingenuity being a prime example).

So here’s what I’m currently listening to:

I also really used to love SpaceMusic, but that shifted to a paid subscription model a year or so ago. Though looking on the site now there does appear to be some free stuff again so maybe I’ll take a look at them again.

Any suggestions anyone?