Saturday, September 26, 2009

Not André Breton’s Blog: Unique vs. Original

When I came up with the name Soluble Fish, I swear I thought of it on my own. But now that I look around a little more, maybe not.

French Surrealist André Breton wrote a book called Poisson Soluble. I've had a copy of Poems of André Breton
(trans. & ed. by Jean-Pierre Cauvin and Mary Ann Caws; pub. by U of Texas Press) since sometime in college. From the 1994 Kroger receipt serving as a bookmark, I must have read up to page 125, well past the excerpts from Soluble Fish. When I named this blog, I thought I had come up with an interesting, paradoxical name, full of metaphorical potential. (I knew that there used to be a Canadian band with this name, but hey.)

Did part of me "know" about this surrealist tome? Or was my mind able to formulate it on its own, having completely forgotten Poisson Soluble? Was this an independent yet non-unique creation? Or subliminal plagiarism? I'll never know.

Luckily, Breton won't be complaining about it; he died in 1966. I do rather enjoy being linked to the surrealist movement. Like many others, I went through my Salvador Dali stage, but I also expanded into surrealist literature, too. But that was a while ago.

So anyway, thank's André. Here's some of what he wrote:

Avec la musique j'ai lié partie pour une seconde seulement et maintenant je ne sais plus que penser du suicide, car si je veux me séparer do moi-même, la sortie est de ce côté et, j'ajoute malicieusement: l'entrée, le rentrée de cet autre côté. Tu vois ce qu'il te reste à faire. Les heures, le chagrin, je n'en tiens pas un compte raisonnable; je suis seul, je regarde par la fenêtre; il ne passe personne, ou plutôt personne ne passe.

En anglais:

I've kept company with music for a second only and now I no longer know what to think of suicide, for if I want to part from myself, the exit is on this side and, I add mischievously, the entrance, the re-entrance, on the other. You see what you still have to do. The hours, the grief, I don't keep a reasonable account of them; I'm alone, I look out the window; there is no passerby, or rather no one passes.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Google Sidewiki: CyberGraffiti vs. Online Marginalia

This week, Google released a public beta version of its new Sidewiki, a browser sidebar feature that lets you add comments to any (yes, any) Web page. (You can read the official Google blog post or an article from Ars Technica that describes it.) You actually don't add the comment to the Web page itself, but your comment is linked to that page, and all comments added for that page can be seen by anyone else who visits it and who has downloaded the Google toolbar. Google Sidewiki is a feature added to the browser and not to a Web site, thus giving the Web site owner no control over the comments and no legal ground to stand on if you end up with a lot of harsh comments. (I can only imagine the kind of ranting we'll see on Creationist Web sites!)

I'm going to have to reserve judgement for the time being. It's exciting the way a new pit bull puppy is exciting: In the beginning, it'll be fun to feed it and watch it grow, but it can quickly grow into something dangerous that could eat your children.

There are some safeguards built into Sidewiki:

  • You have to have a Google account to use it. This will (one hopes) lessen the opportunity to leave profane, argumentative, juvenile, and jejune comments anonymously. It also gives Google a lot more information about its users; some bloggers are bringing up Big Brother in their descriptions.
  • Comments won't appear in chronological order. Sidewiki will use an algorithm (Google has an algorithm for everything, no?) to rank a page's comments by relevance. If it's anything like their search algorithm, I don't hold much hope that it'll work well. If you own the site (presumably indicated by linking Google Analytics and Webmaster codes embedded in the site to your Google account), you can create an anchor comment that will stick to the top of the Sidewiki panel. Site owners can use this space to inficate what type of comments are expected of site visitors. (So far, the people who've tried Sidewiki haven't really know what type of comments to leave.)
  • Comments can be policed and ranked by the community. Drawing off the ideas crowdsource ranking sites like StumbleUpon and Digg, visitors can thumb up or thumb down a comment that is more or less helpful. There is also a way to report over-the-top, unacceptable comments. (It seems to me that it would take an enormous workforce just to review these abuse reports. Could we see mass hirings of low-level workers at Google soon?)
  • Google's legal language sets decent limits. Google reserves the right to limit the number of transmissions or the amount of storage space that a user can use. This ought to rein in bots and automatic spam in the Sidewiki. They also prohibit access to the Sidewiki services through any means other than Google's interface. (This, of course, can be bypassed with a written agreement with Google.)

I think people's biggest fear right now is that using the Sidewiki gives the Google folks an awful lot of personally identifiable information about online habits. It's a breakdown of the wall of anonymity. I perused the user agreement looking for language about what Google can do with your comments. I was uplifted when I read the legal language allowing Google to "pre-screen, review, flag, filter, modify, refuse, and remove" comments. Notice some missing words: republish, sell, market, repackage, etc. However, farther down in the legal lingo we find that Google can give your content to its partners for syndication. Your comments could make someone else some money. I'm not opposed to capitalism, but I am worried about plagiarism and intellectual property. As I said before, I'm going to have to reserve judgement until I see what actually transpires.

I'd been looking around for a cheap, simple commenting feature to add to my own Web site (Infinite Cadenza). Now I'm going to hold off on that and invite (the few) people who visit my site to use Sidewiki. I think a tool like this could be quite useful for small sites like mine, and could be a great source for me to figure out what types of content I should publish next. I don't know that big sites with lots of visitors will get much good out of being forced into social media. It's going to be a big mess come election time in 2012.

I couldn't find any information about what types of analytics Google will be able to offer Web site owners, and I'm really interested in what I'll find. (I've added a comment to my own site to see what pops up in my analytics.) I'm sure I'll post more about this later as I learn more about it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My Heroes Predictions

[Spoiler alert]

The new season of Heroes kicked off last night, and I wasn't disappointed. Already we've seen the return of characters presumed dead (Tracy and, of course, Sylar), the death of one bad guy (Danko), a new power in Peter's arsenal (speed), and a collection of carnie freaks a la HBO's Carnivàle. The Heroes folks certainly aren't shying away from a ginormous cast.

Of course, that only means that a number of them won't survive the season.

True to form, the Easter Eggs have started as well — you know, like George Takei stepping out of a car with the license plate NCC1701. I only caught two that made me giggle like a little girl, but I've seen the episode only once:

  • At the math class test, the professor is reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which is a real book that has been on my too-read list for a couple months now.
  • Angela Petrelli's chauffeur is named Alfred, a la Batman.

I'm sure there were more that I just didn't catch.

Anyway, here are my predictions for the next season:

  • Sylar isn't going to stay in Matt Parkman. At some point during the season, Sylar will move into the mind of either Mrs. Parkman or Baby Matt, or both. Big Matt will sacrifice and take Sylar back on. In the end, though, I think Sylar will return to his own body, but Nathan will still be in there, too. Then we'll have a full-blown, devil-inside, Hulk-vs.-Bruce Banner psychological conflict on our hands, made more serious by the fact that Nathan is a US Senator.
  • Samuel, the new ink-controlling character, and his topless muse are reminiscent of Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man. Keep your eyes open for people reading Bradbury (especially this book) and your ears open for references to his work: something wicked this way comes, fahrenheit 451, the martian chronicles, etc. (Note that his first collection of short stories was titled Dark Carnival.)
  • How will Tracy and Noah's relationship develop? They'll probably go back and forth, never falling for each other at the same time (shades of Ross and Rachel). It'll probably provide a good deal of tension between Noah and Nathan, though, who will probably also want to hook up with Tracy.
  • Claire's new friend Gretchen has a power and caused Annie's death. Gretchen is one of the carnies. I mean, it has to be her, right? Claire hasn't met any other characters at college yet, so who else could it be? The appearance of the suicide note points to passing through walls, freezing time, or being invisible. I vote for the last.
  • Matt is going to be the wildcard, at least for a while. Eventually, he'll return to NYC to get away from his family to keep them safe from Sylar.
  • Who will die and who will live? The old guy and the knife guy at the carnival will be minor losses. Tracy won't die — honestly, they can't kill Ali Larder every season, can they? (Or are they going for a "They killed Kenny!" vibe?) Last season, I thought that Angela would bite the dust, but now that she's the last of the old school, she's got to stay around. Someone will have to die to get rid of Sylar — either Matt or Nathan. Or maybe they'll come to their senses and Matt will push Sylar into the mind of someone on death row?
  • One possibility that might throw a wrench in these predictions: Samuel and Sylar somehow team up — maybe Sylar takes over Samuel, not only giving him a body and a new power, but putting him at the head of the gaggle of geeks, the Heroes version of Magneto's Brotherhood.

So I'm excited about this season. I do need to go back and rewatch some of last season's shows because I'm having a hard time remembering who is still alive, even.

Where is Mohinder, and what is he doing?

Monopoly City Streets Still Crime-Ridden

Last Thursday, Hasbro relaunched Monopoly City Streets with a new set of rules designed to make the game fairer. I wasn't sure about all the changes (read about it here), but I was happy to see that Hasbro was trying to make their online game better.

Well, it was a good try, but there are still problems. Take a look at the leaderboard as of this morning:

The game has been running for less than a week, and already these Cheaters show earnings of over half a quadrillion dollars. Mathematically impossible. And when you actually click on one of those names and take a closer look, the results are even more confounding. Some of them place high in the rankings, but when you look at what they own, they have only two or three streets and less than $200,000.

At least they aren't hiding the fact that they're cheating. (By the way, all those "Cheaters" in the top spots come from the same place in Iowa.) I can only hope that the Hasbro folks will put the kibosh on most of these accounts.

Meanwhile, I'll keep playing by the rules.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Was I Right? Monopoly City Streets Takes a Do-Over

I was doing okay with Monopoly City Streets, building up my kingdom by slowly buying up my hometown. While following "the rules," I was taking in about $7 million in rent. Or at least I was set up for that, and then Friday morning, I couldn't log in.

Eventually I noticed and clicked the Blog link in the bottom right corner and found out why. After about a week of gameplay — and bugs and cheaters and slow servers — the Monopoly folks decided they would RESTART THE GAME. Essentially they're giving themselves a do-over. Check out the Monopoly blog posts starting at September 15 for the details.

But they didn't just start over, they changed some of the rules. A few of them worth noting:

  • They removed the bidding cap for streets for players over Level 3. I don't know about this one. The cap is what made it harder to cheat. Without a cap, it's possible to buy cheap property and then sell it at a super-high price to a shell user account. Which is probably why they instituted the next rule change.
  • Property can be exchanged only once per day. I assume this also includes changing hands from the bank to a user, so you can't buy an unused problem and immediately resell it at a higher price.
  • Taxes?! That's right, taxes find their way into this game, and they're a little odd. Here's what they say about it on the blog:

    There is only one certainty in MONOPOLY City Streets. Tax. Just like in real life, tax now plays an integral part of the game. Tax works as follows: The first 5 streets owned are not taxed. Thereafter, the current tax rate is 3% PER STREET you own.

    For example, if you own 15 streets your tax will be 30% of your total rent collected every day. If you own 25 streets your tax will be 60%. Remember, at 38 streets you will effectively be taxed 100% and so won't be making any profit and your bank balance won't increase.

This changes the strategy of the game a bit. Now, as you build an empire, it behooves you to sell your smaller properties — your shorter streets — when the tax you pay exceeds the amount of rent you earn from those streets. I suppose it's good for people who discover and join the game later in the game, too.

I'm really glad that they have been listening to their users. I'm not thrilled that I lost all my streets, though. I'll get over it. I wish they had made a more obvious statement of the game restart on the game page instead of just on the blog, though. I would have re-created my profile (Andyman) this morning had I been told.

At any rate, I think this version could actually last until the January 31 end date, unlike my previous predictions. See my earlier posts here:

Worldwide Monopoly Goes Online

Monopoly City Streets: The Letdown

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Windows 7 and Ribbon Changes

I've been reading up lately on what we can expect to see in Windows 7 (coming October 22), and I've mostly been excited about the new features. But today I found something that worries me a bit.

Windows 7 is implementing what MS is calling the "Scenic Ribbon." Essentially, they're expanding the Ribbon interface that they introduced with Office 2007 to more of Windows. We'll find a Ribbon in WordPad and Paint (which hasn't been updated since Nixon was president), as well as the next version of Visio (Visio 2007 didn't have the Ribbon). They're releasing the Scenic Ribbon API so that developers can bring Ribbon functionality to their software.

None of this worries me. In fact, I think it's kind of cool. What worries me, though, is that they will be releasing an update to Vista and Office 2007 so that it integrates the new Scenic Ribbon feature. That worries me because I have a bunch of Ribbon customizations in Office 2007, and I don't know for sure whether (a) the customizations will stick with the new API or (b) my normal route for customizing the Ribbon will still be usable. Microsoft is normally pretty good about backward compatibility (they'll continue to release XP security updates until 2014), but their documentation is wanting. I've noticed a distinct lack of consideration for intermediate programmers (aka tinkerers like me) in the coverage. For example, you can see a highly technical video that gives an overview of the Scenic Ribbon and how to use it in your programs, and you can find plenty of information for Office novices, but I have to rely on outside sources for the in-between info. (A warning or two about the video: You need to have Silverlight installed to watch it, and one of the two guys in the video has a heavy accent. French, I think. It took me a bit to realize that "zamil" is XML.)

A lot of the information about Scenic Ribbon creation involves C++ programming. I don't know squat about C++ programming. I can only hope that it only applies to application development.

On a related note: The upcoming release of Windows 7 has given whiners new energy to complain about the Ribbon and bemoan the loss of the good ole toolbar interface. Like many of those who protest healthcare reform, these people seem to believe that the "old ways" are intrinsically better. Honestly! These same people would still be whining if Microsoft had started with the Ribbon back in the 90s and decided to switch to toolbars in 2007. All these anti-Ribbon whiners essentially just don't like the idea that they might have to learn something new — even though the difference between driving a manual and automatic transmission is larger than the difference between Office toolbars and the Ribbon.

All right. I'm shutting down MS HighHorse.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Second Nerdgasm: Spore Heroes

I just heard about the forthcoming Spore Heroes game for the Wii!

My initial excitement about the Spore Galactic Adventures add-on wore off quickly, and I honestly haven't played Spore in quite a while. (I think I need to upgrade my video card.) But the Spore Heroes game has got me excited again. No chance that my Wii is not up to snuff to enjoy it! I can only hope that I don't waste too much time (who am I kidding — of course I will) in front of the TV when this hits shelves on 6 October.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

The Internet, like the real world, is full of idiots:

When you play with fire, there is a 50/50 chance something will go wrong, and nine times out of ten it does.

This is a complete blog entry from The Abstinence Clearinghouse, a group trying to "teach" us that schools should limit their sex ed classes to abstinence-only training. Is this proof that lack of sex makes you stupid? I wouldn't go so far as to say that, but you're certainly welcomed to.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Monopoly City Streets: The Letdown

It was an ambitious idea: Create a worldwide, online, Monopoly-like game, using Google Maps (and thus practically the entire planet) as the game board, and call it Monopoly City Streets. When I first read about it earlier this week, just a day before it was set to launch, I got all excited. This looked like it could be a neat combination of Monopoly, Sid Meier's Civilization, those crappy "games" on Facebook, and maybe a little Second Life thrown in. Then reality hit.

The first and most obvious problem was that they weren't ready. Perhaps more likely, the technology does not yet exist for them to have been ready. I tried twice on 9/9/09 during the day to start playing, but their servers were so overloaded I couldn't get in. I didn't start buying any property until shortly after midnight, by which time the world leader was already worth over 12 million Monopoly bucks.

And it was still soooooo slow. I don't know that the server power exists that can handle the number of people trying to get in and play this game. I'm sure it will die down after a while, when people get bored with it, and it might speed up a little. Time will tell.

Regardless of whether Monopoly City Streets will be fun to play, it could be an excellent way to learn about the difficulties of SEC oversight of meatspace businesses. The game is about buying, selling, and trading high-priced properties, and is subject to some of the very same graft and fraud (in the gaming world, it's simply called CHEATING) that real-world business is subject to.

Here are the basic rules: You start with $3 million. You buy property. You build rent-producing buildings on that property. Rent is delivered daily. You can trade properties with other players online. You can also, occasionally, sabotage other people's property by bulldozing buildings or erecting hazards that lower the overall rent.

Now notice what I said before: the world leader, just after midnight of the first day that the game was going, was worth $12 million. How could you turn $3 million into $12 million in a single day? It's really an easy cheat.

Given the availability of free and disposable e-mail accounts, you create one main Monopoly account and then use the others to create shell accounts. Then,

  • If you want to build up your property holdings, you have the shell accounts spend their $3 million buying up streets, and then you sell them back to your main account for cheap.
  • If you want to build up your money, you have your main account buy up the cheapest property it can find, then sell each property to a shell account for, I don't know, $3 million?
  • And you can have the best of both worlds: Have your main account buy a $200,000 street. Sell that street to a shell account for $3 million, and then have that shell account sell it back to your main account for $100 (I'm not sure how low a price you can offer). Voila! Your main account started with $3 million and nothing and now has $5.79 million, all with one little street! Repeat that 4 more times and you'll have over $14 million plus $15 in property!

These are some of the same tactics that the SEC keeps an eye out for. They have landed real-life unscrupulous fraudsters in prison. If course, the price of being exposed as an online unscrupulous cheater isn't nearly as high.

I don't think Monopoly City Streets will last all the way to its January 31, 2010, end date. I'll be surprised if it lasts until October.

But I'll still play, if only for the joy of trying to buy up the streets of my hometown.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Worldwide Monopoly Goes Online

Hasbro and Google Maps are coming together to launch the new online Monopoly City Streets today to raise some hype about the new version of the Monopoly board game that's coming out soon (I'll probably be playing it at Christmastime). It's still early today, so it isn't up and running yet, but it sounds like fun. You start off with $3 million in Monopoly bucks and you can purchase practically any street that you can find in Google Maps. Then you develop that area with parks, high-rises, and other buildings that were apparently built in Google SketchUp. It's free to play, but, like Second Life, I'm sure there will be options and upgrades that you can spend real money on.

It's being billed as a global Monopoly game with Google Maps as the game board. Sounds pretty ambitious, so I'm curious to see how well it does.

I'm kind of excited about this, but I hope it isn't horribly labor-intensive. I really don't need another place to waste time online. As soon as I can, though, I'm going to sign up and buy up as much of my hometown as I can. Maybe put a castle on top of the house I grew up in.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

And Just Like That, I'm a Twit

I'm a junkie for new online doohickies, especially when they're free. I have, however, been avoiding Twitter, partly because I know how quickly I can become addicted to this stuff, and partly because I (wrongly) thought that using Twitter would require text messaging on my cell phone, which I don't have (and don't want) as part of my cell phone plan.

But I work on the interweb, and we're constantly trying to connect with our audience and stay up to date on all the new online fun, especially, these days, social networking. So today I opened a Twitter account for business.

And, just like I thought, I was immediately hooked. So now I've created a personal Twitter account: I've even already downloaded Twadget, the Vista Sidebar Gadget that lets me read and post tweets from the desktop.

We'll see if I stick with it.

Be warned, though. I'll be tweeting many of the blog posts here at Soluble Fish, but more often they will link to the entries on my other blog, Logophilius, simply because those posts are of more general interest than the mundacities of my life that I write about here.

I Won! I Won! I Wo- . . . wait, I won what?

Going back to work after a long weekend is always difficult, even more difficult if you had as sorry a "vacation" as I did. I was figuratively a zombie all morning at work. For lunch, I enjoyed a nice too-big sammich from Subway. Subway is doing their now-annual Scrabble contest — you know, you get a letter with every drink, and if you can spell out, say, HYBRID, you can win a Prius. Since Scrabble is one of my favorite games, I can't resist logging on to and entering my codes.

I haven't been able to spell anything on the board to win a "big" prize (I keep getting N's. A string of these might win me a bionic leg [say it with me: "nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh"] or, more likely, a ball gag ["Nnnn! Nn NNN!"].). But after you enter your code, you get to spin the instant win wheel. Well, today, the wheel didn't stop on the big SORRY spot!!! I won a three-month subscription to Club Pogo!

After giving them my info to claim my prize, I set out to find out what the hell Club Pogo is. Apparently, it's some sort of online gaming site, like WildTangent or PopCap (or, for some of us, Facebook). Just what I need: Another place to waste time on the Internet. I'm sure my boys will appreciate the free gaming, though, if I decide to tell them about it.

Actually, this is the second thing I've won at Subway this summer. I also have a little paper square that says I won a cookie, which I haven't redeemed yet. Subway's white chocolate macadamia cookies are num-nummy! I won't be sharing that one with the boys, that's for sure.

At any rate, it was a ray of joy in an otherwise Monday-esque Tuesday.