Monthly Archives: August 2013

Just take down the ExtraCare system already, CVS

CVS receipts are notoriously (stupidly) long and finally action is being taken based on an article this morning in the Globe. This sentence in the article particularly caught my eye:

Early next year, shoppers will be given the option of electronically sending all coupons and rewards directly to their [ExtraCare] cards.
Boston Globe: Long CVS receipts spark social media sensation (subscription likely required)

I can’t stand these shopper cards, regardless of their purported usefulness. The only reason why I have one is to take advantage of the sale price when it exists. That’s it. I do not manage my ExtraCare account. Hell, I barely find the time to make my lunch the night before work the next day. As soon as I walk out of the CVS, I forget about both the receipt and the account. But now, if card holders will be given the option of sending all the savings directly to the card, then just get rid of the card. If the sole point of the card will then be to track purchases, then the card is now rendered a pointless burden on the customer because purchase tracking is entirely CVS’s problem and not the customer’s. Just give the lower prices to everyone and remove the entire card system entirely. What would be the ROI on removing these systems entirely now that purchasing and tracking systems are much more sophisticated?

Nintendo and iOS

John Gruber over at Daring Fireball makes a logical proposition for Nintendo to start releasing games for iOS:

…their next best bet is to expand to making iOS games. I’m not saying drop the DS line and jump to iOS in one fell swoop. But a couple of $9.99 iPhone/iPad games to test the water wouldn’t hurt.
Daring Fireball: Nintendo 2DS

There is little doubt that if Nintendo re-released Any of the original NES, Super NES, GameBoy games like Super Mario and Legend of Zelda, they would make a mint. Arguably better than Sega is doing with Sonic the Hedgehog, but still flash in the pan. I don’t think John’s statement of testing the water is dismissive of the effort required to do so. But I also don’t think doing what is necessary to test the waters, much less maintain long-term health, is going to be as easy as it sounds for Nintendo.

When moving games from the older 8-bit and 16-bit machines, porting appears to be difficult from a textural perspective. I liked Sonic the Hedgehog on iOS, gameplay looks and sounds exactly the same, but playing it didn’t feel right and I put it down fairly quickly. I swear the character has either moved in a random direction or there is a delay in a jump, if not a complete misfire. I have to wonder whether this has something to do with the change in thinking that comes with moving from hardware controls to on-screen (software) controls. As the console companies had proven long before Apple, there are advantages to owning the software and the hardware. Unless they are porting a game like an RPG where timing of button mashing isn’t required, then it appears control responsiveness is a deep technical issue that needs to be addressed. Whether the issue is cultural or technical is impossible to say, but even Doom feels fine on iOS and that once required a physical keyboard to play and had no ties to a single platform, so I argue that something is afoot.

Then there is the issue of what to do with the later consoles like the Nintendo 64 and later, where the controls are more numerous than what will fit on an iPhone screen. Rockstar Games solved this in Grand Theft Auto III by sacrificing some arguably superfluous functions, but then graphics begin to suffer because the scope of the visible area are vast and complex. Seeing Super Mario 64 and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on iOS would be instant wins for the company, but they rely on pretty much all of the nine (9) button in addition to the D-pad for some aspects of deeply integrated game play. Nintendo still equates to top quality games when it comes to their own assets, but limiting these games to just the iPad to accommodate all those buttons might represent too much of a compromise in potential sales. I can only see games designed for the Wii and Wii U where motion control is a core game mechanic simply never making it to iOS or any other software-only platform.

Going back to the older, original games, I think there is a real question of how successful they would be from a market sophistication perspective. Super Mario Bros. is an inarguable classic but it could (and just might) suffer from hype backlash. Platform games have long since moved on; Super Mario 64 made Super Mario Bros. immediately boring for me. Players tastes—both in my generation that witnessed the NES release and those kids playing games for the first time—have become vastly more sophisticated. My “go to” games are Minecraft PE and flight simulators like X-Plane and Infinite Flight. Sonic on iOS was neat for a couple hours and then went away. Ridiculous Fishing was neat for a lot longer, if only because there is real mystery mixed into the game play, but I still went back to my “go to” games because they provide a deeper, intellectual satisfaction I rarely find elsewhere. Even my six-year-old nephew is hooked in Minecraft PE. He plays the button-mashing platform games, but really only when he cannot, or is not allowed to for being punished, use the iPad.

Maybe that’s the way the whole market is now, but will that be satisfactory for Nintendo? I doubt it. We spent hours in front of the NES. The N64 was my favorite console ever, and the Wii U could be just as awesome for me, but the iPhone is infinitely more convenient and a hell of a lot cheaper than a console. I don’t care how good the console games are. If anything, I would be buying the game for my kids when they are old enough, so if I wanted to I could just fire up the tube TV and original NES I have in the basement and save myself a few bucks seeing as how I think they would play Super Mario Bros. for about an hour.

All of this means we are back to the fundamental change that Gruber and others have pointed out many times of developing new games for iOS. For Sega, I imagine this wasn’t a hard cultural change since they are smaller and already used to licensing their core assets to other systems having given up on hardware a long time ago (and rightly so, it would seem). Given Nintendo’s recent past release of the Wii U and 2DS, it appears only catastrophic failure of the company will be required to compel Nintendo to seek shelter elsewhere as opposed to relying on its own ingenuity. I don’t think Mario and Link will ever go away completely. I just hope Nintendo figures what they are going to do to keep them in the market in time for my own kids to start playing video games in a few years, as I have the act of introducing them to Super Mario Bros. on the same height pedestal as introducing them to Star Wars. I really need for you to get over this, Nintendo.

“…the overt and discrete habits of mind necessary for autonomous, self-directed learning.”

The TI-83 Plus had helped me cultivate many of the overt and discrete habits of mind necessary for autonomous, self-directed learning. And even more, it did this without resorting to grades, rewards, or other extrinsic motivators that schools often use to coerce student engagement.
The Atlantic: Go Ahead, Mess With Texas Instruments

Articles like this make me wish I had glommed onto programming much earlier than I did.

Stack Ranking

The stack rank was a zero-sum game—one person could only excel by the amount that others were penalized. And it was applied at every level of the organization. Even if you were in a group of three high performers, it was very likely that one of you would be graded Above Average, one Average, and one Below Average. Unless your manager was a prick or an idiot or both, the ordering would reflect your relative skills, but that never came as too much comfort to the hard-working schlub who just wasn’t as good as the other two. . . This was my problem. I had three reports, A, B, and C, and they neatly fit into three categories: C was good, B was great, and A was fantastic.
Slate.com: Tales of an Ex–Microsoft Manager

I can see why, at least on paper, stack ranking has appeal if only because because the process creates an easy visual with which to gauge performance and relatively distribute rewards. In practice, however, stack ranking is invariably demoralizing by turning hard work into a pointless exercise, and should be abandoned immediately by everyone.

Seamus Heaney

So (and all great sagas should begin with “so”), I can’t stand poetry except in very rare instances. I like song lyrics but not poetry. A bit weird of me, I know, but that’s the way things worked out, and certainly not for a lack of trying. When I saw Seamus Heaney’s photos all over my favorite news sites, I didn’t know who he was so I paid little (actually, no) attention. I finally relented in reading the umpteenth article about him and his significance.

Heaney’s interpretation of Beowulf was my first and is still my favorite, particularly when I feel like getting my Scandinavian on. His starting the poem with “So.” made me laugh out loud which led (again in my own weird way) to the parenthetical I used to start off this post to also start off the sometimes super-long emails I find myself stuck writing.

Does this mean that I will grab a copy of some of his poetry and read it? Probably not, but I will always enjoy reading Beowulf. RIP, Mr. Heaney.

The Atlantic: Which Colleges Should We Blame for the Student-Debt Crisis?

. . . for-profit colleges are the worst offenders in another respect: their alums are singularly incapable of paying back their loans. Despite educating just a small fraction of students, these institutions contributed a full 47 percent of defaults among students who began repaying their debt in 2009. By comparison, the private nonprofits, despite the truckloads of loans they generate, were only responsible for 13 percent of defaults. . . About three-quarters of for-profit college students attend nominally four-year schools. And I say “nominally,” because only about 28 percent ever graduate, about on par with the bottom rung of public institutions. They cater to a class of student that is disproportionately poor, and frankly don’t always belong in college to begin with.
The Atlantic: Which Colleges Should We Blame for the Student-Debt Crisis?

I remember when I was researching schools to obtain my degree, I looked at University of Phoenix first because of its focus on online classes (commute and kids makes attending on-campus classes very challenging), not knowing much about the school or the quality of the degree. I called to ask some cursory questions and quickly found myself in a conversation that sounded like I was being sold some land; the “admissions rep” wanted me to sign up right then and there, and just said “yep” to me on everything I asked. Before I even had a chance to research the school more on my own I was compelled to call back and turn them down because the rep was calling me at least once a day (sometimes three) to see if I had made my decision. If a school has to sell themselves that hard to get my tuition money, how good could it possibly be? I always—always—question the hard sell.

New Unix section

Subject says (most of) it all. I have been working with the command line more lately, partially out of need, largely out of preference, and am starting to collect a bunch of little snippets I have modified from other or created out of whole cloth to get me through my day.

The section has a germinal collection of command line snippets, but the real work lies in the shell scripting cheat sheet and info on creating a command line application with Xcode using Foundation classes.