May 25, 2012
At about the same time I was rereading Getting Things Done, I was reading Reality is Broken for the first time. The full title of Jane McGonigal’s book is Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.
Make us better? Does that mean that games can encourage us to get things done? Yes it does: for example, McGonigal and her husband compete in the game Chore Wars, each an adventurer seeking to outdo the other in tasks such as “conjuring the clothes” (doing the laundry).
That raises the question: can Allen’s GTD system be “gamified”? This question has been asked and addressed before (for example, by this fellow WordPress blogger).
Next question: has someone already developed a GTD game? The nearest thing I and Google could find was Epic Win, an ioS app that provides a role-playing interface to the familiar to-do list. Here’s the avatar for my character, which has recently leveled up (but only to 2).
To address first the question that led me to Epic Win: it’s not a close fit with GTD. For example, EW expects actions/quests to be assigned a date, whereas Allen specifically recommends against the daily to-do list. It would be more GTD-ish for quests to have locations on the EW map, just as GTD actions can be assigned contexts.
That said, it would be unfair to judge EW as an implementation of GTD, since it doesn’t claim to be one. So how is it as a to-do list flavored with quests and other role-playing spices?
I’d say that the (RPG) spices are done better than the to-do nutrition. I don’t find the interface to be intuitive. Part of this is due to organization by date, rather than by context, priority, or some other criterion my choice. But there are other things I stumble against.
There is integration with Google Calendar. But as far as I can see, there is no integration with Google Tasks. More seriously, EW made some strange (with respect to time of day) changes to my calendar.
Epic Win feels like a work in progress. To be fair, there is progress, in the form of updates to the app. But, at $2.99, it feels expensive for an iPhone app. Maybe we’re spoiled in terms of app prices, and maybe I’m judging EW as I’m using it, on the iPad, rather than on its native iPhone.
So I’m still looking for an iPad app to gamify GTD. Any suggestions? Or any reactions to my remarks on Epic Win?
March 15, 2012
I’m gradually putting together a Spotify playlist of 50 favorite tracks. I would be halfway through if every track I’ve tried to add was available on Spotify. But 5 of them are not. Here’s the missing handful, in what I perceive to be descending order of obscurity.
- And Your Bird Can Sing, by The Beatles
- Running Up That Hill, by Kate Bush
- Walk Out to Winter, by Aztec Camera
- As Soon as This Pub Closes, by Alex Glasgow
- Sharon Signs to Cherry Red, by the Kamikaze Pilots (previous post, including the track itself)
You can find what was meant to be the 50-track playlist at Spotify. It currently has 20 tracks, not including the 5 I can’t include.
I’m surprised that 25% of my selections aren’t available on Spotify. I think I was hoping for something under 10%.
If you use Spotify (or another music service) what is your “unavailability percentage”?
February 25, 2012
When I listen to the radio in the car here near DC, I’m usually tuned to WAMU on 88.5. That’s one of the local NPR stations. For readers outside the USA, NPR stands for National Public Radio. That may be misleading: NPR is not run by the federal government (or by any government). Neither is it only about radio.
NPR is also behind one of my favorite music sites. NPR Music includes such features as First Listen, which previews albums in the week leading up to release. Although there are only a few albums previewed each week, there is usually at least one to which I’m looking forward (e.g., Shearwater’s Animal Joy) or that I enjoyed, but might not have listened to had it not been featured (e.g., Grimes’ Visions).
NPR relies to a large extent on contributions to fund its programming, on the airwaves and on the web. So I’m glad to say that I did get round to contributing recently. Or rather, when told that I was difficult to buy presents for, I suggested a donation to WAMU. What do I get for the $120 the present cost? A non-lousy t-shirt. And the knowledge that I’m helping to keep NPR programs, stations, and websites going.
Do you use NPR? Do you contribute?
January 2, 2012
On Christmas Day, we flew down to Orlando to spend a few days at Disney World. It was the first time there for me and for the kids (who are 8 and 5). I was not one of those wearing a “first time” badge, partly because I see going to Disney as a once in a lifetime thing – as in once is interesting, and enough.
We had three full days, plus some time in each of our travel days. We visited Epcot, the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Downtown Disney. So we didn’t make it to Hollywood Studios. The number of attractions we fitted in were limited by a few factors, including time taken waiting for, and travelling on shuttle buses, and crowds.
Ah yes, the crowds. It was crowded just after Christmas, and seemed to be becoming more so for new year (by which time we were home in Maryland).. Although I don’t like crowds or lines, I was fascinated by the way Disney moves so many people through the parks and attractions, and manages the lines.
I wished more lines were like the one for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, which went past things for kids to do while waiting. Even if it’s only pushing plastic bees along a bead maze, it helps make the wait go by more quickly for all concerned. That same ride is also eligible for FASTPASS, the system by which you can get a ticket that tells you to return at a later time and pretty much go right in past the line. We were in the line itself, though, since the FASTPASS system didn’t allow us to overlap reservations.
We of course took many photos, including this rather unoriginal shot of palm trees and Spaceship Earth. We didn’t take that particular ride through time and space… well, perhaps there will be another Disney visit for us.
December 17, 2011
It’s mid-December, I think I have one review of the year post in me, and as you can see, that one review is of the year in music. So, on with remarks about music itself, and about how I access it these days.
I’m old-fashioned enough that I listen mainly to albums, rather than to say, playlists. Among many 2011 albums I enjoyed, three stand out. If I had to choose a favorite, it would be Bright Eyes’ The People’s Key. If I had to choose a best, I would wonder what I meant by that, and decide that it was something to do with being likely to feature on best of the decade lists when they appear. Then I’d go for PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake. Cults’ self-titled debut is the third of my picks.
Each of these three is among the top 25 albums of the year as chosen by listeners to the NPR show All Songs Considered. I hope that doesn’t make me too predictable: at least none of my three was higher than number 20. NPR Music has been a big part of my listening this year.
If you like album of the year lists, check out Metacritic’s meta-list, derived from “year-end Top Ten lists published by major music critics and publications.” PJ Harvey and Bon Iver seem to have first and second place, respectively, sewn up. If you really like music of the year lists, check out Largehearted Boy’s list of online music lists.
So, how to listen to albums these days? When I buy an album, it’s almost always in the form of a download. It’s usually from Amazon, since I get an immediate download, further downloads if I need another copy, and access via a Cloud Player stream from pretty much any device I might be using. I also use Google Music, in a “let’s try the service out, and may as well have yet another copy of the album somewhere” way.
If I want to listen to a whole album without buying or even downloading it, I usually use Spotify. I use the free version, and so can’t run Spotify on my iPad or Android. Here’s a Spotify playlist, with a track from each of the three albums I mentioned above – plus “Suck It and See”, since that seems like a good sentiment with which to kick off a sampler playlist, and I like the Arctic Monkeys and their new album.
I wish I could review some live music, but I don’t get out to see much live music these days. Nevertheless, it was a good year to be a music lover.
November 27, 2011
It’s time to stock up on t-shirts, and also time for a sale at Threadless. The sale end is due to end at the end of tomorrow (Monday), and the design is “Larry the Fox Doesn’t Feel So Clever Anymore.”
I see that today is the 6th anniversary of my very first Threadless order. Back in 2005 I lived in Boston and had only one kid; now I’m in Bethesda, Maryland, have two kids, and have seen a lot of other changes in those years. So has Threadless, although still has its community rate the submitted shirt designs.
Another social media site so old it can remember when Web 2.0 was a trendy term is Reddit. I see that I’ve been a redditor for 6 years. Mu current favorite subreddit is Breaking Bad, to which members submit links relevant to the excellent TV show of the same name.
The image shows one of my favorite recent submissions. It turns out that the original was sold on Etsy, “the world’s homemade marketplace”, and another older-than-6 social site. By the way, I did search for Breaking Bad t-shirts, and there are some out there, but none of them edged out the shirts I liked at Threadless.
This very blog is currently hosted at WordPress.com, which is run by Automattic, another social web company that passes the rather arbitrary 6-year test. Congratulations to the four above-mentioned veteran firms, and to other who have been around that long: it’s been a long and interesting passage of time.
November 23, 2011
I’ve played a bunch of games on the iPad since getting an iPad 2 earlier this year. Though I’ve enjoyed Angry Birds and other made-for-mobile games, my favorites are actually boardgames implemented on the iPad.
I used to play a lot of boardgames before the kids came along. My favorite was, and still is, Through the Desert. In TtD each player establishes and extends camel trains, and earns points for visiting oases and waterholes, for marking off areas of the desert, and for having longer camel trains than other players. TtD presents interesting decisions, while being defined by fairly simple rules.
The designer of TtD , Reiner Knizia, is particularly good at simple rules framing interesting decisions. When I got far enough into boardgames to have a favorite designer (a little more than a decade ago), Knizia quickly took that spot, and has retained it ever since.
TtD is one of what is sometimes called Knizia’s tile-laying trilogy, which also includes Samurai and Tigris & Euphrates. In each of these two other excellent boardgames, play involves placing cardboard tiles on a board representing a map. TtD could have been implemented using tiles, but I’m glad to say that it includes little pastel-colored plastic camels.
Each of the games in the trilogy now has an iPad implementation. I want to get on with discussing these apps, so I’ll refer you to BoardGameGeek for further detail of the games themselves. There is a lot of information and opinion on these (and may other) games at BGG.
So, for each game, I’ll link to the main page for the boardgame and to a recent review of the iPad implementation; I’ll also provide the current price and a link in case you want to purchase. Here are those links for TtD (main, review, $2.99), Samurai (main, review, $4.99), and T&E (main, review, $5.99).
The most important point about the iPad implementations of the tile-laying trilogy is that each of the three iPad apps is well worth buying. Other similarities also deserve mention. Each app allows between two and four players, and each game scales well within this range. (The TtD boardgame takes five players, but I don’t think it takes five well, so I don’t regard the four-player limit as a problem with the app.) Each app allows play against other people, by either passing the iPad, or playing online.
Each app has an AI component to provide one or more opponents. Most of my plays have been against two AI opponents. I’d describe the AI for each app as respectable, but not strong.
Each app has a tutorial, so you don’t need to have played the boardgame to use the app. Indeed, the app may well be a good means of learning or trying out the boardgame. Talking of trying out, none of the apps has a free version for you to try before you buy.
Enough, for now, of the similarities between the apps; it’s time for the differences, and especially the differences that might steer you toward a particular one of the three apps. Through the Desert is the cheapest app, and the simplest game to learn. As I noted above, it’s my favorite boardgame. On the other hand, it may not be the strongest app of the three. When I first bought the game, back in April, it would sometimes crash during a game, and forget the game state. The current version brought “iPad 2 stability fixes,” which are working for me (as well as faster AI).
Samurai has the best user interface of the three apps. I don’t think I have a better-looking app on my iPad. More important, I find playing the app smooth and intuitive. The screenshot shows a game in progress: I’m red, it’s my turn, and I am choosing from the five tiles displayed at the bottom of the screen. If I had make a straightforward recommendation for just one of these three apps, it would be Samurai.
Tigris & Euphrates is widely regarded as Knizia’s masterpiece. It is probably the deepest of the trilogy. It certainly has the most complex rules. For this reason, I’d hesitate to recommend the app as a means of learning T&E.
So, based on my play, on the iPad, against the apps’ AI, I recommend these three iPad apps, and of course have made more specific recommendations above. I haven’t played any of the games on an iPhone, or online; so if you’re particularly interested in those features, you might want to check out the reviews (see above links) and discussion of the games at BGG and elsewhere.
Please feel free to leave a comment here if you have used the features I haven’t, or have anything else to add about these apps, or about boardgames as apps.
November 17, 2011
Google Music launched to a rather lukewarm reception. Don’t Be Too Disappointed By Google Music’s Lackluster Debut was the advice from TechCrunch. Here’s How Google Music Plans to Compete So Late in the Game was the slightly-perkier reaction from RWW. GigaOm was rather more upbeat:
The service mirrors smilar offerings from Apple and Amazon, with a unique social twist: Users will be able to share their purchases on Google+, giving their friends and followers a chance to listen (one-time only) to singles and complete albums for free.
So essentially it’s a music locker linked to an MP3 store (i.e. Android Market). We can browse, sample, and purchase. The browsing works fine. The sampling, not so much, when I tried it on iPad: the browser-based player seemed to think it was playing, but there was no sound. Playing is fine on the Windows/Chrome setup I’m currently using. The Google Music/Android Market apps won’t work on my Android phone, but then, not many recent apps work on a G1…
I tried music purchasing in two ways. First, I compared Android Market MP3 prices with Amazon. Amazon was usually less expensive; for example, Laura Veirs’ Tumble Bee is $9.49 in the DroidMart, rather than $7.99 at Amazon.
But I did already make one purchase from Android Market: Los Campesinos!’ Hello Sadness for $5.99. I’ll get round to making a Google+ playlist including tracks from this, and other music I own, soon. Right now, I’m uploading a lot of music from disc, while barely making a dent in the 20,000-track Google Music allowance.
I feel rather overwhelmed, in a good way, by the options open to the web-based music listener. I’m not blown away by Google’s offering right now, but will keep on comparing it with Amazon’s – and with Apple’s, and Spotify’s, and with other – and plan to post as I compare. I’m interested in your comparisons also, so feel free to post them as comments here.
July 15, 2011
I was among those who thought that flying pigs would arrive in the USA before Spotify did. Well, Spotify has arrived. The pigs probably did too, when I was too distracted by Google+ and SpotifyUSA to notice.
I’m using the free version right now, and liking it. The range of music is wide. The only thing I’ve been disappointed at not finding is the new Gillian Welch album.
I’m currently listening to Richard Thompson’s 1000 Years of Popular Music (which I really should have bought by now). The first thing I listened to was Traffic’s John Barleycorn Must Die (which I bought on iTunes, but promptly lost due to a computer accident and due to Apple’s ridiculous policy against re-downloading music one already owns).
Here’s what has most impressed me so far about Spotify. When this computer (old PC running Windows XP) lost its wireless connection, and I couldn’t get to my email, bank account, etc. in the browser, Spotify kept playing. It kept playing Radiohead’s Amnesiac (yet another album I should have bought by now).
So, I am impressed by free Spotify and am considering paying for one of the premium versions. I’m sorry to say that I have no invites to give out…
June 25, 2011
While there seem to be some big splashes in online music services (see the previous post, about Spotify and Facebook), much of it is caused by treading water. Meanwhile, there’s significant movement in eBooks.
The current big story is Pottermore.com. JK Rowling’s new site will offer many things, including, at last, Harry Potter ebooks. Such is the e-book-business impact that the Wall Street Journal has been very Pottermore-y of late (example).
Sam Jordinson in the Guardian hailed Rowling’s marketing genius.
Pottermore.com has allowed Rowling to neatly sidestep the middle man (Amazon), maintain complete control over pricing, scoop up nearly all the profits from royalties, and keep all the sales information and the further marketing opportunities that offers to herself. She will also more than likely do all of that at a price and quality that will leave her customers almost as delighted as her publishers (who remain on board) and her accountants.
There has been some mockery of JKR’s conversion to ebooks, after years of refusing to allow (legal) Potter ebooks; now she can capture the retailer’s, as well as the author’s, share of the proceeds. I’m not inclined to join the mockery
Part of the reason is that I’ve only recently embarked on ebooks myself, having had thoughts and doubts about ebooks for some time. What’s changed is that I now have an ebook-friendly device: an iPad.
The first full-length ebook I bought was Ian McDonald’s The Dervish House. I bought it at Amazon, when it was on sale for a couple of bucks. So I am using the Kindle application on the iPad, and it’s going pretty well so far.
I can’t bring myself to pay as much for an ebook as for the corresponding physical book. That may well change with time, and would be different if the ebook had worthwhile extras.
I don’t expect to be among the many who buy ebooks at Pottermore, although I’m sure I expect I’ll give the site a try.