Wednesday, January 23, 2008

PBS launches a nice Online Playground, and charges toll.

Is it just me, or is PBS, the not-for-profit network/channel, doing an end-around with their new site PBS Kids Play? For $9.95 a month, or $79 a year, your child can go online and play games much like those they buy on discs, with characters that they see on PBS. It looks like a very nice, very well done site, with a progress chart to let parents know that the time they spent ignoring their children was well spent. If I sound a little cynical, it is because the whole article about it in USA Today gave me a bad feeling.

I first read about the site from an RSS feed at 901 AM to USA Today . First of all, I'm not completely ignorant of the laws of economics, I know they have to find some way to pay for it, but aren't they supposed to do that with their endless begging like they do for television? The article says that free membership may be offered to donors. The site is supposed to be ad-free, so there has to be something to support it, but the tone is not one of a not-for-profit organization.
PBS Kids senior vice president Lesli Rotenberg says charging for online programming is "a new direction that is much more convenient for consumers" than packaged media such as CD-ROMs.

"This is an evolution," she says. "It's a new way to do business. And the public has always been very accepting of PBS being able to take profits from the sale of products and put them back into its media." - USA Today
The article goes on quoting the PBS executive, saying that to get this quality content, you are going to have to pay-for-it. I have two problems with that:
  • Why? Hasn't the online community found ways around that in every other area? Sure there are premium memberships, but good content is offered all over for free(period).
  • Why is PBS jumping up to start taking a profit? Though I realize it is big money and they deserve to get profits for their programming, $9.95 a month is excessive, on a Disney, Pixar or Warner Bros level.
This is a soon-to-be lucrative area. All of the fore-mentioned players are stepping up to the plate, and PBS should be playing the modest, for-the-good-of-the-kids providers. If the rationale is that only well-to-do families will have access to this area.. wake up, every child should have this access, without Mommy and Daddy having a gold card.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Mythbusters - Jamie and Adam, Gods of the Suppressed Science Geek

Go to the street and ask people those job they would most like to do.
Many of them would espouse sports heroes, political icons, super-models, actors and actresses, but if you catch those others to the side, probably steering away from the crowd around the reporter, it would be the hosts of "Mythbusters" .

Adam Savage and Jamie Hyndeman, heading the crew of Mythbusters, have the job many of us only dream about. Not since the rash of Robot-war shows have I envied a bunch of geeks more. Special effects gurus, they use their expertise and the Discovery Channel's apparently growing budget, to blow things up, all in the context of dispelling urban and popular myths. It's frickin' poetic.

The show is equipped with an excellent supporting site, listing out the cast as well as well as summarizing all the covered myths. It is full of video and captures the humor and enthusiasm that saturates the hour-long episodes.

Five years and more than 82 episodes spell out the chord these closet scientists have struck, even sprouting a spin-off/copy-cat show this season called Smashlab. Smashlab , from the promos, seems to focus on one aspect of Mythbusters, one of it's strongest, but may lack the other essentials that have made it's forerunner so appealing, Jamie, Adam, and crew. I'm not exactly the first one on this bus, at least in writing, as any search will prove, for one, this site on blogspot, that gave me the nice picture of Mythbuster crew girl, Kari Byron, with Adam busted ogling her, and Jamie.

Adam is wacky, Jamie is serious, competent, and distant, the crew fills in around them and tackles their own projects. Usually, the blow-em-up stuff is left to Jamie and Adam while segments like "hot-sauce remedies" and are for the crew.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Absolute Poker Scandal Chaps My Ass

I'm casually playing internet poker, not for high stakes, but for some money, usually $1 tournaments or smaller. It's fun, and before I ever jumped thru all the hoops to get real money at stake, I played for more than a year in the free tournament, for imaginary player points or in huge tournaments where the winner got entry into a tournament for real money.

I did okay on the play tables, but it irritated me a little when someone would take a bad beat* and whine that the other player would never have bet that for real money. That is not the whole reason that I began playing for real money, but I can say that yes, people do make completely ignorant bets for real money, as high a stakes as you can get. All I really needed to do to know that was watch people on television. The difference is that they edit out all the in between hands.

Well, that's about all I have to say about online poker, but as usual upon covering a new topic I feel obligated to have an intro. Now, onto what chaps my ass about it, they are busting online cheaters. Now, those same people who bitch and whine about people making bad bets and still beating them also make claims after losing about how the online gaming tables are fixed. There are many claims, using the random card algorithm to know the next card is one I've heard them whine about. The truth is that odds are odds, and 1 in a million is still possible, even in successive hands, get over it.

Then, there is the actual, documented case of one of the founders of Absolute for cheating and taking money out of the site through friends.
At least they caught the guy, the link is to a nice write up of how they did it, but let me summarize to my understanding. Somebody had access to an account used for testing the site when it was built, the account had special privileges, it could not actually play in money games, but it could see all the hole cards on the table. Then the cheater took over some unused accounts, from people who'd joined and let their accounts lapse. He used these accounts to win money, apparently on several different tables and specifically in winning a high stakes tournament.

One of the people he beat, a frequent player, requested the hand history of their head to head match-up from AbsolutePoker after the match, and was sent a file that listed not only his hands but all of the hands the player had played that tournament. The hand history of the entire tournament documented someone who HAD to know everyone else's cards. It all lead back to a former employee, but that is covered in the article.

Poker is enjoyable for me with the low risks involved, moreso than I enjoyed playing cribbage, which I did for a couple years, and maybe a little more because of the money. It seems like a little less of a waste of time, and I'm actually(just barely) still in the black as far what I've taken out and what I've put in.

Still, I hate to think that sometimes the whiners at the tables are right.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Ruby Obsession - Day 2 or 3

I write day 2 0r 3 because I am writing this post at 6 AM of day 3, after spending yesterday wading through the pile of obstacles that came with working through the tutorial in my latest Ruby book. Egad, this language and it's toolset change so fast the texts can't begin to keep up.

But, I got past it, at least the first bug, and am now forging on through the rest of the book with my scabbed together version of the application they are building. All the while realizing that I am quite a ways past what they are doing now but that somehow this time it is sinking in even more. Jeez, 43 years old and it's like I'm back in the computer labs. This time I'll pay attention.

So, I'll just walk through the problem, specifically, and link to those places that helped get me through it. The text Agile Web Development with Rails has the usual message boards support forum, with people patrolling them closely enough that I got responses within minutes of posting. Behind Rails, there is a real, energetic community, it's infectious.
the problem:
#1 - In seemingly every book and text, they glaze over MySQL handling, usually telling you to go to a MySQL tutorial to learn how to write this single line of code, but carrying on as if you know what they are doing without explaining it specifically. Me, sometimes I'm really dumb, I need it down to the nuts and bolts. I understand there are all kinds of SQL tutorials and books, I just want to know what to type in now.

the setup:
In starting every rails app, you have to set up a MySQL Database. Using instant rails, there are a lot of tools automatically set up for it. MySQL is installed and you can get a mysql> command line simply by typing:
(dos command line in directory of new rails app-arbitrary before the >)
..\instantrails\work\depot>mysql -u root (and hit enter)
(this all works because in my desktop HD I have SQL set up as root user with no password.) Also important is to go to the config\database.yml file and set it up like this:
development: adapter: mysql database: depot_development username: root password: timeout: 5000

One other thing, from a different tutorial, and maybe not important. There was a fix on Curt Hibbs' tutorial Ruby with Rails revisited, for MySQL, which I did and seemed to allow privileges. Now, I went back many times and redid everything, and the last couple of times I did not need to do it, but that might be MySQL storing this command whether I wiped the DB out or not. So if you are having a problem getting MySQL to recognize your migration, try entering this from your nice command line:
grant all on depot_development.* to 'ODBC'@'localhost';
Someday, I promise I will learn exactly why that matters, or doesn't matter, but for the time being, it worked, and time spent in college computer labs making Assembler, Cobol, and C programs made me superstitious about such things.

Then, go ahead and create or drop your MySQL DB's from the command line like this:
(this is the mysql command line embedded in the DOS command window)
mysql>create database depot_development;<

This is scattered all over the place I know, but that seems to be the norm. I had to be explained this myself by someone on the message boards, here's the link.

Also, if you're coming here for advice on the tutorials, do this tutorial first, before all others, the more I do the more I realize that this is the best: Rolling with Ruby on Rails Revisited

Soon, maybe today, I will compile and tackle the entire problem of working around the scaffolding in the text. There are many helpers and many bread crumbs to follow, the message boards did it for me, but I want it to be easier for the next guy.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Ruby for Rails - A new start

As usual, let me make my usual disclaimer, I realize nobody is reading this, but I AM writing it.

Meta4worldz, from the main site, which has simply been some baby pictures and some stories for over a year now, all of my blogs (meta4worlds - fiction site , Cubs Obsession , Bears Obsession , and even Mollyworldz, will be changing. All of them will be re-developed, along with at least one other site that I plan to devote to Programming.

Over a year ago, I learned about a different programming language, Ruby, and it's supposedly revolutionary deployment, Ruby on Rails, Rails being an application framework written by David Heinemeier Hanson. The framework, as well as the Ruby language and compilers, are all Open Source and all free. And they work very nicely. All of this has been said, and even demonstrated, in this video, about which much hyperbole has been written already, and somewhat rightly so.

When I first watched the video, it was like sitting over someone's shoulders and watching them work a computer, some tech who knew way more than I did, and so fast that it was hard to process what he was actually doing. Still, it caught my attention, and in my spare time since then, I have gotten to the point of understanding exactly what he did, and appreciate how simple it was and how simple it could be for even me. One thing I realized early on was that here was finally a new branch of programming development that I could sink my teeth into and go.

So, one year later, around a full time job and a now one year old child, I'm ready to do this thing, because there is still room for someone to spread the word of Ruby on Rails, teach it, and deploy it in new and exciting ways. As it is with almost every programming style and language, the tutorials available and even text material are spotty at best, cluttered with mistakes, or possibly just oversights, in them.

One set of tutorials I can recommend whole-heartedly, doing what the video does as far as exciting you about this language, but with actual coding and installation instructions that work is the ON LAMP tutorials by Curtis Hibbs, another name that will constantly come up as you venture into Ruby on Rails, and kudos to him because he took the time to do it right. It is called Rolling with Ruby on Rails Revisited which is an update to an earlier tutorial that takes you through a simple Cookbook program. If you just want to see if you like this whole RUby on Rails thing, Do this tutorial, maybe the only problem with it is that by trying to write loosely and set in as a workplace scenario, his prose gets a little weary, but just a little. It doesn't take long and when you're done there is something that you can look at at realize the potential of it all.

As far as my own tutorials, every day there will be Ruby news from me, book reviews, tutorials, either mine or a pointer to someone else if they put up a good one, there are a few, each with their own merits, and commentary as I get along. I've accumulated is a pile of information and thoughts about it all to keep writing posts for quite a while.

For now, I'll get back at it, learning Ruby on Rails that is.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Years, even for you Smokers

Smokers, why should I feel bad for them?In Illinois, January 1, 2008 is No Smoke day. I was actually against this ban at first, but in the year and a half since my own hometown passed local laws prohibiting smoking, first in restaurants, then in bars, I've changed my outlook on the whole concept.

The Illinois Senate, unable to hammer out trivial things like budgets, found their time better spent railroading through lifestyle legislation. That's what I call laws like this No Smoking ban,
lifestyle legislation. Similarly with helmet laws and seatbelt laws. Our downstate legislators thought that by passing laws to tell us how to live, they could act as if they had done something for the people instead of for their small band of wealthy constituents.

I am not a smoker, have never been a smoker, but my parents both smoked, and I have many friends that smoke. I've spent most of my life just dealing with the smoke around me in the places I go to socialize, as have we all. It was never a big deal with me but I won't miss it.

What's amazing are the reactions from smokers. You would think we were jailing them, and having a contrast of towns and establishments just for this last few months has made me glad that the laws were passed, because smokers turned into a whole society of rude whiners. I would hope that a few sessions of standing in the cold would make someone rethink what they are doing, and if they have to do it that bad, why? Already, virtually every workplace has smoking bans, in the local hospital, they can't even smoke outside.

In the town where it was passed early, people complained and said they going to the other town so they could smoke, and came back after a few days realizing there was a reason they didn't go there before. In the town where they could smoke, every smoker blew out smoke at an unprecedented rate, like it was fresh air and they would damn anyone wanting to take the right away from them. It was worse than ever before, and I quit having breakfast at a restaurant there because of it.

It has occurred to me before that it would be funny to drive around and take pictures of people outside "enjoying" a smoke, and posting them. I'll probably do this now, driving to the town of old-timers who actually blew smoke at our table when we had lunch there lasy tear, with my infant daughter. Any other time, this would have been rude, but because they were being oppressed, the asshole that seemed to breathe nothing but smoke just kept puffing. That's another reason I feel no pity for them. If you have to smoke that badly in Illinois, you can go to the private clubs, which is why my American Legion membership is lapsed. It was bad before, now, no way.

I've written my own commentary on smoking many times before, and never posted it, so I'll post this early on New Years Day and go from there.

Happy New Year.