Saved by The Formula

So I keep hearing about this cool horror movie from Spain called, “[Rec]“.

Here’s the plot synopsis:

While covering the night shift at a small-town fire department, an ambitious young television reporter and her cameraman follow the crew on a call to rescue an elderly woman unable to escape the inferno that is consuming her home. Upon their arrival at the scene, the calm midnight air is pierced by the sound of horrific screams, and the television report takes an unexpectedly dark turn.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ib5ZSj6ST0U&rel=1]

So, yeah, it’s got that Cannibal Holocaust / Blair Witch Project fake documentary thing going on, but clearly that doesn’t bother me so whatever. Besides, this one is apparently so good that a US remake was started before it was even released. Wow, ok.

I checked the tubes, but I couldn’t find anything about a US release date. Darn. Oh well. After seeing how they ruined the ending of The Descent for US the release, I wanted to see the original.

To the torrents, Robin!

Anyway, I found a few copies and downloaded one. It’s so new that there aren’t any subtitles yet, so I watched it in Spanish. Thanks to the Spanish I absorbed from Sesame Street in my own childhood and overhearing years of Dora the Explorer watched by my kids, I understood pretty much… well, nothing. “Basta” means “enough”, I think. That’s about it.

Still, horror movies follow a formula so I was able to follow along. Reporter Goes In, thinking that it’s a standard puff piece. Things Go Wrong. Then, it Gets Worse. “Shut off that camera”. “Keep filming!” (this is where he said “Basta!” :-)) You get the idea.

You already know whether you’ll like this movie or not. It’s “one of those”, although it is a well made one. The acting is better than you probably expect, and the creepy bits are extremely creepy. I liked it, and if you dig these kinds of movies you probably will, too.

Wait for the subtitles, though. There were some explanatory bits that I’d like to understand, and a couple of conversations that looked important. I guess this gives me a reason to see it again.

When it’s done? It’s done. Call a code. Let him go.

Oh look, it’s the nine hundredth ‘coming soon’ video for Duke Nukem Forever. Does anyone even remember they’re still working on it? Does anyone care?

Hiroo Onoda eventually surrendered. John Romero did not make us his bitch. We’ve moved on with our lives. It seems like the time for this game has passed, but nobody at 3D Realms wants to be the first one to say it.

Maybe it’s an elaborate performance art piece. It was never about the game. Rather, it’s holding a mirror up to the way that the media manufactures desire. They’re just trying to see how long they can keep it going and… anyway, here’s the trailer. The few gameplay shots look pretty good.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cWuteFLUPSY&rel=1&border=1]

Here’s the ‘coming soon’ trailer from 2001. Those game play shots looked pretty good, too, for their time. Those of you who might not have been following the long, sad saga need to understand that this trailer was the for the same game. It was late in 2001, and it still hasn’t shipped.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPX_y7wP_ko&rel=1]

“When it’s done”.

The Velvet Underground of computing

My OLPC is finally… umm, yes, of course I mean that *the kids’* OLPC is finally here.

I’ve been messing with it for about an hour, and I am deeply impressed. It’s smaller than I expected and the keyboard is a bit cramped for my big, sausage fingers (although they did put CTRL back next to “A”, where God intended it to be). Still, I’m typing this post on it and it’s not as difficult as I had expected.

Yes, this is clearly a 1.0 release. It’s a bit underpowered. The keyboard and mouse are difficult for adult hands. The software has a few rough edges. YouTube sends it to The Sad Place and makes Baby Santa cry.

What excites me most is that it comes with eToys installed. When Julianna ws younger, she and I made fun little gizmos with eToys on the PC. We only had one PC, though, and she couldn’t really use it without me to help. I can’t wait to see what the kids do with it on this device.

The OLPC may or may not change the world by itself, but something very much like it will: cheap, rugged, wifi enabled, and end user programmable. This is not a replacement for your laptop. I think of it as being closer to a chumby that you can program.

It was said of Lou Reed’s old band, The Velvet Underground, that only a few thousand people bought their albums but every one of them was inspired to start a band. The OLPC has that same feel. It feels like The Future.

All in all, I would not hesitate to buy another one for $200.

I absolutely do not understand the bizarre way this thing is being sold. They complain that they can’t bring the price down because they can’t get to scale, but they refuse to sell to people who want to buy them. It makes no sense to me.

I’ll see this one on opening day

I am really looking forward to the new J. J. Abams movie, Cloverfield. It’s his “American Godzilla”, and the idea of doing it all using home video is incredibly cool.

Check out the trailer.

This is basically the same trailer that they released a few months back, and have re-released monthly ever since. What’s really interesting is to watch the special effects getting better with each one. It’s the same shots, but stuff that used to look completely fake now looks completely real. Just amazing.

I have to admit that the collapsing building and dust cloud hit a bit of a nerve, but I’m probably just being over sensitive.

I can’t wait. Gonna sneak in a six of slusho.

Rewind the world

The other day, Deana and I were sitting on the couch watching TV. The cat knocked a bunch of stuff off the dining room table, and tore through the room. Standard cat stuff. I laughed, but Deana missed the whole thing.

TiVo has trained me to handle that, though!

My first instinct was to grab for the remote and just rewind to show her what had happened. Umm… Doesn’t work on the cat. My hand was half way there before I realized what I was doing. D’oh! Stupid brain.

When I told Deana about this, she said that she sometimes imagines clicking on the laundry and just dragging it to the “Upstairs” folder. Way easier than carrying it.

Leopard enters the spin cycle

After the early love fest, I suppose that a backlash was inevitable. That said, I find the current round of Leopard bashing to be a bit of a puzzle. In my own experience, it has been even more stable than Tiger was. Spaces is far more usable than I expected, unmounting remote disks doesn’t kill the system, and I like all the little UI touches.

Tiger crashed on me about twice a month. In the month or so that I’ve had Leopard it has crashed zero times. Ok, it’s an admittedly small sample size but in my experience a bunch of stuff got better and nothing got worse.

Switching from Quicken to Microsoft Money because I like PayTrust

I know that’s not a particularly pithy title, but I want to do my best to make this one show up in search results. This post should really be called something like, “How to Make Loyal Customers Hate Your Guts” or “What the Hell are they Thinking?

So anyway, I am a fan of the bill pay service PayTrust. I’ve been a customer for about seven years, and recommended the service without hesitation. Reasonable price, works as advertised. I also use Quicken, so I was actually pleased when Intuit bought PayTrust. Great, I naively thought, they’ll integrate the products and it’ll get even better!

That was in early 2005.

Did they integrate?

They did not.

Not only did they fail to integrate, but Quicken actually went so far as to drop the QIF format which PayTrust exports. The result is that in order to use Quicken I have to enter all of my PayTrust transactions manually, which pretty much defeats the purpose of using it in the first place.

So, to sum up: Intuit went out of their way to make sure that two products they own don’t work with one another.

Why doesn’t PayTrust support Quicken’s preferred OFX format? I have no idea. I even found the product manager and tried to make the case. No dice.

They forced me to choose. Do I stick with Quicken, or do I stick with PayTrust?

Anyway, after realizing that I don’t do anything with Quicken other than track my spending, I decided to look at the others. Microsoft Money looks ok, and it imports QIF. GnuCash might be a contender as well.

Quicken, you are Dead To Me.

Anyway, I will think long and hard before ever purchasing another product from Intuit. Great work, guys.

Does this make any sense to anyone?

Greenberg’s Second Rule: Forget quality, people want convenience

I’ve had this conversation a few times over the course of the last couple of weeks, so I thought I would write it down for the rest of you.

Here is my Second Rule of Product Development:

Given a choice between two products that do roughly the same thing, where one is noticeably “better” and the other is noticeably more convenient, the more convenient one wins.

People will actively choose a worse experience if it’s more convenient.

Time and again I’ve spoken with people whose products are focused around higher quality when more convenient alternatives are available. It doesn’t work. Higher quality is a good thing, don’t get me wrong, but unless it’s also more convenient than the existing options, few people are going to switch.

Don’t believe me? MP3s have worse sound than CDs or LPs. Camera phones are replacing digital cameras, which replaced point and shoot, which replaced manual. McDonalds burgers don’t taste anywhere near as good as what you can make at home. TV sucks, compared to movies. At each stage the quality of the experience goes down but convenience goes up. Amazingly enough, price frequently goes up at the same time (at least in the early stages). One of the few things that people can be relied upon to pay for is convenience.

As a side note, this is also why DRM is destined to fail. As long as it’s easier to get the files from bittorrent, that’s what people will do. It’s not about the money. People pay for content all the time. It’s about effort. Less effort wins. Full stop.

Yes, ye pickers of nit, there will always be niche markets devoted to pursuing the highest quality experience. Some people will stick with LPs because they sound better, insist on fiddling with the settings on their film cameras, and spend weekends fine tuning their car engines. These are all real people, but they are niche markets.

So, developers and product managers, look at your products. Are you building for convenience or quality?

Ok, I’m throwing down the gauntlet. Here’s your chance to make me look stupid (fine, stupider). Find me one product where higher quality won out over a comparable product that was more convenient.

Sue James, RIP

I just heard that Sue James died. Cancer.

I knew her at Netscape and liked her a lot. She was a good SE. Small and slight, but always bubbly and full of energy. She was smart and kind of snarky, and I spent a lot of time talking with her. I didn’t stay touch and can’t say that we were close, but I only have fond memories.

Poor thing. I hope it didn’t hurt too much.