// Internet Duct Tape

How the Xbox 360 Can Reinvented Itself

Posted in Gadgets, Games, Technology by engtech on July 18, 2008

Video Games

The entertainment industry is shifting. Video games dominate all forms of media as an estimated 46 billion dollar industry. Your local video chain likely carries as many video games as it does DVDs. Blueray has beaten HD-DVD as the new media for watching movies at home, but it has the potential to be squashed by digital downloads. Not watching movies on your computer, but rather watching them on a box that is already hooked up to your entertainment system: your gaming console.

Netflix has existed for several years as a DVD-by-snail-mail service. This year they released the Roku box in the US that lets you subscribe to your Netflix service as digital downloads rather than DVDs. 10,000s of movies for $9 a month plus the cost of a $100 box.

I’ve been using my Xbox 360 with a media server for watching movies and TV shows for a few months now and it is so much more convient than having to deal with DVDs. On Monday Microsoft announced that they’d be partnering with Netflix for the Xbox 360. This is huge because Netflix is already a proven movie subscription model that works, and now they’re working with a gaming console that millions of people already own instead of yet another standalone box.

It sounds like the update next fall will fix quite a few other issues that have been bugging me as an Xbox 360 owner. Some of the planned updates:


Netflix subscribers who are also Xbox Live Gold subscribers can stream movies from their Netflix queue for free. Unfortunately Netflix still isn’t available to Canadians.

Load Times

Trying to navigate through your Xbox Live arcade games / demos is painful. It can take up to a minute for games to load. Navigating your music library is equally as painful. They should cache the data to the local hard drive.

Xbox Marketplace on the Web

Trying to find something on the Xbox Marketplace is next to impossible. A web interface would be much simpler and would allow for easy searching.

Rip to Hard Drive

Games can be copied to hard drive to play faster (and quieter).

“Live Party”

I’m hoping this will let you set up the equivalent to a “chat channel” amongst your friends. One of my biggest pet peeves with using the 360 for voice communication is that I can’t set up a private group of just my friends when playing a multiplayer game unless that game itself supports that.

I don’t want to talk with people I don’t know online.

What I’d Like To See

There are some big improvements, but there’s still room for more. Here are a few things I’d like to see for my 360 to earn it’s spot in my TV room.

Targetted Content

The current Xbox 360 interface already offers a few advertisement locations. These are horribly used. Microsoft knows my play history for all of my games. They should be data mining that information and targetting advertisement for games I’m likely to want to play based on the games I usually play.

They don’t even do a good job of highlighting that there’s downloadable content available for the games I am currently playing.

Photo Zoom

I’m absolutely flabbergasted that we can’t zoom into pictures on the 360. It seems like it would be a very trivial application to support. Zooming would offer up some interesting 3rd party hacks like reading web comics / downloaded CBZ/CBR files as image files or converting e-books to images.

There has already been a homebrew Nintendo DS web surfer program that works by converting web pages to images on the DS.


There’s no reason why the Xbox 360 can support more video codecs. I’d really like to be able to play anything I download on the 360 without having to re-convert it.

Video Meta Data

We need something like ID3 tags for video files. I’d love to be able to tag my digitized video collection with director, main actors, and Rotten Tomatoes scores as well as being able to navigate by cover art like I can with my music collection.

Xbox Homebrew

The Xbox 360 already has a homegrew gaming development community, but they’ve starved it by charging a yearly fee to access it. I got to play some of the games when they had a free trial offer a few months ago, and while there were some gems there was nothing to compell me to pay the fee.

This is a huge shortsightedness, by making the games freely available to Xbox 360 gold members they would be giving hobby developers a huge reason to develop games on the play form. Sure, charge developers to have their games listed as that will weed out the utter crap, but at least let them have an audience.

Web Browsing

There’s no reason why the Xbox 360 couldn’t be used as a web browser. There’s even a neat little keyboard attachment you can buy that fits in with the controller. I’d be pretty happy if I could pause a game, check my email, and write a quick response.

I’m surprised Opera hasn’t teamed up with the 360 team to develop a pay browser like they did with the Nintendo DS.

What Have You Done For You Lately?

Posted in Digital Culture, Lifehacks, Technology by engtech on April 24, 2008

Lifehacks and Productivity

For Earth Day this year I decided I was going to try to make a real change by commuting to work under my own power instead of using my car. I’ve been riding a wave of endorphin high as my body goes through the shock of experiencing exercise again for the first time in a long while. I can feel the winter doldrums lifting [1], and I asked myself: when was the last time I did something that makes a positive change in my life?


How to Get an RSS Feed for your XBOX 360 Gamertag

Hacking RSS with Yahoo Pipes

My geek want of the day is getting an RSS feed of my Xbox 360 game activity so that I can use it with lifestreaming services. For once I’m not the only person who feels this need. There’s at least two of us! :)


I’m not sure why Microsoft doesn’t make an RSS feed of your Xbox Live activity available. The information is all there, they publish it as a gamercard. But they don’t give you access to the raw data to do with as you please unless you’re a member of the Xbox Community Developers Program. Here are the various ways you can access your Xbox 360 Gamercard to use with other websites.


The Fragmentation of Identity and Discussion

Connect with your readers

I’m a social web app junkie. Where most people use a few on a regular basis as a consumer and only a couple as a producer I am an active user on far too many sites. I’m not a beta junkie to the point where I try out every web service (especially not the ones spamming my blog contact email), but I do try out more than my fair share and manage to get involved before they reach the tipping point (like Friend Feed is reaching now).

The sheer amount of web apps out there leads to fragmentization of our online identities, but that isn’t a bad thing. The people who read my blog aren’t necessarily people I’m interested in talking to on Twitter, and none of us might share the same taste in music on Last.FM. For a while there I was talking about the Ruby programming language like crazy on this blog, but now I’m using a niche tumbleblog so that I can post more often on that specific technical subject without alienating my existing audience.

But it isn’t only our online identities that are fragmenting: it’s also the discussion around content. Once upon a time the way someone would comment on something you wrote would be to write a blog post of their own in response. Then blogs got a comment section and people could write what they had to say directly on the post. Now the discussion around a post has completely fragmented: people are saying stuff about your content on Twitter, Delicious, StumbleUpon, Digg, Reddit, Facebook… pretty much anywhere except for the post where you originally wrote it.


Mashing Your MP3 Music Collection with Last.FM

Posted in Geeking Out, last.fm, Music, MP3s and Internet Radio, Technology by engtech on March 05, 2008

Music, MP3, iTunes

I’ve often said that one of the qualities of the hardcore geeky is that we have needs that sane normal people don’t have. That’s why there are so many web startups focused on RSS when most people don’t have a clue what RSS is — the geeks don’t realize that their need to have a continuous stream of information and never miss an update from a site they are interested in isn’t the way a lot of people use the internet.

One geek itch I’ve been wanting to scratch is to be able to listen to my MP3 collection using the recommendations from Last.FM. I’ve you’ve never heard of Last.FM, it is a music service that lets you listen music as a radio station over the internet. I’ve been using it for a year and a half and I love it; it’s helped me discover so much good music.

I’ve found two ways to automatically build MP3 playlists using online recommendations. The first way uses iTunes replacement Media Monkey and some extensions to connect to Last.FM (thanks TJOHO!) and the second way uses software by a new startup called The Filter (backed by Peter Gabriel).


Book Review: Halting State by Charles Stross

Posted in Book Reviews, Digital Culture, Games, Technology by engtech on February 14, 2008

Book Reviews

If you’re a programmer/gamer geek and looking for a gripping book that you won’t be able to put down then look no further than Halting State. I’ve been on a Stross kick for the past few months, having read Accelerando, Glass House and Iron Sunrise. Halting State is easily his most engaging book I’ve read so far.

It takes place in the near future where ubiquitous computing has started to take hold via mobile phone networks. This is a future where online roleplaying games and live action roleplaying games are an international past time (as we already can see happening now with the gaming industry being a bigger industry than the movie industry). The story starts off in with a bank robbery by a band of Orcs in a virtual world — a band robbery that should not have been possible because of the digital cryptography keys involved.

As much as I enjoy video games and fantasy settings, the book thankfully takes place mostly in the real world — although in the age of ubiquitous computing and common place augmented reality, who is to say what is real? It reminded me of War Games meets Cryptonomicon and World of Warcraft. Stross manages to get all the geeky elements right, and I’m not just saying that because my player character in my weekly table-top campaign is a were-bearbarian.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but this is a wonderful whodunit, and if this is what Charles Stross has in store for us in the future then I’m going to have to make more room on my shelf.

Favorite quote: “It’s TCP/IP over AD&D!”

Also see

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My Favorite Albums of 2007

Posted in Geeking Out, Music, MP3s and Internet Radio, Technology by engtech on January 29, 2008

New Year’s Resolutions for 2008: release my “Best of” lists in the beginning of January, not at the end of January.

I’m sad to say that I listen to the same genre of music I did ten years ago. The list is all electronic music (house/electro) and if that isn’t your bag then you should skip it. All links go to last.fm previews of the music unless otherwise noted.

How to Make Your Own List in iTunes

Your very own “Best of 2007” list is only a smart playlist away.

  1. File >> New Smart Playlist (or Ctrl-Alt-N)
  2. Set a range of dates from Jan 1 to Dec 31

iTunes Smart Playlist - Year in Review

I tried to include videos for each of the artists, so this post is video heavy.

Click on the More link to go to the music + videos.


Online Survival Guide: 9 Tips for Dealing with Idiots on the Internet

Social Software and You

My first experience with online communication was bulletin board systems in the early 90s. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The experience of running a blog is almost exactly the same as it was running a BBS 15 years ago. The only difference is the sheer number of channels available for communication.

Where there was once up to 100 to 200 local BBSes there are now so many online forums for communication that it might as well be infinite., New forums for communication are being created all the time. Mainstream sites like the New York Times let you comment on articles, and each person has their own discussion forum thanks to sites like Facebook and MySpace.

“When I was involved in the BBS/IRC scene as a teenager I was surrounded by flame wars; one-upmanship was part of the attraction. I thought it was because of the immaturity of the participants, but now I think it is a natural offshoot of digital communication. We lose all the visual and auditory cues that are a normal part of human dialog and instead focus on words that can be easy to misinterpret (especially if looking for a reason to fight).” quoting myself

Winter is one of the worst for flame wars because environmental conditions make people more irritable and more likely to spend more time online. Here are some tips for navigating online discussions from someone who has been participating and managing public forums for over 15 years.

Tips for Administrators

Tip #1: Disemvowel

From Wikipedia: “In the fields of Internet discussion and forum moderation, disemvoweling is the removal of vowels from text either as a method of self-censorship, or as a technique by forum moderators to censor Internet trolling and other unwanted posting. When used by a forum moderator, the net effect of disemvowelling text is to render it illegible or legible only through significant cognitive effort.

Xeni Jardin, co-editor of Boing Boing says of the practice, “the dialogue stays, but the misanthrope looks ridiculous, and the emotional sting is neutralized.”

This original sentence:

In the fields of Internet discussion and forum moderation, disemvoweling (also spelled disemvowelling) is the removal of vowels from text.

would be disemvowelled to look like this:

n th flds f ntrnt dscssn nd frm mdrtn, Dsmvwlng (ls splld dsmvwllng) s th rmvl f vwls frm txt.”

You can disemvowel any text using this tool. There is also a Firefox extension that lets you disemvowel comments if you’re a WordPress administrator. The same guy has a Firefox extension for handling religious trolls.

Tip #2: Temporarily disable comments for that post

This works well if you’ve been linked to from another site and it’s bringing a lot of tolls (IE: Digg, Slashdot). You can turn the comments on after a day or two without having to wade through the 100+ comments telling you how much of an idiot you are because they don’t agree with some minor minutiae of your argument.

Tip #3: Take the discussion to email

Nothing kills a flame war like removing the audience.

Quoting myself: “There is a different between scrawling messages on a public site and having a one on one conversation. The flame wars that are routine on some sites rarely exist in personal email. People stop being disembodied words and ideas and you remember that there is a person behind all of that typing.”

Comment Ninja is a handy Firefox extension for WordPress blog administrators that makes it easy to respond to commenters on your blog by email.

Tip #4: Never post personal information

Because you are an administrator, you have access to a commenters email address and their IP address. This information is usually enough to find out anything else you want to about who they are. (IE: put their email address into Facebook to find their real name, use their IP address to find out where they work)

It can be tempting to deal with a troll by removing their anonymity, but making it personal can change a one time nuisance into someone with a grudge that won’t go away.

Tips for Anyone

Tip #5: Let it stew

If something really gets your goat, then sit on it. Come back and re-read what bothered you later on and you may find that you were reading between the lines and interpreting an emotional undertone that isn’t there. The human mind is great at adding missing context, but it can also trick you into reading what you want to believe.

Revisiting something that filled you with rage days latter can leave you scratching your head trying to find what it was that pulled your chain.

Tip #6: Leave it where you found it

As I said earlier, it is ridiculously easy to collect personal identifying information about someone and find other parts of their online identity. Other than bringing a public argument to a private means of communication, you should leave the argument where you found it. Letting it spill over to other websites, or worse, following the person on to other aspects of their online identity makes you look like a stalker or a crazy person.

It doesn’t matter how justified you feel your actions are, the simple act of not being able to let go of things hurts your credibility.

Tip #7: Social proof is important

No matter how well reasoned your argument is, trying to convince someone of something they vehemently disbelieve in is next to impossible when they don’t know you from a hole in the wall.

From Wikipedia: “Social proof, also known as informational social influence, is a psychological phenomenon that occurs in ambiguous social situations when people are unable to determine the appropriate mode of behavior. Making the assumption that surrounding people possess more knowledge about the situation, they will deem the behavior of others as appropriate or better informed.”

Every online forum is an ambiguous social situation because you don’t know who you are communicating with. The social proof of who you are in that community will play a bigger role than your actual argument.

Tip #8: Always let a fool have the last word

Slant Six Creative covers this in depth: “Healthy argument and debate only work when everyone’s a willing participant, and no amount of reason or good sense is going to convince someone whose only goal is to throw a monkey wrench. At the same time, trying to dismiss that person or shut him up will usually just make him go that much harder. That and it makes you look like a dictator, which you never want to be.

So, give him the last word on the point and move on. Doing so might mean a short-term hit to your pride, but in the long run it helps you build credibility with the people you’re really trying to talk to.”

Tip #9: Walk away

Communicating online has some clear benefits because you can take as much time as you want to develop your arguments and it is easy to re-read past points without falling into a rehashing of who said what. But it can also be time consuming and pointless when there is no resolution in sight. There’s a big difference between debating a subject and a flame war in the emotional response you feel and the benefit you get from the discussion. The only way you can win a flame war is by turning off the computer and getting on with your life.

Online discussion is easily archived and searchable, so who knows if this discussion will be dredged up years later. Is it really worth it?

Book Review: Everything Bad is Good for You by Steven Johnson

Posted in Book Reviews, Digital Culture, Games, Movies, Technology by engtech on January 04, 2008

Book Reviews

Credits to Fred for introducing me to Everything Bad is Good for You: How Pop Culture is Making Us Smarter. The thesis behind the book is simple: if you look at the popular media culture over time it is becoming more and more complex. There have always been avant garde examples that wove complex stories but over time the same techniques are used in mainstream pop culture. IE: It is becoming common place to produce tv shows and movies that require multiple watchings to fully digest.

everything bad is good for youThe book notes that this is in deep contrast to the old mantra of television programming where you wanted to go for the least offensive programming possible to avoid loosing market share. Johnson posits that one of the causes for change is before we didn’t have the ability to easily rewatch a tv show or movie to catch something we might have missed on first viewing.

Johnson also notes that the decline in reading books isn’t as bad as many people make it out to be because we have so much more access to written content via the Internet and more importantly people are writing more than ever before. I thought this was a good counter argument; when I look at the online presence of myself and my friends most of them are doing some form of content creation instead of passive content consumption.

The one area where I felt the book fell weak was in proving that more complex content is making us smarter. Intuitively I agree with the hypothesis, but the only proof offered was how IQ scores have been increasing in the average to above average segment of the population, but IQ scores haven’t been increasing for the ultra-smart people. It makes sense because the complexity of pop culture might be enough to increase problem solving skills in the average person but wouldn’t be enough to increase skills in the exceptionally above average.

I recommend reading this book after reading Made to Stick because Everything Bad is Good for You is a perfect example of how to convey an idea that will stay with the reader. The only downside is that some of the pop culture examples are already getting long in the tooth and I already agreed with the hypothesis without needing that much evidence. It might make for a more interesting read if it challenged your perceptions.

What Other People Have to Say

7 Tips to Optimize Windows XP for Gaming — Playing The Witcher on Minimum System Requirements

Posted in Games, Microsoft Windows XP and Vista, Technology by engtech on December 28, 2007

Working With Windows

One of the lures of the holiday season is to be able to hopefully squeeze in some time between eggnog, family and friends to exercise your vices. No, not heroin, but that other life consuming addiction: gaming. PC gaming is quickly going the way of the dodo, with console gaming taking over because it is so much easier to prevent piracy and ensure that the games will “just work” with the minimum of effort. But PC games are still my drug of choice, the combination of mouse and keyboard can’t be beat, especially for real time strategy or roleplaying games.

I decided to give the Witcher a try. It’s based on Bioware’s Aurora engine that powered my all-time favourite game Neverwinter Nights. The story is based on a long running Polish fantasy series, that has already had a movie and tv series based off of it. You can find a fan-subbed English copy of the tv show on popular bittorrent sites like the Pirate’s Bay. It is surprisingly better than I expected, about on par with the Highlander tv show.

Unfortunately the Witcher’s biggest flaw is that it’s using the Aurora engine. Game areas are split into several different area files that means changing areas becomes a complete pain in the ass. This was a huge problem when I used to do Neverwinter Nights game modding under the alias OldManWhistler, and I’m very surprised that four years later it STILL hasn’t been fixed. Playing the game will drive you running back to Bethesda’s Oblivion and their excellent background loading technology.

Load times are bad. The 1.2 “Christmas patch” of the game has improved it, but it still sucks all the joy out of the game to have the simplest of quests require up to 10 minutes of load screen staring to complete. Of course, the real culprit is that I’m trying to play the game with minimum system requirements. Let’s face it, no game plays well in the worst case scenario.

Special Witcher Tip: If your character became “locked-up” after moving to a new area it’s because you have autosave turned off. The game often moves into a cut-scene immediately after doing an autosave, and the cut-scene never starts if autosave is turned off.

In Program Files/The Witcher/System Folder/player.ini, set disable autosave to 0 instead of 1.

Getting Started: FreeRam XP Pro

Before you start optimizing your system, you should download and install Free Ram XP Pro. I don’t recommend using it all of the time, it’s pretty brutal when it decides to kick in and free up ram from running applications (it usually crashes Firefox). But it will display the amount of free RAM available in the system tray which will give you a warm fuzzy of progress as you go about optimizing your PC.

Performance Tip #1: Turn Off Your Antivirus

Antivirus software is a tax on the computer illiterate that wastes up to 50% of your computer resources. You should *NEVER* leave your antivirus software turned on while running PC games that are performance intensive (assuming they’re games you legitimately purchased)

Futher reading:

Performance Tip #2: Buy More RAM

RAM is cheap these days. There is no reason why anyone shouldn’t be running their system with the maximum amount of RAM they can get their hands on. Crucial makes a scanning tool that will automatically tell you what kind of RAM your computer needs. It’s one of the easiest ways to make everything on your computer run faster.

If you don’t have enough RAM then your computer will have to use part of your hard drive as RAM, which is so much slower. Buying more RAM is the most time effective way to get more juice out of an old PC.

Performance Tip #3: Free Up Hard Drive Space

Most computers have a ridiculous amount of free space on them unless you download music, movies or tv shows. There are lots of free programs out there that will help you find out where your hard drive space is going. I was losing 12 GB to a log file that was automatically created by a program called PeerGuardian 2!

Performance Tip #4: Defrag Before and After Install

Fragmentation happens when you store things on your hard drive after time. The computer will write information to the hard drive where ever it fits, which means parts of the same file can be all over the place. Ideally you want to install programs so that the entire program is “contiguous” — all the bits of the file are as close to each other as possible so that they can be read all at once with the minimum amount of time. You should always defrag after freeing up your hard drive so that you can make the most out of that new free space.

Performance Tip #5: Using msconfig

The stupidest invention ever was the “helper application” that sits in your system tray, doing nothing but consuming memory and making whatever program it is supposed to “help” run faster. My worst offender is Apple’s quicktime task that NO ONE uses, but reinstalls itself every time you upgrade iTunes. There are a couple of startup applications that might be necessary because of external devices (IE: cellphone, digital camera, keyboard, scanner) but for the most part these can all be removed.

Performance Tip #6: Removing Services

The only thing left to improve how fast your computer is running is to turn off parts of the operating system that you don’t use. There’s a lot of them, and its hard to know what really does what. This is one area where you can screw up your computer if you do it wrong. GameXP provides a nice simple interface that will disable most things for you automatically (as well backup the changes). But you can do it yourself by following guides.

Performance Tip #7: Advanced Guides

The previous six tips are the easiest ways to get games running on your computer with the least chance of screwing things up. But that’s just the start and there are many other ways you can tweak Windows XP to get your system running faster. These methods are time consuming to implement, and may be too technical for the average person, and you can screw up your computer if you do things wrong.


You can get a lot done with an older computer if you’re willing to get your hands dirty and remove all the stuff you don’t need. Your operating system includes much cruft, and there’s always ways to extend your PC life beyond the normal limits.

The Attention Age: Accelerando, Software Agents, Filters and Gatekeepers

Posted in Book Reviews, Digital Culture, RSS Syndication, Software, Technology by engtech on October 17, 2007

Last night I finished reading Accelerando by Charles Stross. Like many of the books I read these days, I heard about it from another blogger. It feels like a spiritual sequel to Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, John Brunner’s the Shockwave Rider and Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan. It is about information overload to the nth degree and too much change in too short of a time.accelerando charles stross

Accelerando is broken into 9 fragmented stories with decades passing in between them. This is too bad because it was the initial segment, only a few years in the future, that I found most interesting. Our protagonist is hooked up to a portable computing network of software agents that he uses to continually data mine and plug-in to a “river of news”. As he communicates with other people he spawns off parts of his “distributed brain” to research more information and get back to him.

The greatest inventions usually come from seeing the possible connection between two separate things (eg: peanut butter and chocolate). Like in the Shockwave Rider, our protagonist is successful because of his ability to gather and process information is so far beyond an average person’s. Being immersed in the information stream he sees the connections and trends that other’s can’t see.

These connections lead to so many successful ideas, that he can’t possibly execute on them himself – because the time it takes to implement them would take away from the information processing that is his true talent. He makes a career of giving away his ideas and surviving off of the reputation gain and support of his sponsors he’s made so successful. Very much like Doctorow’s concept of whuffie – reputation as currency.

The book progresses to talking about the post-human experience after digitization has reached the point that we can successfully digitally encode human personalities. Post-death society, heads in jars and living bodiless on the internet. There’s a really good bit on how the next major species will be intelligent corporations and artificial spam intelligence. But what really interested me was the initial chapters so close to the beginning 21st century: how do we use technology to deal with information overload?

(You can get a copy of Accelerando for free online – which is very useful because the copy I borrowed from the library was missing the last page – now that’s frustrating)

It’s Getting Harder to Find Information

We’re in the middle of a great revolution where anyone can become a self-publisher. But that’s the crux of the problem, isn’t it? Anyone can become a self-publisher. The low barrier to entry makes the competition for attention fierce. At some level we’re all on par with the lowliest spammers, trying to compete for other people’s attention. There is so much new content being created all the time at the only way old content stays in the public record is if the Great Google God returns it in a search result.

This is only going to get worse because Google has created a new caste of blogging serfdom. People create content and splash Google ads on it with the hope of that it will do well in Google search results so they can get paid.

There’s many a “business model” that relies completely on Google-Google Search for traffic and Google AdSense for revenue. And there’s an even larger amount of so-called business models that rely almost completely on Google for traffic, even if the money comes in via other means.

I think you know what happens to the money when the traffic stops.

I use the term “business model” above loosely, because a model that is entirely dependent on an outside company, for either traffic or revenue or both, is not really sound. You’re not in charge and you have very little control, because if Google decides to change the rules, you’re out of luck. Based on that, I would argue that relying on Google is not a business at all.

I’d say you work for Google.

From the Teaching Sells e-book

Where are the Smart Filtering Agents?

One of the things I remember clearly about the idea of intelligent agents in the early 90s was how it was going to revolutionize how we consume information. Instead of having to *gasp* pick up a newspaper, autonomous software agents would search the net finding tidbits of information what we were interested in and adapting and learning from how we interact with the results. Sci-fi books like John Varley’s Steel Beach dealt with the relationships between humans and these evolving artificial intelligences.

Take a moment to glance at the Wikipedia page on software agents; it’s quite good.

The 90s hope for intelligent agents has congealed. RSS has gotten us part of the way; now we can pick voices out of the chaos that we allow to push information to us. We can subscribe to alerts on search subjects that interest us. But aside from custom recommendation engines like Netflix and Last.FM there isn’t really a bot out there for finding information for us.

The Future: RSS Filtering

I see the fledgling baby steps of software agents delivering news. There are several sites competing for being able to filter through a list of RSS feeds and recommend the best news items to you.

There’s also the “build your own” filtering agent approach.

And let’s not forget the ability to monitor search terms.

One of the more enlightened concepts I’ve come across is FaveBot that wants to bring you the custom information you want about your favorite actors, authors and musicians.

Is the Answer Better Gatekeepers?

Is having an intelligent software agent the right approach or is it better to let humans do the filtering? The past year has seen an incredible rising in using crowdsourcing to decide what is the best information available. This is how digg, reddit, stumbleupon and the delicious popular page find interesting information by using the wisdom of mobs. Unfortunately when the user-base grows too large it becomes watered down to only common denominators.

The other approach is to find human editors to act as your gatekeeper. I’m not talking about hiring your man in Mumbai, but rather niche news sites like Slashdot, BoingBoing and Fark, and to a greater extent using the network of blogs you enjoy to act as your information gate keepers.

The last.FM music service is an amazing tool for finding new music to listen to. What makes it even stronger is its ability to find your “neighbours” – people you don’t know who have similar musical tastes. Listening to your neighbourhood radio is like having a friend who’s a DJ and always pushing new and interesting songs at you.

last.fm music neighbourhood

I don’t know any of these people, but I like their musical tastes.

Maybe instead of software agents we need software that connects us to other people who have similar interests? I read LifeHacker because I know the editors have very similar sensibilities to what I find interesting. Jon Udell shares my same love for information organization and manipulation. Jeff Atwood has perhaps one of the most engaging blogs for general geekery and love of programming, and his twitterstream is always full of interesting links.

The only downside to filtering information is that restricting your input to the people you already agree with creates a reinforcing feedback loop and destroys your patience and your ability to be around people with differing outlooks.

Related Posts

What I’m Playing: PC, Nintendo DS, Xbox 360

Posted in Games, Technology by engtech on October 12, 2007

marv sin city

“These are the old days, the bad days, the all-or-nothing days; the sitting at your desk eating entire chocolate bars while trying to debug this bug from hell days.”

– Marv from Sin City

I’m on day 10 of “one of those weeks” so I haven’t had time to fully develop the usual cornucopia of rainbow-coloured blog post ideas. All of my time has been spent on work and family with a smidgen of video game playing to decompress my brain. This isn’t one of those “I’m sorry I haven’t been blogging!!” posts that means it’s time to hit ‘J’ in the feed reader – instead I’m going to talk a little bit about video games. Feel free to interject in the comments with what you’re playing. (It’s Halo 3, isn’t it?)

I currently have three game systems in my household: the PC, the Xbox 360 with the home theatre system and my handheld Nintendo DS. Surprisingly the Nintendo DS gets way more play and games bought for it because A) my girlfriend and I both have our own DS and B) no game company has realized that people might want to play Xbox 360 games sitting on a couch with another real human being. I don’t play online multiplayer games[1] as a rule of thumb because they’re too addictive, but I find it much easier to invite someone over to play a “couch multiplayer” game than to find free time to play with by myself.

This is probably for the best because it pushed me off my ass to get a new roleplaying campaign started with some good friends.

PC Games – Found Interesting

I don’t know what happened to me (oh wait, I’m 30 and have a career and a little bit of a social life) but I can never finish PC games anymore. I seem to always reach a halfway point where the game becomes too sluggish on my underperforming rig and I give up on it. This week marked the death of PC gaming for me when Electronic Arts (boo, hiss) bought out my favorite Canadian game company that I’ve always had a secret fetish for joining: BioWare.

The last two PC games I tried out were Thief 3 and Fallout: Tactics. Thief 3 was amazing to play in the middle of the night with all of the lights off, but kept crashing my computer. Fallout Tactics was a great return to my favorite post nuclear setting and made me realize how much I miss the Infinity game engine (from Baldur’s Gate series). I wish someone would do a Planescape Torment re-release using the latest version of the Infinity engine.

fallout tactics

Nintendo DS – My Favs

I’ve already written about Puzzle Quest before. It’s Bejewelled gem-matching meets 90s styled RPG and the game that got me to buy a Nintendo DS of my own. There were many enjoyable relaxing hours spent playing, until I learned an unbeatable combo of screen clearing spells. It’s out for Xbox Live Arcade now.

nintendo ds puzzle quest

The next win for hours spent playing was Age of Empires: Age of Kings. It was surprisingly challenging as it has the most replayability of all my DS games because of the random maps feature. A definite keeper.

age of kings ds

I’m currently schlocking my way through Rune Factory which is possibly the most accurate Japanese translation I’ve ever seen. I really feel like I’m a factory worker sometimes. The game captures all the nasty power-leveling aspects of roleplaying games: the crafting for no reason other than to see skill increases so you can craft better items, the fighting monsters in hopes of getting a rare drop, and almost literal gold farming with crops you have to maintain. It’s almost a perfect example of all the things I like least about RPGs.

Yet I can’t stop playing.

rune factory ds

Nintendo DS – Her Favs

My lady friend who has the eternal patience to put up with my geekery prefers the new Super Mario Brothers, Brain Age, and Animal Crossing. Brain Age has never appealed to me as I’d rather be doing sudoku with a pen and paper. Super Mario Bros looks like button-mashing fun and Animal Crossing looks like the exact same kind of pointless (yet addictive) time wasting as Rune Factory.

animal crossing ds

Xbox 360 Games

The only real winners for Xbox 360 couch multiplayer have been Small Arms, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, and Lego Star Wars 2 (honorable single player mentions for Amped 3, Gears of War and Crackdown). There’s been a few horrible buys as well because of bargain bin pricing (Kameo, Dead or Alive X2, Table Tennis) – enough that I’ve switched from buying Xbox 360 games to “rent only”.

Small Arms is a 2D death match style game that allows for four person couch multiplayer. It by far has the most hours racked of any game I’ve played on the 360. I wish they’d do an update with more characters and levels. There’s nothing quite like playing the bazaar with four chickens with flamethrowers.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance was a lot of fun because I got to show off my encyclopedic comic book knowledge to my girlfriend (which she finds dead sexy – at least that’s what I keep telling myself). The Xmen Legends game engine is really solid for couch multiplayer, and I’d love to see more games come out using it. Although there’s a strange bug where everyone who plays Wolverine has to steal all the power-ups…

Lego Star Wars 2 is the spiritual successor to the childhood fun I had with Star Wars that the Episodes I – III crapfest almost managed to ruin. It’s got some camera issues, but other than that it’s full of solidly fun gameplay. They’re releasing a combo pack of Lego Star Wars 1 & 2 in November.

Puzzle Fighter on Xbox Live Arcade will most likely be my next buy. I’ve already played the crap out of it using MAME and my laptop, but the Xbox Live version is much more convenient than hooking up the laptop.

Xbox 360 Demos

I think I’ve downloaded and played around two out of five of all of the demos available on the Xbox 360. I really love how the network/hard drive console environment has opened opportunities for try-before-you-buy and game demos are now freely available (and often easier to get running than PC game demos). It does amaze me sometimes that companies put crap demos up (Vampire Rain, Bladestorm). These demos are worth downloading:

  • Amped 3 – snowboarding sim with great wackiness, worth buying
  • Beautiful Katamari – Katamari for the Xbox! demo is too short
  • BioShock – steampunk fps
  • Burnout Revenge – driving smashup
  • Crackdown – convinced me to buy it
  • Conan – solid hack-n-slash action
  • Eternal Sonata – surprisingly engaging turn-based RPG
  • Lost Planet – sci-fi fps
  • Overlord – evil overlord rpg sim, great sense of humor
  • Shadowrun – this would be a strong buy if it was single player – very fun fps, I’ve probably put 40 hours into replaying the demo
  • The Darkness – interesting concept, but poor mechanics
  • Time Slip – fps with time manipulation

[1]: Other than blogging. Blogging truly is a MMORPG.

Book Review: Overclocked by Cory Doctorow (and Fair Use Day)

Posted in Book Reviews, Digital Culture, Technology by engtech on July 11, 2007

Fair Use, Copyright and Digital Rights

There is a grassroots movement to make July 11th an International Fair Use Day where we all celebrate our rights to copy content in a fair manner (i.e.: backing up software/movies, quoting other sources). Copyright laws have reached the point where they stifle innovation and prevent use from standing on the shoulders of giants. Fair use of copyright is very different from piracy; copyright laws should protect the rights of the content creator but also protect the rights of the end user. Fair use is about achieving balance between the two different interests.

Copyright discussion and technology often go hand-in-hand because advances in technology make it easier and easier to cheaply reproduce what was originally hard to reproduce. Striking a balance between producers and consumers is very important. If nothing was profitable then nothing then there would be less innovation, but on the flip side what if producers held complete control over how and when their works could be used? Can you imagine a world where you weren’t legally allowed to re-sell or buy used books, CDs or DVDs? Can you imagine a world without libraries?

drm orwell digital rights management
(photo by jbonnain)

Michael Geist

July 11th is a great choice for the date because it is also the birthday of Canada’s own digital rights super-hero Michael Geist. Happy birthday, Michael. If you aren’t familiar with his work, then I recommend starting with a series of articles called “30 Days of DRM” that are enlightening to say the least. Another Canadian digital rights super-hero is Cory Doctorow, a science-fiction author and co-editor of the famous BoingBoing weblog.

Cory Doctorow

cory doctorow overclock short stories science fiction bookLast night I finished reading Cory Doctorow’s new collection of short stories, Overclocked, and I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I’ve read two of his other books, Eastern Standard Tribe and Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, and found them disappointing although full of interesting ideas. Overclocked succeeds where the others failed for me because the short narrative allows for a focus on the ideas without feeling that the characters are neglected.

Common Themes in Overclocked

Cory deals with information warfare, robotic sentience, inequalities between first and third world countries and the next level of copyright infringement – when we have 3d printers that can replicate any goods. So much of our current consumer laws are based on the concept of scarcity. We’ve already entered a post-scarcity economy when it comes to entertainment goods that can be reproduced digitally. 3D printing already exists, what kind of world do we want to live in when anything — even food, clothing and electronics — can be reproduced with minimum cost and effort?

The Stories from Overclocked

All of the short stories in Overclocked are already freely available online from other sources. You can check them out by following these links.

Printcrime – the real outcome of a society where copying has been made illegal.

When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth – when a biological agent wipes out humanity the only people left standing are the sysadmins who were protecting the network in clean rooms.

Anda’s Game – a young girl learns about goldfarming and world wide inequality thanks to World of Warcraft.

I, Robot – Asimov meets Orwell in a mash-up of 1984 and I, Robot where government controlled restrictions on technology have created wars with countries that don’t follow the same restrictions.

I, Row-Boat – a sentient row boat with free will explores the nature of consciousness in a post-human society.

After the Siege – A city goes from utopia to a cesspool of human misery when other countries attack them for illegally copying the goods they need to survive.

Related Links

[TV] When Good Heroes Go Bad

Posted in Geeking Out, Technology by engtech on July 06, 2007

heroes tv series hiro nakamuraI just finished watching the first season of the new hit TV series Heroes on DVD and I have to say that I’m disappointed. I’m still an avid reader of comic books, so when a new TV series starts that seems like a mild rip-off from X-Men came out, I didn’t really have a choice when it came to watching it.

I’ve always enjoyed the stories about how people deal with having super-powers more than the crime fighting and action. The most interesting sci-fi stories are the ones that deal with how society reacts to the fantastic, and unfortunately that is something Heroes never explored in depth.

(photo by Ivo Sandaval)

They started out well with many interesting characters, but that was also the biggest flaw. Too many characters means too much time spent on telling the story. Often they went several episodes without covering one of the favorite characters. There also seemed to be a ridiculous duplication of powers [2] amongst the existing “heroes”. At least they were willing to kill characters off.

Too many characters also means it takes too long to tell the story. I’ve recently become a big fan of Warren Ellis and one of the things he does very well is timing a story arc. The Authority wraps up every four issues, and Nextwave wraps up every two issues. Heroes would have done well to follow the same formula to keep everyone’s attention. Taking 24 episodes to show “how to stop an exploding man” ensures that the finale won’t live up to expectations. (And what a lame ending it was…)

Every episode was linked to the overall plot, when one-shots and smaller story arcs would have gone a long way to develop the characters and hold the attention of the audience. The Days of Future Past rip off where Hiro travels five years into the future was one of my favorite episodes because it stood out from the rest. I hope they do more of that, instead of huge epic story arcs that are hard to follow and ultimately unsatisfying.

heroes tv series hiro nakamura watch sylarI thought it was very cool that they did an online comic book series to fill in some of the back story. A torrent of issues 1-24 can be found here, and 25-31 can be found here [3]. Use a bit torrent client to download and use CDisplay to view.

The preview of season two sparked my interest, and I hope they take some time to focus on one story arc to completion instead of their current blueprint where everything leads to one arc that plays out less than thirty minutes.

(photo by robjtak)


[1] Completely screwed up by Marvel’s “everyone is a mutant!” stupidity.

[2] Linderman and Claire both heal. Peter and Sylar can both copy other powers. Wireless and Mika can both interact with machines. The writers need to read George RR Martin’s Wild Cards to get some idea of all the crazy powers that people can have.

[3] Since the comics were available on the NBC website, the torrents should be legal to distribute.

Related Posts

  1. 81 movies for geeks that do not suck
  2. T-shirts – 100+ geek t-shirts that I like.
  3. Comic Books – My favorite comic books available in trade paperbacks.
  4. TV series on DVD – some shows I like.

What Others Think

Tech Chick: “Eureka: On Friday NBC announced that the majority of the Season 1 cast of Heroes will be touring the world to promote the Season 1 DVD/HD DVD release (set for August 28th), as well as the upcoming second season of Heroes. I know the DVD release isn’t as exciting as the upcoming season, but getting to see 50 deleted scenes and the 73-minute never aired premiere episode WILL make the wait less painful. I promise.”

Forever Geek: “In an interesting move to avoid airing repeats, NBC has ordered a 6 part second series called “Heroes: Origins” – this show will feature different characters from the ones appearing on Heroes, but some of the characters in the series will eventually make their way to the main show. This series will air in the regular Heroes time slot when the show goes on hiatus next fall.”

“So, last night’s “Heroes” season finale didn’t satisfy on every level I hoped it would, but it did wrap up at least the bomb scenario… spoilers

Movies No One Should See: “Not only is he awesome as Hiro, he’s more badass as Future Hiro (thanks to time traveling, shows up sometimes). A little goatee, fluently speaking English, and the samurai sword with him at all times: this is how Hiro could be in the future. Of course, that future is ala “Age of Apocalypse” so it might be altered next season (and he’ll show up as Hippy Hrio instead).”

Random Musings: “However, the other 22 episodes really made up for this one lackluster season finale. Almost all of them were brimming with interesting and shocking plot twists that made this show one of the most complicating and yet satisfying ones I’ve seen in a long time. For those of you who haven’t watched it, make sure you get the DVD as soon as it’s released, you really don’t want to miss out on this great show.”

Blogs about Heroes

And we have a winner…

Posted in Contests, Technology, Tshirts by engtech on June 26, 2007

Never has there been a truer mantra than “those who can’t, teach.” I might write posts about using online calendar applications, but I think by now we’ve all realized I don’t use them. That’s why I’ll do things like schedule a contest to end the day before leaving on vacation… knowing fully well that I won’t get around to judging it until a month later.

The Winners

The Entrants

  1. What is your secret indulgent movie” by sulz (Save this post at del.icio.us)
  2. Remaking Back to the Future” by Collin (Save this post at del.icio.us)
  3. Favorite Movies” by Jan (Save this post at del.icio.us)
  4. TShirt Slogans That Could Get You Kicked Out of School” by Gary Rodgers (Save this post at del.icio.us)
  5. My Favorite Tshirt Slogans” by Gary Rodgers (Save this post at del.icio.us)
  6. What Hollywood Has Taught Me” by Gary Rodgers (Save this post at del.icio.us)
  7. 5 Most Memorable Movie Adaptations” by loricat (Save this post at del.icio.us)
  8. 5 Favorite Movie Soundtracks” by azahar (Save this post at del.icio.us)
  9. 5 Favorite Movie Musicals” by azahar (Save this post at del.icio.us)
  10. 15 of the Funnies Money Tshirt Pics” by ispf (Save this post at del.icio.us)
  11. Tips to Winning Tshirts” by valkrieangel (Save this post at del.icio.us)
  12. 5 Truly Absurd Movies” by loricat (Save this post at del.icio.us)
  13. Movies Teaching Management Lessons” by Ketan (Save this post at del.icio.us)
  14. Triumph of Imperfection Making Tshirts for Kids” by Juggling Frogs (Save this post at del.icio.us)
  15. Books To Movies Do they make sense” by ish (Save this post at del.icio.us)
  16. My Favorite Movie Quotes” by Collecting Tokens (Save this post at del.icio.us)
  17. 7 Musical Movies not necessarily musicals” by Collecting Tokens (Save this post at del.icio.us)
  18. Nerdy Shirts Should Be Covert” by Cory OBrien (Save this post at del.icio.us)
  19. 10 Great Movies with Kick Ass Women Who Didn’t Necessarily Kick Anyone’s Ass” by Collecting Tokens (Save this post at del.icio.us)

The Bonus Round

These weren’t included in the contest because they were never submitted, but I still think they’re pretty nifty.

  1. A Geek’s Complete Lack of Style” by Webomatica (Save this post at del.icio.us)
  2. My Ten Favorite Star Wars Moments” by Webomatica (Save this post at del.icio.us)
  3. Movie Sequels I’d Really Like to See” by Webomatica (Save this post at del.icio.us)
  4. Comic Book Movies Without the Superheroes” by Webomatica (Save this post at del.icio.us)

Create Buzz by Doing the Unexpected and Being Remarkable (Puzzle Quest Case Study)

Posted in Games, Marketing and Promotion, Technology by engtech on June 01, 2007

puzzle quest nintendo ds screenshotA game company called Infinite Interactive have a break-away hit on their hands with a new game called PuzzleQuest. Their success has come from two key differentiators:

  • Mashing the puzzle gem (IE: Bejeweled) genre with the old school Japanese RPG (IE: Final Fantasy) genre.
  • Releasing a demo for PCs over the Internet even though the game was only available for the Nintendo DS and Playstation Portable handheld consoles
  • (and possibly) very limited available at game stores causing scarcity and a lot of buzz around how hard it is to find a copy

The Heath brothers [wikipedia] rate unexpectedness as one of the six rules of sticky, memorable, and interesting ideas. Seth Godin recommends that products be remarkable in his book the Purple Cow [wikipedia]. The qualities of being unexpected and being remarkable are most successful when they are intertwined.

Being Unexpected

puzzle quest nintendo ds pc game demo downloadInfinite Interactive has reached a new audience by offering a PC demo of the Puzzle Quest. Demos, or free limited-play sample versions of games, are a tradition in the PC gamer domain, but are relatively new to the console market. The Xbox 360 with its built-in internet connection and hard drive is a perfect marketplace for try-before-you-buy game demos. The Nintendo DS hand-held console has been experimenting with downloading game demos at supported stores, but their severely limited demos still don’t give you a good feel for the game.

PC video gaming is in a slump. Between World of Warcraft and the many choices on the console market, as well as an ever increasing number of HD-TV home theatre setups, console gaming has been taking an ever increasing marketshare away from PC gaming. There just aren’t as many quality computer video games being made anymore. Puzzle Quest recognizes that most console gamers are former PC gamers and that a PC connected to the internet is by far the easiest way to distribute a demo for a handheld console without a hard drive.

Most games are written to work on multiple platforms these days, so offering a PC demo for a console game isn’t as hard to do as you might think. I’m surprised it isn’t done more often.

Being Exceptional

PuzzleQuest is an excellent gem matching puzzle game AND an excellent RPG. They might not meet the depth of story of a Bioware roleplaying game, but they have solid game mechanics that are quite addictive.

The game has all the features of modern RPGs:

  • Branching storyline based on player actions
  • All combat is done by solving gem matching puzzles against an opponent AI
  • Matching gems builds up mana that lets you cast spells that affect the game board
  • Different skills affect how you gain mana, gold and experience during puzzle combat
  • Different classes gain skills at different rates and can cast different spells
  • Different items give you different modifiers for puzzle combat
  • Acquire different companions who help you during combat
  • Capture enemies to learn spells from them
  • Capture enemies to gain mounts
  • Capture runes to craft items
  • Capture cities to increase your income

I was really surprised at the depth of activity available, and more importantly how fun it is.

puzzle quest action screenshot

The Proof is in the Pudding

Since being released on the Nintendo DS and PSP, Puzzle Quest has found an ever increasing audience. The buzz that has grown around their game has led to announcements of future releases for Xbox Live Arcade and the PC. The biggest problem I had after playing the was trying to figure out where I could get a copy of the game.

  • Found out about it on Penny Arcade (Puzzle Quest comic 1, Puzzle Quest comic 2)
  • Hours spent playing PuzzleQuest PC demo (I replayed it three times)
  • Spent at least 30 minutes trying to find a torrent for the full PC game… before I realized it was for the Nintendo DS.
  • Tried to find it in no less than 8 local game stores (ended up using Amazon)
  • Picked up a copy of one of their PC games in the bargain bin (Battlecry 3)
  • Got my own Nintendo DS so I’d stop hogging my girlfriend’s

My own experience with Puzzle Quest shows how successful it has been. Infinite Interactive has done an amazing job jumping from the flagging PC game market to handheld games, and I look forward to a day soon when they overcome the distribution issues and the game can be found at your local store. But why wait until then? You can download it and give it a try now.

Electronic Civil Disobedience

Posted in Digg, Digital Culture, Technology by engtech on May 02, 2007

People are calling the Digg user revolt the “Internet story of the year.” The Digg community fixated on the 32-bit encryption key for HD-DVDs protests against the site owners giving in to potential censorship requests by HD-DVD producers (who are also advertisers on the site) and censoring stories that published the key. You can read more coverage (and screenshots) at Mathew Ingram, Deep Jive Interests or TechCrunch. I first heard the story break at Paris Lemon. WinExtra might have the best post about this.


Group Writing Project #3 — Theme = T-shirts or Movies (Win Free t-shirts contest for bloggers)

Posted in Contests, Movies, Technology, Tshirts by engtech on April 05, 2007

blog hand gang sign

Group writing projects are a way to connect with other bloggers and increase your readership. Every two months I run an on-going group writing project where bloggers can write around a similar theme. I offer prizes and freebies as incentives for participating (past prizes include Amazon gift certificates, free web hosting, and WordPress.com upgrade credits).

Last December I reached the homepage of Digg.com twice with posts about movies for geeks and t-shirts for geeks. I want to see what you have to say about similar themes. Write a post loosely themed around t-shirts *or* movies to participate in this project (click for some ideas).

On June 20th, 2007 I’ll be picking three (3) of the participants at pseudo-random to win prizes.

  1. First prize will be two (2) t-shirts of their choice from dirtymicrobe.com ($30 value)
  2. Second prize will be one (1) t-shirts of their choice from dirtymicrobe.com ($15 value)
  • And of course, one lucky wordpress.com blogger will win $15 worth of upgrade credits.


Five Ways to Fix Digg’s Comment System

Posted in Digg, Digital Culture, Technology by engtech on March 27, 2007

The Kathy Sierra story made Digg. Of course, the comments were to be expected. Robert Scoble is outraged by the comments (truly, there were some horrible ones there). MG@ParisLemon asks the question:

What role, if any, should Digg play in this? The comments could be a place for great discussions on the story, but usually they degrade into the musings of lunatics. When do comments stop being free speech and start being serious threats? These are the questions.


Cyber-bullying – Not just for teenagers

Posted in Digital Culture, Links, Technology by engtech on March 27, 2007

I’ve been thinking about featuring 31 bloggers over 31 days for my one year anniversary and Kathy Sierra of Creating Passionate Users would be tops on that list. Which makes this even more saddening and sickening. I don’t know any of the people involved/accused so I won’t comment on the specifics of the situation. It constantly amazes me how “Just Add Internet” and people get up to the kind of actions and harassment they’d never do in real life.

Well, hopefully they’d never do in real life.

Scobles’ response was good, especially since he gets his fair share of internet death threats as well.

Quoting myself from a previous post:

When I was involved in the BBS/IRC scene as a teenager I was surrounded by flame wars; one-upmanship was part of the attraction. I thought it was because of the immaturity of the participants, but now I think it is a natural offshoot of digital communication. We lose all the visual and auditory cues that are a normal part of human dialog and instead focus on words that can be easy to misinterpret (especially if looking for a reason to fight).

Throw anonymity into the mix and it becomes a recipe for disaster. Becoming popular on Slashdot or Digg is equal parts excitement at the exposure and annoyance at the new commenters. To be fair this isn’t restricted to these two communities; for a large number of people getting into arguments on the Internet is a major source of entertainment.

But some people take that too far. Flamewars and oneupmanship is drastically different than harassment. I hope legal action is pursued and the WordPress.com staff do what they can to identify the source.