Thursday, April 26, 2007


I recently took the ACT test. In order to do this, I, unfortunately, had to deal with the ACT website, and the ACT corporation, which seems to want to charge you for everything they can.

I first had to figure out where to register for the test. So I went to the ACT for Students page. The thing immediately starts an annoying flash animation, with sound, thus distracting me from whatever it was I was doing in order to find the mute control. If you go to another part of the site and come back, the music starts again, and you have to mute it again.

So, I mute the Flash movie, and look around for the "Register" button. It turns out it's about halfway down the page, on the right side, and a lot smaller than everything else. To add to the confusion, right next to it is a form where you can choose a city and state and hit "Go", probably to find test centers. So what do I click?

I click the button, and I have to battle an annoying, multi-step registration process split across multiple pages. I've forgotten most of how the site was supposed to work, but I can tell you that it didn't work well.

I eventually get to the part where I get to select the optional components of my ACT experience. Do I want the Writing component? (Yes). That's extra. Do I want to see what questions I got wrong? (Yes). That's also extra. Do I feel like giving money to the people who made me go through all these hoops to register? (No). Too bad, you need to take this test to get into college!

After I filled all that out, the site tries to sell me test prep books. Isn't that a conflict of interest or something?

When I come back to their site later to study for the test, it's actually a lot easier. However, I do notice that the scores for the sample writing section essays seem to vary directly with the number of words written.

I eventually want (well, not want, but need) to take this test. So I go into the school gym, sit down, and do the thing. Afterwards, I have to write out and sign some sort of statement that I won't talk about questions ever as long as I live or something, which I find dubious legally because most people taking the test are minors who can't sign contracts anyway.

A couple weeks go by, and I sit down at my computer to see if I can't have a look at my scores. So I go on Google, look up the ACT, and go to the first result. This is, unfortunately, their corporate site, and I have to find the right link to click to get back to the annoying Flash sound page. I mute the thing, find the little link to "Scores" in the section menu bar, and then... I don't get a page where I can see my scores. Instead, it's some sort of page about when I'll get my scores. Not what I wanted. But I see a link labeled "See scores" in small text at the top of the nav bar, and follow that. That takes me to another page with a link that says that maybe, this time, I'll be able to see my scores. So I click ion that link, and it brings me to a page of text, with a completley different layout, and a "Continue" button. Getting annoyed by this point, I hit "Continue", and am prompted for, rather than the login information for the account that I was forced to set up when I registered, some sort of ID that the ACT corporation issued me (which, I think, was printed on my admission ticket), and my credit card information. Apparently, if I want to see my scores during the "Early Viewing Period," I must, in addition to going through five levels of pages and links reading "See Scores," pay them $8.00--which I am, by this time, in no mood to do. It doesn't help matters at all the dates which define the "Early Viewing Period" are not listed (as far as I could tell), and, as I later found when writing this post, the annoying Flash animation on the front page is actually an ad which tries to bother people into buying the Early Score Viewing Service by hinting that they don't really know how well they did.

I don't take kindly to being treated this way. Just because the ACT people control an important test doesn't mean that they can ignore website usability and try to guilt/annoy me into paying them money. I'm sorry, ACT Inc., but it was a displeasure doing business with you.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Who drank all the Joost?

I just got invited to the Joost beta (thanks, Katharine!) yesterday. So, I installed the software on my computer, started it up, created my account, and was greeted with a nice "you have been disconnected from the Joost network" message. So, I go on the FAQ and find out that the thing uses non-standard ports. Wasn't this thing made by the Skype people? I know they know how to get around NATs and firewalls with a p2p app, so why does Joost require certain ports?
I didn't really care that much about the ports, though, so I took my laptop down to where I had an unrestricted connection available, and tried again. It seemed to work, but almost every show would give me an error 121: "This program is not currently available," after watching it a while. I looked on the forum, and it seems this is a bug with the new v9.2. I tried downgrading to 9.1, but then I got the "you have been disconnected" message again.
The shows it has seem nice, although the channel catalog seems heavily balanced towards boxing and race cars. I like the National Geographic channel, and I tried to watch this cool show about the Secret Service, but then it 121'd on me and I couldn't finish it. Also, some of the channels are only available in Europe, or "Worldwide, except US and Canada," for reasons that I cannot fathom--probably having to do with legal Issues (with a capital I).
So, as soon as Joost gets the 9.2 error 121 bug fixed, it'll be pretty good.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Virginia Tech E-mails Emergency Warnings

33 people were killed in a bloody shooting spree at Virginia Tech yesterday, for those of you who don't already know. Apparently, the people in charge at Virginia Tech believed that the best way to inform students of a rampaging killer on the lose was via e-mail. And I quote from the above linked news article:

At 9:50 a.m., a second e-mail went out warning students and staff to "stay put."

"A gunman is loose on campus," it read. "Stay in buildings until further notice. Stay away from all windows."

This sort of situation, in a high school, at least, calls for what is called a Code Red, or Shelter-In-Place condition, where someone sounds an alarm and we all hide. Apparently this sort of thing is done by e-mail in college. Who sent these out? Did they really think that students sitting in class would read them and take cover? If the students knew there was some sort of emergency, do you think that the first think they would do would be check their e-mail to find out about it? Isn't there a PA system, or a tornado alarm, or a fire alarm, or some sort of alarm they could have pulled when they noticed the rampaging killer gunning down students? There is a time and place for e-mail, but this is most certainly not it.

If only the university had a Code Red alarm system in place, perhaps some of these people could have been spared. Instead, they attempted to send emergency warnings via e-mail, and 33 people were killed.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Unification Proposal Makes Progress

Well, whether Pizza and I want it or not, it looks like the Grid Unification thing is taking off. It recently made it's way from the TSL Forums, through the Global Kids blog, and onto the front page of Second Life Insider. As I see it, it's only a matter of time until Hamlet weighs in on the issue (he may have already done so on a forum somewhere). I think LL is going to have to do something soon, and, from what I've been hearing, they want to do this. I'm not entirely sure what's holding them back, though. It's probably the fact that they're too busy stopping the grid from eating inventories to start a big project.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

More "Security"

Now MySpace is locking down their site, according to Ars Technica.
MySpace to content providers: it's OurSpace, we're in charge


Looks like Sony is another company that thinks something is "secure" if they control it. On a blog called Three Speech (which is an interesting name), Phill Harrison talks about Sony's upcoming Home virtual world, which Terra Nova calls 2.0:
"Home is about entertainment, it has a game focus, and it’s about sharing with a like-minded community. We don’t give users the level of influence over the environment, behaviour and object definitions that Second Life does – it’s as secure as any other PS3 game. With some of the operating system protocols that are built into the Cell chip, it’s about as secure as you can be on a consumer device."
So something is "secure" when Sony rules the universe, and it's invulnerable to fiendish people who want to change the color of their character's boots without paying the required Boot Upgrade Fee of 100 SonyPoints. I guess it makes sense to say an MMO is secure when people can't hack the client up to send them halfway across the map, but I don't think anyone's ever sold an MMO by telling users they can't influence it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


I don't like the AACS people.
Apparently they think that a computer is "secure" if the user can't access the data on it, which is the most perverse definition of security that I've ever seen. If I couldn't access data on my computer, I'd call it "broken".
I wonder how key expiring works? Is there a limit to how many keys can be revoked? What if someone compromised thousands of keys--would it be possible to revoke them all?

Monday, April 9, 2007

Ooh lookie!

Apparently, the Electric Sheep Company has sent a search spider onto the SL grid. Looks like something we might want to get for the TG, as well. It detects for-sale items, and allows you to search for them. It passes the Hat Test (TM, Patent Pending), and diligently returns results for hats to buy in SL. However, it doesn't look like it can access the various types of interactive vendors that are common on the TG.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Have fun with There

There is too expensive.
$1 USD buys you 1,800 "ThereBucks" or T$.
However, it costs 5,000+ T$ to submit something to the catalog, and the "wholesale price" that There charges when you sell an item to someone is, for the cheapest item (a "kincknak"), T$200. This means that, for all practical purposes, nothing in-world can be sold for less than T$200, and nothing can be given away free.
That's probably why all the SL people don't like There. I hate to join the long tradition that Second Life Insider has of slamming various virtual worlds, and I haven't actually seen what this does to the There world, but There certainly seems far more expensive than it ought to be. Especially when compared to SL, where uploads are L$10, objects can be built for free, and there is no per-item cost.

I wish people had done more research on virtual world economics in non-game worlds. Castornova, the only person in the field, as far as I know, seems to only be interested in game-type worlds.

Thursday, April 5, 2007


Why do my A-life projects never come out this cool?

So this is what the psychic artist drew

Apparently, I have mousy brown hair, and look like this when threatening toast:

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Sunday, April 1, 2007

"Democratic Republic"

What do all these countries have in common?
  • Republic of Cuba
  • People's Republic of China
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea)
Give up? They are all countries which are known for oppression, violence, and/or war, and they all have names talking about how democratic and republican they are. I guess if you don't have a democratic country, you can try to convince people that you do by saying that you do.

It's more likely that whoever named these places wanted them to be democratic and republican, but the system broke down, or, in some cases, never really got off the ground. Why is it so hard to put together a good democracy?