The Calm After The Storm

August 28, 2011

| Posted in: Nature,Weather

Sunset over lower Manhattan, August 28, 2011 (click for full sized image)

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When The Levee Breaks…

August 28, 2011

| Posted in: The Great Outdoors,Weather

Hurricane Irene hasn’t wrought the devastation free local sex on New York City that was originally projected, but in DUMBO there has still adult hookup been some flooding (and a fair bit of local ogling). These photos were taken on 8/28/11 between 8:51 a.m. and 9:04 a.m. (just after high tide) at the entry point to Brooklyn Bridge Park, at the corner of Main Street and Plymouth.  The water is normally 8 to 10 feet below the rocks in the photo above.

(p.s.:  These were taken one handed, while Cambridge escort agency I walked my dog, with a wet point and shoot.  They were hastily local sex uploaded and placed onto this blog, without editing or effects.  Like nature herself, they are untamed.)

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Here’s Why You’re Addicted To Angry Birds

August 16, 2011

| Posted in: Gaming,Technology

Photo by Rovio

Angry Birds, the mobile gaming juggernaut that just passed the 100 million download milestone, is on track to be the most popular mobile app ever.  The company just secured $42 million in investment capital, which will be used to bring the game to new platforms (including Facebook and Google) and extend the brand into more traditional media (including the possibility of a feature film).  The game, which cost just $140,000 to develop, has already yielded $70 million.

But Rovio, the Finnish company behind the game, isn’t resting on its laurels.  At a panel discussion at SXSW last Spring Rovio CEO Peter Vesterbacka all but pronounced console gaming dead, arguing that console games cost too much, both in terms of development and cost to consumer.

But low price point alone doesn’t begin to explain why the game is so popular and addictive.  Fortunately, a user experience engineer named Charles Mauro broke down the game in terms of its cognitive appeal.  His findings may help explain why users worldwide spend some 200 million hours a day playing Angry Birds:

Just Simple Enough.  Mauro’s praises the game for the simplicity of its design and the player interaction.  But he’s careful to add that what sets Angry Birds apart is the fact that it brings the necessary elements of engagement to this simplicity.  How?  By making us think. “It is engaging, in fact addictive, due to the carefully scripted expansion of the user’s mental model of the strategy component and incremental increases in problem/solution methodology.”

All In Due Time.  While Angry Birds is by no means a slow game, Mauro points out that the developers didn’t simply make it as fast as was possible.  Again, what makes it appealing is that users have some time to contemplate. “This response time of  3-5 seconds, in most user interfaces, brings users to the point of exasperation, but not with Angry Birds. Again, really smart response time management gives the user time to relax and think about how lame they are compared to their 4 year old who is already at the 26th level. It also gives the user time to structure an error correction strategy (more arc, more speed, better strategy) to improve performance on the next shot.”

The Magical Mystery Tour.  Like an good form of entertainment, Angry Birds is full of mysteries. “Why are tiny bananas suddenly strewn about in some play sequences and not in others? Why do the houses containing pigs shake ever so slightly at the beginning of each game play sequence? Why is the game’s play space showing a cross section of underground rocks and dirt?”  Mauro doesn’t answer these questions because answering them is not the point.  The fact that they are present and that users are forced to consider them means that they are more deeply engaged in the experience.

That Sounds About Right. While references to “avian dialogue” may strain Mauro’s credibility a tad, his argument that the audio effects make the game more engaging are sensible, especially if you’ve ever played the game with your device set to mute. “The audio in Angry Birds serves to enhance the user’s experience by mapping tightly to the user’s simple mental model of conflict between the angry birds and the loathsome pigs. This concept, known in film production as ‘action syncing’, provides enhanced levels of the feedback for users at just the right time.”

You’ve Got The Look.  Mauro’s least persuasive argument comes when he attempts to explain the visual appeal of the game, which he describes as “a combination of ‘high-camp cartoon’ with a bit of greeting card graphics tossed in for good measure.”  After arguing that visual design is as much about the appropriateness of the attributes that are presented as it is about being either good or bad, he falls back on the age-old cliche that you know it when you see it.  And with Angry Birds, he most definitely sees it.  And, apparently, so do 100 million other users across the globe.

Source:
Why Angry Birds Is So Successful And Popular: A Cognitive Teardown Of The User Experience, by Charles L. Mauro

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Advertising Done “The Wire” Way

August 4, 2011

| Posted in: Television

The finest show in the history of television is off the air, but its influence on culture remains.

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Add “March Madness” To The List Of Things Republicans Hate

March 16, 2011

| Posted in: Politics,Sports

Photo by AP/Jae C. Hong

Proving that they can turn even the most mundane (and downright American) of undertakings into a bipartisan squabble, Republicans are taking jabs at President Obama for appearing on ESPN to reveal his NCAA bracket picks.  At 2 p.m. today newly installed RNC chairman Reince Priebus tweeted the following:

The President has yet to reply, but we suspect most people understand that being the leader of the free world and selecting a few college teams are not mutually exclusive.

The more important question is this: how accurate are the President’s selections, given his dodgy historical record? (In 2008 he correctly picked the eventual winner–North Carolina–but last year he chose heavily favored Kansas to take it all, only to watch them lose in the second round to Northern Iowa.)

This year we went with the safe bets–his final four are Kansas, Duke, Ohio State and Pittsburgh, all number one seeds. He’s going with Kansas as the national champs again, despite being burned last year.  Why? Because, he says, “they have more firepower.”

No word on what Priebus’ bracket looks like, but we’re guessing he’s not much fun to watch a game with.

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How We’ll Watch TV In The Future (Probably)

March 16, 2011

| Posted in: Technology,Television

Photo by Lambert/Getty Images

Netflix, the video rental and streaming behemoth, is getting into the original content game.  According to Deadline Hollywood’s Nellie Andreeva, Netflix is reportedly in talks to buy 26 episodes of a remake of the British political drama “House of Cards” for $100 million.  The remake will star Kevin Spacey and be directed by David Fincher.  While the deal is significant in terms of the players, the size of the order and the dollar amount, it also represents a broader change in the way people will consume television and movies, as Andreeva notes.

Netflix isn’t the only non-traditional player with its sights set on territory traditionally controlled by Hollywood.  To help determine what the future may hold in terms of distribution and content production, we enlisted veteran tech/media reporter Peter Kafka of All Thing’s Digital to assess the five candidates most likely to challenge Netflix:

Amazon
“While streaming video is currently being used in a limited way as an incentive to get people to join Amazon Prime, there is no reason they can’t assemble the same catalog as Netflix.  They have the money and most of that content is not exclusive.   They are also one of only a handful of companies who have a credit card billing relationship with literally hundreds of millions of existing customers, so the payment infrastructure is already in place.”

Apple
“They clearly want in, but their model hasn’t really taken off.  According to Jobs the content guys are pricing their stuff to high, but the studios and networks have shown no inclination to offer anything for cheaper.  But Apple has one huge advantage:  they have credit relationships with something like 200 million people.  These users already buy content from Apple in some form, and they are used to the experience.  That said, I can’t see Steve Jobs wanting to get into the television production business.”

Facebook
“The official party line is that they are platform, but it doesn’t take much to imagine them being a more active participant in online video.  The most obvious model would be an iTunes-like set up.  This has tremendous appeal to the distributors of content, who are all working hard to have their content involved in social interaction.  This would cut out the middleman.  They’ve only just dipped a toe in this area, but I’m bullish on Facebook in terms of video distribution.  As for original content, they’ve shown know inclination to want to do this and probably would draw a bright line so as not to compete with distributors.”

Google
“Google has the resources to buy their way into whatever business they want but they seem to have made a conscious decision not to enter the distribution and content production race in the United States.  You can rent movies now on YouTue, which most people don’t realize.  And they are now talking about getting a handful of famous people to create content for their own YouTube Channels, but neither of these are part of a major focus. It’s probably very disappointing for Hollywood because people thought Google would just show up with a truckful of cash to buy a studio or an output deal.”

Microsoft
“Microsoft has spent years trying to get into the living room, and now with Xbox they’ve succeeded.  Now that they have an internet connection going to people’s TVs they are playing around with the idea of turning the game console into a cable box, as evidenced by their recent deal with ESPN to make 3,5000 live broadcasts available through the Xbox. The tech press tends to discount Microsoft because of other struggles but this is one area where they could become a big deal.” 

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Sales Figures For The iPad 2 Debut: It’s Still Anybody’s Guess

March 16, 2011

| Posted in: Technology

Photo by Reuters/Lucas Jackson

Given Apple’s penchant for secrecy and only touting good news, determining how well (or poorly) an Apple product does following its debut weekend requires a certain degree of sleuthing. The thinner, lighter and more powerful iPad 2 went on sale on Friday at 5 p.m.  It’s now Wednesday afternoon on the east coast, and the company has yet to provide official sales figures.  As a result the tech press is still trying to crack the Apple code, using a mix of Kremlinology and deduction.  Here’s a review of the parlor-room assessments thus far:

The One Million Mark? According to several leading industry analysts interviewed by Reuters on Monday, as many as one million iPad 2 units may have been sold. If true this would represent a threefold increase over sales of the original iPad during its initial weekend. (The first version sold some 300,000 units when it debuted on April 3, 2010).

Not So Much. Others were a bit less bullish.  On Monday Dan Frommer of Business Insider noted that the lack of a press release from Apple may indicate that sales were not worth bragging about. (Apple sent out a release early the Monday morning following the weekend debut of the first iPad).  Frommer also mentioned the rumors surrounding the iPad 2’s supposed supply chain issues, which Slashgear reported on in early March.

Fifth Avenue Sellout:  On Tuesday Dylan Love of Business Insider, citing a “well connected source,” reported that the NYC flagship store on Fifth Avenue had sold all 7,200 unit it had in stock on launch day.  What this means in terms of overall sales figures is unclear, but it’s a good indicator of demand.

Inventory Issues Continued Tuesday. Apple stores were supposed to receive additional inventory on Tuesday, and lines once again formed.  But according to Apple Insider, some stores didn’t get additional stock, and those that did received less inventory than anticipated.  This has led one analyst to suggest that the international launch, scheduled for March 25th, will now be delayed.

The Market Speaks. For those who look to the stock market as indicators there have been mixed messages.  Shares of Apple stock (AAPL) were up a tick over 1% after the Monday morning bell but this was followed by a sharp sell off, according to MarketWatch.  Then on Wednesday morning JP Morgan downgraded their rating on Apple stock from “Market Outperform” to “Outperform,” citing issues with a manufacturing partner.  While this latter move was not solely related to the iPad, the tablet market was mentioned in the note that accompanied the downgrade

The Waiting Is The Hardest Part. With nothing else to go on some publications were reduced to speculating on the presence of lines, which analysts said were longer this time around.  Sure, they seemed present at every Apple store and official retailer across the country, but even fanatics with prime spots were disappointed: At the Apple store in Century City, CA the ninth person in line was unable purchase the model with the specs he wanted (white, 64GB).  And, those who prefer to stay away from bricks and mortars stores were not spared: on Tuesday Apple announced that the wait time for online orders had increased to four to five weeks.

Playing (With) The Numbers. Most conspiratorial of all is the suggestion that Apple has “tweaked its Web ordering tools to randomize order numbers so that users can’t figure out how many units the company has moved between two different points in time.”  That seems like a lot of work to hide something that will probably turn out to be a very positive metric.

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Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (For Better Or Worse)

March 16, 2011

| Posted in: Arts & Culture,Humor

Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

After his ugly split with NBC last winter, Conan O’Brien hit the road with “The Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television Tour,” playing to 33 cities across the United States (and Canada). As is the modern way, the tour was turned into a comedy documentary called Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, which debuted this weekend at Austin’s SXSW film festival (it also picked up a unique three-platform distribution deal there on Tuesday).

We realize you may be uncertain as to whether to invest your time and effort into the film, which is equal parts comedic showcase, therapy session and 89-minute vanity project.  So to help you decide, we reviewed three of the early reviews:

For John DeFore at The Hollywood Reporter, “Can’t Stop is as entertaining as any showbiz doc in recent memory.”  Predictably, the reviewer found the off-stage footage more emotionally revealing than the staged antics.  Still, the level of gloom he ascribes to O’Brien is probably revealing even to Conan loyalists:

Sublimated via humor or not, the performer is clearly working through some anger. O’Brien comes clean in informal interviews, admitting how furious he is about NBC’s rejection. But angry or not, the nonstop improvisations we see here — as he brainstorms material for the tour, tries to survive meet-and-greets and frets about his performances backstage — are clearly fueled by a kind of manic near-desperation, a sink-or-swim career moment.

Joe Leydon at Variety places more focus on Conan’s stage persona, citing lines, reviewing the performance and noting some of the stars Conan recruited to join him at various stops:

More often than not, O’Brien appears to be having the time of his life onstage — interacting with longtime sidekick Andy Richter, cutting up with guest stars (including Jim Carry, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart), and vigorously and quite capably performing covers of country and rockabilly tunes with his band and two backup singers. He comes off as genuinely surprised — and extremely grateful — that, for the first time in his showbiz career, people actually are paying to see him perform.

Perhaps the closest to a pan comes from blogger Matt Patches at Cinema Blend, who notes that, “The title says it all: [Conan] can’t stop — and it’s to his own dismay.”  His advice for deciding on whether to see the film involves knowing where you stand on the great Coco divide of 2010/11:

Depending on how strong your love is for Team Coco, you’ll either find Can’t Stop to be a captivating (and still funny) portrait of Conan emotional roller coaster ride or an uncomfortable window into a comedic hero’s stream of consciousness.

As the old Steve Martin album title has it, “comedy is not pretty!”

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Shackleton (In Color!)

March 4, 2011

| Posted in: Manliness,Nostalgia,The Great Outdoors

An amazing archive of color photos of Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated “Endurance” voyage to Antarctica, circa 1914-1917.  They were taken by Frank Hurley, who was the official photographer on the voyage.  “Endurance,” of course, become stuck in pack ice in 1915 and was ultimately crushed by the floe.  The most amazing part of the description of the photos is how the photographer recovered them:

Hurley managed to salvage the photographic plates by diving into mushy ice-water inside the sinking ship in October 1915.

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The Disappearance Of Comedy Writing

March 2, 2011

| Posted in: Arts & Culture,Humor,Writing

I did a reading last night at KGB Bar, as part of a series called “True Stories” (the theme of the specific reading was “Comedy Night”).  Given this, I read a comedic piece.  It went well, etc. etc.  After the reading the event curators had me and my co-reader (Dave Hill) do a short q-and-a session.  At first nobody seemed to get it, but then the audience warmed up and we had some fun.  One person–a man in a fedora who I would later learn worked in pubic radio–ask why there were so few outlets for humor writing.

His question stumped me (and Dave).  Certainly there is no shortage of comedy or comedic shows or sites that offer humorous videos.  And there is The Onion, which is consistently brilliant.  But short of McSweeney’s, The Morning News and Shouts & Murmurs, there are very few outlets for humor writing. The back pages of both GQ and Esquire do humor as well, but these are rarities nowadays.

There is no current equivalent to Spy, to Punch, to the National Lampoon.  And I don’t know why.

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