30 June 2009

Pre features I want on the iPhone

I like the way the Pre can have multiple apps “active” at once and quickly switch between them. It’s a pain when trying to do something on the iPhone that requires flipping between two or three apps.

I’m not crazy, however, about how such “active” applications on the Pre remain running in the background. To conserve processing and battery power, only the “frontmost” app should have the full app running.

The iPhone should allow third-party apps to do background processing. (Something I’ve changed my mind about.) With a good scheduler (the part of the operating system that decides what program gets processing time when), there’s no worry that the phone part of the iPhone won’t get every clock-cycle it needs. As long as the system limits the priority third-party apps can have.

Although, background processes shouldn’t be full apps. They should only be limited processes dedicated to a particular app task that can take advantage of being in the background. In fact, from what I’ve read, this is the case for the built-in iPhone apps. There are minimal little “iPod helper” and “Mail helper” background processes that take care of the background processing for those apps when they aren’t running. Also, giving developers services that they can leverage instead of writing their own background processes—like notifications—is something else I’d like to see. e.g. An app like Pandora ought to be able to leverage the existing iPod background process to play audio when other apps are running. (If that isn’t already available.)

Speaking of notifications, the Pre’s bottom-of-the-screen notification system looks like another good idea Apple should borrow.

29 June 2009

Role-playing game mechanics: To unify or not

The problem with unified mechanics is that everything feels the same. A lot of the fun in play for me comes—I think—from taking advantage of my character’s and my party’s strengths while minimizing the impact of their weaknesses. Which means there needs to be tradeoffs to be made. Brute force versus magic versus stealth. Strong fighting style versus agile fighting style versus ranged attacks. And so forth.

A subtext there is that a lot of games that tout their unified mechanic aren’t really all that unified. They still present tradeoffs. They just moved them about a bit. e.g. Despite arbitrarily unifying many (though far from all) things under the “roll d20, higher is better” regime, the d20 system ended up being a lot more complex than Expert D&D with it’s handful of different rolls.

The problem with “different things deserve different mechanics” is balance. It’s hard to well balance different mechanics. So, one set of tradeoffs often ends up too good against the others.

Like the way that two-weapon fighting rules in every edition of D&D that has had such rules have made it either too good to not choose or too weak to bother with.

28 June 2009


Daring Fireball Linked List: The Pre Is Palm’s Last Chance

The reason it’s important that the Pre succeeds is so the mobile market doesn’t wind up like the desktop market — with just one single great experience, alone in a sea of crap.

One of my friends said something about wanting his phone to just be a phone. The three of us with iPhones had pretty much the same response: The phone in the iPhone is almost incidental for us. The iPhone is our iPod, mobile Internet device, GameBoy, &c. I didn’t buy an iPhone to replace my old phone. I bought an iPhone to replace my Palm V. That it could also replace my phone was just icing.

When pundits talk about the iPhone (or the Pre) and the mobile phone market, they’re missing that to many—if not most—iPhone customers, it really isn’t in the same class as mobile phones. It’s a palmtop, not a mobile phone.

Though visual voice-mail is enough for me to also consider the iPhone a better phone than every other mobile phone I’ve ever used.

Palm did everything right with the Palm (née Pilot) that Apple got wrong with the Newton. The iPhone, however, is closer to where the Treo should have evolved to. Now, Palm has gotten the wake-up call and produced the Pre.

Which is great. I want to see these two companies continue to make each other better.

27 June 2009

Just credit where credit is due

So back in blog 2.0 I’d mentioned how the Wikipedia article on EVH said that he tuned his B-string to be just intonated against the G-string. This allowed him to play (some) major thirds with distortion without the dissonance even tempered major thirds cause.

Well, it seems that open-G players (like Keef and his inspirators) have long used this trick. In fact, it seems like it’d work better in open-G than in standard tuning.

26 June 2009

Why Keef misses the Beatles

From Keith Richards comes clean on distortion and the meaning of music:

I wish the Beatles were still around in a way, because they could have kept on doing what they always did first for us, which was open the doors and take the brunt. (Laughs)

Lots of good stuff in this interview with “Keef”, but I thought this particular line was pretty funny.

25 June 2009

Free Dragon Warriors Introductory Book

Magnum Opus Press has a free Introductory Book for their Dragon Warriors role-playing game available through DriveThruRPG.com. It looks like it will serve as a decent “player’s book”.

22 June 2009

Digital guitarist: Amp edition

Having decided that I’m a digital guitarist, it’s seems like it would be nice to get a combo amp that had the digital modeling and effects built-in. Yet, the footcontrollers for a Line 6 Spider III or the a Peavey Vypyr or a Fender G-DEC 30 or what-have-you are at least as big—some bigger—than my Digitech RP350. Whether the digital processing lives in the amp or the footcontroller doesn’t really have an impact on what I have to carry and set up.

The RP350 is actually more flexible because, if there’s a PA available, I don’t have to take an amp at all. The RP350 can also drive two amps (in stereo) as monitors while simultaneously sending balanced, line-out signals to the house.

So, again, I’m validating my choice.

My little Crate 15W 1×12 has served well with the RP350. Plenty loud enough for small venues and a decent monitor when plugging the RP350 into a house PA. (In one case the sound tech insisted on micing the Crate instead of taking the direct outs from the RP350.) I’ve been thinking of getting a second one so that I can run them in stereo.

I’m wondering, though, if I should get a keyboard amp. Would that do more justice to the RP350’s sounds than the Crate? They also typically a mic channel and sometimes additional channels as well, which could be handy. I’d considered that when I got the RP350, but the Crate was cheap, and I just needed an ad hoc solution.

21 June 2009


While I’m sure MMS will be nice, to me, it seems kind of redundant on my iPhone. I don’t have a laptop, so I have no need for tethering.

While I have had a couple of problems with U-verse, calling support got me to helpful people, and things were cleared up in fairly short order.

A week after getting U-verse, the set-top boxes were automatically updated with software that allowed watching DVR recordings from the other boxes. Recently, there’s been another update, as my non-DVR box can now erase and do other DVR operations that previously could only be done at the DVR box. The web voice-mail interface has had a facelift recently, and the web DVR interface has been upgraded as well.

Perhaps Apple’s current practice of providing continual improvements has rubbed off a little.

In short, I’m actually rather happy with AT&T.

20 June 2009

The Vypyr chart

I love the chart on Peavey’s page for their Vypyr series of guitar amplifiers. There are, however, two problems with it.

1. It only covers the Vypyr series. Go to their Guitar Amps & Cabs page and good luck trying to figure out which series you might be interested in. While a single chart like the Vypyr one covering all their amps might be impractical, a similar chart to help you figure out what series might fit your needs would help.

This is a big fail for just about every guitar amp manufacturer’s web site. Even when they have little descriptions about each of their lines, those descriptions are usually no help in figuring out which ones to investigate further. I end up digging through the specs of each amp with a second browser tab open to Sweetwater or Musician’s Friend to check prices.

2. There isn’t a check for USB on the Vypyr 30. There’s a few other choices in there that seem odd to me. Wouldn’t the PowerSponge be more useful on the 60 and 120 with their tube power amps?

19 June 2009

iTunes gripe

I really hate that I can’t access my iPhone settings in iTunes unless my iPhone is connected to my computer.

18 June 2009

iPhone 3.0 Auto-Authentication with AT&T Wi-Fi

I typically don’t bother with free wi-fi hotspots. Why? Because they almost all require you to pull up a browser and jump through some hoops. Of course, if the network activity you are trying to do is not visiting a web site—like checking your e-mail—you’ll sit there wondering why the free wi-fi seems to be slower than the Edge network.

Even if you think to pull up Safari and jump through the hoops first, the whole process is still probably slower than having just checked your e-mail over the Edge.

Well, it seems that with the iPhone 3.0 firmware, AT&T has fixed that for their wi-fi hotspots—which are free for AT&T customers.

Digital guitar

I get so annoyed by the demos I see of amps or pedals that show the versatility you can get by twiddling several knobs. I don’t want to have to twiddle a bunch of knobs between songs to get the tone appropriate to each. Often, I want two (or more) different tones within each song when I can’t stop to twiddle knobs. Versatility doesn’t mean a lot if you have to carefully adjust several parameters to access it.

Sure, stomp boxes have the hammer of a bypass switch. Again, that doesn’t really let you access it’s versatility. It means you get one of it’s settings or none. And multiple stomp boxes means multiple stomps to make some changes.

High-end amps have multiple channels and various foot-switchable features. If you want an affordable amp that isn’t overpowered, though, they’re usually hobbled by a lack of foot-switches, a tiny speaker, and no effects loop.

So, I’m coming to terms with the fact that—when it comes to electric guitar—I’m a digital guy. More and more I’m convinced that back (1992?) when I got my Digitech DSP-21, I made exactly the right decision for me. A digital effects unit plugged into a PA or clean amp (or both).

I spent an afternoon at Danny Ray’s trying a bunch of tube amps, and I honestly enjoy my Digitech RP350 into my Crate GTD15R more than any of them. I think I may actually like the sound of a digital model of an amp than the amp itself.

P.S. I think another piece of the puzzle is that I’m not interested in developing a signature sound. I want a broad palette.

17 June 2009

D+ v. D+

One thing I forgot to mention about HackMaster Basic: It uses (at least for combat) 1d20 + modifiers versus 1d20 + modifiers.

(If any non-game-geeks want to try to follow this, that means: The player of the attacker rolls a die—which happens to be twenty-sided instead of your standard cubic dice—and adds whatever modifiers his character is entitled to. The player of the defender does likewise. The higher total of die plus modifiers “wins”. You may have read that there is no winning in role-playing games. This is—generally—true. There are no game ending victory conditions. There are, however, minor victories along the way.)

From a design point-of-view, I love this. In actual play...not so much, and I can’t make a convincing argument for why this is so. Likely it stems—at least in part—from two of my peculiar weaknesses:

  • Remembering details
  • Mental arithmetic

When running the Lord of the Rings campaign, I often found myself doing this dance:

  1. Roll for the NPC
  2. Add the NPC’s modifiers
  3. Ask the player for their total
  4. Having completely forgotten the total for the NPC I had just calculated, calculate it again
  5. If I’m lucky, those numbers haven’t forced the player’s total from my mind...

And—of course—Decipher’s Coda system using 2d6 (your standard pair of two cubic dice) rather than a single die just added one more obstacle for my arithmetic-challenged brain.

16 June 2009

HackMaster Basic

So, a post by Jeff sent me straight to the Kenzer web site to check on the progress of HackMaster Basic.

It’s being released at the end of this month, it’s $20, and less than 200 pages. It also has a cool Erol Otus cover. They’ve got a “walk through” PDF. The first page (p. 37—it’s an except from Knights of the Dinner Table #152) of which sets the scene pretty well, I think.

Aside: The old HackMaster was AD&D expanded. Since realizing that I prefered “Expert” D&D to “Advanced”, that pretty well dampened by interest in HackMaster...except as a source for looting ideas from. (Ironically, I thought Munchkin d20 was a better game whilst HackMaster was a better joke. In practice, though, I’m not sure anyone ever played Munchkin d20 whilst HackMaster has gotten a lot of play.) The license that allowed Kenzer to build HackMaster upon AD&D, however, is no more; so they’re having to build a new HackMaster.

Under 200 pages and $20 sounds awfully good to me. I’m seeing half that looks close to my current ideas of RPG design and half that seems better than tolerable. Maybe a better halfway point between the old Expert D&D and d20 System D&D than I’ve seen so far?

I definitely expect there to be things to loot for incorporation into other D&Desque games.