[Missing Post] The Dark Horse in the Race for Our TV

What follows is a "missing post". I wrote all of this before WWDC this year in June with predictions for exactly what Nintendo has just announced (or at least how Nintendo is in a unique position for it). While laziness got the best of me, so I never completed the post, I'm going to go ahead and post this right now while Nintendo is still announcing just as evidence that I already had it written. Obviously it's pretty bare bones, as I tend to jot down notes before going back and filling in details and actual words for a post. I haven't touched anything since Nintendo's event started.

Everyone is, and has been, talking about the future, mystical, this changes everything Apple TV. WWDC 2012 is right around the corner and the press has worked itself into such a tizzy over this hypothetical product that if (and I believe when) Apple doesn't announce some new revolutionary our minds just eploded because of how intensely this will change the world overnight television or related device during its main Keynote, Apple's stock price will take its (usual and very temporary) hit, the press will wonder where the product is, and everyone will continue the cycle of excitement until Apple's next event. This is exactly what happened with the iPhone. People expected it for years before it came out. Then it did and changed everything.

The thing is, the TV market is different from the phone market.

 Content vs device (TV vs phones)

Take time to change things (content incumbents)

Most successful in the hybrid world (Xbox 360)

App model for Apple TV (Input is problem: hypotheical iphone/ipod touch/iPad as input--problems are cost, ubiquity. No point to software using both if nobody has both.)

Surprise possibility (Wii U picture - highlight TV button on Game Pad)

What the Wii U has that nobody else does. (Cheap, software updatable/downloadable, platform with intuitive *and* "high definition" input mechanisms built in. Warm "Wii" name which non-technical people have already invited into their homes and aren't intimidated by. They can go buy "the next Wii". Extra input devices for games already in peoples' homes. Built-in, ready-to-go, "Angry Birds" style casual games in "Nintendoland" which anyone can play--familiarize with mascots and then have an included games console for much better games than an Apple TV could manage. Plus easy ports from 5+ years of Xbox 360 and PS3 that, if volume of Wii Us are sufficient, can be easy money at lower prices for publishers/developers on *MUCH* better games than anything Apple could create could do. Cutting edge games on PS4/Xbox 720/PC. Less advanced but not at all input-bottleknecked "real" games on Wii U with non-intimidating platform also being able to be picked up for people who don't/hardly want to game at all.)

Microsoft and Sony already want to do this because there isn't enough money just in "real games" for them. Nintendo isn't competing as  

Obstacles: (Nintendo itself. Partner deals. Stubbornness. Allowing cheaper 3rd party games.)

Biggest obstacle: Nintendo making content deals with the essential movie and TV content creators. Interfaces for accessing media.

Biggest benefit: Touch screen controller always available to control TV stuff, no need to clutter content display to get media info, browse media store. Again: bundled with device.

AfterShokz Bone Conduction Headphones

I like running. I also like listening to things while I run. I've never purchased headphones specifically for running, so listening to my headphones on a run inevitably becomes more annoying the longer a distance I run. I've long wanted to purchase some headphones specifically for running, but have had a list of points I needed to be addressed which I was never quite convinced a prospective purchase would solve.

The basic lists of prioritized conerns I had for headphones to use while running were as follows:

  1. Safety. The biggest problem with wearing ANY headphones while running is the necessary obstruction of traffic noise. I generally don't run in traffic heavy areas, but it would still be nice to be able to hear things around me in order to avoid a fluke accident. Standard headphones ALL make it more difficult to hear things around you as you run.
  2. Comfort and Fit. The Apple earbuds, alternative earbuds, and simple over-the-ear per-ear headphones I've had over the years have all been uncomfortable while running. Per-ear athletic headphones would put enough weight on the ears that a long run would leave the backs of my ears aching. Earbuds would either have to be pushed in uncomfortably and cause the ear to ache on the inside or would become loose as I sweat, potentially falling out as I went.
  3. Durability. When a person runs, there will be a certain amount of wear and tear on the cable leading up to the headphones. Combined with the constant sweat coming into contact with the unit, the physical stresses of running can be surprisingly rough on headphones--sometimes meaning I go through several pairs a year.
  4. Sound quality. By far the least important of the points, the sound quality needs to be good enough for me to hear most of the frequencies involved in the music I'm listening to or to make out distinct voices and easily understand any podcasts or audiobooks I want to use to get me through an especially long run.

Looking at these qualities in aggregate is pretty simple. No headphones will be considered if they can't provide enough sound quality to be worth bothering. Once I've determined a pair can deliver a sufficient not-particularly-high level of audio such that I can hear what I'm attempting to listen to, no more consideration will be given to audio quality over the other points. Durability matters when I take into account whatever price I intend to pay for that particular pair of headphones. As it stands it is already easy to blow through a surprising amount of money by simply wearing through numerous cheap headphones. As long as a pair will last long enough to make up for most (not necessarily all) of the price increase over some cheap earbuds, the durability is satisfactory. Comfort is essential. If the headphones make me uncomfortable, I'll be constantly thinking about the irritation of the headphones instead of relaxing my mind as I run. The best pair of headphones for running is a pair you can forget you have on, and that stays on your ears without any continued effort. Finally, safety is a wild card. I certainly can't purchase sound isolation headphones because that could cause major accidents, but running with headphones almost requires a certain acceptance of environmental hearing impairment. If I could find a pair of headphones which obstructed my hearing minimally, that would be eccellent, but I can make do as long as horns and close by sources can be heard.

Considering all these points, it's no wonder I could never make my mind up on a pair of decent running headphones. About a month ago, that changed. During episode 8 of The Nickel, a podcast about the intersection of sports and technology, the host talks to the creator of AfterShokz. These headphones are different from what the normal pair. They don't go in your ears at all. Instead, they have soft pads which rest on the skin right in front of your ears. The speakers lie behind these pads, sending the vibrations of the audio through the bones in your jaw into your head. As is addressed in the podcast, these are not the first headphones of their kind. That said, every pair of bone conduction headphones I've heard of before has generally been regarded as sub-par. You can imagine my surprise, then, when a quick investigation of online reviews indicated these were truly a nice pair. I decided to give a pair a try.

I purchased the cheaper of the two pairs and it took no time at all to appreciate these headphones were exactly what I had been looking for. Before I start listing off the positives I want to quickly address the only negatives to the headphones. First: audio quality is not especially high. You are not going to want to substitute these for stock Apple earbuds or any decent pair of headphones when you're simply sitting on a chair, couch, or at a desk. The difference in quality essentially disappears once you're outside and environmental noise surrounds you, but if in a quiet environment where you're hearing nothing else you'll want to be using something else. Next, these headphones produce plenty of audio bleed. If you're sitting around with these on, other people will absolutely hear what you're listening to. You can't use these in constrained environments without annoying others. These headphones are absolutely only for running. If you're not willing to buy a pair of headphones to dedicate to running, don't bother with these. The final two negatives are related to one another. These headphones are a powered pair of headphones, meaning that instead of drawing power from your audio device they use power from a separate source: in this case a built-in battery pack. The downside here is that you could conceivably pick up the pair of headphones for a run and find they're out of power and, therefore, useless. Thankfully a single charge takes just a bit more than 2 hours to complete and is rated for 15 hours of active use. I generally charge the set every two weeks without any problem. You need to make sure to have the small USB charger (which looks like a USB flash drive)to plug the headphones in for charging, but there is a nice soft Velcro-sealing bag included which you should use for transporting the headphones in anyway. The final downside relates to the positioning of the battery and control pack. This small box is too close to the headphones. The box has a clip on it for fastening, but it's positioning means you have to be wearing a shirt, an arm band of some sort on your left bicep, or presumably a sports bra (I can't speak from experience here) to fasten the control box to. Leaving it loose is not an option as the weight is easily high enough that it would become an irritation at your very first jogging step. I run without a shirt with my iPhone in an arm band on my left arm, so it's not a big problem for me, but if I were to use a smaller music player (like an iPod shuffle or equivalent) which could easily clip to my shorts I would have no solution without wearing a shirt. This is something to be aware of.

Now, though, I can talk about the positives. As discussed above, the audio is plenty sufficient for listening to things clearly while running. I can easily make out both parts of a conversation when listening to podcasts and am surprised at the quality of the entire range of audio when listening to music. It's no replacement for my higher quality headphones I use while working or relaxing, but it is well above the threshold I've set for running headphones. The only thing to be aware of here is that you might not place the contacts correctly the very first time. If the audio sounds tinny, shift the pads slightly closer to your ear until you hear a sudden increase in depth of the audio. I have only had the headphones for just over a month now, but the construction seems excellent. The contacts are very comfortable against my skin and wipe clean easily. The around-the-back-of-the-head design has exactly the right amount of tension to fit my head as well as heads larger and smaller without getting tiresome. The build quality feels solid and rugged, extending even to the angled entry point of the audio cable into the headphone unit at your head. It is angled behind you in such a way that seems to reduce stress on the joint, a frequent failure point of headphones I have had in the past. The fact that there are no drives sitting on or in the ears means irritation from sweat and heat inside the ears is drastically reduced. In terms of comfort and fit, these headphones are well above any pair I've used in this capacity. Only one month in to use is too early to speak conclusively about durability, but every indication is the AfterShokz should be given just as much credit here. The final area, safety, is where this pair truly shines, though. Simply put, you can not have a standard pair of headphones that is as safe as these. Because these do not obstruct your ear in any way, you are able to hear all environmental noise, including vehicles, just as well as if you had no headphones on and were simply listening to a friend talking right next to you (presuming you leave the volume at a healthy level). In other words, the main issue becomes one of concentration and awareness, and the only way to be safer is simply to not listen to anything at all.

After using these headphones for a while I can give a hearty recommendation to anyone willing to deal with the (in my opinion minor) issues I've mentioned. These are a better solution than any I could have dreamed up on my own. If you're looking for a solid pair of running headphones, you can stop looking now.

The company sells two varieties. I bought the cheaper AS300 AfterShokz Sport variety, which has a control box with volume controls, a power button, and a blue power indicator light. These are not controls for your iPhone or other smart device, but dedicated controls for the headphones. The more expensive AS301 AfterShokz Mobile variety has the same power button and indicator as well as a line-in microphone on the control unit instead of volume controls with a call answer button that will also operate as the single play/pause button if plugged into an iPhone. You have to make the choice between volume controls or microphone and play/pause functionality.

If you decide you want to buy these, I'd appreciate using my Amazon referral links here. If you don't want to buy from Amazon, though, you can purchase directly from the manufacturer's website.

Links:

AfterShokz Website

Botanicula will have you dancing in your seat and smiling like a child

The "adventure game" or "point and click adventure" genre once dominated the computer game landscape with such beloved entries as Maniac Mansion, Grim Fandango, Day of the Tentacle, Sam & Max, Monkey Island, and more. The games generally had you guide characters through a scenario by clicking on objects and people in order to solve puzzles and move an adventure story forward. The funny dialogue and engaging stories combined with the puzzles in the best games of the genre to great critical and financial success for decades. At some point, though, the genre began to fade into nonexistence. Many who grew up playing computer games mourned the death of a beloved genre By the turn of the century, most people playing video games might not have even been aware of the genre and many of us who were aware of its disappearance shed not a single tear.

I was one of those people who had no love for the genre. You see, the adventure game genre had problems. Many of the problems were simply a product of the times in which the games were produced, just as is true of most games past a certain age. The biggest problem the genre had was essentially unique to the genre and made games of this style nigh impenetrable: they didn't really make any sense. Even among the greatest adventure games it seemed to simply be a requirement that puzzles have at least a few solutions which would not make very much sense even once discovered by the player. Solutions were often nearly imposisble to discover. Instead of thinking through such a game critically to solve puzzles, a player's general strategy would inevitably become to simply click every single object on every single screen until the story moved forward. For a player like myself who thoroughly enjoys the best the genre purportedly offered, this frustration with the complete lack of game coherency made the genre one that would not be missed.

A few years ago, with the advent of cheap distribution of PC games on the internet, the genre began to resurface. Those nostalgic for games of the past began to make new games in the genre and nostalgic players bought in. After the near-death of the genre, the new creators began to update game play and game logic to appeal to a modern audience. Continued commercial success in the genre among indie game developers should be sufficient evidence to show the genre has been reborn. Still, the ugly "click everything" logic manages to rear its head from time to time. While clicking everything on the screen isn't in and of itself bad, it is bad when the player becomes rewarded by nonsensical behavior from understood objects. This is the gameplay equivalent of the uncanny valley. In this case, even when clicking on the successful solution, the observed behavior is just far enough outside the expected behavior that it causes frustration or irritation. Each time I begin another adventure game, I brace myself for the inevitable irritation stemming from objects working in ways that could not possibly be predicted by the player. Aminita Design's two previous games, Samorost 2 and Machinarium, both were guilty of this from time to time, so I braced myself yet again.

Thankfully, Botanicula is a wonder. It so aggressively distances itself from our experiences and immerses itself in an original fantastical world that the above discussed problems never have a chance to arrive. The game revels in its uniqueness, with its characters odd blends of plants and animals which defy succint description. The creatures in the game have little telltale traits which explain some very base level of their behavior, but most objects are so odd that unexpected quirkiness is never a cause for frustration but instead brings gleeful discovery. The game never forgets that its strength is its quirkiness, using the player's what-does-this-thing-do impulse to encourage him or her to, well, click everything. The game's triumph comes in making the same exactly gameplay present in other games infinitely more engaging. The same actions become endearing rather than vexing. From beginning to end, the game is simply fun and drives the player to keep clicking everything. Even more significantly: Once a puzzle has been solved, the player gets a feeling of satisfaction because the solutions make perfect sense in context of the oddly fascinating world on display. The accompanying artwork and sound effects mesh with the entertaining quirkiness of the gameplay to great effect, with the joy of the game amplified by a tremendously wonderful soundtrack that is probably impossible not to smile at and dance to. This soundtrack is really, truly, incredible in terms of evoking emotion at exactly the right times. It is simply joyous to listen to.

Once all the pieces have been added into a single whole only one conclusion can be drawn. In Botanicula, Amanita Design has executed a perfect entry into the adventure genre. In fact, it has put together the first point and click adventure game I think can easily be recommended even to people who never play games. All a person has to be able to do to enjoy it is click.

If you find yourself engaged by the game's aesthetic as shown in its trailer (found at Botanicula's offical website) I can easily recommend the purchase, currently set for $10.

You can buy from these sources:

 

→ Salespeople say the darndest things: secret-shopping the Nokia Lumia 900

Salespeople say the darndest things: secret-shopping the Nokia Lumia 900

A brilliant piece of work by Ars Technica's Casey Johnston.

The store reps were hit and miss, so as I always tell people: Don't take sales reps at their word. Even if they're trying to be helpful, they'll often be wrong. You're better off getting the information from a friend or family member who keeps up with this sort of thing. It's not sufficient to just have someone who is tech savvy come along with you because even if they understand the technology well the reps can (accidentally or deliberately) provide false information.

It's good to see a third platform finally getting a little bit of a push. Hopefully by some time in 2013 this will mean we have three truly competitive phone platforms rather than the current two.

 

→ Why Facebook’s $1 Billion Instagram Deal Is Brilliant

Why Facebook’s $1 Billion Instagram Deal Is Brilliant

Dan Frommer on SplatF:

The biggest threat to Facebook is a mobile-only or mobile-first social network that captures the increasing amount of time spent on smartphones in a way Facebook can’t or doesn’t.

Exactly.

Why Facebook's Instagram Acquisition Makes Sense

As you may know by now, Facebook and Instagram have announced the former social network is going to be acquiring the latter for $1 Billion.

$1 Billion is a lot of money. Many have understandably wondered why the valuation is so high. The numbers don't play out for Instagram's current user base or potential revenue streams from the current install base. Still, though, the purchase makes sense.

You see, Facebook has so far been stuck. It has been doing an excellent job of spreading to more people in more countries, but its install base is stabilizing in many western (the US, for instance). Facebook's growth right now is primarily determined by its growing install base, and that install base is increasingly mobile. You might make the mistake of only thinking I'm talking about cell phone internet access in the US and similar countries. Instead, I'm talking about countries like India, China, and many developing nations where much of the population accesses the internet exclusively through cell phones. Facebook's significance has been thus far limited to mobile users, meaning its ability to continue spreading agressively has also been limited. So the first problem Facebook has that Instagram can potentially solve is improving its reach to exclusively mobile users.

Facebook's mobile apps have, as nearly anyone using an iPhone, iPad, or Android device can attest, not been the most pleasant applications to use. They offer a limited subset of the website's featureset, are unstable, and have all kinds of inexplicable bugs that never seem to go away across multiple major releases. So the second (and probably least significant) problem Instagram might help with is having decent mobile developers on staff and the third is having a social network set up for use on a small screen from the start--meaning the mobile experience is the full experience.

That third point is important. Facebook is monetized through advertisements on its main website. There are no advertisements in the mobile apps. Facebook is completely failing to monetize the mobile experience right now. This is surely partly due to the fact that Facebook has already struggled to merely get the mobile applications to reflect most of the basic functionality of the website without also taking extra room for advertisement. It is already having difficulty in its attempts to shoehorn an experience made for the traditional desktop web browser into a tiny form factor without taking up extra screen realestate for monetization. The problem may be solvable, but a solution will not come easily.

Instagram, presumably, already has a plan for continued monetization of its business. Mobile-first and mobile-exclusive social networks will, presumably, dominate the internet in the future. This purchase by the largest "old guard" (read: traditional computer based) social network of the largest "new guard" (read: mobile based) social network is probably the best bet Facebook could make for continued relevance a decade from now.

For now the claim is that Facebook will allow Instagram to operate independently. This is probably a good call. This allows Facebook to perhaps pull a few employees here or there to improve Facebook's mobile operations with their expertise, but it more importantly also allows Facebook to own the biggest player in purely mobile social networking. Who knows? Maybe ten years from now Facebook Inc.'s biggest product will be Instagram and the Facebook website will be a legacy product. We can assume the deal will mean some integration between the two networks down the line, but it's probably in both networks' best interests to allow Instagram to grow on its own and not do anything to sacrifice its experience in order to further Facebook's. Mobile first is the future.

An Observation On Travel

Technology journalists and other people like myself who keep up with the latest and greatest of technology products and sales numbers often forget that no matter what the sales or quality of products may be, the products are irrelevant unless people actually use them. Some gadgets, of course, lend themselves to being left at home while others lend themselves to portability. Some people never take their expensive gadgets out with them into public where they might be risking theft. Our own individual anecdotal experiences are not scientific, but they can be interesting to observe and think about in terms of seeing when particular gadgets become watershed "normal" things for people to carry around.

I was thinking about how often I do or do not actually see the various tech gadgets in the wild last week and realized that my then-upcoming (now past) weekend trip up to Chicago would give me the perfect opportunity to do some gadget watching. I would be taking four flights over the course of the weekend so I set out to keep a careful tally of what devices I observed other airline patrons using in the course of their travels. Here's my count:

  • e-ink Kindle: 3
  • e-ink Nook: 1
  • Nook Tablet/Color: 1 (I couldn't tell which it was)
  • iPad (any gen): 9
  • Nintendo DS/DS Lite/DSi/DSi XL: 4
  • Nintendo 3DS: 2
  • Paper Books: 5
  • Paper Magazines: 4
  • Newspaper: 2
  • Mac Laptop: 3
  • Non-Mac Laptop: 2

It's interesting how many iPads I saw out and about. They really are being used quite a bit. What's also interesting is the list of things I definitely did not see despite looking for them rather intently. I saw no Kindle Fires, no PSPs, no PlayStation Vitas, no Samsung Galaxy Tabs or equivalent 7-inch or 10-inch Android tablets. The only non-iPad tablet I saw was a solitary Nook Color/Tablet (which is, technically, built on an Android base). I did not attempt to tally smart phones so it would be unproductive to guess what the proportions were. Any guess made now would be subject to my biases of things which stood out due to by prior expectations. I can at least tell you that without even trying I noticed a few Android phones, iPhones, and Blackberry phones, but again--I wasn't looking closely and definitely wasn't counting. There were countless people using phones which I never bothered to glance at.

It is important to note this is not scientific. It is merely the results of my careful observation over the course of 4 flights and their corresponding airport wait periods. The sample population I was observing is extraordinarily small. Further, it is guaranteed that many of my fellow travelers had gadgets which would have been counted but remained stowed in bags for the short time during which I could have observed their use. My Nintendo 3DS's acquisition of various other owners' Miis via StreetPass (which happens when your sleeping 3DS system gets into close proximity of another sleeping 3DS) drastically outstripped the 3DSes I observed, having come into contact with at least 8 other systems during my stops in airports alone.

Speaking of which, for those interested my personal assortment of airplane travel gadgets is as follows:

  • iPhone 4S (white, 64GB, AT&T, unlimited data)
  • iPad (First gen, 64GB, AT&T 3G, unlimited data)
  • Nintendo 3DS (black)
  • Nook Simple Touch

I'm sure it's atypical for one person to be hauling so many gadgets on a flight and making use of all of them on 3 of the 4 flights. Still, the weekend project of observing my fellow travelers was a fun one I intend to repeat at my next opportunity. If you're going to do the same, remember not to trust your memories of your observations. I'm sure I only noticed several of these gadgets (and especially the books and magazines, which I normally think nothing of) because I set out with the intent of noting everything other than phones that travelers were using to entertain themselves.

How to Make Good Passwords

Note: This is a repost from last year. At the time I was using my tumblr as a single unified blog. That got a bit out of hand. My posts there didn't really fit tumblr all that well and my informal reposting of funny or entertaining things didn't mix well with the types of longer technology and media oriented posts I've always enjoyed making, and now put here. The post isn't really any less valuable than it was when I'm posting it and I've had more than one person mention it to me in the last few days. As such, I'm reposting it in its entirety here.

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Everyone uses passwords pretty extensively these days. Having passwords to an ever-growing number of accounts on various systems is a by-product of functioning in today’s society. There’s no escaping it. Unfortunately, people are very bad at making good passwords.

This doesn’t seem to be a point that anyone argues. It’s more or less commonly accepted wisdom that people mostly do not make good passwords. Whether we’re looking at a serious analysis of passwords people frequently use (http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/business-brains/top-20-most-common-passwords-of-all-time-revealed-8216123456-8217-8216princess-8217-8216qwerty-8217/4519) or we’re joking about passwords (1995’s hilarious, and awesomely terrible, punk-hacker film “Hackers” jokes that the most common passwords are “Love,” “Sex,” “Secret,” and “God”), we know a lot of people use the same things for passwords. It shouldn’t be very difficult to understand that if many other people use the same password you do, it’s easier to compromise.

This points to the first, and most frequent, problem with most passwords people use: they are too common. By extension, too likely to be guessed. Here I’ll start making a list of requirements for a good password. We already have points one and two.

  1. A password should be unique.
  2. A password should be difficult to guess.

There’s a reason I’ve separated those two items instead of making them the same point. After all, if I have a one-of-a-kind name (let’s pretend my parents named me “Mykul.”) and use my first name as my password, it is a unique password but not one that is difficult to guess.

So far, I’m fairly sure I’m not telling anyone anything they don’t already know or haven’t already thought of at some point. To continue, let’s talk about another thing most people (myself included, until recently) do in their handling of passwords. Once a person has decided upon one, two, or three passwords, he or she tends to stop making new ones—instead using the same passwords to cover the entirety of their digital identity. Historically this might not have been a hugely immense issue, but recent events have shown how significantly times have changed.

Three recent huge data breaches have compromised immense numbers of user accounts: Gawker media (1.25 million accounts, 500,000 e-mails, 185,000 decrypted passwords), Epsilon (unknown number of e-mail addresses for customers of Walgreens, Citigroup, Best Buy, and many more large corporations), and of course the Sony PlayStation Network and followup Sony Online Entertainment breaches (~77 million accounts compromised, including any stored e-mail addresses, potentially passwords (unknown security there), possible credit card information, and real-world addresses in the former, 12,700 non-US Credit Cards in the latter). With the Gawker and Sony breaches, passwords either WERE compromised, or have the potential to have been (it’s still unclear in the Sony debacle how the passwords were stored—standard practices should make it so the passwords themselves were never stored, but I don’t recall Sony ever leading us to think they did this correctly—while they’ve certainly made statements that imply otherwise).

What this means is that you can’t use the same passwords everywhere. If one website or account doesn’t handle password security correctly and is compromised, someone suddenly has the password you use for huge portions of your life. This gives us a new point on our list of what makes a good password:

  1. A password should be unique.
  2. A password should be difficult to guess.
  3. A password should be unique to the specific account it is for, at least for every account with sensitive information.

Uh-oh. I think you see the snag we’ve just hit. We have so many accounts on the internet, at work, at school, and even on our home computers. To have unique passwords for even a large subset (the most important) of these accounts seems to be asking far too much of our human memories. It’s one thing if we’re using the same odd password for every account. Sheer frequency of use would embed it into muscle memory. When we have to think of the password for every different account to which we connect, though, the familiarity of use is gone.

Some people try to fix this by writing down their passwords. Bad idea. A large proportion of hacking isn’t even done through hugely technical means. Much of it is simple social engineering. Are you endeavoring to make things even easier for assailants by leaving your passwords lying around? You shouldn’t ever tell a person your password, nor should you have it written down. So that gives us our fourth and final requirement for a good password.

  1. A password should be unique.
  2. A password should be difficult to guess.
  3. A password should be unique to the specific account it is for, at least for every account with sensitive information.
  4. A password should be easy for its owner to remember.

Hmm. This is a pretty clear set of requirements. It also is a set of requirements that can prove difficult to reconcile. We’re now in a position where we want to make good passwords and know what defines a good password. That doesn’t mean we know how to make one. So, what’s a person to do? That’s what I’m here for.

Here are a few basic steps for making consistently good passwords that I’ll represent by walking you through me coming up with a new hypothetical password. It’s a system I’ve used for some time, recently extending it out to account for point 3 above. I came up with it on my own in my freshman year of college, but in discussions I’ve found that others have come up with the same system (or a similar one). It’s one that works and many people have independently come up with it.

Step 1: Think of a sentence you will not forget. It should be something very specific to you, but easy to remember. Make sure it has a proper noun or two in it. For my example here, I’ll go with the following sentence:

I think Christopher Nolan is the best director ever.

Simple enough, right? It’s easy to remember for me because, well, I think Christopher Nolan is the best director ever.

Step 2: Now take the first letter, respecting capitalization, of each word and place it next to the first letter of the word before it. In my example:

I think Christopher Nolan ithe best director ever.

becomes

ItCNitbde

Now we’re getting somewhere.

You might be tempted to stop there. After all, no one is going to guess “ItCNitbde” when trying to get into your account. Still, we’re going to take this a bit further (especially because many systems require numbers or symbols in order to try to force users to make more unique passwords).

Step 3: Think of a number that has some sort of significance to you. It really doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it’s something you can remember it. For my example, I’m going to use the year Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (my personal favorite of his films—though I might argue Memento is his best) was released: 2008. Break the number into two parts. In this case, 20 and 08. Now put one part before the character string we have, and one after. This gives me:

20ItCNitbde08

This is looking promising, isn’t it?

At this point, we’ve fulfilled a few of our requirements.

  1. A password should be unique. Check
  2. A password should be difficult to guess. Check
  3. A password should be unique to the specific account it is for, at least for every account with sensitive information.
  4. A password should be easy for its owner to remember. Check. All I have to remember is the phrase and that my favorite movie came out in 2008.

Requirement 3, though, is a problem. Let’s deal with that now.

Step 4: For every account, insert a short one/two/three character string based on the name of the account either after the first numbers or before the last ones. What this means is that my passwords for the following accounts would be:

Google: 20GooItCNitbde08

Amazon: 20AmaItCNitbde08

Apple/iTunes: 20AppItCNitbde08

Yahoo: 20YahItCNitbde08

You get the idea. What this does is give you a common password system you can use across your accounts, rather than a common password, with a simple variable to change based on the website/account itself. In this situation, a single password being compromised through a system on which you have a presence will only compromise that one password. In order for someone to figure out what part of your password you’re changing from one system to the next in order to gain access to your digital identity at large, they would need to gain access to several of your passwords OR get one password and already know what system you’re using.

(You could, of course, complicate matters by changing the “Goo” or “Ama” 3-letter string to something else based on the site’s name. For instance, you could choose to hit the keys one letter before or after the first three letters of a site’s name: “Goo” would become “Fnn” and “Ama” would become “Zlz” for instance. This is probably unnecessary extra obfuscation, but it’s an option if you want it.)

You don’t have to use my exact system. The point is to have a password system that you use that fulfills all 4 requirements. Mine is just a suggestion.

So let’s review the requirements I established before:

  1. A password should be unique. Check
  2. A password should be difficult to guess. Check
  3. A password should be unique to the specific account it is for, at least for every account with sensitive information. Check
  4. A password should be easy for its owner to remember. Check

Mission Accomplished.

My take: Prospective iPad vs Vita hardware sales for March 2012

Update (3/19/12): Follow-up at the bottom with more specific hardware sales predictions and the associated required software sales ratio.

Earlier today Ben Kuchera, formerly of Ars Technica, now of The Penny Arcade Report, tweeted this:

Wanting to respond with a from-the-hip guess, I posted this:

I was surprised to get a response from Ben:

Seeing as I love having to back up my thoughts (especially if it turns out my assumptions are wrong--after all, why stay wrong about something if I can help it?), I decided to do a little bit of digging. I quickly realized replying on twitter wasn't going to cut it.

Before I start, I do want to say a few things:

  1. I am not a game journalist, or any type of journalist. I'm an amateur who just likes talking about technology, games, and business. If I'm wrong, please let me know, but try not to chew my head off as if I'm leading people astray.
  2. It's really hard to find accurate numbers for things unless you are a business subscribing to NPD's numbers. I don't. I am taking information I'm finding from sources which seem to be giving reasonably accurate numbers. If they're wrong, I'm sorry.
  3. My goal here is really just to see if my response to Ben was a reasonable prediction to make, not to have an A-ha! I'm right and you're all wrong! moment. I have no vested interest in being "right".

Before I start giving links, I want to give my thought process for why my gut reaction was what I tweeted to Ben. The first part of my tweet simply says the iPad will sell many more hardware units than the Vita in March (despite the iPad releasing just today). Honestly, that's simply because I'm pretty certain the iPad has been consistently selling in numbers that dwarf anything video game consoles have ever done. The second part of my tweet will be harder to back, but stems from my assumption that early Vita buyers are so-called "hardcore" gamers who buy many expensive games at retail, while the iPad's buyers are probably not buying the device primarily for gaming--or at least probably not an immense proportion of those buyers. When I typed "This month's Vita buyers...", I meant to imply focusing on these particular people on a per-person/per-device basis, not total. My precise meaning was "This specific month's Vita buyers will, over the course of the device's lifetime, average more money spent on games than the people who purchase the new iPad in March will." That said, I didn't word the statement clearly and can see how it would be easily interpreted as "This month's Vita buyers, in total, will spend more money on games over the course of the Vita's lifetime than this month's new iPad model buyers will." Those are very different statements. I don't want to seem like I'm backpedaling, though, so let's explore both interpretations!

On to what I can dig up!

Argument Part 1 - Hardware

The first iPad was released just 2 years ago. Through Apple's Fiscal Q1 2012, which ended December 31 (less than 2 years of sales, if you're counting) Apple had sold a total of 55 Million iPads (Transcript of Apple CEO Tim Cook's keynote at Goldman Sachs). It sold 15.43 Million iPads in just Q1 2012 (Apple's First Quarter Press Release). That's just one quarter. Yes, it's true that's the big holiday quarter--but it's one quarter nonetheless.

The PS2 and the DS are the best selling video game systems of all time. So let's see how their sales stack up to the iPad 1 & 2 so far. According to Sony itself, the best quarter for PS2 sales since April 2006 (unfortunately Sony doesn't list quarters before that) was 6.7 Million units in Q3 of Fiscal Year 2006. The second best since 2006 was 5.4 Million units. Both of those quarters were holiday quarters. Additional data from Sony (navigable to on the same site): The PS3's best holiday quarters were both 6.5 Million units and the PSP's was 5.7 Million.

According to Wikipedia (fortunately, the sales in the chart are all linked to Nintendo's official PDF reports, so they're checkable), the best ever quarter for the DS, DS Lite, DSi, and DSi XL combined was the holiday quarter of 2008 with 11.89 Million units shipped that quarter. That was the same quarter in which the DS set the US record for most video game system sales in a single month (3.04 Million in December, versus the PS2's previous record of 2.7 Million). The Wikipedia chart only lists life-to-date numbers, so I had to subtract the previous quarter's number from the one I was checking to find a given quarter's sales.

The numbers aren't perfectly apples to apples comparisons (pun not intended). We don't really have holiday quarter sales for earlier in the PS2's life while it was at its sales peak, so the PS2's data isn't incredibly useful. The DS seems to have exceeded the PS2's sales peaks, though, and still fell short of the iPad. Suffice it to say the Vita is not currently likely to be approaching sales comparable to the PS2 and DS during their peak years. So it's spretty safe to assume the iPad will outsell the Vita by a wide margin, even with just half the month to work with.

I've spent all this time so far defending the part of my argument that nearly no one would contest. Honestly, I just did that because it was fun. Now for the truly arguable part:

Argument Part 2 - Software

As I said before, there are two different possible interpretations from the software part of my tweet. First is that this month's Vita purchasers will average more total lifetime money spent on games for their Vitas than this month's new iPad purchasers will average in total lifetime money spent on games for their iPads. Second is that this month's Vita purchasers will total more lifetime money spent on games for their Vitas than this month's new iPad purchasers will total in money spent on games for their iPads.

Back to Sony we go for software numbers. If we look at PSP software sales since 2006, we get the best single-year sales at 54.7 Million pieces of software (2006--PSP software sales decreased from then on). The same year had nowhere near the highest hardware sales for the system (at just 9.6 Million units), so 2006 easily had the highest Hardware/Software ratio for the PSP from 2006 onward: 5.7 games per system sold. Keep in mind, this isn't lifetime. Unfortunately, it's also just academic because we don't have launch numbers--so those games are being purchased by people purchasing 2006 hardware as well as people who purchased hardware in 2004 and 2005.

To help me illustrate something, though, let's look at the PS3's numbers--which Sony thankfully does have launch numbers for.

  • The PS3's 2006-2010 per-year hardware numbers are: 3.5, 9.1, 10.1, 13, and 14.3 Million units sold. So the systems sold per year have increased each year over year.
  • Its software has followed the same pattern so far, with 13.3, 57.9, 103.7, 115.6, and 147.9 Million software units sold in the same respective years.
  • That makes the attach rates for 2006-2010 into 3.8, 6.36, 10.26, 8.89, and 10.34 pieces of software sold per system sold each year.

Again: That doesn't mean everyone who purchased a PS3 in 2010 bought an average of 10.34 pieces of software. Early system purchasers are still buying software for the system. This is just giving you an idea of what the numbers look like so far. The numbers become more useful if we look at cumulative attach rates.

  • Cumulative hardware to-date for each year from 2006-2010 comes out to 3.5, 12.6, 22.7, 35.7, and 50 Million PS3s.
  • Cumulative software-to-date for each year for 2006-2010 is 13.3, 71.2, 174.9, 290.5, 438.4 pieces of PS3 software sold.
  • So the cumulative attach rate for each year is: 3.8, 5.65, 7.7, 8.14, 8.77 average pieces of software sold lifetime for every single PS3 sold through the end of fiscal year 2010.

It's probably possible to do some math with those numbers to determine sales of early adopters versus later console buyers. I started doing the math and confused myself (I was too lazy to get out a pen, paper, my graphing calculator, Excel, etc.). My hunch (which I think is probably pretty accurate) is that people who buy consoles early are more likely to buy a large collection of games than people who buy them later.

So for the PSP we have that 5.7 ratio number and for the PS3 we have an 8.77 number, both of which I think are lower than the ratios applied specifically to early purchasers. What do you expect the average selling price for PSP software is? I'll use $9 as an arbitrary pessimistic guess. So that would mean an average of $51.3 spent on games per PSP owner assuming just a $9 average software price (highly unlikely for early adopters--after all they had to buy at least one launch game at $35+). A (in my opinion) more realistic average game price for launch PSP buyers of $15 takes the total they spent on games to $85.5 if we limit them to that 5.7 ratio (which is, frankly, probably unfairly low when we're talking about launch buyers of the PSP who didn't know about the hacked firmware piracy/emulation market that would crop up later).

The PS3? If we took the cumulative 8.77 average software/hardware attach and multiply it by just $25 as average spent per game, we hit $219.25 spent on software per system. Again, we're not skewing for early adopters here.

Besides, even if the 2006 purchasers never purchased another game for their systems, they still each bought 3.8 games at launch-system pricing (there were only 2 quarters in FY2006 for the PS3, and not even for the entirety of those quarters). If you estimate low and say each of those games were purchased during the launch window at $40 (versus the standard $60 launch price), that's a bare minimum of $228 paid for PS3 games per owner in 2006 alone. If any of those initial system purchasers ever buy another game, that average goes up.

How many new iPad owners do you think will spend $228 on games alone for their iPads? Now consider that's an intentionally very low estimate for early PS3 buyers. Sure, the average selling price of games on the Vita is lower, but it's still very much gamers buying a game system with the intent to spend money on games. The numbers might be lower, but the lifetime average will certainly pass $200, if not significantly higher for these launch window buyers. After all, these numbers just go through 2010. At least some of those launch PS3 buyers are still buying games.

Realisticaly, the attach numbers for the PS Vita will probably be somewhere between the PSP and the PS3. The attach rate for the PSP was notoriously abysmal with many people buying the PSP just to crack the firmware and play free games on it. Handhelds have never had the same attach rates as home consoles, though, so we probably shouldn't expect PS3 numbers. Even so, I find it doubtful that the average new iPad buyer will end up spending multiple hundreds of dollars on games alone. (It's certainly plausible the new iPad owners will beat out Vita owners on average dollars spent on software when you combine all iOS software categories, but we're just talking about games here.)

So yes, I do believe my statement was true if we're talking averages. Totals though... that's another issue.

The total is, obviously, equal to the previously discussed average money spent on games per device times the number of hardware units sold. Because I'm fairly certain the iPad will outsell the Vita on hardware while the Vita's owners will spend more per-owner on games long-term, the issue becomes ratios. If the new iPad sells twice as many units (in half the time--since it's only on sale for half the month), its owners only have to average half the long term game dollars spent as the Vita owners. This is a tossup, as I have absolutely no projection as to what the ratio of new iPad to Vita hardware sales will be for March.

My gut, though, is to say the brand-new-as-of-March-2012 Vita owners will still end up spending more on Vita games than the brand-new-as-of-March-2012 new iPad owners will end up spending on iPad games long-term. My gut tells me this because, well, I'm an early adopter in both realms. (Luckily, I also keep all my receipts from iTunes and Amazon!) I have a 3DS on which I've actually only purchased a handful of games (only 3, in fact, so far) which I've spent a collective $116 on. I've also had an original iPad since launch as well as an iPhone 3G since launch, replaced by a current 4S. I play and purchase far more games than the average iOS owner does--and I'd bet I spend far more money on apps, and the game subgenre of apps, than the average early adopter does. iOS games are so cheap, though, that my grand total of money spent on iOS games including many I purchased for iPhone--and duplicates for which I've purchased both iPhone and iPad versions, totals $135 since I purchased my iPhone 3G in June 2008. So most of 4 years later, my total iOS game purchases are a little higher than the money I've spent on games for the 3DS--which I purchased 5 months ago.

It is highly unlikely so-called "non-gamers" will spend money buying games on their new iPads at anywhere near the rate I have, while the people buying Vita's right now are exclusively gamers buying the system so that they can purchase games for it.

So while it's highly likely the total amount of money spent on iOS games will exceed that of the Vita (or the Vita + 3DS combined), I think this particular half month of new iPad buyers will probably still total less money spent on iPad games than this particular month of Vita buyers will total money spent on Vita games long-term.

As I said before, this isn't my job and I don't have more reliable long-term data, so I did the best I could. I'd love to be able to look at guaranteed accurate quarter-by-quarter sales for all these pieces of hardware (and respective software) since launch to get more accurate predictions. I am aware that I was switching between real numbers and conjecture, but I tried to clearly label which was which. Still, I think this was enough effort to ensure my predictions and opinions are reasonable.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go play Mass Effect 3 on my Xbox 360 (with the iPad Mass Effect 3 Datapad app on hand, of course). If I finish this weekend it'll mean I can finally get around to reading Ben's article about the series' apparently divisive ending.

→ The New iPad's Screen Under the Microscope

The New iPad's Screen Under the Microscope

Lukas Mathis puts the iPad 2 and new iPad screens under a digital microscope at 80x magnification. The difference is enlightening. Then he continues to put a whole slew of other devices under it as well. Fascinating. My favorites are the 3DS's top 3D display and the e-ink Kindle. Odd ducks, both of them.

Also notable is the Nexus One's Pentile OLED display. So far OLED hasn't gotten good enough that normal pixel orientations work well, so even newer Pentile phones like the Galaxy Nexus don't look as good as other displays with same, or even somewhat lower, pixel densities. It's easier to understand this when you see the pixel orientation up close.