MS Flight: they still don’t get it

Well, I have to say, I’m a bit sad.  I have really enjoyed MS Flight.  It seemed to be targeted at the casual Flight Simmer.  I suppose that would be me.  I like FSX as well, but it’s a bit clunky, and very full-featured.  When I feel like some defined missions or lightweight adventures, MS Flight is great.  The graphics and performance are nice on my system.

I just read today that they’ve cancelled the program, which is too bad.  I do hope for the best for the team behind MS Flight.

Carbon Cub above Alaska
Southern Alaska in my Carbon Cub over  beautiful scenery, but I can’t get into the cockpit!

The Pricing Model

I really appreciated the idea behind the Flight pricing model, as variant on the freemium DLC model.  Basically, you could download and play the game for free with a limited amount of scenery and planes.  The limited scenery consisted of one Hawaiian Island and a couple planes.  You could then purchase the rest of Hawaii, or a few additional planes.  Or they offered the bundle for 25 or 30 dollars.  At the same time, it was possible to purchase the bundle through Steam for $15, which I promptly did.

They later offered an Alaska pack as well, along with one additional plane.

The Content

Overall, the content is beautiful.  The water is beautifully rendered, shadows and skylines are great, and the towering cliffs look fantastic.  Scenery feels unique, not tiled.

The Gameplay

Well, it appears that the hardcore simmers aren’t too pleased with the gameplay.  They miss being able to fly anywhere.  There’s a shortage of planes, and no big ones, gliders, or helis.  There’s a limited amount of customization available.  And honestly, I think the hardcore simmers prefer a more spartan UI.

I’d like to be able to build a flight plan and use it.

The missions are fun and challenging, and I enjoy the occasional aerocache hunt.

So what’s the problem?

After so much experience with their Flight Simulator series, and success, why would MS discount the industry that they helped to create?  There are a ton of companies build around custom scenery, planes, add-ons, hardware, consoles, and chassis.  MS Flight doesn’t support any of them.  MS decided to go it alone.  Would the iPhone have been successful if Apple had squashed 3rd party apps?  It would still just be a phone that browses.  How could MS have missed this opportunity?  For relatively little work, they could have enabled 3rd party developers to release scenery, planes, missions, and more, through their proprietary “app store”, all the while, raking in the easy money.

Instead of raking in easy money, they chose to keep it closed and go it alone.  Well, it worked well for them in the 90s, why not now?

It’s tricky though

In the end, MS did bite of a pretty complex problem.  They attempted to take niche product and grow the market.  Unfortunately, they appear to have alienated their existing customer base by not offering something that appealed to them and snubbing their entire commercial advocate community.  At the same time, they offered a product to the commodity gaming market that isn’t exactly “fun”.  Flight simulators aren’t exactly a “fun” game, which is probably why they’re niche in the first place.  Rather than fun, they deliver an experience.  It’s occasionally fun, but that’s not what keeps me coming back.  It’s challenging and educational.  It puts me in places to see places around me from a new perspective.  It’s flying, and it’s not for everyone.

So what could they do better?

Rock, Paper, Shotgun has some good suggestions as to what could have saved MS Flight.  Among them are additional planes (such as gliders and helicopters).  While I’m pretty happy with Hawaii and Alaska for flying around in, I probably won’t be forever.  I enjoy using  Orbx’s Pacific Northwest scenery to explore the areas I most often go.  Sadly, this will probably never be an option for MS Flight.

The Steam thing was really confusing for me.  I purchased the DLC, then they made me install Steam and run Flight through there, and I don’t know why or what it meant.  Why not just offer the discount themselves instead of some weird bait-and-switch maneuver.  Oh, well.

Community.  I’ve flown a bit with others in MS Flight.  It was pretty fun.  Tools to help people be in a community would be handy.

Tools for the newb.  Flight simming is much more fun if you aren’t just flying.  Provide tools and guidance for building flight plans, and for connecting with experienced flyers.

The comments on this thread from passionate flight simmers are quite telling as well:

“If only MS realised from the start that it was us FREEWARE developers that really made the FS franchise it is today….. ” – 7107delicious

“Microsoft did without a doubt take their eye off the ball. We’ve been loyal to them for many years; this last go round we were treated like the unseen red-headed step children of the software world.” – Aaron aka Stretch

Conclusion

MS Flight is a great product.  The experience is quality, the visuals are solid.  But MS managed to not learn from their own experience, and from the successes of others.  I guess it’s just too bad that MS keeps making these silly mistakes over and over.  They continually release a solid product that is just subtly yet significantly flawed.

But MS continues to underestimate the power of community, and how communities react.  They seem to live in this world where they believe one action has no effect on another.  (their wooing of the OSS community is another wonderful tale I witnessed).  If you have a bunch of people who support you, at least let them think that you’re supporting them back.

Urbandig

My miha at Miho Izakaya
Roxy is totally into noodles, and so am I!

I’ve recently started contributing to a nifty new iPhone app called urbandig.  It is the app that I wanted when I was in NYC earlier this year.  It’s the app that I want when I visit Memphis and Denver later this year.  Basically, they’ve gone out and found people who know the city, or parts of it, really well, and gotten them to created nice little curated morsels of experience.  Portland’s urban dig experience has just been release, and in it you can enjoy my delicious noodle crawl, in which I explore some of Portland’s more exciting Ramen joints.

In addition to my fantastic list there are some on where to get a great microbrew, tasty pork, a cuppa joe, and much much more in our fun little town.

So far they feature NYC, LA, PDX, San Francisco, and Vancover, BC.  Austin, Chicago, and DC are in the works.  So I guess I’ll need to look elsewhere for my short term travels.

Head over to their site, or hit up your favorite app store to get it for your iPhone.

New toy review: Flip Mino HD

I recently received my new Flip camera.  I ordered online and got the custom design.  Sorta half-assed that, but that’s okay.  The first thing I noticed about it after picking it up is that it is lighter than I’d expect.  As in it feels somewhat plastic.  I immediately plugged it into my computer to charge it and play with it.  The charge happened pretty quickly, so the playing did as well.

The second thing you notice about the Mino HD is that it doesn’t have a lot of buttons.  There’s a big red one in the middle.  Must be important.  There’s right and left arrows, a plus and minus, a trash can, and a play button, none of which are tactile.  On the right is a flush button for power, and on the left is a slider that unlocks the USB.  This Flip has a place for an (mini) HDMI cable (that I don’t have) and tripod mount on the bottom.

Cleverly, the unit is entirely self-contained, with the exception of the soft sack that contains it.  Even the software comes onboard and is compatible with Mac and PC.  The movies play in Linux with mplayer, but then I have to forgo editing power, so I’ll overtax my poor old mac laptop.

The image stabilization was a key factor in my selection of this model.  I’m not looking to take Blair Witch baby movies (baby = reason I got this thing).  And I’m happy with the stabilization. It does a pretty good job and making my non-surgeon hands feel steady.

I am not happy with the non-tactile buttons.  Their placement is awkward for me, in that I hit them when I don’t want to and can’t hit them when I do.  Running the entire set down each side with a selector for right-or-left-handed operation might be an interesting way to handle it.

The screen is fine, it shows you what you’re filming, and since you can’t control anything but zoom and what you’re pointing at from where, it doesn’t matter except for framing and sanity check.  We’re not filming the next great Galifinakis film here, it’s a Flip so I can film my daughter (upcoming) and dog and send them to family and a few friends who care.

I’ve had the Flip crash on a few occasions.  Lockup, lockdown, both ways to Sunday.  One time I had to jam a paper clip into the tri hole.  That let it do a hard reset, which didn’t appear to do anything more than a plain reset (data was still there) except it worked again.  It’s a simple device and I haven’t used it that much, so it’s feeling fairly unstable so far.

The software is fine.  It seems like it might have the beginnings of some social characteristics, but I think it’ll be a pretty nice way to send stuff to the aforementioned family and friends.

Overall, I’m going to give the Flip Mino HD a C+/B-.  In some ways it’s great, but in too many ways it’s just not awesome enough.

New toy review: Amazon Kindle 3

I’m a book lover. By nature. I find flipping pages, browsing aisles, and even falling asleep on a book, to be comforting. But I’ve been eyeballing the Kindle (and the Nook and the eReader) since it came out. With the price dropping to under $150 (sans 3g), it was suddenly accessible. I started to think about it, but never quite pulled the trigger. Which was fortunate, as the lady got me one for my birthday. I was stoked and surprised.

It was smaller than I expected, and light. But it felt nice. I was enamored with the Kindle from the beginning. In some ways, the Kindle (and its ilk, perhaps) is the most amazing advance to happen to readers since Twilight. I mean the printing press. It holds a lot of books in a tiny package.

For one thing, the Kindle is awesome for travel. Instead of 4 pounds of books, I can load a few into the Kindle, along with some magazine subscriptions. And it still weighs like 5 ounces.

The screen is nice to read on. e-Ink is pretty cool…it’s a lot like reading a book. The batteries last forever. Really, the reading experience is fairly booklike.

It’s possible to jailbreak the Kindle. While Amazon is has released the KDK, it’s only available to established development firms. And one dude created KIF, Kindle Interactive Fiction, which lets people play Zork, Enchanter, and other Infocom games, in addition to tons from the IF Archive. I’m very tempted…

Unfortunately, the Kindle keyboard is barely adequate. The letters were rubbing off the within a day of ownership. The buttons have strange tactile response. I’m not too fond of the design either, having the D-pad between buttons above and below.

I’m not thrilled about the location of the paging buttons either. I’d like something on the back, maybe a movable grip of sorts. It’d be a nice accessory. I’d also like the forward/back to be be programmable…I’d like symmetry between the two, as there are books where I go forward and back a fair amount.

The Kindle store is great. IF you know exactly what you want. Otherwise it is terrible. It’s miserable to browse. I downloaded a few of the classics for free, now it thinks I don’t read anything written after 1907. I do have an Amazon account it could pull from. But it doesn’t appear to.

One of the things that I love about books is bookstores. Browsing them, recommendations, groupings, the smell, the lighting, the surprises. So far, I haven’t had any of those from the Kindle store. And that’s a huge disappointment.

Airplanes don’t understand the Kindle yet. They made me turn it off. The Kindle works the same off as on. It draws power when you press the buttons. Otherwise, it’s about like a watch. So you’re stuck reading SkyMall for the first and last 10-20 minutes of your flight.

I can’t share with the Kindle very well. Apparently, I can share, but only for like two weeks, and only so many times. I don’t like limitations like that. I like to send my books into the wild, especially the ones that I like. We have book exchanges, and this doesn’t make that easy.

I feel like a traitor when I walk into an independent bookstore. I love Powell’s and I love the other Indy booksellers and I will continue to support them.

But I was at a conference a couple weeks ago and a speaker (@eugenelee of Socialtext) called out a good book that I’d read, so when he recommended one that I hadn’t read, I purchased it in a minute from the Kindle store in the conference.

I’ve enjoyed the highlighting and notes features. There’s a very slight social nature to it, in that you can see what others have highlighted. I’d like to see this expanded. Maybe connect with people with similar interests, build reading and discussion groups, whatever. There’s a lot of power available there.

So, I’ve been pretty rough on the Kindle here. But really, I love it. Overall, I’m giving it a B. There’s plenty of room for improvement. But I like it, it’s a pleasing device, and I will continue to use it. It is nice to read on, and feels a lot like reading a book. I do like having a dedicated device for reading.

SxSW – what’s a beerdrinker to do?

N and I are heading down to Austin shortly to catch the SxSW interactive conference and spend some time with her sister who moved there from somewhere I didn’t want to visit about 6 months ago. So I think I can find my way around a conference. But what about the city? Any tips…beer, BBQ, texmex, or whatnot. Cheers.

PS. Just saw the Tron Legacy preview and it looks pretty awesome.

Facebook isn’t Twitter

I’m a fan of social media sites. Sites like twitter and facebook are loads of fun, and great for staying in touch with old friends, new friends, and potential friends. In a recent post I commented on what I felt were the differences between facebook and myspace. In the end, I believe that myspace is primarily a vanity site, whereas facebook focuses on relationships.

A more subtle comparison happens between facebook and twitter. Both of these sites really focus on relationships, and both are amazing. But they excel at completely different things. This article will look into how they are similar, yet dramatically different, especially in terms of what your audience is.

First, let’s look at how they are similar Both have popular mobile device integration. Both are open to anyone with internet. Both allow direct communication, photosharing, and miniblogging. Both have profiles of some sort. They both get mentioned on mainstream media pretty frequently.

Next, let’s look at some key differences. Facebook requires mutual acceptance prior to establishing a relationship. In twitter this is an option, but most people do not employ it. Twitter has a great open API, whereas facebook recently offered one. Basically, this has allowed a lot of third-party applications like TweetDeck to thrive with Twitter, while the Facebook interface has been the primary manner of updating FB. Twitter also limits communication to a small number of characters, whereas it is possible to send or share almost anything through facebook. Facebook also has a great set of tools for finding possible relationships, whereas the built-in twitter interface for this is quite Spartan. Facebook’s site threads conversations by default, whereas on twitter does not. While both sites have profiles, there is a tendency to have more sensitive information on facebook (phone number, email).

Twitter enables very agile communication. It enables one entity to communicate to a large number of people, who are self-selecting, very easily. The communications are brief, and preferably clear and succinct. Lots of people spin on Twitter etiquette…things like multiple consecutive tweets, retweets, referrals, and more are blogged about ad nauseum.

Facebook is a bit less agile. While you can post to facebook in a similar manner as twitter, using many of the same tools and updating concurrently, the primary mode of interaction with facebook is the conversation. The existence of the trust relationship between friends on Facebook encourages different types of communication as well.

These factors contribute to the types of relationships users of the two sites typically cultivate. Twitter’s agility has made it a very convenient tool for keeping contact with my closer friends. We have brief conversations and typically have device updates enabled. It also allows me to have conversations with strangers who have similar interests. A lot of people see this aspect of twitter as a great marketing tool. Get the word out on something, and it spreads virally. This certainly happens. The consequence of this, and the relationship with like-minded strangers, is that there’s a certain branding that occurs with your twitter voice. A lot of people want to convey a particular message overall from their tweets.

In twitter, there are profiles that will provide almost any kind of information. Realtime updates on Blazer games, one-line jokes, news, recommended books, whatever you’re looking for you can probably find it.

Facebook, on the other hand, discourages relationships with people you don’t actually know. It’s up to you to decide how high or low you want to set the bar for friendships in facebook. These are typically family, friends (old and new), colleagues. I’ve read Defective Yeti for years and follow him on twitter and RSS, and know a lot of his life story, but am not friends with him on facebook. I doubt I’d turn him down, but can’t imagine why Matthew would ask.

This means that on facebook you can be yourself. Relatively. I don’t kid myself that people don’t try to build a facade, but we do in our classic relationships as well. But there’s not the same drive for personal branding as on twitter. Relationships tend to be deeper. While public, conversations are more directed, and there is more background available. Inside jokes are more accessible.

Time plays a bigger role, past and future are more real in facebook. Twitter focuses on what is happening now. What am I doing. What I did rolled off the bottom hours ago. In facebook, what you’re doing is right next to photos of what you did.

So, what’s the point of all this?

In the end, it all comes down to audience. It is important to think about who is on the other end of what you’re broadcasting.

In twitter, you’ve got close friends to complete strangers following you. Why are they following you? Do you care? In facebook, you’ve mutually friended relationships from throughout your life. What do you want to share?

In the end, it’s about having fun and enriching our lives. Both of these tools are amazing, and can be life changing.

I dedicate this article to all of the people who always update facebook and twitter with the same content and miss out on the conversation. cheers!

Facebook vs. Myspace

I’m completely aware that Facebook is pretty handily kicking the figurative ass of Myspace. I am pretty excited about this, because I’ve never been a fan of Myspace as a social networking site. I’ve enjoyed visiting band sites, and I managed to connect with a few people there.

On the other hand, I love Facebook. I talk about Facebook. I advocate its use, and might occasionally be obnoxious about it. But the conversations are interesting.

While interesting, they usually boil down to a few fairly standard themes. This is my favorite: “I didn’t get much out of Myspace, why should I bother with Facebook?” And that’s what I’m going to get obnoxious about in this post.

The word social sucks. Almost as much as the word sucks does. It is as overloaded as web2.0. Because Myspace and Facebook are both social does not mean they are the same. The difference is simple.

Myspace is a vanity site, while Facebook is about relationships and interactions

That’s the major difference. In Myspace, people collect friends. In Facebook, you establish relationships. There’s a trust relationship. Partly due to the amount of information that you provide in your profile. But most of it is in the consensual nature of friendships.

In Myspace, users are free to break (I mean design) their pages as they see fit. Boxes and blinks and blasting bass. Truly annoying and totally broken pages. And relationships are limited to writing to a person’s page or send a personal message.

On the other hand, in Facebook, the information of your established friends rolls past. Like life, you can miss a lot and still distill some quality. In Facebook, you aren’t talking about yourself, you’re sharing your story. And you’re inviting others to contribute and share.

Of course, there are those who say they “Just don’t do social sites.” That’s another article. But in the meantime, just tell them, “You will.”

Twitter for the real world

Twitter is getting some hype lately. The fun part of the hype is that it lacks any real explanation of what twitter is about, and generally any real understanding. So I’m going to help out by offering some examples of how twitter can positively impact your life, and not just by getting endless tweets sent to your phone or browser.

Twitter for sports teams
This one is for the soccer moms and team managers. Let’s say you’re showing up to a game only to find that there’s another sport happening, or no goal posts, or a vast hole in the ground. It happens. In pre-Twitter America, you would need to find a new field, and then assign somebody to wait around until everyone else shows up…because even with a call list somebody doesn’t have their phone and they are running late. And calling everyone on a call list is a hassle.

Enter Twitter. Create a twitter account for your team. Have everyone follow it (players and soccer moms). Send your message: “Game moved to Washington Elementary. June, don’t forget oranges slices.” Simple. Done.

Twitter in Education
I’ve had a few conversations about kids, education, and the new technologies. Latest was last night with a teacher friend. We were chatting about parent conferences, and the impact of them. One of the pain points was in communication around homework. The student insists that they don’t have any homework (untruth). The parent finds out about the problem at the conference when the grade has already suffered.

Again twitter is your friend. Create a twitter account as the teacher. Share the account to students and parents and ask them to follow you. This account is only for classroom-related information. For each class, simply tweet the assignment after the bell. Announce field trips, class news, awards, whatever.

How do you share photos?

There are tons of ways to share photos (and videos) on the web. I currently use three main sites to share my photos, each for different reasons.

  • Picasaweb – I’ve been using google’s photosharing the longest, largely because I didn’t want to deal with getting a yahoo id. Which isn’t that tough. I like the album nature of picasaweb, and put most of the photos that I take onto there, treating it like as a bit of a cross between a backup and a social network.
  • Flickr – I recently broke down and created a flickr account. It’s been pretty fun. There’s much more of a streaming nature to it, and Flickr seems great for highlights. I’ve been putting my favorites onto there, so it ends up having a lot less pics than my picasaweb. Here’s an example of a flickr photo.
    From frolf at dabney
  • Facebook – while Flickr is somewhat social, it’s not social like facebook. I’ve been putting fun pictures onto facebook. Pictures of people, events, stuff that I want to share with friends. This is more likely a facebook selection:
    From broomball 2008
  • blog – However, if you look at either image it links back to my picasaweb. That may change in the future, at least for flickr pics, but for now it’s really easy to put picasaweb shots into my blog. My blog isn’t really a photo site, photoblog, or photostream. I don’t think of it that way. I use photos to augment stories (probably should do it more).

So each of the sites provides its own value. Picasaweb is a bit more encyclopedic. I’m using picasaweb to provide my blog pictures. Flickr is a bit more photo-centric, either looking at quality shots, quality subjects, or both, or whatever feels good. I guess in my case it’s the latter.

Facebook is more social. It is album-oriented like Picasaweb, but it puts photos in your friends’s and acquaintences’s faces. While I don’t mind people clicking around my public photos at will, I’ll be a bit more selective about what goes onto facebook. I’ll probably not put 500 photos of a mountain on there, for example. But I might do that on picasaweb.

I’m lazy with my picasaweb photos. Pretty much everything goes up there. I relatively few photos. While with flickr and facebook I choose what to upload, with picasaweb, I choose what not to upload. Sometimes. For example, this photo would never sneak through onto flickr or facebook.

From frolf at pier 12/08

There are other photo sites out there. Do you use something different? Why do you use the tools you use?

flickr too!

I finally broke down and got me a flickr account. Now I have photos at picasaweb, facebook, and flickr. So, now I have wonder…what goes where? I’m thinking that the picasaweb will continue to be my library-type space. Pretty much all my photos go there. Then facebook gets the goofy fun ones, the parties, whatever. And lastly, flickr will diplay my favorites. Some I think are good photos, some are representative of what I’m about, and some just end up there.

So now I guess it’s time to play around with my online galleries and see what really excels where, doing what. Any thoughts on that? How do you use galleries online?