This is BrainLog, a blog by Dan Sanderson. Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained. See the front page and newer entries.

February 2010 Archives

February 27, 2010

Craig Ferguson interviews Stephen Fry, without an audience even:

Part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 (show outtro).

All hail the long form interview, and praise to Craig Ferguson who seems to be the only one doing it any more.

February 25, 2010

They Don't Make Computer Manuals Like They Used To, a lovely piece by David Friedman on the manual of the Franklin Ace 100. The Ace 100 was an Apple II clone that ended when a court ruled (rightly) that operating systems are covered by copyright law. The Ace 100 manual includes tons of humor, including long passages railing against copy protection.

David is hosting copies of PDF scans of the Ace 100, 1000 and 500 manuals (links at the bottom of his article).

February 22, 2010

OK, I'm kind of tired of that Verizon ad already. Come to think of it, I was kind of tired of those gum commercials 20 years ago, too. I think I've found a flaw in their little plan.

Jason Schell at DICE 2010:

February 20, 2010

Verizon "Big Red" TV ad:

This just seems seriously ballsy to me, and I love it for that. With permission no doubt, and no risk to either brand, but still. Moxy.

At this point in my life I have to start assuming teenagers are too far removed from things from my own childhood to even hear the echoes. A kid in college today was 2 years old when Jurassic Park was in theaters. But I assume these things are funny even if you don't get the reference. It feels like a reference even when it's not one you know. I liked song parodies as a child when I was too young to know many popular songs. Seriously, how many Facts of Life references can Family Guy make and still be credible with people even slightly younger than I am?

February 16, 2010

David Crane's 2600 Magic. I haven't seen the app yet, but it sounds like it amounts to a $2 ebook on Atari 2600 programming. Sounds awesome.

Werewolf: How a parlour game became a tech phenomenon. Read to the end.

On MicroSD Problems. The makers of Chumby investigate a manufacturing problem with Kingston microSD memory cards.

February 11, 2010

ReadWriteWeb Wants to Be Your One True Login. Tech blog ReadWriteWeb posted an innocuous article on Facebook's single sign-on feature, and just so happened to have a user comment feature that allowed you to sign in with your Facebook account. The accidental result is astonishing and educational: hundreds of confused Facebook users tried to use a search engine to find Facebook, found the ReadWriteWeb article instead, noticed Facebook logos (from the article) and a way to sign in (to post comments), and concluded that ReadWriteWeb is Facebook with a new interface. Then they posted irate comments when they couldn't find their usual Facebook features.

A few obvious observations:

  • Many people don't know how search engines work. A search for "login to Facebook" has this RWW article for its #2 result, and some people are convinced by this that it is an answer to the question "How do I log in to Facebook?" Searching like this is how many people start new sessions with websites, even if those sites have obvious and memorable addresses.
  • Many people don't know how web addresses work. Web addresses (URLs) are arcane in appearance, and when the search feature of most browsers provides a more English-like interface to finding web pages, users tend to prefer searching to typing addresses. URLs are so arcane that users ignore the address bar completely, and don't know to look at it to determine "where" they are. It's important to check the address bar before entering your password on a website, but many people don't know how.
  • When Facebook changes their interface, users tend to make a stink about it, and they've done it a few times in the past year. They've never diverged from their basic brand, but perhaps that brand is generic enough that some users can be convinced by the fact that this article is a search result that this is another Facebook redesign. Past frustrations with Facebook's interface changes have prepared these users to assume Facebook would redesign the interface with a new color scheme, ads, a news article, comments, and no way to get to any of the user's features.
  • Many people don't read very carefully, especially when bouncing around on the web.

Other comments posted to this article by clued-in users are mostly unsympathetic to the confused, but it's important (for people building sites and web technology, at least) to realize that these factors are very common and affect how most people interact with the web. Modern browsers now combine the search box and the address box into one, so anything typed there that isn't an address performs a search—and anything that is an address, or just a domain name like "facebook.com," goes straight to the site without presenting a potentially confusing list of search results.

Long-time BrainLog readers may remember a modest version of this incident occurring right here back in 2003, when I commented on how a bank's credit card promotion site failed to provide basic technical trust cues, and how mainstream users wouldn't notice. That blog post became a top search result for the domain name of that promotion site, and earned a comment from someone who believed submitting a comment on that article with their personal information would be equivalent to applying for a credit card. Most web searchers finding that article just didn't read it very closely and assumed I was warning that the bank's site was a scam. I wasn't, but the confusion was understandable.

February 10, 2010

A giant collection of electronics tutorials, animated in Flash.

February 9, 2010

Buy Now, Pay Later (Maybe With Your Allowance) (NYTimes.com). A new payment option for online games lets minors of any age purchase virtual nothings on credit—without a parent's involvement. It's real money and real credit, but in a closed system of virtual objects so the game companies do not incur significant loss if debt is not repaid. Kids can repay their debts with their parent's credit card, or they can carry their own cash allowance and a printed payment receipt to any 7-11 store.

A good way to teach kids about credit, or an unabashedly evil way to get kids to spend more money online? Online games with paid upgrades are already dangerously close to gambling, and the last thing I want is less parental involvement.

But I could warm up to the idea of kids spending real money on virtual garbage. Other than depriving them of experience with money, the alternative is kids spending real money on real garbage, and then that garbage has to live in my house.

February 2, 2010

Charlie Brooker: why I love video games, a brief guide for non-game players.