Interactive Fiction & Netflix

This article won’t contain spoilers. I haven’t experienced Bandersnatch yet.

As 2018 came to a close, Netflix released Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, an interactive film exclusive to the platform. Black Mirror is our current time’s Twilight Zone where the genre allows for a deep dive into a single idea of fiction and allowing us to reexamine choices in our present time. And it’s time that the Interactive Fiction world to get their butts together and make pitches to Netflix.

In 2015, The Atlantic wrote about the process Netflix undergoes to improve the dataset for their recommendation engine. The company spent the resources to define every piece of media it could define, including media it hasn’t (or ever) released on the platform. Using this dataset, Netflix is able to obtain the value of the property by how many users the company believes will enjoy that content.

With that dataset and recommendation engine dialed in, Netflix knows the value of a piece of content. This dataset is absolutely instrumental to the development of self-published content. The pitch process for motion pictures is along the lines of tastemakers dictating if a project was financially viable. This was based more on subjective opinions of executives, mostly of white men.

What happens when you take a pitch, do the tagging work as if the piece existed, and see what potential viewership numbers come out? Now you have a more calculated guess to the financial viability of a project. This is how we got Orange is the New Black after their endless search and turndown across other media buyers.

I turn to the Interactive Fiction (IF) community and ask: Which of your works can be adapted to film and Netflix’s interactivity capabilities?

And if you have any recommendations for any IF I should read, reply to me on Twitter @TheSeg!

Eventbrite’s Lack of Account Management

It amazes me how Eventbrite’s event management user system is so convoluted.

Say a producer is having an event with Venue A. The venue maintains the Eventbrite account for the event. The producer needs to have access to administer an event. Great!

Venue A put in their email address as a sub account. Eventbrite errors: That email already exists in Eventbrite’s system. Producer bought tickets to some other event already, but now that e-mail address can’t administer an event that wasn’t explicitly created by that account.

Producer creates a new e-mail address, then asks the venue to use a different email address, Great! All good.

A few months later, the same producer is doing a different event at a different venue who has a different Eventbrite account. Venue B tries to add, but it fails. User gives their Eventbrite email… and it fails. The producer can close the account, but would lose access to that venue and their event happening next month. The producer needs to make an additional email address to get access to the Eventbrite.

That’s making a big leap that the producer can manage this on a technical side. Or the foresight to realize they can make irreversible decisions.

It’s 2017, and Eventbrite explicitly states you need to create a new email address for every venue account. That help page is a real gem of a document too. Besides instructing people to close accounts willy-nilly, they also advise users to exploit Gmail aliases as a fix:

PRO TIP: What happens when Google removes this “feature”?

How can software built in such a way where a user permission system is impossible? I really want to know what the irreversible decisions were made that support telling people to delete accounts and exploit email systems is the better option.

Now I have to mention that there are other ticketing vendors that have similar situations (looking at you, Brown Paper Tickets). So it’s not just Eventbrite, but it also doesn’t make it correct.

Besides a new ticketing system entering the space with proper user management built in, we’re going to be stuck with this forever. Should Eventbrite or BrownPaperTickets have in interest in making a system that works for event and venue professionals, I’m available for consultation.

The Quick Indie Guide to Protecting Your Accounts

Hello! If a friend linked you here, it’s because they care about your online accounts from getting seriously steamrolled. While there’s always a degree of risk, these steps will cut that risk significantly. Where at worse, if one account becomes compromised, it doesn’t give the keys to everything else you have.

Update: Crash Override Network’s tool C.O.A.C.H. is a great step-by-step guide you can also use.

There are two parts to how I protect my online accounts. One is free but available for a few services. The other is buying a piece of software. Together they do change the philosophy of how you create and manage online accounts, but you’ll be much more secure by doing it.

Continue reading The Quick Indie Guide to Protecting Your Accounts

Steam WebAPI Proposal

Steam WebAPI Proposal

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon the Steam Condenser project. It’s library to make sense of the Steam Community, Source, GoldSrc and Steam master servers information for PHP, Java, and Ruby. They’re still using the deprecated XML data which Valve replaced with the Steam WebAPI. I’m starting to work on converting the PHP library to WebAPI, when I discovered the community data was stuck in XML and no replacement.

So I made a public proposal to the Steam WebAPI.

I wanted a public demonstration of my API development work. I’ve done a lot of this stuff before, but it’s all private and can’t be shared. While this is just a proposal and lacks the consulting with Valve employees, it does demonstrate my skill under the limited circumstances. Course, I wouldn’t mind working with Valve on this. Or working at Valve on this. 😀

I also found there’s no good way to get game information — including pricing and other data. There’s gameplay stats and the news feed, but there’s no way of getting the kind of data you’d get at a store page. That’s my next step!

Kickstarter Backer Support Tool?

Dear Lazyweb: As I eye Kickstarter for funding (and marketing) tools for my next project, I’m realizing something that I feel should exist already and doesn’t. Since it doesn’t already exist, I feel it’s either against the rules as I can’t be the only person to see the need.

When your project gets funding, there’s the matter of reward fulfillment. Right now the process is creating a survey for each tier asking the info you need to deliver the reward. You can only ask this survey once. As a backer, you can only submit this info once and after 10 minutes  it’s locked in. Need to change it? Manual contact and update for both sides. Change of address? Contact project directly for manual update. You’re asked to wait till you can make send the final award to users, but what if you a digital package to devlier sooner than a physical package? It’s horrible support mess.

Continue reading Kickstarter Backer Support Tool?

Firefox Versioning is Out of Hand

I’m a Firefox user since the 1.0 days. I did my part for the campaign when working at Emerson College helpdesk and getting people away from IE 6.

Since then I have moved on to Chrome as my primary browser, but I still use Firefox for the Something Awful forums extension, various HTML developer extensions, and my Ümloud! logins (preventing acidental personal posts). I also started using 1Password (a future post!) for better security across all my browsers. The key component to my Firefox use are the extensions (also known as Add-ons).

When Firefox first rolled out extensions, the API asked developers to limit what version the extension would work for. An extension for Firefox 3 wouldn’t work on 4. This forced developers to test the new browser and for users to update when needed. That way extensions wouldn’t soft-fail on users, causing them to think the browser is broken when the fault was the extension. This process was fine when major Firefox releases were around a year or more.

Recently Firefox started going on a version number release schedule similar to Chrome: Release early and very often. Major version number updates occur in a span of months or weeks. This is fine, but flies against extensions. An extension that got updated for the shipping version won’t work on a beta. The updating messages aren’t removable; just “ask later”. Now I have to pick between seeing update messages every time I launch, or break extension support.

So we need two things to happen here:

  • Make a third “wait till it’s released, not beta” option.
  • Extensions move away from version numbers and more to capability testing.

While the “not beta” option should be there in any case, we’re starting to see a change that the old versioning system isn’t paired with the change of development schedule. Without knowing too much about the extension system, I can’t help but think of the disastrous history of using User Agent strings to assume capabilities. The better approach is using something like Modernizr1 which tests what a browser can do, rather than the name/version of a browser. That way when a browser with a different name, but capable of the require actions, can still work. Past, present, and future.

Sadly, I can’t wait for these things to happen. Which sadly means on my Mac, I’ll be using Safari as my Ümloud! browser and only venturing into Firefox when I absolutely need to use an extension, assuming it still works…

1 Shout out to Faruk Ateş!

My Expanding Battery

This is a little PSA for any laptop battery. I happen to use a Mac Book Pro, but it’s an issue that can apply to any device.

For the past few weeks, I’ve noticed my trackpad was super sensitive to clicks. I haven’t notied it that much, but the bulk of my laptop use in the past three months is via Synergy and not using the trackpad. Now that Puzzle Agent 2 shipped, I’m back to working at my coffee shops. Today the clicking got so horrible I couldn’t do anything and had to shut down the computer.

Flipping it over to the back, the hood was bent out of shape a bit. I noticed this before, but I thought it was just use. Popping the hood, I remove the battery and see what’s under it. Didn’t see anything out of place, so I thought I’d see if there’s something wrong with the lid. Putting the lid back but without the battery, the lid clicked in place normally.

Looking at the battery, the “bottom” side which should be flat was bowing out:

My Expanding Battery

Keeping the battery out, I started my computer up again and things were working fine. Who knows what would have happened if I didn’t look at that sooner…

No more battery power, but I can click again! The Internet says it’s covered by Apple Care, which I have till Nov. Figuring out when I can make an Apple Store appointment.

My Digital Library is Cloudy

A few days ago I tweeted about Amazon’s Cloud Player which started a discussion about the cloud and how to deal with a digital storage of music. It quickly reached the point where I should blog about it.

My music collection is roughly 22GB of music I’ve purchased in the past 15+ years; Moving to digital when it was easy to buy digital. I wasn’t much of a file sharing person in the days since I just didn’t have the time. Course with that large of a library, I’ve had to make some choices between all the devices I use for music play. While it’s changed over the years due to technology, my current layout works for me.

Central storage of music is important for me as it helps to keep things consistent between the devices, unless the device can’t store that amount. I also concerned about backups of this music data. While I still own physical CDs, the digital purchases can’t be re-download (except new purchases). So here’s my system I’ve established for myself. I’ll explain it in a typical workflow.

Continue reading My Digital Library is Cloudy

Synergy: A Software KVM

For years at the places I worked, I used more than one computer at a time. Usually my personal Mac laptop and a Windows desktop. The key piece of software that makes me work with more than one device is a piece of software called Synergy.

Synergy is a software KVM switch (Keyboard-Video-Mouse) but without the video. Instead, it allows you to work on one computer, move the mouse to one side of the screen, and start working on the computer next to it. All of which connected by the local network to control mouse and keyboard.

It doesn’t matter what OS the computers are using. Once they’re set up with Synergy, you use one keyboard and mouse to run as many computers as you wish. Have one computer with more than one screen? Synergy adjusts flawlessly. Even more amazing is that text-only copy and paste works across the computers!

The bugger is getting the system set up. Right now the project is recovering from a bit of neglect as well as a lack of user-centered focus on design. As you’ll read on, we’re now at a point where the setbacks are worked on. I invite you to use Synergy now as it’s stable. Just a bit curious to set up with Windows as the “server” (the computer with the physical keyboard & mouse).

As wonderful this software is, the development story was questionable in the late 2000’s. The maintainer for the original project at went AWOL. New operating systems, namely Windows Vista & 7, required maintenance on the software. There were a few groups trying to make the software work, but a project named Synergy++ came out on top as the successor to the project providing a good chunk of maintenance to the Synergy code. Eventually the project moved to it’s new home, Synergy-FOSS. In the past few days they released the first release under FOSS, brining Synergy back to awesome status.

Continue reading Synergy: A Software KVM

The Problem of DirectX

Going to detract a bit and have a very technical post than usual. I apologize in advance. Since the background is rather wordy, I’m going to start with the assertions, then the context under the cut.

The Point of This Post:

Users of Windows 7 will still need to run programs in DX10 and DX9. There’s no reason why the OS should be updated to the latest of DirectX; Especially when the updates are over four years old.

Windows 7 must include a fully patched DirectX installation.

Windows Update needs to include DirectX as apart of updatable software.

Of all the ‘optional’ and ‘critical’ software that Windows Update includes, updating a core API as DirectX is to Windows should be one of them. Updating DirectX is crucial for any graphics intensive program, especially Games for Windows. Why not include it, even as an ‘optional’ update?

DirectX needs real version identification

Did you know there are at least 17 versions of DirectX 9.0c and 8 versions of DirectX 10? All of which report with only on version number?

Did you also know that Vista still needs updates to DirectX9, but wasn’t included when Vista was released?

This makes it very hard to do technical support when no one can decree a realistic version number.

Continue reading The Problem of DirectX