Category Archives: Asides

Reading is Slower on Kindle?

New Kindle

Read on CNN this morning that Kindle and iPad reading are slower than reading a normal book.

From the article:

It takes longer to read books on a Kindle 2 or an iPad versus a printed book, Jakob Nielsen of product development consultancy Nielsen Norman Group discovered in a recent usability survey.

The study found that reading speeds declined by 6.2 percent on the iPad and 10.7 percent on the Kindle compared to print. However, Nielsen conceded that the differences in reading speed between the two devices were not “statistically significant because of the data’s fairly high variability” — in other words, the study did not prove that the iPad allowed for faster reading than the Kindle.

I read this article with a mixture of disbelief and suspicion. Disbelief because I’m a regular Kindle user – and I *know* my reading speed has increased on the device. And suspicion because the outcome of a study like this would be influenced by too many external factors.

The first time I read something on Kindle or iPad I was so taken with the activity, so distracted, that my reading speed and comprehension certainly suffered. But now that I’ve grown accustom to the novelty of it my reading speed – and the amount of material I’m consuming – has jumped dramatically. Were these test subjects new users? Were they distracted by the device, its interface or with thinking, “Hey, I should really buy one of these!”? I know I would be.

The screens and amount of text contained on a single line, plus line spacing can all be adjusted for optimal reading speed. It varies between individuals – so you’ll want to experiment to find the right settings. But once you do – like I did – watch out. You’ll be reading faster and reading more.

Amazon probably has data to support the efficiency of reading on a Kindle. If not, they should collect it from people willing to submit it. In my opinion these devices are a godsend and should be proliferated as widely as possible. Not only do they encourage faster reading and more of it – but they’re a disruptive platform, one that allows average individuals access to a worldwide, wireless publishing platform.

Don’t believe me? Try one – I bet you’ll be as amazed as I was.

Kinect – Destined to Fail?

Kinect Hardware

Kinect

Read over on 360 Kombo this blog post by Alex Bader regarding Kinect. Drawing from an interview on Gamasutra, It outlines Microsoft’s software strategy for the yet-released motion control (natural movement interface device) add-on to 360. Alex opens with:

Microsoft is trying to attract Wii gamers with their Kinect advertising scheme, there’s no doubt about it. The difference is, however, Microsoft doesn’t want this new platform to be plagued with the endless shovelware that Nintendo’s platform has faced since its initiation.

Shovelware plague? If a “plague” brought with it success and riches beyond my wildest dreams I’d hardly deride it. Nor would I think of altering the plague in hopes of re-creating that success the came with it. If plague = success, then more plague, please!

Alex goes on to quote Microsoft’s director of platform marketing for Xbox, Albert Penello as saying,

We don’t want shovelware, we don’t want ports, we don’t want stuff with motion controls tacked onto it.

Makes me wonder… are they launching a platform or an ideal? Has anyone thought of the positive benefits of “shovelware” or the model which allows it to exist? Ports are bad, why? Seems to me they neatly attract an existing audience to a new product badly in need of support and interest. “Stuff with motion controls tacked onto it…” but what if this is how developers and consumers learn about the new paradigm – in the safety of what they already understand? Evolution doesn’t happen over night. Not for game creators, nor for the audiences that buy their products.

Albert continues (in the Gamasutra interview),

We continue to say that the controller is the best experience for controller games. When people say, ‘Why don’t you have Halo?’ Well, I don’t want Halo on Kinect. I want Halo on a controller. Now would it be interesting to see what kind of game they could make using Kinect? Yeah, I would love to see what those guys could do, or what the Call of Duty guys could do. But I don’t want to play Call of Duty 4, I want Call of Duty: Black Ops on the controller. So yeah, I’m really, really happy with the stuff that [publishers] are doing. … The most interesting stuff is going to be what comes out six months to a year from now when people come to grips with the technology and really start taking advantage of it.

The MS strategy really seems to emphasis constraints – which are fine and good when developing creative content. But the constraints are in the wrong places – constrain how developers and consumers interface with the platform (as Nintendo did) by releasing a console with motion control as the ONLY input option. The creates a demand for original ideas and innovation to solve the most basic problem of getting known-genres to work on new hardware. A giant audience awaits, Nintendo proved it – we just have to solve this problem … except that the MS strategy says “you don’t have to solve it, just use controllers with controller games”. That’s a pretty half-assed paradigm shift.

Further, I’d argue that the evolutionary timescale will be longer than 6 months or a year – because the environment for exploration of new concepts hasn’t been put in place. Stifle exploration and you limit discovery.

If MS asked me I’d say, “build a model for online distribution of Kinect ‘applets’ and allow anyone to submit content to it”. This is the iPhone/App Store model combined with a potentially revolutionary bit of interface hardware. Let the market and innovators drive it towards best possible use cases. It’ll happen so fast and make so much money you won’t even notice the shovelware.

I’ve got nothing but love for MS and a piece of hardware which might move us away from the dark ages of mice, keyboards and controllers. Wii did it. Kinect can improve on it – certainly in terms of hardware and natural interface (I know, we’re doing R&D with one at Spicy Horse). But if the nature of the launch/publishing model isn’t as natural and innovative as the hardware, then the thing’s destined to fail. And that would be a real shame – not just for MS, but for developers and gamers alike.

Here’s hoping they open the floodgates before its too late.

Used Games = End of Gaming Industry

Used Game Sales

Rising Used Game Sales

Another in a long line of articles on the subject of second-hand or used games over at PC World. This time blog author Matt Peckham opines:

To hear some publishers tell it, used game sales are the devil’s work, and we–meaning us consumers–the devil’s henchmen.

We’re buying too many used games, you see, and in our patient thrift, we’re destroying the very thing we’re supposed to love.

Not the games themselves, mind you–first-class game development is flourishing with or without the World of Warcraft’s and Call of Duty’s–but, if we buy the corporate line, the ability of game publishers to reap increasingly massive revenues.

Read the full article HERE.

Nothing new, really. Industry reports indicate used game sales are cutting into new game sales. Publishers and developers feel the pinch. Consumers and retailers don’t see the problem. The economy gets some punching bag action. And finally, it’s suggested the “model” might be changing – moving towards more DLC and online content.

And what of online content? In China, where piracy is ubiquitous, there is virtually NO piracy or second hand sale of domestic game product. But then, there are no physical game good here – everything is online. What box product does exist comes from outside – Western games pirated and copied ad nauseum. Chinese gamers LOVE Western games – but what little money they pay for them will never reach the publishers or developers who made them. How different is this from second hand sales, BTW?

China’s game operators know how to run their businesses. They’ve built a model which disallows competition from developers, pirates, retailers or consumers. It’s a closed-loop system enforced by government regulation and licensing. And I guarantee you Western publishers would have adopted the model in a heartbeat if they could have.

Ideal models regulated by Communist edict aside, what’s stopping Western publishers from evolving? Simple: They’re too invested in the protected market model competitively evolved over the previous two decades. The one in which their ability to spend ridiculous sums of money on development, marketing and distribution guarantees they’re the only “legitimate” publishing organizations around. It’s only with the advent of “disruptors” like publisher-independent development organizations (see Valve), innovative hardware technologies (see Nintendo), and online distribution platforms (see Facebook, iPhone, Steam) that the old model is challenged.

The old guard, AAA publishers are backed into a corner. If they’ve not yet secured their online strategy then it’s likely too late. Dependency on a retail model that even the retailers admit is broken is, this late in the game, is a ticket to ride the way of the dinosaurs.

But then, that’s what we’re talking about here, isn’t it? Dinosaurs. And the little mammals nipping at their remains. It’s evolution in action. Should we feel bad about nature taking its course? Look at Asia to see the future – where the mice have evolved into men and are taking over the world. Deride the current model, poke at the dying beasts, and imagine what tomorrow will bring. A better world?

In all of this, never forget dear consumer, it’s YOU these beasts are feeding on. Nom nom.

Extra Lives

Extra Lives (book cover)

Extra Lives

From a recent book review at The New York Times:

If photographs are “experience captured,” in Susan Sontag’s phrase, then video games are experience created. The medium can be so engaging, so addictive — Bissell compares playing games to his time using cocaine — that many game makers get away with fiction that makes Stephenie Meyer “look like Ibsen.” A novel or a movie that is poorly written is relatively easy to abandon. Well-designed games that feature bad writing “do not have this problem,” Bissell notes. “Or rather, their problem is not having this problem.”

The book in question is “Extra Lives” by Tom Bissel. It’s an interesting thought – that games can be so engaging, even when some elements of them are lacking. What’s more interesting – the thought of what games will eventually become – an experience so engaging and immersive that “escape” from them won’t be possible. Not sure if that’s a good thing or not.

Giving Up Is How You Win

Nautilus Viewbay

Danger in Plain Sight

Another interesting opinion piece by Thomas Friedman over at the NY Times. As with many of his recent articles, Friedman is once again covering the topic of sustainability and transition – how we survive our multiple current crisis (environmental, resource, financial, social, political, etc) and move to a new phase (as painlessly as possible, one would hope). But the reality is, it’s not going to be painless… here’s an excerpt from the article (which is itself a letter from a guy named Mark Mykleby):

“I’d like to join in on the blame game that has come to define our national approach to the ongoing environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. This isn’t BP’s or Transocean’s fault. It’s not the government’s fault. It’s my fault. I’m the one to blame and I’m sorry. It’s my fault because I haven’t digested the world’s in-your-face hints that maybe I ought to think about the future and change the unsustainable way I live my life. If the geopolitical, economic, and technological shifts of the 1990s didn’t do it; if the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 didn’t do it; if the current economic crisis didn’t do it; perhaps this oil spill will be the catalyst for me, as a citizen, to wean myself off of my petroleum-based lifestyle. ‘Citizen’ is the key word. It’s what we do as individuals that count. For those on the left, government regulation will not solve this problem. Government’s role should be to create an environment of opportunity that taps into the innovation and entrepreneurialism that define us as Americans. For those on the right, if you want less government and taxes, then decide what you’ll give up and what you’ll contribute. Here’s the bottom line: If we want to end our oil addiction, we, as citizens, need to pony up: bike to work, plant a garden, do something. So again, the oil spill is my fault. I’m sorry. I haven’t done my part. Now I have to convince my wife to give up her S.U.V. Mark Mykleby.”

Mark has it 100% right. There’s no one to blame for where the world is today except you and me. We, the 6.69 billion polluters, consumers, spenders, influencers and voters – of which only a insignificant fraction of are politicians. By our actions we decide daily where our world is going. And unfortunately, we continue to decide poorly. Most of us are unable to think beyond our immediate boundaries (walls, people, needs) – and even those that do aren’t able to do enough to counteract the forceful disregard so many others have for the impact of their decisions on the world we all share.

Sometimes makes me think Karl Stromberg, antagonist in the James Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me” had it right. He’d given up on mankind’s ability to save itself – and intended to blow up the world so that it could be reset. Hugo Drax (another Bond villain) and Captain Nemo (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) also had similar ideas. I wonder what those characters would say about where we are now.

Ironically, we don’t need James Bond super-villains to accomplish such nefarious goals. We’ll get there on our own – through continued bad decision making and unchecked consumption. James Bond can’t stop a planet full of villains. Can you?

Abby Sunderland, Adrift

Koh Chang Lighthouse

Beacon of Hope

From CNN:

Los Angeles, California (CNN) — A 16-year-old California girl who is attempting to sail solo around the world triggered a distress signal during rough seas in the Indian Ocean on Thursday, her family said.
Abby Sunderland’s family began scrambling to organize a search-and-rescue effort for her after they learned her emergency beacon was detected just an hour after they last spoke to her, according to Jeff Casher, an engineer on her support team.
Sunderland’s small sailboat was adrift in the middle of the Indian Ocean about 2,000 miles east of Madagascar, 2,000 miles west of Australia and 500 miles north of the French Antarctic Islands, Casher said Thursday afternoon.

Guardian Story
LA Times Story on YouTube

When I first saw news of Abby Sunderland’s ambitions to sail around the world solo my heart was filled with admiration. The idea anyone, much less a 16 year old girl, would embark on such a voyage for the sake of pure accomplishment and adventure is awe inspiring.

This morning the world wakes to news of her disappearance – and awareness of her long ambition and recent struggle is spreading. Mixed among the commentary on the situation you’ll find words of encouragement, derision and disgust. Many people seem only able to view the situation as a tragedy or mistake – failure or negligence.

But the real story here – whatever the outcome – is one of risks and dreams. A person chasing a dream always risks something – at a minimum the dream may never been attained. In the worst case the pursuit may result in pain or death. But that’s what makes it worth the doing. No meaningful goal is ever attained without risk and maybe even suffering.

All that’s needed from us – the witnesses – is a measured amount of compassion for another human being in dire straits and awe at the ambition and drive displayed in pursuit of a dream.

Best of luck to Abby. And best wishes to her family.

UPDATE: She’s been found alive.