Category Archives: The Internet

Facebook, Social Games and Real Achievements

“I just spent $1 on a box for a turd that looks like a duck. I think it was worth it.”

-John House, a casual gamer on Mark Zuckerberg: Inside Facebook (BBC 1, 4 Dec 2011)

At first, this sounds preposterous. Spending actual real world money that you have to earn in a real world job on a digital box to keep a digital shit in? Makes little sense. But on the other hand, it’s just part of the over all cost of entertainment. Regular PS3 or Xbox game costs upwards of £40, most games on Facebook are free but to enhance the experience you spend money on extras or to get further, faster.

No, above isn’t the problem, the problem was exemplified by Michelle Maruyama who has played Restaurant City for two years:

It’s definitely a chore and it definitely cuts into your spare time. Like I know that I used to read the New Yorker pretty much cover to cover every single week and I know that I absolutely do not do that anymore.

The real cost of social games isn’t the money that is spent, it is the time that these games take away from other meaningful things we could be doing.

I guess that applies to all ‘pure’ entertainment that doesn’t offer knowledge as a side product. How can I argue if an hour spent on MafiaVille is somehow less well spent than an hour for spent on ‘watching TV’? But I can argue that fragmenting ones attention and concentration multiple times a day by having to make sure your crop doesn’t spoil can’t be good.

Watching TV or reading a good article is a satisfying experience that when you get to the end leaves you with fulfilment. These social games are more like smoking. They fill you with anxiety. As soon as you finish one session, you’re waiting for the next opportunity to [insert social game verb here].

Where’s the attraction then? I think it’s in our primal need for feeling of achievement, success and pleasure. These games offer a quick fix for that. You can make real FarmVille profit in just a few hours. It is the buzz one gets from making something, no matter how virtual or imaginary it is, out of nothing. In the real world, only few people actually sell anything apart from their time to their employers. (And with that I don’t mean you can’t get pleasure out of a job, of course you can, but it’s not a coincidence that the maker movement is gaining momentum.)

And the kind of achievement social games offer is different to other video games, too. In a normal video game going forward requires time, yes, but also trial and error and learning from your mistakes. In many social games, going forward only requires time and repetition. The is very little learning involved.

I’m not trying to argue benefits of ‘real’ video games but I’ll share two facts. In Finland, boys often have stronger English skills due to playing video games. Another is that studies have found that surgeons who play video games perform better than their non-gamer colleagues.

I think people should be wary of the time spent on tasks that offer very little in return. That goes for anything but especially FarmVille and most other social games; after all, it’s not just time actively spent playing them that is consuming.

Caught on Camera

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

“+100 geek points” – Alex Kent.

Had no idea they caught me on their wheeling cameras but they did. Pretty cool. I’m the only person I know on there. It really puts those privacy issues on to another level when it’s you. It’s the same with a lot of other things. We know that the ‘information technology workers’ at your ISP (or your company’s IT dept) ARE reading your email. Or that each of us are recorded some 100 time a day on CCTV. Or that everytime you pay at a parking meter, that coin is DNA analyzed and added to the states records. With your name on it.

But when this information is actually made easily available, to everybody, it becomes a little invasive. Especially 1) if you have something to hide and/or 2) if you’re bothered. I think Google Streetview still falls into the ‘security through obscurity’ category in that if I wasn’t now shouting of my existence there, nobody would know. And with that photo, nobody from outside my circle of friends would recognize me. I obviously don’t think Google is invading my privacy – but I also understand those caught in less favorable situations. What’s good about it is that it really reminds us that we are constantly being watched and recorded, and if we’re not happy about it, we better start behaving.

[Important Update] Just to be clear – and to make me not look like a Tory ***t – I am against bio-metric ID cards and governments cataloging our DNA just in case we might do something. There’s been too many cases of people being wrongly accused and arrested for that to make sense in anyway. It’s preemptive invasion of privacy. CCTV is supposed to prevent crime by making it clear that you’re on camera and your wrong doings can be proven with it. BTW, those records are public, you have the right to ask for the tapes and watch them. Within the last 6 months, I’ve reported to two crimes to the police, both of which were committed under CCTV cameras. What did the Police do? Nothing. CCTV didn’t prevent the crimes, neither did the Police use them to solve the crimes.

So, to sum up, and clarify the last few words in the original post; It’s not great that we’re being followed with all the cameras but we haven’t got that much to worry about either as we’re still pretty anonymous.

ISPs Don't Like the iPlayer

Briefly,

Recently, many ISPs in the UK have been complaining that the – maybe surprisingly large – success of iPlayer is putting strain on their networks. Now they want a slice of the TV license fee payed by the UK households.

This is ridiculous.

BBC already pays a considerable amount of money to feed their programming into the backbone. And it’s the ISPs, therefor the consumers, who need to pay for it to be delivered on our screens. What they’re asking is a bit like asking your corner shop keeper to pay – on top of his store rent – your rent so you can have a place to eat at.

Video has become really big on the Internet in the last few years and that of course is more consuming for the ISPs to handle than just standard, often relatively light-weight, webpages. ISPs perhaps didn’t see this coming and instead of preparing for winter, prepared for the Mega Wars and started advertising ever higher download speeds. All the time knowing that there is no way of delivering it if most or just many customers peaked at the same time.

ISPs now have to continue to invest in new hardware to increase their capacity which on the other hand we may not see as increased advertised bandwidth but as more reliable and consistent service.

One questions still bothers me. Why are they pointing their finger at BBC and iPlayer? I’m pretty sure Youtube still consumes more more bandwidth than iPlayer. Is it because it’s harder to go after corporate money (Google) than public money (BBC)?

–kristian

Traffic Shaping

I’m just downloading Ubuntu, don’t ask me why, maybe I just want to have a game of minesweeper. Preferred method for obtaining it is obviously downloading using BitTorrent. I’m actually a bit surprised that they don’t make a bigger deal of using .torrents. Then again, they must have a few universities up their sleeve where they can get free bandwidth.

– Anyhow –

What’s really annoying is that it’s only downloading at under 5Kb per second. Strange, isn’t it? I’m downloading something that is being uploaded by hundreds of people around the world, including some servers with very high upload speed. Smells fishy. Almost as if someone in between has made the decision for me that I’m not to play minesweeper tonight. Of course, as an avid reader of this blog you’ll know that the broadband service at the Suklaa HQ is provided BT. (We’ve had the service for a good four months now, not that it’s been good four months. Can’t wait until it’s over, eight months left.) What BT is obviously doing is traffic shaping. I guess easiest way I could explain traffic shaping is that imagine your stuck in traffic on A13 (or any other busy road). There’s bottle neck on that road; for me on A13 (towards London) it’s where main road continues as A1261 to Canary Wharf and A13 tears off. For Internet traffic this could be at your local exchange. To continue on A13 you have to queue for a while. The main reason why the queuing takes such a long time for 95% of the roads users is that the last 5% is skipping the queue*. Somehow magically those 5% of commuters feel that they are so far above other commuters that they have the right to skip.

How does this relate to BT? Pretty obvious. Like many Internet service providers, BT is slowing down parts of the traffic on the web so that other stuff can move faster. It might make sense if you had tunnel vision (hey, I don’t want MY Internet to be slow because my neighbor is downloading last 5 years worth of Hollyoaks) but looking at the bigger picture, I also don’t want my Skype calls to crumble – which they often do – because BT thinks it’s taking up too much space on their network. It’s much easier to widen the bandwidth of the Internet than it is to widen a road in an urban area. Also, it’s easier to make everyone equal on the Web.

Has any of you noticed anything like this with your ISP?

–kristian

*There’s a maximum limit to what a road can take over a period of time. This maximum is not exceeded by some cutting in. Sure, their time spent on that road is decreased but at the same time it takes longer for the others. You could argue that cutting in actually increases the average time spent on that road due to increased risk of accidents.

ps. I’ll post some links to proofs about BT’s traffic shaping practices when I get a chance. It’s 23:40 and I’ve got an early morning again.

[update] The download was in fact finished by the next morning which further implies that traffic shaping is taking place.

Little Teaser

It’s been a bit quiet the last few weeks but it’s only because I’ve been a bit busy. But here’s a little teaser to keep your minds ticking. I’m not saying what it is yet but it’s well worth keeping track of.

theguide_teaser.png

–kristian

Reverse Googling Alarna Finucan

So I’ve been trying to look up a friend from 10 years back. She was an exchange student at the time and she lived with us for a while. Last time I met her was about 5 years ago but haven’t since been in touch at all. Neither has anyone else who I know, as far as I’m aware. I must say I haven’t looked hard enough, otherwise I probably would have found her by now. No, I have just relied on Google to find her for me.

The problem is that even though her name comes up on Google, none of the links take to anything useful. None of the email address seem to be working anymore. This is true at least at the time of writing this. It’s strange because it feels that even if you use the internet sort of moderately, one in a while, you would leave enough of a mark for some one to look you up. Or I’m just generalizing because I am quite easy to find, or get in touch with, just by typing two words in the Google search; my name. Then again, unlike all the ‘Johnny Boys’ of the world, my name is quite rare.

Today, I came up with a plan. I’ll reverse google her. By getting her name up in the Google search, she or some one she knows might find this page and then get in touch with me. Absolutely brilliant.

So the person I’m looking for is Alarna Finucan. She lives, or lived, in Brisbane, Australia. If you see this, do get in touch. It would be very nice to hear from you.

-kristian