Friday, December 29, 2006

Scrabble from

I recently bought Scrabble for OS X on the site. I have to say that I disrecommend both the Scrabble game itself and the MacGameStore company that sold it to me. The game crashes randomly and frequently and there's no Save so you lose the whole game. I'm posting this here in the hopes it will help somebody before a purchase, as you won't see this on their review site (see below).

I bought Scrabble on Christmas Eve for my daughter and by Christmas night I had counted a half a dozen crashes or so. Emails to MacGameStore went unanswered for a few days, which is understandable during the holiday season, but what I think is bogus is that they didn't post my Review of the game which was negative because my experience was negative. How are other potential customers supposed to get a fair set of reviews if they censor the negative ones? It was balanced and fair, I think, and intended to help future potential buyers. In fact when I went back to look at reviews they had actually removed several of the ones that were there, and somewhat negative (mostly criticizing the game for lack of network support).

I won't be buying anything else from them, and I'd stop short of recommending them to anyone else. I know good customer service when I encounter it, and they simply did not provide it.

Below is the text exactly as I posted it to the Review page (I had the foresight to copy/paste it because I could tell from their policy statement that they were unlikely to post it on their site). Bear in mind that I had already paid and created an account just so I could post the review, and I had already emailed their support team and waited a couple of days for a reply.

To: reviews at
From: Glenn Reid, paying customer

I bought this game on Christmas eve and although it's kind of fun to play, it has crashed a half a dozen times and lacks some basic features that would make it a much better game.

For example, if you could Save a game in progress, or even better, if it auto-saved every time you made a move, then the crashes would be a bit more tolerable because you could continue on. But there are other scenarios where Save would be a welcome feature.

It's basicaly unusable for multi-player, though it offers that feature. It needs to support network play for that to be viable. Though you can play by "not looking", this is unrealistic, and not a good playing experience because you need to study the board while the other person is thinking to truly play Scrabble.

All in all it was not worth the $20 and I didn't hear anything back from the company via tech support on the crashing issue, so I'm posting this review. I see there is an "approval" process. Hopefully that doesn't mean "screen out bad ones". I'll post this on my blog if that's the case.

Here is the less-than-helpful response I got from their tech support team after waiting 3 days; my email to so far hasn't received a human response (though it's only been half a day).

> I just bought a copy of Scrabble and though I am somewhat enjoying
> it, it has CRASHED 4 times on me in the space of 1 day; I just bought
> it last night! I saved the crash log from the last time if anybody
> there wants to see it.
> Given that the multi-player mechanism isn't very good (it should play
> over a network) I would like to return the game for my money back,
> since it is not working properly. Please let me know how to proceed.

Please contact Gamehouse, the creator of this product for technical support
issues regarding Scrabble.


The MGS Staff

1404 Laguna Cove
Hutto, TX 78634

If this is helpful to you, leave a comment on this blog posting.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Back to Blogger

I've moved my blog back to Blogger from Bubbler. Sigh.

Not there are any of you readers left, but I have mapped the URL "" here and that will let me move the blog again some day without a huge disruption. So depending on how you got here, click that link and then bookmark it (or RSS it, or delete it, or whatever).

Friday, July 21, 2006

Thanks for all the fish

I'm starting a consulting business. The web site isn't there yet, but email me at glennreid dot com for more information.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Apple iWeb - initial impressions

I was prepared to be "intimidated" by Apple's iWeb, since after all I left the iApps group at Apple to build network software, including web publishing and blogging, and this is right smack in my new territory.

I bought a copy of iLife '06, mostly to get the new versions of iMovie and iPhoto, but also to check out iWeb....

My biggest initial reactions:
+ the templates are visually stunning, as expected from Apple
- you're locked in to your template; you can't change it later
+ very cute to use transparent corners to produce "rotated" photos
- nice font use, but they rasterize rotated text, making it unsearchable
- they upload whole HTML pages; it takes forever to upload
- it takes forever to load/view the pages, too
- your pages are saved locally; there's no way to edit remotely

All in all, it feels like they took Pages (or maybe Keynote, judging from the Inspector) and taught it how to save in HTML, which is nice—but not at all, in my view, the right way to go about web publishing in the new millennium.

The two biggest problems are really the same problem, twice over. You can't change the template, meaning that if you get sick of your pages, you have to completely redo them. And you can't customize your template (at least not that I've found) so you live with it.

It's a lot better than, say, FrontPage. But I think everyone's pages will end up looking the same and they'll be stuck on

I feel better, now that I've seen it, and the initial awe over the clean, beautiful templates was gradually replaced by a sense that it is architecturally not the right way to go about it.

I have code lying around somewhere that I wrote that rotates photos and leaves transparent corners; may be time to dust that off and put it to use...

Sunday, February 12, 2006

TurboTax rocks

I'm doing taxes tonight, and I have to rave about TurboTax.  It is a great, great program, and it really doesn't have to be. People would use it even if it was marginal, because it's so much better to use a computer than pencil and paper to do taxes.

But Intuit, year after year, keeps making TurboTax dramatically better.  It keeps getting easier to use, faster, and simpler.  That's no small feat.  My hat is off to those guys. It's one of the few programs that actually makes me smile at all the good ideas that are lurking within it, the attention to detail. It is just plain great software.

I've you're not already completely converted to TurboTax, I recommend that you get a copy and do this year's taxes with it.  Even if you use a professional, risk the $39 to do it yourself and see how your return compares to the tax professional's. If they are within $39 of each other (or if TurboTax saves you money) you should skip the professional help next year and just use the software.  For one thing, it imports the previous year's tax return so you have less work to do than the first time you use it.

Caveat: I use the Mac version, and have since it used to be MacInTax, before Intuit acquired them. I don't actually know if the Windows version is as good, but I'm assuming that it is, since the same company is behind both versions.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

"white list" vs. "black list"

There are two basic approaches to filtering or moderating content. They are called "white list" and "black list". Each is, in a sense, the opposite of the other. A "black list" is a list of things (bad words, IP addresses, photos, etc) that you want to filter out. A "white list" is a list of things (people, IP addresses, etc) that you define ahead of time, and only things on that list can get through.

An example from the spam email industry. A black-list approach is to, say, filter all incoming messages looking for "Viagra" or "Home Loan" and act on any matches, perhaps moving them to a special mailbox for suspected spam. A white-list approach might be to only accept email from people who are in your address book. Period. If they're not on the white list, the mail doesn't get through. The "challenge/response" email filters are a white-list approach, where people can put themselves on your white list by proving they are a human being (not a robot) by typing in some characters, etc.

The white-list model is much safer (better for children, for example), but much more restrictive.

In the world of user-contributed content to web pages, it is trickier because there is no single recipient to make these decisions. Something posted to the web goes to "everybody". So this becomes an issue for the site administrator.

A white-list model requires human intervention of some sort: content can only go live if someone has approved it. A black-list model can be easily automated, but it is also easily circumvented (alternate spellings of "bad words", or substituting the digit '0' for the letter 'O' for example).

A third model that is gaining popularity in the world of online communities is the idea of site visitors reporting objectionable content. This is, on the one hand, a lazy way to do black-listing: wait until somebody is offended by it. It is also prone to abuse, in cases where the content is not truly objectionable, but someone wants to be a nuisance.

There is no clear winner in terms of approach. If what you want is to block "most" spam product advertisements posted as comments to a blog, maybe a black-list model works okay, because it greatly reduces the volume, though some legitimate content may be filtered out, and some bad content may be missed. Since this type of content is usually automated, having a human moderator going through it is time-consuming.

On the other hand, if the problem you're addressing is a malicious user uploading extremely objectionable content to an unwelcoming audience, a black-list approach may not work at all, because of the repercussions if bad content is missed by the automatic filtering.

Friday, February 10, 2006

No Escape from Spam

I'm irritated at Microsoft. I try to be neutral on platform issues, despite preferring a Macintosh myself, but I'm totally irritated with Microsoft. Here's why...

It used to be that if you were careful with your email address, you wouldn't get any spam. If you didn't put your email address on a web page, or didn't fill out forms on questionable web sites, you could go years without getting any spam. I am careful about email addresses, and for years I didn't get any spam on some addresses that I keep very private, and share only with, say, my extended family.

But that's all changed now. All you need is to email someone who is running Windows (which is, of course, most of the world), and if they add you to their address book, you are a sitting duck. Sooner or later, if that person gets a virus, or even some other "legitimate" program gets hold of their address book, you are now on a spam list -- forever.

So your email experience can be ruined simply by having friends or business associates who use Windows, and who are perhaps not savvy enough to keep their computers completely clean of viruses FOREVER.

This bothers me because Microsoft could easily fix this. They could easily fix a lot of the problems that plague Windows, but they choose not to. Why, I don't know. But they could make the address book encrypted or otherwise unavailable to viruses and trojan horses. They could make mouse movements and keystrokes unavailable to programs other than the frontmost app, thereby preventing spyware from being able to function. They're not doing these things, despite years of abuse and fairly obvious solutions.

All of my previously sacrosanct email addresses have been compromised. I don't have any left that don't get spam. This really irritates me, because it isn't my fault. It's Microsoft's fault, actually. They are directly responsible for my receiving spam, and I don't like it.

Friends don't let friends run Windows, I guess. Or at least they don't email their friends who run Windows.

Here is a signature file that you might use in your email program:


If you are running Microsoft Windows, please do NOT add me to your address book. Thanks.

Fear of "bad content"

Almost every customer we talk to has a similar fear of "bad content" appearing on their site, if users are allowed to participate and upload things.

There is no inherently easy answer to this paradox. If you want, and allow, user participation, there's no guarantee that it won't be abused in some way. One can imagine all sorts of things that "might happen".

The answer boils down to two things, in my mind: pragmatism, in dealing with real problems, rather than imaginary ones, and tools, that give the site owner some control over the process through which users can participate and upload content.

These two things balance each other: tools can be put in place before "something bad" happens, but you can't know if they prevented abuse or if there just wasn't any impetus to abuse the system. And there's always the possibility that the perpetrators will find some way around the safeguards.

So the balance is in anticipating as many problems as you can, and being poised to deal swiftly with anything that comes up. And, of course, the tools to be able to detect and address any kind of "bad content" that might be feared.

In my experience, abuse is rare, and the benefits of participatory media far outweigh the potential negatives. Even dissenting voices are to be encouraged. It's just those misguided "hackers" that present a real challenge, not unlike the challenge of terrorism: it's almost impossible to prevent terrorist attacks, and perhaps the best way to avoid them is simply to avoid creating a world in which a terrorist feels the need to attack.

The addictive quality of Browsing

Browsing can be addictive, let's face it. Whether it's shopping (online or brick-and-mortar), "surfing the web" from the old days, or traversing a social network site, the temptation of clicking just once more to see what might be there can be almost irresistible.

This is a good thing.

Addiction, in a lesser, slightly diluted form, is simply motivation. If someone is motivated to traverse a site and learn what's there, and to truly participate and add value (posting comments, buying products, rating photos), the value of the site increases exponentially.

This is why web-based, hyper-linked, visual, experiential web sites are the perfect way to deliver a community experience; it can truly draw everyone in, even those who just want to browse...

Should I Stay?

A key ingredient in forming a community is to provide a reason to stick around, or a reason to come back. This is true of a backyard barbecue as well as a web-based community site.

If the premise of a site is clear, and the benefits can be seen or even just imagined, it might be enough to create a sense of wanting to stick around.

Sheer activity is another way to accomplish this: if people are showing up to a party, you're tempted not to leave just yet. If you can see a community growing on-line, you're curious to come back to see how much it has grown, and what interesting people might have joined. Or if the site itself is changing and growing, offering more functionality, that can keep people around too.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Searching and Browsing

The word browsing has a popular meaning that for most Westerners brings to mind the idea of going through a book store, or a retail store, looking around, interested, but not exactly shopping for anything in particular. You're looking, but you're not feeling goal-oriented.

Searching, on the other hand, is goal-oriented. You have something in mind, and you're looking for it as specifically as you can.

These two concepts are interrelated and co-dependent, but they are two distinct concepts. It's hard to search for something without doing some browsing, but you can in fact browse without really searching.

Consider the use of a popular search engine, like Yahoo or Google. You're combining these two concepts. You type in search criteria, and what you get back are search results, which is a misnomer. There is no such thing as a single result to a search. What you're really getting back is a subset of the information that's available, and you're invited to browse that subset of information.

Apply the same thought process to, say, people on, a popular dating site originally built by some friends of mine, Sterling Hutto, Thede Loder, and Piyush Shah (and others, of course, but I'm name dropping so I get to pick the set of names)....

In you know you're not looking at all of the world's population, you're looking at the subset who have registered with the site. So you're already browsing a subset of the world's population, just by entering the site. But you probably will narrow the search a little bit by constraining the browsing to male or female, and perhaps apply an age range.

This is where it gets interesting. Are you searching, or are you browsing a filtered list? I claim they're the same thing. That the concept of search is actually just the act of applying criteria to the process of browsing. How you traverse the data, how you actually do the browsing, is independent.

For example, Google gives you search results, a set of short descriptions of the pages it has indexed, and link to each. It presents them to you in "pages" or sets of 10 or so at a time, with a set of links to additional pages across the bottom. This has become a standard paradigm.

But the pages of search results are not themselves anything but a subset of the pages that they've indexed, although they are arranged in an order that makes them (according to Google) probabilistically more likely that you'll find them interesting.

Now consider a "rating" site like Hot or Not , which I didn't even know existed until I started researching this stuff. Hot or Not has a different mode for browsing: they show you each member of the site one at a time, and you click, effectively, a "Next" button to go to the next one in the list. It's amazing how addictive this is, behaviorally, since you don't know what (or who) is coming. They disguise their Next button as "Rate this person on a scale of 1 to 10" or "Yes" or "No" in terms of whether or not you want to meet the person. But rating someone as a 5, or clicking "No" is effectively "Next".

Now go back and think about Google search results, and imagine if they presented the search results to you, not in a list, as they do today, but with the actual page of the first result, with a "Next" button at the top, so you could literally look at each of the sites in sequence, one at a time, rather than poking through the list of results.

I am sure there are reasons that Google didn't choose this approach, but I use it as an example to point out that the acts of searching (or constraining a set of data by specifying criteria) and browsing are independent.

Community Building

This is a post devoted to the nuances of community building on the world wide web, which is a loosely defined category including social networking, affinity groups, fan bases, and interest groups.

The phenomena of Friendster and MySpace and Facebook have shown amazing growth and have garnered great interest. But what are they? What is a social network anyway?

A community is built around a premise. The premise behind is clear: meeting people for dating and marriage. Similarly, the premise behind Friendster and Facebook are easily discernible; Facebook is wildly popular in its target community, college students.

These so-called social-networking sites start with the premise, and try to build a community around it. There are a lot of other community sites that you've never heard of where the premise might be reasonable, but the site doesn't catch fire, for whatever reason. I think of these as speculative communities, where the premise is established (fans of "The West Wing", perhaps) and an attempt is made to establish a community around the premise.

The difference between a real community and a premise for a community is subtle, but critical.

Consider the "community" of people who are interested in Harley-Davidson motorcycles. There is, conceptually, a single, large community around this single premise. There's even a word for it: "bikers". But is it really a community? It's actually a large number of individual real communities. Local chapters of the Harley Owners' Group club. A dozen or so folks who congregate at Alice's Restaurant on Saturday mornings. The set of members of an online community, perhaps....

So there may be a single "virtual community" (the premise), but there are likely many splintered real communities, some of which overlap, some of which do not.

A real community that already exists, that needs a better way to communicate, is a much more tangible thing, and target for software, than just a premise.