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Settlers of Catan and other games March 27, 2009

Posted by Michael Kowalski in play.
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There’s a nice piece in Wired about Klaus Teuber, inventor of Settlers of Catan, and about “German-style” board games in general:
Monopoly Killer: Perfect German Board Game Redefines Genre

I’ve always liked board games, in fact I like them more than computer games. When people come around to our house and see the pile of games in the living room, they raise eyebrows, and I don’t have the heart to tell them there are many more squirrelled away in cupboards. Here’s the current list of games stacked by the sofa:

  • Risk
  • Settlers of Catan
  • Ra
  • Pirate’s Cove
  • Odin’s Ravens
  • LotR Risk (more different from standard Risk than you’d expect)
  • Labyrinth
  • Carcassonne
  • Alchemist
  • Scrabble
  • Monopoly (not really a game, but looks a bit like one)

When I was at university, the game I liked most was Dune. That was a nicely crafted game, where each player had a different set of special abilities. Some players had more chance of winning in the end game, some were stronger in the beginning. It was fixed duration, ending after 15 rounds if nobody had achieved outright victory by then, and had a cute battle system. I liked to play House Atreides. On the face of it, not the strongest player—during battle, you could ask a single yes/no question which had to be answered truthfully. But I was cunning enough that games soon developed a pattern where the other players would spend the first couple of rounds beating me into oblivion before getting on with the rest of the game (or that’s how I remember it). I would still sometimes make a late comeback, and anyway had a lot of fun trying to get there.

Dune was a six player game though, so a bit impractical once out of university. That’s one of the reasons the German games have been so successful: many of them work OK with very few players, and don’t take hours to complete. E isn’t really into board games at all, so mostly I play 2-player games with our daughter (if I had thought it through earlier, maybe I would have had more children). The main exception is Pirate’s Cove, which E doesn’t mind for some reason (ie. she usually wins), and Settlers. Even then, she can only be talked into playing a few times a year.

The social aspect of board games is certainly part of their appeal. Or sometimes, the antisocial aspect—gaming the other players can be a lot of fun. otoh, I don’t really like social interaction in online games at all. I play WoW, but I don’t belong to a guild and I don’t much play with other people except my daughter. I don’t know them! I can’t see their faces! With my daughter, we sit together in the same room chatting and interacting as we play.

OK, heading off to boardgamegeek now in search of something new.


Casual gaming meets music discovery March 27, 2009

Posted by Michael Kowalski in whatever.
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Loudcrowd This is interesting. Not so much because this particular site is any good—actually the ugly design doesn’t look too promising (though I haven’t had a chance to actually try it yet). More because  of the beginning of what I guess will be a long wave of gaming working its way into other software, not excluding business software. Still looking for a gaming angle wrt content management, but it must be out there.

Global crisis to strike by 2030 March 24, 2009

Posted by Michael Kowalski in whatever.
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BBC NEWS | UK | Global crisis to strike by 2030

Luckily, the Singularity is coming.

The Guardian Open Platform released March 10, 2009

Posted by Michael Kowalski in coding, work.
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Went along to the launch for the new developer platform from the Guardian. They’re exposing pretty much all their (text) content and some useful data APIs for devs to build their own apps. Very much in beta atm, but you can apply for a key here:

Some initial thoughts from me here:

Carter on “Digital Britain” February 24, 2009

Posted by Michael Kowalski in whatever.
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I went to see Carter talking about his “Delivering Digital Britain” report at NESTA this morning. Good summary on Techcrunch. Though personally, I don’t think we’re going to deliver much useful at 8 in the morning ;)

Carter’s remit isn’t as broad as some in the audience would like: his focus seems to be on broadband/wifi delivery infrastructure + what to do with C4, and fair enough. But someone asks the question “delivery of what?” There certainly seems a risk that the government’s approach will be more about rescuing existing organisations than helping new ones to flourish.

The creative & media sector has always been very strong in the UK, and with the fall from grace of financial services, media people are thrilled at that prospect that their industry could be the single basket where we put all our eggs. What makes this odd is that, as Kestenbaum, the head of NESTA, puts it, none of them know “what their model will be in 10 years time”—or, more to the point, whether they will even have one.

I don’t own a television, and so don’t pay the licence fee. But my expenditure on media consumption started rising last year, mainly because the number of DVD titles available at a reasonable price crossed some kind of threshold. This year, thanks to iTunes, I’m guessing I’ll spend more than the licence fee on TV programmes alone (possibly alarmingly so—must keep an eye on it!). Otoh, it’s some time since I’ve watched an advert outside the cinema. There is revenue there, if not as much as before.

Dipity timeline streaming January 20, 2009

Posted by Michael Kowalski in design, user interface.
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This is pretty neat: a continuous scrolling timeline of aggregated content culled from the usual suspects (twitter, flickr, etc). The UI looks a little fussy at first glance but works well in practice. Clicking any bubble in the timeline pops more detail (eg. a video player) in an overlay. 

I expect we’ll soon see a number of retrospective lifestreaming tools taking this kind of approach. So rather than requiring you to consciously push input into some lifestreaming app, the app will just discover it from the “pixel trail” you’ve already left across the web (and maybe your desktop too).

userfly ux capture tool January 13, 2009

Posted by Michael Kowalski in user interface, work.
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userfly captures key strokes and mouse events on a website via javascript for later playback. This does look pretty useful for doing a bit of lightweight usability testing.

Actually, “testing” is putting it a bit strongly: without knowing why the user is on the site it will be a bit anecdotal. They haven’t really got a pricing model sorted out yet, but if you only serve the script to a max of 10 users an hour it is (currently) free.

Ecofont December 23, 2008

Posted by Michael Kowalski in whatever.
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Ecofont | less is more

Save precious ink! Use the ecofont!

Newsmixer and Facebook Connect December 21, 2008

Posted by Michael Kowalski in whatever.
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This is an interesting spin on news commenting:  http://newsmixer.us/
Users can comment and ask questions on individual paragraphs of a story in quite a simple way.

It’s also my first real world encounter with Facebook Connect . Here’s what I had to do to “register”:


The one-clickness (OK, technically “two-clickness”) is very cute. No choosing passwords, waiting around for emails, or any of that. Though it does also feel kind of terrifying.

You can see that Connect would be very appealing for some kinds of lightweight apps, where you need users to register but you’re not too concerned about security, eg. almost any UGC scenario. On those grounds I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes ubiquitous over the coming year. That’s assuming the implementation barrier is low—haven’t tried it myself yet.

Newsmixer seem to be using Connect mostly just to solve the reg problem; you can imagine they could also use to try and address the poor signal-to-noise ratio you tend to get in news commenting, by letting you filter out comments that aren’t from your friends (or at least, push them down in the mix). [Actually, you might be able to block users if you click through to their profile—but I haven’t been able to get a profile page to load]

Newspaper’s slow online evolution December 19, 2008

Posted by Michael Kowalski in whatever.
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The Use of the Internet by America’s Largest Newspapers (2008 Edition) .

As usual, discussion seems to be focused on how newspapers handle UGC, as though this is the defining issue. It isn’t. The value of news coming from newspapers is precisely that editorial judgement and constraints have been brought to bear. It’s signal over noise, and the noise in the UGC bits of these sites is typically depressingly rowdy. That 75% of newspaper sites allow users to vent their drivel onto the bottom of articles is nothing I can get too excited about.

Which is not to say that newspapers online couldn’t be a lot better, merely that UGC isn’t the whole answer, and probably isn’t even an important part of the answer. How can newspaper sites better deliver authoritative, “professional” news – that’s the real question. (Oh, yeah, and make money while doing it ;-)