Convenience

People are almost always willing to surrender some quality for the sake of convenience. A landline is a far more reliable channel with much better sound, versus the cell phone which often drops calls or garbled-up signal. Despite that, I've never had a landline.

As it turns out, it was true that the iPhone made e-mailing a more cumbersome experience. But it did everything else so much better that it didn’t matter. People were willing to give up some of the ease of e-mail use for everything else iPhones provided.
— http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/20/opinion/nocera-how-not-to-stay-on-top.html?_r=0

Learning Curves

Understanding the properties of a medium is a process of repeatedly testing its bounds.

If you're seated in front of a large panel with fifty buttons, you push them and see what happens. You watch what each one does on its own, and you start to notice patterns. Sometimes complex and interesting effects emerge because two buttons actually interact in a non-obvious way. Any system is like this; you fuck around with it until you grok it. Every time you give it an input, it responds and your mind makes a note of it, developing a more and more comprehensive model of its behavior. At some point, that understanding becomes like a reflex. When you're learning to shoot a basketball, your muscles learn the subtle control needed to give the ball just the right amount of thrust. The faster you can iteratively make these "changes and observations", the faster you learn the hidden properties.  

Sure. Obviously! But in life, there is a broad spectrum of activities, varying in how difficult or expensive they are to learn and master. But some of them don't need to be that hard; technology done right can make them easier.

What's harder: learning a video game or learning how to bake a cake?

Understanding how to play Pac Man takes about 10 seconds. The first time you run into a ghost you know they're bad for you. Meanwhile, learning how to bake a semi-edible cake takes at least an hour to figure out something small, like how you screwed up by using too much milk. Reduce the milk, try again. Taste it. Oops, you used too many eggs and probably took it out of the oven too soon. Baking requires several factors to go right AND has a long cycle time.

In general, the ideal medium gives you a direct connection between your action and a result. Instantaneously. Video Games have really mastered this concept (at least, the well-designed ones like Mega Man X) with tight controls and self-teaching levels. No manuals. You press a button, jump and see how far you can go. The rules of this little universe are illuminated immediately, as you play. Could you imagine if programming were as tactile as that? Try to envision a language + environment that didn't need a manual or any outside documentation. What would that look like?

Difficulty is directly tied to the length of the feedback loop, multiplied by the number of input factors (dimensions). It also depends on whether the information you receive indicates a clear direction when you screw up. If you get a lot of conflicting information or ambiguity, it's not that helpful; imagine if some PacMan ghosts hurt you while others didn't, but they all looked the same and it seemed pretty random. Pretty frustrating, eh? As it just so happens, programming languages do exactly this shit. It's extremely frustrating for novices. 

But keep in mind: software doesn't need to be foolproof. In fact, making foolproof software is extremely time consuming because 90% of your code will deal with edge cases from side effects of side effects messing with other side effects. There is a notion of "acceptable failure" that should be embraced, so long as the cause is made clear and it's easy to CTRL+Z out of it. User error is a perfectly acceptable scenario if the feedback is clear and immediate. You don't blame the designer if Mario falls into a pit; you were warned.

McLuhan

A nice summary of McLuhan

The printing press, the computer, and television are not therefore simply machines which convey information. They are metaphors through which we conceptualize reality in one way or another. They will classify the world for us, sequence it, frame it, enlarge it, reduce it, argue a case for what it is like. Through these media metaphors, we do not see the world as it is. We see it as our coding systems are. Such is the power of the form of information.
— Page 39, Neil Postman, 1979.

re: inventing on principle

So what's really impressive about this is actually not any technical feat but his observations and ingenuity. 

When he points out: "creators need a direct connection to what they're making" (versus "working blind")
It's one of those things we hardly notice in our day-to-day because we take the status quo for granted. Just look around and see how much shit is broken in this regard.

To be on the right side of his principle, there are two parts: the immediate feedback and the direct input.

  1. Feedback. When working blind, it's so much harder to discover things... it's almost impossible to stumble into things by accident. Look at the way he tweaks a couple parameters and discovers a new game concept game based on gravity. These ideas are all over the place and the rate at which you discover them is directly proportional to the rate at which you can experiment.
  2. Direct input. You should be able to make things as fast as you can think them. In his example he uses his hand for animating and the result is 10x faster. It's effective because that's what you wish you could use in the first place; clicking around buttons with your mouse and adjusting some keyframes is an indirect way to achieve what the hand does best: precise motion. 

So here's a question: What if musical composition programs were redesigned with this in mind? You could use your own voice as an input to musical composition, using it to put in a sequence of relative pitches and control timing.

  1. After all, the voice is the most "native" instrument to us.


The Biggest Lottery

Our economy operates as a big lottery

What's interesting is that the lottery creates a 'pyramid' structure, and the pyramid is expanding. The greater the accessibility, reach, and scale of top tier talent (be it in music, art, tech, whatever), the tougher it is for the low end to scrape by. Technology magnifies marginal differences in performance and the result is that local production is not competitive; second place winners are deadbut the first-place prize is larger than ever

A highway links a town to the nation, and a local baker is snuffed out. He bags scones at Starbucks now. He was member of a middle class once sheltered by inefficiency, now completely exposed. Ironically, a niche still exists which caters exclusively to the wealthy winners who aren't satisfied with the commoditized goods they helped develop, market, and scale out. The local blacksmith is now this guy (bestmadeco.com)... but how many of these can you really have?

Consequences which we already start to see:
  • People are increasingly squeezed into playing the lottery; it's either double down or die in a sad gutter.
  • College. More competitive & expensive than ever because it's seen as a prerequisite to even get in the game.
  • Parent-subsidized young adults in the city. And with that, delayed 'true adulthood'.
The winnings from the last lottery are driven into the next round and you'll have a new set of winners and losers.


The real problem isn't the mere lack of middle-class jobs, but what happens when people can't afford to play the lottery any more. That is when shit will hit the fan.

Finally, Social Games that don't suck

SimCity is back ... with social integration. The Sims Social was a huge hit so I'm excited to see how this turns out.

Ever since it first emerged, social gaming has been synonymous with the king of them all: Farmville,  which is a word for a category of "really crappy games that trick people into forking over cash". They are games blatantly engineered for profit, not fun. And amid the whirlwind of "social media" and "gamification" and all these other neologisms we've forgotten one basic fact...

Social Games are just multiplayer games.

remember this?
remember this?

And by that measure, they are nothing new. They've been around ever since the original Mario Bros. Arcade Game.Zynga had better be worried because their short-sighted business model of building disposable games is going to face serious resistance once quality game-makers turn their guns in this direction. Zynga's existence has thus far been an accident of arbitrage: when a new medium opens up, someone rushes in, sucks hapless users dry, burns out. 

What would you rather play: SimCity or CityVille? The Sims Social or YoVille? Just place those side by side.

Transient
Transient