Jobs Dissembles

Steve Jobs wrote a memo defending Apple’s stance on preventing Adobe Flash on the iPhone.  I won’t get into the point by point details of that memo but address only the conclusions.  He wrote:

Flash was created during the PC era–for PCs and mice. Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards–all areas where Flash falls short.

The avalanche of media outlets offering their content for Apple’s mobile devices demonstrates that Flash is no longer necessary to watch video or consume any kind of web content. And the 200,000 apps on Apple’s App Store proves that Flash isn’t necessary for tens of thousands of developers to create graphically rich applications, including games.

New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too). Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind.

The gist of his memo is that Apple is for open standards and is leaving the past behind.  I’m sure this played well to the multitude of Apple fan bois looking for a defense to present to the many Apple detractors but it doesn’t wash with anyone who has a lick of knowledge of Apple products and takes more than a few minutes to noodle it out.  Apple’s past actions show they are not leaving the past in the past nor are they overly concerned with open standards.

First let’s look at Mac OS X (OSX).  When Apple moved forward to OSX in 2002 what grand new future technology did they move to?  An operating system based on a proprietary hybrid of the Mach kernel and the user space from FreeBSD.  The initial project for Mach closed up in 1995.  FreeBSD started in 1993 though clearly code that made it into OSX is from later versions of the project.  If you’re not familiar with those terms then here’s the layman’s explanation.  The core of OSX is Unix.  Yes, that ancient OS with confusing command-line incantations many a Windows and Apple fan boi has heap derision upon for decades is what forms the core of Apple’s shiniest desktop and server OS.

But at least it was built on open standards.  In fact for a time there was an open source project around that core of OSX called OpenDarwin.  So clearly Apple is at least about open standards?  Actually, no.  Back in 2006 I was looking for a portable music player.  My two previous 20Gb MP3 players (purchased in the late 90s, early 00s) had long since died or been lost in moves.  I had but one problem.  Ever since the early 00s I had encoded all of my music in Ogg Vorbis.  Why?  Because MP3 was (and still is) proprietary.  Ogg Vorbis is a patent and royalty free format; an open format.  Being an open source advocate I generally pick the open format.  PNG over JPG or GIF, ODF over DOC, OGG over MP3 and yes, HTML5 over Flash.  The Nano only supported MP3, AAC, WAV and AIFF (plus variations thereof).  No Ogg support.  However I purchased it anyway betting that the Rockbox project would get a port of Rockbox onto the Nano (it was already on 1st gen Nanos).  That never happened. 4 years later my wife purchase a fifth generation Nano.  Ogg Vorbis is still not supported.  In fact only extensions to the above format are supported.

So here is Steve Jobs defending Apple’s stance on Flash by claiming to support open standards and to be moving into the future.  Yet their own products don’t support open standards and some are, at least, based on technology older than Flash.  In other words they support open standards when it suits their purposes and will “focus on the future” when it suits their purposes.  To believe that Apple’s decision has anything to do with either of the stated reasons is to believe in a farce.  I can’t say why Apple’s got a beef with Adobe.  I can say that Steve Jobs is dissembling in his memo.

I am not an Apple user.  Even my trusty 2nd gen. Nano is largely unused.  Not surprising since my Android based phone plays my AAC & MP3 encoded music just as well as the Nano, it plays my music encoded in Ogg, too.  I harbor no love for Adobe either.  While PDF is fairly ubiquitous their tools for it are frustrating to use.  I dislike Flash for content of any kind.  But what Apple, or rather Steve Jobs, needs to realize is that as the consumer that is my decision and not his.  That, too, is a part of the past, and future, of technology.  Especially one with open standards.  Ideas should compete on the open market; especially when those ideas are open to all as HTML5, OGG, PNG and ODF are.  Limiting the consumer’s choice is only going to serve one purpose; driving consumers away.  Especially when you are dishonest in your reasons for so limiting their choice.

Gaming and social behavior

The following was blog post I wrote for one of my online gaming communities.  While the specifics are about the game the general sentiment, the notion of an ideal, rules to point out the most egregious examples of not applying that ideal, and the behavior between really is how I view quite a bit of my life from business to politics to interactions with friends and family.

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Why Are Networked FPS Games So Stagnate?

When Doom was released back in 1993 one of its biggest features was that it sported 4-player coop and competitive play over IPX networks.  In 1996 Quake advanced the FPS genre by moving the games over to TCP/IP and introducing the server browser.  14 years later the graphics, sound, immersion and game play have advance at mind-boggling rates.  Meanwhile the tools given to the players and administrators are still stuck in the 1990s.

My most resent passion is EA/DICE’s latest entry, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (BC2).  Released just a month or so ago I am already to the breaking point on the frustration this title has.  I play in a community which has strict game play standards.  Certain actions are verboten and when other players (especially of that community) is seen engaging in those actions players are encouraged to report them.

Except BC2 makes it insanely hard to figure out who is doing what.  You can’t tell a person’s name by looking at them.  You can hope to kill them.  But the best method, really, is to die to their hand and see the kill message.  Except in BC2 the kill message is instantly obscured by the UI.  So in the end many actions cannot be adequately reported.

Furthermore BC2 follows a long line of FPS servers which provide the server administrator with an abysmal set of tools with which to maintain their server.  Queue handling?  I have not been on the server-side of things given DICE’s draconian rules for servers but I would be surprised if anything past basic logging is available for researching the incident after the fact.

But then again, BC2 is a console port so it stands to reason that if they can’t do it with a console they aren’t going to do it on the PC.  I understand.  But this problem is not contained in BC2; it is just the latest and most egregious example.  Battlefield: 2142 (BF2142), Battlefield 2 (BF2), Team Fortress 2 (TF2), Counter-Strike: Source (CS:S) all exhibit the same problem.  I’m fairly certain the Unreal Tournament (UT) line as well as the Quake line do as well.

There are certain problems that manifest with every game.  And while early TCP/IP FPSes such as Quake, UT and Counter-Strike (based on the Half-Life engine, itself a retooled Quake engine) can be excused from addressing them on account of them being the vanguard of the genre.  They would have had to anticipate these problems.  Battlefield: 1942 (BF1942), BF2, BF2142, UT2k, Quake 3, UT2004, UT3, CS:S, TF2 all should have learned from the problems suffered by those games and addressed them in release.  Instead each one has thrown some scripting capabilities into the game and left the respective player communities to solve the problems.

What problems?

  • Cheating and proscribed actions being the most obvious.  Yet I haven’t heard of any game engine which has a visual port for admins.  To get a visual idea of what is going on they need to log into the game proper.  Which brings up the second problem…
  • Queue management.  It is completely stupid that after a decade of server limitations on slots the developers have invested absolutely no time in addressing how players connect to servers.  Every game, at base, leaves it to the player to check the server for free slots and to join.  When a free slot is seen you have to slap the join button and pray your machine is fast enough to get that slot before someone else does.  Sure, TF2 has an auto-refresh and auto-join, but that changes nothing since you still can be beaten to the slot.  Even worse, it fails on servers which leave 1-2 slots free for members.  MMOs have had queues for at least a decade now.  Why can’t FPS servers do so as well?  That way the community can address supporting members vs. pubbies in the scripts.
  • VOIP is becoming more ubiquitous but every game seems to want to reinvent the wheel.  For example, BC2’s is broken at release.  Seriously, game developers, here’s the easy solution.  If you can build in GameSpy and PunkBuster, use OGG Vorbis for sounds, license BINK for video, for the love of $deity license Ventrillo or Teamspeak or even just use the FOSS solution, Mumble! It is kinda sad that the open source VOIP option not only works, sounds great, but provides positional audio based on where the players are standing in-game!  IE, it is more advanced than the schlock you’re reinventing, use it and concentrate on other things; like queue management and decent admin tools!

I could go on but my soapbox is starting to creak.  The above points are just the major ones that honk me off about every FPS.  It’s closing in on 20 years since the first network FPS debuted on the PC.  It’s time the developers advanced the tools needed to operate that portion.  I’m not asking for the perfect shine like they’d put into the graphics engine.  But a little advancement to help the people who make those games as popular as they are would be greatly appreciated.

Names of Days “Without God”

The Atheist Experience blog for April 7th, 2010 pointed out a trend that is happening on Twitter.  Theists tweeting “Without God…” and then something which is supposed to be insightful or profound.  Most aren’t.  The blog posting goes into the morbid nature of most of the tweets far better than I could.

But while tweeting my own versions of the trend (Without God I am enjoying my burrito 30s faster having not thanked an imaginary being for a non-action.) I noticed the same thing being retweeted over, and over, and over again.  Some foolishness about what the names of the days would be without god.