Blog Posts from November 2006 (page 1 of 2)

Let It Snow

My wife wanted snow, and main Microsoft campus got it. Not much – less than an inch by my measurement – but enough to snarl traffic getting off campus. Jules and I decided it would make more sense for me to grab dinner in the campus cafe and wait out some of the crowds rather than brave the snow and traffic on a nearly empty tank of gas.

Of course, I don’t work on campus any more. My office is way down in Issaquah. Unluckily for me, I had a meeting on main campus today. It was a great meeting – talking about my project with some field architects. But I didn’t expect to get trapped on campus by snow or I would have blown it off. Next time, I need a meeting room with windows!

Update: It took me only 45 minutes to get home, which is actually fairly typical for me to get home from main campus in the evening. There must have been an accident on 520 because when I crossed the freeway by campus, it was bumper-to-bumper as far as I could see in both directions. But when I passed the 520 exit by my house, there was only a trickle of cars coming off it. The side streets were surprisingly empty. Maybe everyone was afraid they’d be impassible with snow? Takes more than an inch of snow to stop me and my 4WD Chevy Blazer.

Hawkeye on XBL Video Marketplace

As per Major Nelson’s blog, the XBL Video Marketplace went live yesterday. Being off work yesterday (vacation time: use it or lose it), I fired up the ol’ 360 to have a look see for myself. V for Vendetta in HD? Cool. 6GB? Not so cool. Guess I’ll have to blow away some of the demos that I’m not playing in order to make space.

The amount of HD space needed for HD movies begs the question, why isn’t Video Marketplace available for PC? My 20GB of Xbox HD space is taken up with game demos and downloads. But my home PC(s) can spare that kind of space. I’d much rather download the content to my PC then stream it across my home network to the 360 when I want to watch it. Not sure how DRM (I assume the content uses WM DRM) impacts network streaming, but I would guess that’s a solvable problem.

While I’m talking about DRM, why do I have to pay to download DRMed rental content? Shouldn’t I pay when it’s time to actually watch the content? I understand having a time limit (24 hours) to finish watching content I rented, but why is there a time limit (14 days) to start watching it? Once it’s downloaded it, I’m no longer using XBL resources, so why put any limit on it at all?

The pricing model seems pretty much in line with iTunes and/or Blockbuster. $2 to own a TV show, $3 to rent a “classic” movie, $4 to rent a new release movie, with a 50% markup for HD content ($3/$4.50/$6). While these prices are pretty typical, where’s the all-you-can-watch subscription plan? The all-you-can-listen model is one of the key values of Zune or PlaysForSure services like Napster and Urge not to mention NetFlix. I’d probably scrap my premium channel cable plan if I could get an unlimited subscription to XBL Video Marketplace.

I’d also like to see more content pricing tiers. Owning a 45 minute CSI for $2 seems pretty fair. But $2 for an 11 minute Space Ghost Coast to Coast seems overpriced. And while I’m making requests, how about making it easy to buy an entire season of a given show – both from a pricing perspective (i.e. a discount for buying an entire season) as well as a user experience perspective (i.e. one click to buy the whole season).

So all in all, a pretty cool service with some room for improvement. The availability of significant amounts of good HD content is a MAJOR winner for this service and a great foundation to build on. Like all things XBL related, I assume Video Marketplace will evolve over time. Can’t wait to see how it goes.

Patrick and Daddy’s Xbox

Last night, after his sister had gone to bed, my three year old son Patrick and I spent some time playing on “daddy’s Xbox”. He wants Cars and Viva Pinata for Christmas, but I fired up the Sonic the Hedgehogdemo and handed him the controller. He’s only three, so he would basically run around in a circle and jump until he fell off the very tall tower the demo starts on. He enjoyed it, but he was also a little discouraged because he wasn’t very good at the game.

That got me thinking about what kind of games would be good for him. He’s not that good with the controller yet, so fighting bad guys or navigating a ledge on a tall tower are not great bets. Likewise, three year olds aren’t that good at focusing on a specific goal like “pick up all the rings” but would rather just explore the world. Viva Pinata sounds like it’s right on target for Patrick (plus, he likes the TV show). But what other games really fit the bill? Not many. Patrick loves Cars – he wants to be Lightning McQueen so bad – but I’m not sure he’s going to be any good at the game.

I wonder if there’s much of a market for pre-school console games? Probably not at the $50-60 price point, but as a $5 or $10 Xbox Live Arcade game? Maybe so. I’ve played around with XNA Game Studio, but I haven’t really been inspired to build anything. Maybe I’ve been looking in the wrong place for inspiration!

Update: My father had a great suggestion. Patrick loves Handy Manny and Bob the Builder, so how about some type of Mr. Fix It game where you can go around building and repairing stuff. Sort of Grand Theft Auto with tools, but for three year olds.

Thoughts on Election Day

I’ve had a few days to savor the Democrat landslide victory this past Tuesday. I was half right about the razor thin majorities. Democrats have a slim two seat advantage in the senate, but a fairly significant thirty-four seat majority in the house (with ten races undecided). Given that the Republicans had a twenty-eight seat majority in the last congress, that’s a pretty significant turnaround for the Democrats. Frankly, I’m pretty excited.

Here are a few short takes on the election:

  • We can close the book on Rove’s “permanent republican majority” pipe dream. America isn’t a conservative country. It isn’t a liberal country, either. It’s a moderate country. Liberal and conservative are the words we use to describe the direction one diverges from the middle ground. This election was decided by the moderates in this country, which isn’t surprising as the bell curve tells us that it’s the moderates who are in the majority. Political parties ignore the middle at their own peril.
  • Democrats didn’t win the election on Tuesday, the Republicans lost it. Hard working moderate Americans have limited tolerance for ineptitude and corruption, as the Democrats found out in ’94 and the Republicans found out this week. There are those on the left howling for elephant blood, but spending time exacting revenge on the Republicans won’t solve any of America’s hard problems. The Democrats are talking like they realize this, but actions speak louder than words.
  • Speaking of actions and words, President Bush talked a good talk Wednesday, but I’ll believe President “The Decider” Bush honestly wants to “work with the new Congress in a bipartisan way” when I see it. Trying to push John Bolton’s confirmation as well as retroactive authorization for the warrantless wiretapping program through congress before Democrats officially take control isn’t a promising start.
  • There’s no such thing as a political party that actively works for limited government. It isn’t that surprising, as it violates my Numero Uno theory. Individuals may want limited government, but there’s no way a government entity like a political party will actively work to reduce their own importance. Republicans claim to be for shrinking the federal government, but their actions contradict that claim. Republicans like Reagan and Bush cut taxes, but they never actually cut spending to match. As such, the Federal Debt / GDP ratio has about doubled in the past 18 years, with the only reduction coming while Clinton was in office. Claiming to cut taxes without cutting spending is like claiming you’re making more money because you’re not paying your mortgage. Republicans aren’t cutting taxes, they’re deferring them. It’s time to realize that you can’t starve the beast and move on to more pragmatic policies. Better a tax-and-spend liberal than a borrow-and-spend conservative.

Update: In the interest of bipartisanship, here are some less than reputable Democrats poised to take key positions in the new Democrat controlled congress. Making someone with a congressional impeachment or under FBI investigation the chair of a congressional committee isn’t a promising start to “draining the swamp”.

Common Ground with My Conservative Teammates

I came in this morning to discover my boss and next cube neighbor Rick had decided to spruce up his cube with camo netting. He’s ex-Army, so it’s not like it’s out of character for him. Of course, the camo netting has the exact opposite of it’s indented effect, making Rick’s cube very easy to find in the farm.

Unlike my last team, most of my teammates are conservatives. But apparently we can find common ground in our opinions of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. Rick called him an abysmal failure. I couldn’t agree more. Dale joked that Rumsfeld was joining our team and moving into Rick’s newly camo festooned cube. Rick countered that Rumsfeld was actually joining the Enterprise Architecture group. Heh.

Update: Dale points out he made the joke about Rumsfeld joining EA, not Rick. My bad Dale.