Million download baby

To me, Bram Cohen – the creator of the P2P technology BitTorrent – is inarguably a uniquely precise individual, the kind of character you would find among the profound hyperlexics in a Douglas Coupland novel. His hobbies include “recreational mathematics”, juggling, and solving strategy games and twisty puzzles. If you read his blogs at Advogato and LiveJournal, you’ll see him espousing pragmatic mathematical advice on everything from electoral votes to military-strength cryptography. This is a guy who wrote an entire algorithm, in pseudo-code, on wagering in Final Jeopardy.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that BitTorrent is not only open source and free to download, but terribly clever. He told Neowin that he gets an interview a day. So it’s a sad thing then that all everyone ever wants to ask him about is his thoughts on piracy, and the fact his program is the preferred pilferer of the people.

He usually gives a non-commital response, citing technology agnosticism. He believes the traditional CD and DVD model of the moviemaking fat cats is quickly becoming extinct, but that is a pragmatic assessment easily proven by mathematical trends. People say he’s playing it safe, but I think that’s really what he thinks. Piracy is a socioeconomic topic that doesn’t involve math or logic. And anything that doesn’t involve logic, isn’t worth considering.

You just have to read his entry on hiring employees to understand how his mind works. “Interviews are practically worthless for screening candidates,” he sniffs. His strategy? Pick the candidate with the shortest commute time. Can you get any more pragmatic?

Pop Loc

Everything old is new again…

Watch the music video for K-Os’s “Man I Used To Be” lower down on this page. There’s lots of good breakdancing inside, including a two man breakin’ battle. Oh, and it was filmed in Toronto – what more can you want?

After that, take a look at Kottke’s interview with David Bernal, one of the dancers behind the VW Golf GTI commercial featuring a reanimated Gene Kelly poppin’ and lockin’.

The terrible secret of Shuffle

ipod 001.jpgOne of my pet peeves in people/technology/processes are a lack of precision.

I just got Silverlotus an 1GB iPod Shuffle for Valentine’s – one of the first to grace Canadian shores (The box even came with a free song promo for the American iTunes Store).

One thing I was struck by was Apple’s obsessive detail into the end-to-end user experience. The Shuffle is small, simply designed and solidly built. The earphones are confortable to wear. The iTunes media library software makes buying, sorting, playing and transferring music a breeze. Especially the buying; with three clicks you can buy a song and have it ready to play on your iPod.

Critics charge that the Shuffle is a lame duck, since it has no built-in LCD screen or FM radio or salad tosser. They just don’t understand that making a good product doesn’t mean fulfilling a giant feature checklist; first and foremost it has to be intuitive, reliable, and attractive.

That’s Apple’s great secret to success. It’s not exactly rocket science! iPods control 80% of the hard-drive-based digital music player market because all its competitors use clunky interfaces, buggy firmware, nonexistent technical support, terrible media library software, and are encased in a cheap looking faux chrome enclosure that only a blind engineer could love.

Only Creative has come close to understanding this with the Zen Micro.

UPDATE: Apparently David Gilbraith agrees: “Apple is a great vindication of ballsyness rather than MBAness. Jobs is our generation’s Frank Lloyd Wright.”

People say that Apple is just a big reality distortion field generator, but if the shoe fits, wear it. Case in point: the story of the Graphing Calculator. It was part of a cancelled project that an Apple contractor decided to finish by sneaking into the building and worked with no pay for six months. It shipped on twenty million PowerMacintoshes.

P.S. One thing I didn’t get Silverlotus: a romantic dinner at White Castle.

Five annoying cellphone ringtones around me

  1. Default Nokia Jingle – the flashing “12:00” of mobile devices
  2. Motorola Marketing Jingle – obnoxious electronica while a chip voice blurts out “Hello Moto!”
  3. Three-ring Chime – reminds me of the sound Daytona USA makes when you drive your car through a checkpoint. I want to yell out “Time Extension!” everytime I hear it
  4. Sappy Song Refrain – visualize the instrumentals of a Dan Hill lovesong made by last year’s Hong Kong pop idol
  5. Shrill Ring Set To Maximum Volume – And it’s always buried at the bottom of some woman’s three gallon purse

    “If you can get her to say my name then I would buy it. I need that kind of personal attention.”

    – New Yorker Julian McCullough, on Jenna Jameson’s new moaning ringtones

    Year of the Rooster

Have It Your Way or the highway


“You have to remember that EA is a marketing driven company,” writes an anonymous poster on DSLR who claims to have worked for Electronic Arts. “The marketing department has almost complete control over the process and finished product.”

This is quite evident in the new Need for Speed: Underground 2, EA’s latest, er, advertising vehicle. Racers drive past billboards hawking Campbell’s soup and Old Spice, and realistic facsimiles of Burger King and Best Buy franchises. A Cingular Wireless icon surgically welded to the GUI acts as the communications controls. The exquisitely detailed real-life Hondas, Toyotas and other real cars can collide head-on with brick walls and escape with nary a blemish – a kowtow to the automakers, who forbid their gas-powered creations to be shown as unsafe or imperfect in any way.

This is also the first time a major song artist will premiere a song in a videogame. That’s right, NFSU2’s menu screen will be the first worldwide debut of Snoop Dogg’s remix of The Door’s “Riders in the Storm”. Other top billing artists also feature, including Mudvayne and Chingy.

Underground 2 is not the first EA game to have advertising or EA Trax, but neither has a videogame comes this close to blurring the lines between entertainment and commercial. It is a grand experiment in making EA a mainstream media powerhouse that is as profit driven as possible.

However, you can hardly blame EA for putting advertising, sponsoring and licensing in the front seat; the Wall Street Journal states game developers now spend $10 million or more in building and marketing a triple-A title, and that money has to come from somewhere.

As games enter the mainstream, advertising seems inevitable. (Even live-from-the-Internet ads are being considered.) The trick is to design ads that do not break the immersive environment of the game.

As for the grand experiment, most gamers seem to be taking the Burger King-ified game in stride. But perhaps the Cingular icon was one step too far; as someone further in the thread raged, “It’s not like the billboards where at least you can say “well i’m in a city, there’s billboards. there’s a burger king”. but this damn logo on my windshield?”

In the D drive: Need for Speed: Underground 2 and Silent Hill 4: The Room Trial Version

Take the car

Another year, another planned fare hike for the TTC. What really bugs people about these prices is how they now have to pay more to stand at a bonechilling bustop waiting for a late bus, which invariably is crowded and filthy.

Here’s my two tokens: most people take the TTC because they have no other choice. The management is not trying hard enough to get people to take it by free will. Their advertising slogan mocks me every time I get on a subway car: “TTC saves hassle, time, and the environment.” One out of three ain’t bad, but it’s time to work on the first two.

Museum subway stationFigure a way to reduce travel times!

Get streetcars to arrive consistently, and on time!

Don’t be so stingy with transfers, let us do roundtrips and stopovers!

Make it easier to track schedules! Hamilton has the BusCheck, where each bus stop has its own phone number where an automated voice tells you when the next bus is due to arrive.

Actually enforce the No Smoking by-law!

Give us a Metropass that actually costs less than buying 10 tokens per work-week! How about an adult commuter weekday-only pass that will actually save us money?

The real last mile

Complaining your DSL will only sync at 2.4 Mbps when next door gets 2.6Mbps? Put things in perspective, you could have lived in Mink, Louisiana. The small community just got telephone service.

BellSouth Corp. spent $700,000 – or about $47,000 per phone – to extend about 30 miles of cable through thick forests to Mink, about 100 miles south of Shreveport. Phone customers around the state will cover the cost by paying a small monthly charge on their bills.

Entering the 20th century called for a party:

The community celebrated with a fish fry Monday – gathering at a church and dishing out catfish, okra, hushpuppies and slaw to about 100 residents, friends, public officials and others.

Well, this is Louisiana. And it wasn’t all fun and games:

“It wasn’t 15 minutes after that phone was in before a telemarketer called me,” [Mink resident] Edwards said.