Archive for January, 2013

Enforced Difficulty aka Artificial Friction

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

So as a fairly tech savvy person, but also a fairly ethical person, one thing that really gets my goat is anything that makes it difficult for me to enjoy whatever media it is I have acquired. It doesn’t matter if it’s a movie or music cd, book or video game. However I was just recently testing* out a thing that the library is considering getting, and it reminded me just how much I hate artificial friction. This is a term I first heard during one of the big eBook lending kerfuffles.

The basic idea is that the publisher would rather sell you a physical copy of the book, because if someone steals your physical copy, they can only steal it once. Whereas with a digital copy, if someone steals it, they can distribute it as much as they want. So the idea is you make it difficult to get the digital version at all in the hopes that people give up and buy the physical copy. There is a pretty gaping flaw in that logic, but it is only slightly worse than Harper-Collin’s idea that all books should magically fall apart after 26 reads. Or Penguin’s insistence that their books not be transmitted wirelessly.

So I’m not going to mention any names regarding this thing… I won’t say database, because it’s magazine access … I’m not really sure what the right word is… maybe virtual newsstand? I kind of like that. Anyways, this virtual newsstand is actually a multi-party affair. That is to say, you access the first party from a special link (given by your library, but for now just for those of us who’re testing it). You need to register for an account which is pretty easy, and mainly requires email verification. Not a problem for someone who knows what they’re doing. Then you pick out the magazine(s) you want to read from those available (a quick look suggested that only the penultimate issue of each magazine was available, that is to say last month’s issue.) Then you go to the second party’s website, where you have to also have an account. Their registration process is also fairly simple, and I’ll be honest I used the same credentials and throwaway password for both.

Not the most difficult access transaction I’ve ever gone through, but not the simplest by far. And if I understand right to read a new magazine I’ll have to go back to the first party site using my special link, and and click on the next magazine I want to read, sending confirmation to the second party site that I’ve got permission to read it, then open it in there.

If you want to read it on an android device (and I’d assume iOs as well) you’re going to have trouble because Android doesn’t have flash (actually it does, but whatever) and so you have to download the app… For all that they say the service is supported on multiple platforms, they don’t make it easy to find the app…

I’ll admit, I didn’t spend a lot of time actually reading the magazine, but I did play around w/ it enough on my phone to know that unless I’m really desperate to read the article I need a bigger screen. I may give it a go on an ipad or android tablet while I still have access to them, and I imagine the larger screen real-estate will be helpful… but there is still way to many hoops to jump through for me to really be happy about this service…

Well, except for the fact that part of my job is to help people use library resources on their diverse devices … so I guess I could look at it as job security. (;


*Since this is a test, the actual process could conceivably be easier for the patrons. I don’t actually know.

Spoilers not guaranteed.

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

timetravelad__spanSo for a Sci-Fi movie about time travel, there is in fact very little of the trappings you might expect. Usually I’m pretty willing to countenance spoilers, as I’ve found (and heard told) that having the plot spoiled for you can often enhance the movie. There are some times though where watching or reading something without spoilers can be worthwhile, and this is definitely one of those cases.

So the premise is based on a joke ad published in ’97 in Backwoods magazine to fill space. It later hit the internet (YTMND for instance) before finally becoming a movie last year. All told the movie is more about people than time travel. Many have regrets that maybe time travel could fix … but maybe just meeting the right person could. Regardless the movie does a great job of keeping the big reveal a secret until the final moments of the movie. Hell, to be honest, they could probably go either way if they did a sequel… though I’m not sure how awesome a sequel w/out actual time travel would be.

It was pretty fun. I might bother to watch it a second time sometime, knowing now how it probably ends. I certainly wouldn’t purchase the movie, or force my friends to watch it. If you’ve got the opportunity to watch it though, by all means do so.

Merchant of Venus

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

merchant of venus temp

There are so many good games, reviewing just one a week, much less playing only one a week can be a little difficult. However I’ve now played 4 games of Merchant of Venus and it is quite awesome. There are SO many pieces that it looks way more daunting than it actually is. At it’s heart it’s a resource trading game. There are 14 races, and each race sells one “good”. These goods can be delivered to 3-5 other races for various profits. The catch is the location of each race on the map is not only random, but initially secret. The map has a variety of hazard, and navigational problems to trip players up as well.

Setup takes about 10-15 minutes, as does putting it away, but judicious uses of baggies, can keep it closer to 10. Then there is about 15 minutes of explaining how to play to anyone who hasn’t played before. The really hard concept to grasp is the Navigation Gates… These are generally 3-way intersections with arrows pointing out of each intersection. Each turn after you roll your speed dice (generally 3d6) you pick one die to be your Navigation Die… when you hit a nav-gate you have to follow the direction that matches your Nav-Die. Doesn’t sound so bad, except that most of the places w/ nav-gates have a bunch in a row, or worse, the way you want to go you need a “2” on one of your dice and you roll every number but.

There is a LOT of luck, but it’s generally fairly well spread out. The last game we play I would have won if I had rolled 8+ on my speed roll. I failed (got a 6 I think) and wasn’t able to make it to the station where I could sell enough goods to win; on Billy’s turn he needed to roll a 6 on one of his dice to fly through the appropriate gate and win, and he got it. The third player was also nigh on a turn from winning.

There is also the “bonus cup” or in my case, bag. This has passengers, which give you a nice payout if you take them to their destination, but don’t cost anything but cargo space to pick up (and also don’t start on the board at all) and Demand Tokens which ups the value of certain goods at various destinations. Each time you sell a good you put it in the bag and draw a new token from it. If you could take 3 glorious junk to a planet that has three +c60 demand tokens on it, you’d make an extra c360 (each time you fill demand, one of the demand tokens also goes back in the bag).

The game isn’t cheap, but it’s well worth the price, even if you never play the Fantasy Flight version that has a whole mess of extra parts.