Social media

A few nights ago, I went to √úmloud, a charity event at DNA Lounge. They had a raffle, and I bought a few tickets. The lady selling the tickets happened to have a Square device on the phone she was using to accept payment, and I thought it was so cool that I decided to pay by card instead of cash. Shortly afterwards, I received my fancy email receipt and tweeted about it.

Since then, that tweet’s been retweeted by Keith Rabois, an investor recently hired by Square, and I’ve been followed/mentioned by Sangeeta Narayan, a recruiter also working for Square. This is part of a social media strategy, that’s for sure, but I really wonder if scouring the Internet for nobodies like me and boasting about it on your Twitter stream is really an effective use of time.

I’m assuming I’m being used as yet another example of a satisfied customer, thereby enforcing the strength of their brand. That’s fine – they can use something I’ve publicly posted on the Internet – but I’m sure there are other, more influential Twitterers (companies that use the product, for instance) who can be courted and formally quoted. I guess more press doesn’t hurt… but for someone like me who has seen social media make its place on the Internet, the simple act of being retweeted by an investor gives me an uneasy feeling. If you’re going to subjugate me as a consumer, I’d prefer you do it in private, like it used to be in the good ol’ days.

The weirdest part, though, is the fact that the recruiter wants to talk to me. What more could they possibly want from me? I called the thing “fancy” and that I’m “fond” of the payment method. Do they want to mail me release forms so they can put my quote on their website? Or, since this person’s a recruiter, does the mere fact that I put “web developer” “I develop webs really good” on my Twitter profile bio mean that they want to hire me for their web software engineer position? Why would simply using and talking about their product make me cut out for that position? That’s like hiring someone who likes eating McDonald’s to work as their VP of marketing (shudder).

Sonic 4 review

Sonic 4 is pretty much what I expected it to be: a rehash of the Genesis Sonic games in 2.5D with one or two new gimmicks, and most of the flaws that come with modern Sonic games: sub-par level design, frustrating bottlenecks, and a misunderstanding of the physics that made the original Sonic games fun.

That’s not to say it’s not worth playing – it’s a fine addition to the Sonic library, but I’d say it’s not as good as Sonic Rush or Sonic Rush Adventure.

Being episodic, the game has only 4 zones, but each has 3 acts and a separate boss battle. The zones are basically Green Hill, Casino Night, Labyrinth, and Metropolis, but with new names. There are no new enemies – just ones from the first two games. The stages play almost exactly like the old ones, with the exception of a fun card-based stage in the casino zone, where you run through, on, and over cards which reward you richly with coins and extra lives. You have stage select access after you beat the first act of the first zone, which makes the game somewhat non-linear – but you’ll probably end up playing it from start to finish anyway.

The special stage is from Sonic 1, only you rotate the stage itself instead of moving Sonic around. I preferred it the old way. The final boss (spoilers I guess) is Mecha Eggman from Sonic 2, only it drones on for about 4 times as long and throws some very unfair punches your way.

As for the misunderstandings: it seems like the entire team that put this game together forgot that the original Sonic games were all about momentum – when Sonic starts rolling or flying through the air, you don’t need to control him to keep moving him forward. Instead, this game has you basically holding down the D-pad at all times in order to get Sonic to move. Otherwise, Sonic rolls to a stop extremely quickly. That’s not how the game is supposed to play. Not even the Sonic Advance or Rush series made this mistake.

Sega might have changed the physics around because of the addition of the homing double jump, which is really a game-changer, I guess you could say. You use it all the time. You have to. If you don’t, you’re in danger of falling down a pit and dying – and there are a lot of unexpected pits in this game, echoing the poor level design rampant in Sonic Advance. There are some truly frustrating parts that took me 5 lives to get through, when they really shouldn’t have.

There’s no voice acting in the game, which is intentional – it’s supposed to appease old-time fans (duh, the entire game is nothing but a giant appeasement), but there are times at which it almost seems as if Eggman is having a dialog with Sonic, where he flails around for about 10 seconds and you have to wait for him to finish not saying whatever he’s saying. It’s a little awkward. The music is also kind of awkward – you’re supposed to be reminded of the synthy stuff from the Genesis titles, but I’m just not feeling it. It could have done better with a recorded soundtrack, or more realistic instruments. I guess I should just be happy that it’s not another rap-rock debacle.

If you’re a long-time Sonic fan, I’d say get the game. $15 (Wii) is a little steep for a downloadable title, but it’s a nice thing to have in your collection. I think I’ll get episode 2, but I truly hope they’ll work out the physics and level design problems – not really holding my breath, though.

Website Review: Treasure Island Music Festival 2010

mentioned she liked reading my rants on how websites are built, and since I’m in the website-building business, it makes sense that I’d have some insights on what’s what. This is not to say that I’m an authority on how sites should be built, nor am I the only one spending time nitpicking. There are sites that focus on the whole package, like Sitecritic.net and Web Pages That Suck – both of which, for some reason, have pretty bad UI – but are thorough and well-written. As a developer, not a designer, I’ll try to focus mostly on use of code, and how websites that look just fine could greatly benefit from a bit of code rewriting.

(I don’t know if I’m going to write even more than one of these, so I decided I’d stick this on my personal blog for now.)

The lineup for the 2010 Treasure Island Music Festival was released yesterday. I’m pretty excited about everything on day 1 (being more of an electronic than indie guy). The color scheme for this year is a little strange (reminds me of a rotten fruit salad) but otherwise I like the design they’re going for. I was a bit appalled when I took a look at the code and a hodgepodge of tables jumped out at me.

The tables, Duke! The taaabblles!

There’s a myth that the <table> element is an awful, taboo, even deprecated thing that shouldn’t even be thought about when it comes to putting a site together. It’s false: <table> is great for, well, tables. Spreadsheets. Charts of data. Anything that can be logically arranged in rows and columns. But I don’t see any spreadsheets on this page:

Rotten fruit salad

In fact, I don’t see any rows or columns at all, in a traditional sense. I suspect tables were used to “speed up” development, as this reeks of a “slice and dice” job, where the developer was given a mockup and he decided, for some reason, to splice it into tiny bits and shove it into a series of convoluted tables with rowspans and colspans.

Bottom line: splicing is baaaad. I can’t think of a situation in which splicing would be a good thing to do. When you splice a PSD into tiny images and scatter them throughout a page, you do a few things:

  • You waste time taking apart an existing design and putting it back together, when you don’t have to
  • You make a page hard to maintain – what if the design changes?
  • You increase the amount of HTTP requests by a buttload
  • You doom a page’s SEO value by increasing load times, removing any opportunities to make a page semantic and machine-readable

The developer, instead, could have exported the entire design as a single PNG (oh god, I just noticed that they’re all GIFs), set it up as the background of the main site container, and overlaid some absolutely-positioned lists, whose text content is hidden via CSS. That is to say, the site with styles disabled would look something like this:

Treasure Island Music Festival

October 16 & 17, 2010

  • LCD Soundsystem
  • Deadmau5
  • etc…
  • Belle & Sebastian
  • The National
  • etc…

And with CSS implemented, the site would still look like it does above.

I am generalizing in one area, though, and that’s with hover states. If you yearn for the days when your visitors could be whisked away to a magic cyberspace of interactivity, then I guess you gotta implement your danged hover states one way or another, so you do have to splice the PSD and save the images individually (or turn them into sprites, or something equally clever), and use CSS to specify what shows up when you hover where. Instead, this site uses a horrid cocktail of JavaScript and invalid HTML attributes (srcover? oldsrc???).

In general, this a site that, despite being functional and pretty-looking, makes me want to smack the developer upside the head. It lives in a world where <table>, <div>, and <img> are the only HTML elements worth using, substitutes CSS for deprecated/invalid HTML attributes, loads a million images when in a perfect world it wouldn’t have to load any (web fonts! SVG! etc.!…), and sacrifices any chance of being accessible to search engine bots or those with disabilities (no meta tags, no alt text, not a hint of semantic HTML usage).

Boy, this was kind of therapeutic. If you found this at all interesting, feel free to send me some more examples. I’m looking to rant about recent, small-scale sites that aren’t overtly horrible but could use some work. Or I’ll find ’em instead.

iPhone 4 The Tie

I reserved an iPhone 4 the day preorders opened – I didn’t actually order one since I couldn’t get through Apple’s website; I reserved one via the Apple Store iPhone app instead. Turns out this was about as good an outcome as waiting for it to just be available, since I wouldn’t have had to wait in a 6-hour line, like I did. I even made fun of the people waiting overnight to get their iPhone so they don’t have to wait during their workday, but there I was. I am such a tool.

Now whether I’m a tool for actually BUYING the new iPhone is debatable. Getting a new phone usually results in me MAKING money, because I can sell the old one, sans contract, for about the same price of a new one, plus AppleCare, plus tax. Disregard the fact that I took time out of my work day to get this phone, which cost me almost that amount in lost pay. It’s not lost! I’m on contract! I can make it up whenever I want! Ugh!…

No, the reason I might be a tool is because of Early Adoption Syndrome. The new iPhone has two flaws, both of which I’m not sure if Apple will have a solution to anytime soon.

First, it’s the infamous left-handed signal loss issue, which does affect me, because I am left-handed. Almost all of the calls I’ve made so far have required that I move my hand from the natural phone-holding position, lest the calls be dropped. It’s a real shame. I can’t start holding it in the other hand because it’s still difficult to lift my right hand to my face. I really don’t want to buy a case because I keep the phone in my pocket and I can see the rubber conflicting with the ease of taking it in and out of my pocket. That, and I don’t feel as if I need to buy something extra to correct an inherent design problem.

Second, it’s FaceTime: it might work right out of the box, but it doesn’t when you restore your old iPhone’s backup onto the new phone. You can’t re-enable it: the option just plain disappears from the phone settings screen. The only way to get FaceTime to work is to restore your iPhone to factory settings and start from scratch, which would be fine, if it wasn’t for one thing: Final Fantasy II. The game, and many other games I have on my phone, have save data which I want to keep around (the data screen reports I have spent 23 hours and 18 minutes on the game so far). So basically, I need to finish up the game – which, by the way, runs just amazingly on the new phone compared to my old one – before I can restore and enable FaceTime. Which is fine, because I don’t know anyone else with an iPhone 4 and the feature is a gimmick just like video chat has always been.

Overall I’m glad I upgraded, mostly due to speed concerns. The OS and apps just blaze along. The new higher-resolution screen is pretty, but doesn’t really affect my experience that much. Due to the reception problem, I might have been better off buying an iPhone 3GS, which is also pretty fast. But I’ll deal with it. Maybe Apple will come out with a software update that will solve both problems. Probably not. But there’s always hope.

Because this is the place for long-form content

I wrote this on IRC and I feel like sharing it with you. My name (over and over) omitted.

final fantasy crystal chronicles my life as a darklord
it’s a tower defense game
tower defense pisses me off because it falls into the category of “games that eventually get impossibly hard”
might sound weird but i don’t like games where it gets harder as you go along
the point of these games is you’re supposed to learn and hone your skills so you can face the challenges later
but i don’t think game devs get that, i think they expect you to lose more often as you go along
which to me means there’s less incentive to continue
anyway it’s an interesting game because instead of building towers to ward off invaders, you’re building FLOORS on a SINGLE tower.
but that basically means it’s less flexible than your average tower defense game since you’re putting attackers on a one-dimensional grid rather than two.
anyway that is the longest rant i have written in 5 years so read well.
or don’t.

Charity.

I know it’s navigating into rocky territory when I start criticizing a charity, but I’m going to do it anyway: Child’s Play is a gross misallocation of resources, and those who contribute toward it should give it a second thought.

What you’re doing when you contribute to Child’s Play is buying toys, games, and books for children mostly in long-term care. It’s an admirable gesture as people in hospitals must be bored as hell and in need of some good entertainment. But still, I don’t like the idea of gamers giving games to future gamers.

It reeks of consumerism. It’s no wonder why Microsoft, Sony, Blizzard, Valve, etc. all give thousands of dollars to the cause every year – it’s great PR. It creates new customers. Furthermore, if I remember correctly, the reason Child’s Play was started was to give off a good image of gamers, and to shove that in the face of politicians who would claim that they’re violent, unbalanced individuals. Well that’s great guys! You sure can buy video games. You sure showed them.

Here’s the most important part: Child’s Play doesn’t save lives. I guess you could give a lot of excuses and pass them off as arguments: “the more money we contribute to entertainment, the more hospitals can pay for medicine!” or “kids won’t die… of boredom!” But that’s bullshit. Kids don’t die of boredom. Kids die of hunger, disease, violence, and a whole lot more. Video games won’t save them.

Look, it’s great that you’re bolstering an entertainment industry while giving toys to children in first-world hospitals (oh, and one in Iraq), instead of buying the same things for yourself. But please consider donating to charities that will actually work toward curing actual ills. They’re very easy to find.

I’m open for arguments as to why I’m off base about Child’s Play, but it probably won’t deter me from my main argument that there are much better ways of giving away your money.

PS In Child’s Play’s favor: according to the Wikipedia entry (but not the official site?), cash donated does go toward “paying for pediatric research, facility improvements, etc.” If true, that’s great.