Thursday, May 31, 2007

What do you see?

This is a picture of an area of sidewalk near where I live. I have walked past this for weeks and finally decided to capture it. What do you see?

I am reminded of Don Quixote's faithful nag Rocinante, wandering riderless near a tree, likely recovering from the overexertion required of his master's latest escapade of knight-errantry.

Impressive guitar simulator for Nintendo DS

In addition to providing a hilarious comic involving Patrick Swayze, yesterday's Penny Arcade revealed to me a very cool guitar simulator to be released in the U.S. this June. Apparently one can even play the DS's touch screen with a real guitar pick, though I imagine more control might be possible with the standard stylus.

Jam Sessions goes one step further than the likes of Guitar Hero in the sense that there is a "free play" option, the ability to add effects like reverb, chorus and others along with the ability to save the songs one creates. No word on whether the DS's wireless capabilities will be exploited. I would love to be able to create .mp3s of songs and email them around. Take a look at the video at the linked page above to see the mechanics -- the D-pad and shoulder button appear to determine the note or chord played and the touchscreen determines the rhythm and tempo of the song. The sounds are sampled from a real guitar and are quite impressive.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Colin Hay in Sacramento

If you're any fan of music from the 80's surely you remember the band Men at Work. Last Thursday the former lead singer of Men at Work, Colin Hay, had a tour stop here in Sacramento. What's so great about this tour is it is just him playing solo acoustic guitar. He played songs from his library of solo work in addition to acoustic versions of some Men at Work favorites. A tribute to the songwriting of Men at Work is the fact that the acoustic versions are just as good, and in some cases better, as acoustic guitar pieces. His use of a 12-string guitar on a few songs added a beautiful fullness.

Mr. Hay is, in addition to having one of the most iconic voices of 80's music, a terrific guitar player. One might not expect the lead singer of what was essentially an 80's pop band to be so accomplished a player. Also, his voice is still in prime form. He hit all the familiar high notes clearly and with confidence.

Mr. Hay is also quite funny. His show was part standup routine and storytelling. Several times during the set he would talk for up to 10 minutes, regaling the audience with stories of touring recently with Ringo Starr's band and his various experiences over the years touring the United States. Apparently he's been mistaken for the singer from Flock of Seagulls (by a policeman who pulled him over) and Sting (by a gas station attendant who, when Colin told her he wrote the song "Down Under," said he didn't remind her at all of Sting.)

Be sure to check out his web site and buy something from his record label, Compass Records.

Halo 3 til daylight

This past week, thanks to the generosity of my friend Eric, I have had the pleasure of playing in the Halo 3 multiplayer beta using his Xbox 360 and gamertag. Photographic proof of this on my "gaming tower of power" is below:

I've had a lot of fun with it, as the gameplay is familiar enough for Halo 2 players to be easily picked up, but it has enough new strategic items and weapons to make it a game with a distinctly different balance than Halo 2 was online. The weapons are balanced such that at any time any player can beat any other, relieving somewhat the unbalance in Halo 2 of the "power weapon monopoly" that a player or team could obtain and hold onto.

What I haven't done in a long time was what happened last night and this morning. I played for at least three hours straight, out of about six hours of gameplay, with a great, skilled, and complete team. That's the ideal for Halo online multiplayer -- a group of friends who cooperate, are skilled players, and just cool in general. Halo allows a party that wants to stay together to keep playing together as a team. As you run into other people or other friends become available, you just keep adding them to your party. The time literally disappeared. I remember someone asking the group what time it was where we each were and it was 2:30a for me, and then I didn't notice the time again until it was 5 in the morning and I could start to see daylight. Apparently, as of 12:15 this afternoon, my friend NaughtyDawg is still playing!

There are several benefits to playing so late into the night: 1) few 13-year-olds screaming that they want the sniper rifle; and 2) international players start to come online. We had one team member playing from Australia and I believe another was playing from France.

I'm looking forward to Halo 3 this September. The single player campaign also promises to be a great experience, plus this beta is only a few of the final maps for online multiplayer, so there is much to still be revealed.

Related post: Halo 3 warmup

Monday, May 14, 2007

Stat summary of visitors: the first 21 months

General curiosity and a desire to use Google Docs' chart feature have led me to this point. I created the Google Docs charts by downloading the raw data from StatCounter and then plotting from a spreadsheet. Google Docs saves these charts in .png format and they are less than 6kb apiece.

I signed up for a Blogger account in August 2005 in order to comment with an identity on my friend Eric's blog before he migrated to using TypePad. The first thing I felt a desire to blog about was my trip to Seattle, WA with some friends to attend Penny Arcade's Penny Arcade Expo 2005.

So, a brief summary of some numbers as of May 2007:

Total pageloads: 5,327
Average # of
pageloads per month: 242

Total unique visitors: 4,080
Average # of
unique visitors per month: 185

The first big spike is January 2006, which was Howard Stern's debut on SIRIUS satellite radio, garnering 326 unique visitors that month. The middle spike is July 2006 with 321 uniques. I'm not sure what happened then, but I posted about having not posted for almost a month and also about Carson Daly, so obviously something else was going on.

The last spike is December 2006 with 325 uniques. Howard Stern went on a Christmas TV media promotional blitz for SIRIUS and I posted his appearances. Other than huge events that I specifically wrote about and others specifically searched for, it is difficult to make many correlations with this data, but I still love seeing the numbers in vibrant color form. I can see the search terms that visitors used to reach my site, but only for the 100 most recent visitors. This is only because I use the free version of StatCounter and not due to any deficiency in the stat code or its featureset.

Just for fun, here is the data broken down by quarter. This chart and the one above are from Google Docs:
For comparison, here is a graph of the same data from StatCounter:

Related post: Using Google Docs

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Warm-up for Halo 3 multiplayer beta

[UPDATE on Halo 3 release date in last paragraph]

In anticipation of the upcoming multiplayer beta and in the spirit of reuniting with my Xbox 360-owning brethren I purchased the redesigned Halo 2 maps this week ... for my original Xbox.

Thought I was going to say I bought a 360, didn't you?

Both Xbox and Xbox 360 owners can download and play these two new maps, so I thought I'd check out the new content and maybe play with some old friends. I was happy to see that my wireless connection worked well last night -- 56Mbps with "good" to "very good" signal strength. No lag here.

I'm going to be able to play the Halo 3 multiplayer beta thanks to the generosity of one of my gaming buddies, so I figured I should hammer the rust off of my skillz before then. Before last night, the last time I had played Halo 2 multiplayer over Xbox Live was 12/3/2005. At the end of that day I had played 704 total games and reached level 16 in the Big Team Battle game type. Adding last night's nine games, here is a summary of my stats:

Total games: 713
Total kills: 3,274
Total deaths: 5,837
Kill/Death ratio: 0.5609
Total assists: 1,928

If you add my assists to my total kills my kill/death ratio rises to a more respectable 0.8912. My mere presence in the game contributed or directly caused the virtual deaths of 5,202 players. That sure is a weird thing to say.

I am reinstituting a feature I used to have on my blog, namely a link to my recent Halo 2 stats via an RSS feed from The link is in the right margin underneath the link to my Technorati profile.

I found the link to this video montage of Halo 3 multiplayer beta gameplay in a post on Eric's blog. Read the little interview before watching the movie for some interesting tidbits about the guy who made the video. Pretty impressive gameplay from the internal beta at Bungie. The release of Halo 3 will certainly be a "drop dead" purchase event for me to buy an Xbox 360. No date is set for the release yet [NEW INFO: Sept. 25], but it will be 2007.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Why the record companies must accept and adopt digital distribution

It hit me tonight while switching between channels on satellite radio during my drive home. People have put forth ideas like this for awhile now, and I thought it was probably true, but now I know for sure: targeted (even omnidirectional) specific narrowcasting for small audiences is the future of music.

It just has to work this way, and here's why:

1. What people want

Very simply, people want what they like. Not necessarily what they already know, but almost certainly something similar to that. This isn't restricted to particular bands or artists. The way I listen to music on satellite radio is determined by my mood, which is affected by everything around me. After a stressful day at work I might like to listen to jazz standards. Late Friday or Saturday nights I often love driving to electronica/techno. Other times I might be feeling nostalgic and want to listen to 80's hits. Almost any artist within these particular genres will accommodate my mood.

What is so great about satellite radio for me is the variety of music I hear within the genre-channels. Every day I hear something I haven't heard before along with the familiar favorites that drew me to that particular channel. My music nerd friends who either have or have recently dumped satellite radio tell me they've heard everything that's in rotation and have higher quality audio on their iPods anyway, but it's still fresh to me.

2. How people want it

Easy, portable and cheap. Bulky, physical discs are not easy to obtain (it still requires a trip to brick-and-mortar retailers or delivery via postal mail) or cheap to buy. In an ideal distribution world I will hear something I like while driving or at home, flag it for immediate or delayed download and once the song is downloaded it will either be available for streaming or be pushed in its entirety to every one of my music/media devices, ready for immediate and infinite listening. The streaming or pushing can be done either peer-to-peer among my devices or from a central server.

99 cents a song is ok for now, but once this is the primary method of distribution we'd better be looking at 25 to 50 cents a song or better yet, unlimited downloads for a flat monthly fee. I'm also ok with the way satellite radio currently works, namely, a constant stream of genre-specific music with no local physical preservation for a low monthly flat fee. I don't particularly care whether I can hear any one specific song at exactly the time I want it as long as I know the music will keep coming. I know I'm going to hear something I like and my artist/song presets will notify me when one of my favorites is about to be played.

3. What artists want

I'm stretching here as I am no expert on this, but these are my thoughts and opinions. All of you pros, amateurs and hobbyists please let me hear yours. Ultimately, artists want people to hear their music. The Internet is the most efficient distribution mechanism yet known for digital music. We know it works, people use it every day for just this purpose. So, if artists want people to hear their music they should use the Internet to distribute it. Notice the absence of "record company" in that equation.

Artists also want some sort of recognition as authors of works, and hopefully some amount of compensation for the effort and creativity expended in order to create such works.

4. What record companies want

In a word, money. From what I've seen, heard and read it is rare for a record company to actually care about an artist beyond what the artist can contribute to the record company's bottom line. About the only thing record companies seem good for these days is "big media" promotion and in some cases, distribution. See Internet, supra.

So what's an outdated, desperate, old-guard, head-in-the-sand pre-Internet industry to do once the effectiveness of lawsuits fade and people are sick and tired of paying multiple times for the same song just so they can play it as a soundtrack on their game consoles and walk around with it on their digital music players?

Hopefully, come to its senses and rethink the business. Otherwise it will die.

What can happen

Apple has demonstrated with iTunes that people are willing to pay to download digital music if the price is right. Microsoft has demonstrated with Xbox Live that people are willing to pay to download digital movies and TV even though the prices may not be quite right yet. There are still issues with Digital Rights Management, but I am hopeful the market will help relax these unreasonable restrictions once it is realized that the sky will not fall if a song is transferred from PS3 to PSP to Xbox 360 to PC to Zune to iPod and back again.

Some ways record companies can adapt to this new permutation of the consumer-driven music industry are:
  • provide the highest quality, "official" versions of songs for download;
  • add value to "official" versions by including lyrics, album art, concert promotions, etc.;
  • create song "extras" for particular media devices, e.g., an interactive rhythm game for the Nintendo DS touchscreen, Xbox Live achievements if a preset number of others download your original remix of a song, or a podcast interview with the artist for digital music players;
  • at the artists' individual discretion, make raw tracks available for remixing by consumers or DJs;
  • allow consumers to participate in new album or single song releases by designating particular (or randomly selecting from a list of unique identifiers given for "official" purchases) consumer authorities who will receive pre-releases and be allowed to review and promote them via their blogs, affinity groups, or otherwise. These authorities could track what they've helped to promote, thereby creating a sort of Xbox-less achievement system;
All of these form a sort of self-eating watermelon of promotion, sales, feedback, reputation and reinforcement that could allow record companies to remain relevant, albeit in a much different and less bloated form than they exist now.


The recording industry is not the only one in the path of this runaway train. Consumers, too, must change their perception about what it means to "own" music. Possessing multiple sleeves in a binder containing slabs of plastic with dots stamped into aluminum foil is nice, I suppose, but consider whether it even matters that you don't "have" a particular song if your downloading plan allows unlimited song downloads for a small monthly fee. This way the whole "filesharing for free" cycle is short-circuited: it is simply easier and faster for me to obtain a reliably encoded high-bitrate song, exactly the version I want exactly when I want, than it is for me to coordinate with someone else to obtain a copy of the same song that may or may not be of an acceptable quality.


Whether distribution happens via satellite radio, Internet radio, municipal wi-fi or promotional USB thumb drives by postal mail really doesn't matter. The ideas are here and they are catching on. Consumers have made their preference known, so record companies had better decide if they're going to take a swing or let the ball zip by as it kisses the inside of the baseline.