Tagged with opinion

On Minecraft and Lego

A big deal has been made about the growing initiative to convince the Lego Group to start creating a new product line based on Minecraft. Mojang has also stated that they are in their own talks with the company.

But why? Minecraft is essentially already Lego. Digital Lego. I’ll admit that a set of instructions for recreating a scene from Minecraft in Lego could be useful, and an interesting project to undertake. But to release an official series of sets? It seems a little excessive. It’s like using Lego to… recreate something that already exists as Lego.

Perhaps Mojang needs to add Lego bricks to Minecraft. Maybe then I’ll understand the appeal.

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The Trouble With Hubs

A few days ago, I posted my own thoughts and experiences with iOS 5. At the end of the article, I conclude that Windows Phone 7 would probably appeal to me, because it gets rid of the endless sea of icons and apps, and replaces them with dedicated “hubs”.

Well, way before that post – last year, in fact – I wrote an article about hubs, and the problems such a system has.

Well, here’s the part that worries me. While this concept is incredibly cool, it puts the responsibility on Microsoft to keep things up to date and fresh.  What the App concept buys you is that when new social networking services crop up (for example), people can write Apps on top of its APIs right away, and before you know it you’re linked in to the service.

With Microsoft’s hubs, how long will you have to wait for Microsoft to integrate a new social networking service?

Now, today, I see that Paul Thurrott has posted an article on what Windows Phone 7 still lacks, even with this year’s Mango update.

The first is a topic I’ve been meaning to address for some time now, which is a serious issue with a facet of Windows Phone that Microsoft has trumpeted, correctly, as its primary advantage over iOS and Android: The integrated experiences that, in many ways, obviate the user’s need to find, download, and then use a myriad of different apps to accomplish common tasks. When the Windows Phone–integrated experiences work, they work well. You can very easily share a photo to Facebook or Twitter, without having first installed and configured a dedicated app for either service, for example.

But in many cases, these integrated experiences don’t offer as much functionality as do the dedicated apps. So depending on your needs, the existence of an integrated experience might simply be obviated by the fact that it doesn’t do what you want.

Paul goes on from here to describe a scenario, using Facebook, that can’t be accomplished properly because Windows Phone’s implementation of the Facebook API is limited. And it isn’t the only example.

There are holes like this in all of Windows Phone’s integrated experiences, from the Twitter integration that doesn’t understand hash tags to the photo integration that doesn’t understand Flickr and is unable to upload full-sized versions of your photos, automatically, to the service of your choice.

Go read the article – it’s essential if you’re considering a switch to a different mobile platform, like I am.

But this point is of particular note, because it is the core of what makes Windows Phone different, and worth considering. I noted in my original article last year that if Microsoft opens up hubs to third party developers, that it will help keep things current and fresh. So far that hasn’t happened, and my guess is that when Microsoft does finally do this, it’s going to be limiting.

There’s no final answer here. But if Microsoft wants to stay in this game – and wants to tout the benefits of hubs – it needs to keep this stuff updated. Ignore this, and you can watch your platform die in a sea of obsolescence.

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Me and a Brick

I woke up this morning to an email from Lego talking about their Lego MBA (“Master Builder Academy”) Program. As tends to be the case on the Internet, that one thing led me on a path of Lego that I had difficulty escaping from.

The first thing I came across was a new set being released early next year. It’s an exclusive for VIP members, and it is essentially a miniature version of a larger series of sets!

Firehouse Modulars

Here is the original firehouse set (left), and the smaller mini version (right)

The mini modulars, as well as the full-size sets that are still available, can be found on the Lego site here. There is also a video where they talk about their inspiration for the miniature series, and what it’s like to build them:

I found the video above on a site that apparently does a lot of reviews of Lego sets. While poking around to see if they had any other information about the mini modulars, or any other upcoming sets, I found a review for the Ninjago Fire Temple set that I made a month or two ago.

Curious what someone else might think about this amazing set, I decided to watch the video. Oh, how very, very painful.

All right, so I guess I should start off by saying that everyone has different reasons for enjoying Lego. And far be it from me to judge anyone’s reasons to like or not like a particular set. Ultimately, I’m probably not the target audience for this “review”.

But wow. The reviewer talks at one point about personally building the set, but I have my doubts as to how much building he actually did. There’s no talk about some of the fun building techniques that are used in putting this set together. There’s no talk about some of the intricate details on both the temple and the finished dragon. But hey, it comes in a big box and costs just over ten cents a piece – that’s pretty important right? Also, there’s apparently about 200 pieces per minifig in the set. I have no idea what bearing that has on anything, but okay.


The real injustice comes at the end of the video, where the reviewer pans the set for being $120. Despite his seemingly favorable opinion about the set up to that point, he decries the price and the lack of “spinners”. The “spinners” are part of a game that is based on the Ninjago universe, and as far as I can tell adds nothing to the building of the set, or its final look. But apparently the lack of them makes its price unreasonable.

So, here’s the thing. I get the impression that the reviewer is looking at the set from the point of view of enjoying the final set as a play set. Which is fine. But you can buy pre-built play sets anywhere these days. The appeal of Lego – to me, at least – is the process of building it. Playing with the final set is, of course, a fun and expected reward for finishing it. But you’re not just paying for the completed set – you’re paying for the experience of building it. The building techniques, the thought and consideration that went into each step, those amazing “aha” moments when several seemingly innocuous steps come together to create something brilliant and expressive.

Everyone likes different aspects of Lego. Some like the pre-made sets, like me. Some like to take a random assortment of bricks and let their imagination be their guide. Some like to play with the final product. But when there’s a guy like this – a guy who doesn’t seem to know what to talk about until the very end, when he suddenly talks passionately about how expensive the set is, and how it’s lacking a component that doesn’t have anything to do with the core Lego building experience – I feel there is something genuinely wrong. For any Lego fan.

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iOS 5: The Devil’s Details

iOS 5Question: What is a review?
Answer: A thorough, unbiased evaluation with the intention of determining a final critique.

It may not be a proper dictionary definition, but this is what I expect when I read technology reviews. Most of the time, I am satisfied. But with the release of iOS 5, I was consistently disappointed. Gone was the thoroughness. Gone was the proper critique. They read more like summaries of the features listed in an Apple press release. There were some details, of course, but there was also a lot missing.

This is my attempt to fill in some of the gaps. I’m not going to attempt to do a full review. But I want to look at iOS 5 with fresh eyes, explore some of the details overlooked in other reviews, and briefly sum up how it compares to other mobile operating systems available today.

So, lets begin.

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We’ll Listen to Our Scouts… Eventually

Apparently Girl Scout cookies have palm oil in their recipes. Palm oil is not only unhealthy but can cause substantial environmental damage if not produced correctly. Well good news! They’re going to change the recipes.

Girl Scouts of the USA isn’t eliminating the ingredient, but it says that beginning with the 2012-13 cookie season, each box will include a GreenPalm logo as a symbol of Girl Scouts’ commitment to address concerns about the deforestation of sensitive lands caused by production of palm oil.

Oh. Okay. So… they’re sticking a pretty logo on their boxes to say they care very, very much? That’s it?

In its announcement Wednesday, the Girl Scouts said it has directed its bakers to use as little palm oil as possible, and only in recipes where there is no alternative. It wants its bakers to move to a segregated, certified sustainable palm oil source by 2015.

2015?! Right, well, I suppose that’s a good first step, but why would there be recipes where there is no alternative? I think the truth here is that any alternative would create a cookie that is different from what consumers expect, and that would impact sales. Nevermind that palm oil isn’t a particularly good oil.

"Girl Scouts’ palm oil use is very small, but our voice is big," Amanda Hamaker, Girl Scouts manager of product sales, said in a press release. "The world’s food supply is intricately tied to the use of palm oil, so we believe promoting sustainable manufacturing principles is the most responsible approach for Girl Scouts."

… in four years.

Okay, so, taken literally this is good news. But the huge delay in making any meaningful changes, and a refusal to simply stop using palm oil altogether, points to an organization that would rather make themselves look good rather than making a difference.

I guess the girls that are part of the Girl Scouts will have to keep trying to teach their organization about health and protecting the environment. Wait… shouldn’t it be the other way around?

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Why I Use Dropbox

Paul Thurrott recently (well, “recently”; I’m a bit delayed on this due to moving) posted an article about Dropbox — specifically, why anyone who uses Windows would use it over Live Mesh.

Well, I use Windows, Live Mesh AND Dropbox. If you’re at all interested in cross-device synchronization, then neither Dropbox or Live Mesh should be so quickly dismissed. This is true, even in light of Dropbox’s recent (“recent”) security issues.

First, let me just say that everything Paul says about Windows Live Mesh is entirely true, and the reasons he gives for using it — more storage, flexible folder syncing, peer-to-peer syncing, remote desktop access, application settings syncing — are valid. These are all reasons why I use Windows Live Mesh, too.

Okay, so what about Dropbox?
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An English Pub Burger

In certain parts of the United States (the parts that don’t know what “English” means, apparently), McDonalds is testing a new burger called the English Pub Burger. As could probably be surmised, the sandwich is anything but English.

According to marketing materials, the burger consists of “1/3 lb of 100 percent Angus beef, hickory-smoked bacon, white cheddar and American cheese, grilled onions, tangy steak sauce and smokey Dijon mustard sauce all housed on an artisan roll.”
Huffington Post Food

At least the beef is from a Scottish breed of cow, and Scotland is part of Great Britain. But American cheese? Dijon (french) mustard?

Okay, I probably shouldn’t pick on McDonalds. They’re not exactly known for upholding high culinary art. I’m sure this sandwich is very tasty, if you ignore the name. But I thought I’d take the opportunity to brainstorm a true English pub burger.

Coming up with a burger, or any dish that sums up a country, is difficult. Every country has different regions, which possess different culinary styles, and different local ingredients at their disposal. So lets narrow down the field a bit, and consider a burger with McDonalds’ original framework.
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Microsoft: Drowning in a Sea of Partners

As I type these words on my Macbook Pro, there is an iPhone 4 in my pocket and an iPad 2 propped up on its Smart Cover in front of me. If you had told me a couple of years ago that I would be using three Apple devices at the same time, I would have laughed at you. (In a nice way; I don’t like hurting anyone’s feelings.) So I couldn’t help but ask myself recently: what happened? Why have I turned to Apple when, traditionally, Microsoft has been the one to satisfy my geeky gadget needs?

The answer doesn’t lie with Microsoft alone. Microsoft is predominantly a software company. They write
the OS, the productivity software, the games, or the utilities that run on your device. They provide a solid platform that anyone can use in any capacity that they desire. This is something that has always appealed to me: if you want something in a small form factor, then you can build it that way — and you can be sure that the OS of your choice will run on it.

But what happens when your beautiful software gets put on ugly, underperforming hardware?

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Metro Display / Twitter Display Updates & Response to Twitter’s Developer Announcement

Today, I’m releasing a minor update to Metro Display and Twitter Display. For Metro Display, it will now properly display twitpic/yfrog images if the links were shortened by t.co. For both displays, they will now properly link mentions/hashtags/URLs if they appear more than once in the tweet. They can both be downloaded from the usual location. You may need to delete your current versions of the displays before installing the new versions.

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The State of Tech 2010

Once again it’s time for me to ramble about some of the interesting technology developments that happened this year.

And what a year! Before starting this post, I went back to re-read my 2009 post.  It seems like almost every question I concluded with was answered in some way in 2010. Last year, I summed up the year as being more evolution than revolution.  While I hesitate to say that this year was revolution, it was certainly more than the evolution of last year. So why don’t we get started?

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