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Crayon Physics Deluxe February 25, 2010

Posted by huymix in Videogames.
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Continuing the downloadable games theme this week is Crayon Physics Deluxe. Now, this game is available by PC so most if not all of you should be able to play this game (it does not require very much in terms of system specs). Unfortunately, I think there are very good reasons to take a pass on this innovative and unique game. If you have the time and money to pick up Crayon Physics Deluxe you might want to consider buying World of Goo or Audiosurf instead because I found:

  • The game to be boring. Maybe it’s just my mood or something but the whole presentation and slow movement of the physics just put me to sleep. Playing this game felt like a warm blanket soothing me to sleep rather than engaging me. Now if that is what you want than this game is for you, but I doubt it.
  • It’s kind of expensive. For full disclosure I did take advantage of the birthday sale the game had and I paid $5 for the game. However, if  you were to buy it today it would cost $20. I applaud the unique premise and visuals and everything but there is no way I would pay $20 for Crayon Physics Deluxe.
  • I never played the game ever again. I played it once at lunch time and then closed it. I could very well open it up since it just sits on my desktop at lunch but doing almost anything else is more appealing to me.

I sound harsh and the reasons I give for not recommending this game to you has almost nothing to do with the technical quality or the amount of imagination put into the game. This is just how I feel. Maybe you’ll disagree and find Crayon Physics Deluxe a visual-feast with awesome puzzles and music and blah blah blah. If that day comes, please shoot a comment in the post and I’ll be glad to talk about it. Otherwise, avoid this game.

Shatter February 23, 2010

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Downloadable games are the theme this week on The Snuhzone and Shatter is a downloadable game that if you can play, you should play. As a warning this game is only available on the Playstation Network so if you don’t own a PS3 than you might as well avert your eyes from the rest of the post. Otherwise, for the rest of the PS3 owning public, here is why you should get Shatter:

  • Controls. Now from it’s premise (a large variety of twists to Arkanoid) mentioning controls don’t seem to make much sense. I argue that for most Arkanoid-type games (including the remix of Arkanoid) there is a consensus that it isn’t as good without the specific dial-controller. In Shatter, the controls with just the sticks works just fine and I was never left wanting for a dial controller.
  • Presentation. Shatter is a game, without any pretense and presents each level, power up and boss cleanly and efficiently. Much is made of the soundtrack with good reason because if you like techno/electronic something or other Wipeout-esque music than the Shatter soundtrack is quite good.
  • Value. For $8 (even if you don’t catch it on sale) the number of levels you get for $8 that throw much different challenges at you is pretty awesome.

I wasn’t sold on this game until I gave the controller to my brother. He plays even fewer games than I do and all I did was tell him it’s like Arkanoid with some twists. It took him all of 5 minutes to “get it” and get into it. If you have any memories of enjoying Arkanoid or Wipeout techno beats, give Shatter a demo.

Toronto Thumbs February 18, 2010

Posted by huymix in Games, Videogames.
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Continuing this week’s theme of “Canadian Blogs”, I present: Toronto Thumbs. They say “We aim to make people think, laugh, and feel what we feel via our detailed and often personal recollections of gaming experiences” and “We will never just cut and paste from press releases for the sake of reporting breaking news because our readers expect and deserve more than that”. If you’re seeing the big red F- I think you have a sense that this isn’t exactly what is happening on Toronto Thumbs. I would say, the site fails on these 2 fronts because:

  • Most of the posts on the blog itself are just news items that have just a huge picture and a paragraph about the topic. It’s largely impersonal and well covered by the time Toronto Thumbs puts up the the news. I’m not saying Toronto Thumbs isn’t timely, it’s just they are often beaten to the punch by much bigger gaming blogs.
  • They aren’t actually funny or entertaining. If you listen to their “regular” podcast, there isn’t much opinion or entertainment to be found. I don’t know what it is about these guys, but they are plain old boring and it can feel as if they are just guilt tripped into doing the show. Not really disagreeable but not really good listening. The same applies for their writing except they tend to write very little anyways.
  • There isn’t much to see/do. There are a couple of posts a day (much more than the Snuhzone but hey, it would be a legit complaint about my site if you wanted to complain about it) but in these posts there is hardly anything to read. Their “regular” podcast is so infrequent you wonder why it’s set up as an iTunes feed.

I have a theory for the internet, if you’re going to do something infrequently, do it well. To have people wait for long and irregular periods between content that is mediocre at best is a formula for anti-success. Hit up that Joystiq or Kotaku if you’re interested in gaming because Toronto Thumbs probably won’t make you “think, laugh, and feel what we feel”.

Skeptic North February 16, 2010

Posted by huymix in Science.
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Skeptic North Blog

The Skeptic North Blog is the first “Canada-wide” blog for skeptics. Let’s say you are either a skeptic (self-identifying or not) or not a skeptic, my reasons for you to skip the Skeptic North Blog will probably apply. If you follow some skeptical media, than you might have more of an appreciation for my reasons but either way the end result is a pass on this blog. Why do I say this even though I am Canadian and a self-identified skeptic?

  • The information is not so different that what is already out there. On understanding statistics 1 and 2, the writing is neither in depth enough for people who want to know more nor is it accessible enough for those with a passing interest. It’s a waste of time for these writers to retread the same ground more effectively covered by others. The whole left panel with Skeptics/Science Links is almost a litany of sites that cover the same topics.
  • The blog is hard to read. If you haven’t clicked to the site, the whole format is a 3 columns of words, words and more words format. The problem is that for the reader, it all gets a little too jumbled and with the length of some of these posts, and the 3-column format  it feels like reading through an invisible straw.
  • The writing is dry. Science and skepticism isn’t always sexy, but that doesn’t matter since on the internet there are so many options and views are at a premium. Plus, there are science blogs that manage to write without being very dry. Honestly, I wanted to be actively reading and responding to the site but after a couple of weeks of dry post after dry post I just couldn’t bother clicking on the site anymore.

Skeptic North is new and maybe they need some time to find their voice and focus on what will draw an audience and provide value for your time spent. Right now, the only value the site has is to aggregate other very good skeptical/science blogs. Make no mistake, I want there to be a successful Skeptic North Blog, I just want it to be a worthwhile Skeptic North and not what is there right now.

Michael Jackson – This is It February 11, 2010

Posted by huymix in Celebrity, Movies, Music.
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As I have said before, Michael Jackson is my favourite artist of all time. That includes any group, band, composer and solo artist. I’m sure you are well aware of his death and the concerts that could have been in the O2 in London. I think that even if you have strayed away from MJ since the 90’s, you should still watch “This Is It” because:

  • The documentary brings the reasons why you liked him in the 90’s, 80’s, and 70’s back. I don’t mean he’s going retro, rather, the documentary reminds you why he captured the world so well. The music, dancing, work ethic and in particular, the ambition all are brought to the centre stage. He never lost his touch and in “This Is It”, you will be reminded that he was one of the greatest performers ever.
  • Thinking back on the film, I realize that I felt that they were able to put me in the concerts that never were as best as possible. I am a firm believer that if he was able to do at least 1 show, it would have been the best concert ever. Since I never had a ticket and the show never happened, “This Is It” did an excellent job of delivering the concert experience.
  • It’s just good to see Michael Jackson without all the craziness around him. Generally, you would have seen him in the media swarmed by paparazzi, fans and reporters. In the movie, you see him at work in a much more natural, comfortable environment. His personality, drive and ambition shine in these scenes.

For some twisted reason, I think “This Is It” is actually more interesting because Michael Jackson died. I don’t mean it is good he died but rather I feel like otherwise the film would have been just a competent filming of the concert. While the concert itself would have been amazing, the story and interest in “This Is It” as a movie would have been nearly zero. “This Is It” is the most stark example of situational irony I could ever think of and served as a fitting tribute to the greatest entertainer ever.

Brian Burke February 9, 2010

Posted by huymix in Celebrity, Sports.
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Brian Burke is the General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs and was previously the GM of the Stanley Cup Champions Anaheim Ducks a couple of years back. While his hockey moves can be controversial, there has been much made of him since his arrival midway last season. I do not believe Brian Burke is the man to turn the Toronto Maple Leafs around and is actually bad for the organization because:

  • His previous success is way overstated. Burke has been the GM of 1 Stanley Cup team. Unfortunately, not a lot of credit can really be turned his way because many of the key players were in place before he even arrived. He did bring in some key guys as well but most of the heavy lifting (ie. smart drafting of prospects) was done already. When he did GM for Vancouver for 6 years he never reached the finals. His overconfidence can definitely turn him into a JP Riccardi where he thinks he knows what’s best going forward because of some previous success.
  • Overstating his optimism to the fans. It’s funny to think before the season began what he said considering the Leafs 29th position in the league. Seriously, the team was only different in goaltending and some 3rd and 4th liners. The main exception was Kessel who is still a major unknown since the Leafs had no Marc Savard equivalent for him.
  • Unwilling to rebuild through the draft. Leaf fans are loyal enough that they can definitely afford to have a few bad seasons with the rebuilding process in place. Building through the draft is a tried and true method of sustaining success. Some of the best teams have done it this way: Penguins, Red Wings, Blackhawks and Boston. Some teams build through the draft poorly for sure (Atlanta and Edmonton) but those are more a reflection of the management and ownership rather than the method of building through the draft. Very few teams succeed long-term by trading many draft picks away.

Brian Burke’s individual moves will be scrutinized by the Toronto media rabidly and thoroughly. Deals are always done with significant uncertainty and there is no way of removing the uncertainty, you can only manage it. If you are a Leaf fan, I wish you good luck, for a Sens fan like me, I’ll just sit back and watch the ongoing Gong show that is Brian Burke and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

John Hodgman February 4, 2010

Posted by huymix in Celebrity, Comedy.
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Also known as PC, John Hodgman is a hilarious man. Why? Here’s why:

  • Today in the Past podcast. Daily “facts” about the past.
  • His spots on the Daily Show are always full of “truth”
  • A brief digression at the TED conference. This is what won me over and really put John Hodgman as one of the funniest comedians out there right now.

Somehow, John Hodgman never fails to make me laugh. Smart, sharp and sly comedy at its best.

Toronto Pedestrian Death News February 2, 2010

Posted by huymix in News, Television.
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Before I get into the news coverage, I just wanted to say that the Toronto Star Logo is only there because this post is about the coverage in Toronto and they are the largest news paper in town. With the month of January finally over, there have been very few noteworthy stories coming out of Toronto. Aside from the TTC sleeping on the job story, the seeming rash of deaths to pedestrians also dominated Toronto news. While these deaths are unfortunate, the news certainly did its part to screw things up by:

  • Overreacting. Ok, so there were a couple of days where a couple of people were killed by traffic injuries. But what was the actual toll for January? 14. In 2007 for the US, they had 4,654 pedestrian deaths nationally. Now obviously, that is a national number but even scaling down for Canada (1/10th the size) we’re still at 465 annual deaths. While sad and avoidable, pedestrian deaths are certainly not unexpected and certainly not news.
  • Causing the police to do something not worth their time. Normally, Toronto police do not write tickets in Toronto for jaywalking. The news reaction to the deaths pressured the police to have a blitz on jaywalking. The police did not previously write tickets for jaywalking simply because they have better things to do.
  • Rational reporting is on the backburner. Even the Star put out an article that put January’s pedestrian deaths into context. Unfortunately, this article was written well after they had drummed up unnecessary noise and after the news moved on to the next story.

I think that there is a systemic bias in the media to get attention rather than be accurate and provide appropriate information. The problem with the bias is when there is a slow news month such as January, stories like pedestrian deaths get full blown coverage and they end up making it a much bigger deal than it really is. The rest of this mini-rant will have to wait for an upcoming Monthly Thinkering. Just remember that just because it’s on the news does not make it news it makes it what an editor thought would be the most attention-getting.

MONTHLY THINKERINGS: Business Valuations and Stock Prices February 1, 2010

Posted by huymix in Business, Monthly Thinkerings.
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I can’t say I’m a rich guy or anything. Truthfully, I just live paycheque-to-paycheque. However, there are problems with stock prices and business valuation that is messed up.

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Before I go on, I’ll break this up into 2 parts: Business Valuations; and Stock Prices.

Business Valuations

A general principle of business valuation is that the value of a business is the discounted future cash flows of a company. So, if you estimate that the company is going to get say $1 M for 10 years you can put a price on that to someone who wants to receive $1 M for 10 years. Instead of getting $10 M over 10 years, maybe you get $6 M today instead. We see these types of discounting particularly in lotteries where they present the option of taking the full $ value or the “lump sum”. Lump sum is the same, more easy to understand, term for the $ 6 M in my example.This is in a very general sense the way businesses are valued.

What is wrong with the above scenario? In a perfect world, nothing, in the real world:

  1. Estimate Certainty. Future cash flows are guesses at best. If we could somehow guarantee $1 M per year that’s a whole different story. A business’ ability to get that cash is based on their ability to draw enough customers and to be profitable. Even companies with smart manager’s, a good product, and a strong customer base cannot guarantee their future cash flows because the world acts in unpredictable ways.
  2. Length of Estimates. A lot of the time, the value is discounted for extremely long times or even infinite (if you’re using a multiplier than that is across infinite). So not only does a business valuation rest on guesses, it’s relying on guessing into the far future. These cash flows have a built in assumption of predictability. If you asked AOL in 1995 how their cash flows would look in 2010, and compared them to actual, I’m sure you would be surprised at how differently the world and the business environment changes.
  3. Actual Cash Flow. There is the problem that the idea that a company is generating a lot of cash and that money should eventually flow to the owner in the form of dividends is not generally in line with the cash that will be paid to the owner. Microsoft is the classic example of a company that has more cash on hand than it knows what to do with, yet they have traditionally paid no dividends. That might have changed in the last few years since I don’t follow them as much anymore. The cash they generated is the basis for a lot of valuation as opposed to the cash you would actually get in your pocket.

Unfortunately, when you see something like: “Most Valuable Companies You Don’t Own” type of articles out there, they will have the above problems and they won’t bother to really tell you about them. In a perfect world, the stock price would take the above business valuation and translate that to Stock Prices.

Stock Prices

Stock prices should in theory be some sort of consensus on a business’ valuation. I think the price is more like a compromised average it has very little to do with the actual value of a business for the following reasons:

  • Dumb people with lots of money. The stock price is swayed by number of shares purchased at a certain price. That makes some sense if you’re dealing with buyers that have any sense. Unfortunately, the price a person is willing to pay for a share is not necessarily well founded, researched, or even thought through. The assumption is that only smart, rational people are buying, but we all know that’s not the truth.
  • Over/Under Reaction to News. One of the benefits of a public stock exchange and stock prices is that it is supposed to reflect the immediate changes in value from news. The problem is, when news hits, there is often a major gap in the supply of information. A topical example is Applet’s latest Tablet device. This thing could be the next iPod/iPhone or it could turn into another dud. The point is, people are trying to price the news without any real good information.

Stock prices include all of the problems of a Business Valuation with the added volatility of dumb people getting to vote with their money and reacting to news without good information. While I don’t know how to really address these problems, the only thing I could say to you is if you’re choosing to enter the stock market or buy into a company keep the above in mind and tread lightly.