Thinkertry
Justin Lyons’ Misguided Cash-in
Mar 19, 2014

If you’re unfamiliar with who ‘Crocodile Hunter’ Steve Irwin was and what he was all about, watch the above tribute video melodysheep made a few months back. He was an awesomely passionate conservationist and a very memorable figure from my childhood.

Justin Lyons, Irwin’s trusted cameraman, was in the water with him when a stingray attacked and tragically killed Steve in 2006. Last week Lyons appeared on the Australian morning talk show Studio 10 for an interview, and he revealed a few new details about the event that the media got wrong back then. According to him, the stingray’s barb wasn’t left behind in Steve’s heart and Steve didn’t pull it out – it simple made a 2″ gash in his chest. He also says that Steve knew the barb had at least pierced his lung, that his last words were, “I’m dying,” and that the crew kept filming even as they performed CPR – suspending disbelief and hoping that Steve would pull through.

Lyons also said that the stingray started “stabbing” upward “hundreds of times in a few seconds.” Perfect headline fodder for the media, but in reality Australians use the word “hundreds” like Americans use the word “tons”; Lyons really meant “a bunch” or a few strikes/second. Like this.

Now, I don’t want to completely vilify Lyons here. He clearly cared a lot about Steve and was a dedicated member of the tight-knit crew for 15 years, but the timing of this interview and his intentional release of new information is pretty darn slimy. It’s kinda sad, actually.

Around the three minute mark of Part 2 (after a commercial break), the conversation about Steve Irwin transitions to Lyons’ emotions after his death and how he coped with them. This is where the plug comes in. I don’t really feel like embedding it, but for your convenience, here it is:

Lyons has a new documentary out called E-Motions (which I won’t bother to link to) that covers what looks like something very close to pseudoscience to me. In the interview, he starts talking about negative emotions being trapped and “physically lodged” in the body and how the documentary has “simple techniques” that will help you remove them. Apparently they did a bunch of interviews with doctors and researchers and even quantum physicists (?), and the methods they describe have even cured cancer in some particular cases (again, ?). Psychosomatic symptoms are a real thing, but leaping from the psyche to cancer is a bit too preliminary a finding to start advertising.

Regardless of his film’s validity, doing this promotional interview has severed some ties with the Irwin family, as you can imagine. Bob Irwin (Steve’s Dad) responded to a request for comment by saying that Lyons should’ve minded his own business and didn’t have the right to reveal more than what the Irwin family was willing to say. Bob didn’t comment specifically on Lyons using Irwin’s death as a way of promoting his own documentary, but I can imagine how he feels.

The interview worked, but thankfully not in the way Lyons probably hoped. The media grabbed onto the perfect “Steve Irwin stabbed hundreds of times” headline and ran with it, and that’s what everyone read in the news last week. More than 260 online ‘journalists’ covered the interview, but the majority of them only embedded the first part and not the second. The result: 1.3 million views for Part 1, and just 83,000 for Part 2 at the time of this writing. The E-Motion trailer embedded on the home page of the site only has 22,000 views, and their official Twitter account has just 34 followers. Sales of the documentary were probably boosted by this publicity stunt – but this doesn’t seem to be a financial windfall for Lyons.

I’m glad.

Again, all I know about Lyons is that Steve Irwin trusted him greatly for 15+ years as a crew member, but that doesn’t excuse him from doing this interview against the wishes of Irwin’s family. I don’t know why the Irwin family released so few details about the way Steve died and left the public to speculate incorrectly, but it wasn’t at all Justin Lyons’ prerogative to reveal the truth. He seems like a nice guy, which is why I have a hard time understanding why he’d consciously do a “world exclusive” interview about how a deceased friend died in order to promote a personal project. I realize that the emotions he felt after Steve’s death may have led him to explore psychosomatic symptoms and lead him to make this documentary, but that still doesn’t excuse him from revealing the details of Steve’s death that he did.

Is money really so powerful? Can it really warp someone’s thought process in such a way that this becomes a logical move? It’s unlikely that Lyons would’ve been on Studio 10 if he were only willing to say on-air that he experienced emotional trauma after Steve’s death which led him to make the documentary; both Lyons and the producers knew that this interview (or at least the first half of it) needed to be worthy of international news coverage. It needed to be “exclusive” or else it wasn’t worth doing.

Relatedly, why does the media so readily echo this kind of new information without asking why it’s being revealed 8 years later (and not even timed with Irwin’s birthday or death)? According to Google News, only 26 other online sources have bothered to mention how Bob Irwin feels about all of this (again, 260+ covered the interview itself) which I would say is the more important story here.

Justin Lyons, despite being the nice guy and good friend of Steve that he is, has made a mistake here (giving him benefit of the doubt). If Studio 10 told him that he wouldn’t be put on the air without revealing details of Steve Irwin’s death, he should have said no and respected the Irwin family’s wishes. That would have been the right thing to do, money be darned.

On a happier note, seeing this story reminded me to look up how Irwin’s family has been doing recently. Based on the video below, I’d say pretty awesome. Steve’s enthusiasm and charm is clearly present in his two kids, Bindi and Robert, and his wife Terri is still running the Australia Zoo in Beerwah, Queensland.

Good on them.

The Jeopardy ‘Hacker’
Feb 6, 2014

Self-proclaimed mad genius Arthur Chu has been playing Jeopardy a bit differently these past few days.

Kotaku:

While most players will start from the top of each column on the Jeopardy board and progress sequentially as question difficulty increases, Chu picks questions at random, using what’s called the Forrest Bounce to hunt for the three Daily Doubles, which are often scattered among the harder questions in every game. Instead of moving from the $200 question to the $400 question and so forth, Chu might bounce between all of the $1,600 or $2,000 questions—not the kind of strategy you often see on Jeopardy.

Apparently it’s working. If we wins his fifth game on February 24th he’ll get into the Tournament of Champions.

I’ve watched Jeopardy on occasion, but not enough to notice that the Doubles are typically on the lower half of the board. Knowing that fact, it’s surprising that this strategy wasn’t already the game’s standard.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere at CES 2014
Jan 12, 2014
Link · News · Tech · Video

Really fun to watch him rip into the competition. The honesty is really refreshing.

I wish someone like this was poking and prodding the cable industry. He may be off-putting, but so are the competitors he’s constantly making fun of.

He also reminds me of Randall Boggs from Monsters Inc. Not sure why.

How Sapphire Glass is made
Nov 23, 2013
Future · Link · News · Tech · Video

Looks like this will become a thing in the near future. I wonder what Gorilla Glass will do next – it seems that they’ve been outclassed.

Relying on autopilot
Nov 23, 2013

The FAA commissioned a study to identify the biggest threats to flight safety that exist today. One threat in particular stood out.

Via the Wall Street Journal:

A soon-to-be-released study commissioned by the Federal Aviation Administration determined, among other things, that “pilots sometimes rely too much on automated systems and may be reluctant to intervene” or switch them off in unusual or risky circumstances….

Relying too heavily on computer-driven flight decks—and problems that result when crews fail to properly keep up with changes in levels of automation—now pose the biggest threats to airliner safety world-wide, the study concluded. The results can range from degraded manual-flying skills to poor decision-making to possible erosion of confidence among some aviators when automation abruptly malfunctions or disconnects during an emergency….

According to the draft, “the definition of ‘normal’ pilot skills has changed over time” and “has actually increased to being a manager of systems.” Concerned about the hazards of cockpit “information overload,” the draft noted that several manufacturers told the panel that “today’s technology allows for too much information to be presented to the pilot.”

Automation has made commercial airline travel safer and easier than ever before, but it’s definitely not a perfect solution. Semi-automatic systems that require humans to oversee them never are, because we humans have laughably short attention spans compared to machines.

As the report notes, commercial airline pilots today are more like watch guards than aviators – constantly checking to make sure that all the blinking lights are green and good to go. That’s incredibly boring; almost as boring as driving on a long, open road at night with no music and nobody to talk to. Humans need something to do at all times, and we can’t be expected to remain diligent for long periods – we’re just not built that way.

The extra flight training and simplified flight panels the report recommends will help somewhat, but unfortunately whatever protocols are established will never be able to change as fast as technology does. Human Factors professionals are the ones responsible to try and bridge this gap, helping both machines and humans understand each other’s current status more accurately. Unfortunately that’s the best we can do, and it’s a constant struggle.

Admittedly, these issues are kind of out of the public’s eye right now, but you can bet they’ll become a big deal in the news when self-driving cars, wearable computers, and automated homes start to blow up. Some automated mechanisms in our cars have made things safer, like ABS, but other features like active lane-assist and adaptive cruise control are exactly the types of “helpful” semi-automatic behavior that these pilots are struggling with. Car manufacturers insist that they make things easier, but they also add complexity to our dashboards and allow us to pay less attention to the road conditions around us.

The day will come when a court has trouble determining whether a car driver or the car’s manufacturer is responsible for the injury or death of another person. “The car was supposed to stop” is the phrase that will let us know when that day has arrived.

Here’s a (rewritten) Verge article that I expect we’ll see sometime around 2023:

The tendency of drivers to rely on automated systems now represents the biggest threat to road safety around the world, according to a new study commissioned by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Drivers now struggle with manual driving tasks and in some cases fail to keep pace with changing technology in the driver’s seat, according to the Wall Street Journal, which saw a draft copy of the report. As a result, some drivers lack the knowledge or skills to properly control their cars, particularly in unusual situations.

The report acknowledges that automation has made driving much safer overall. At the same time, when the 34-member panel examined reports from accidents, they found that about two-thirds of drivers had struggled with driving their cars manually or made errors with the onboard computers. Among other incidents, driver errors and automated systems were found to have played a role in a 2023 highway crash that killed 57 people and the failed stopping of an automated Electric Megabus in San Francisco in July.

Fishlabs Lays Off 25
Nov 3, 2013

This is sad.

Unfortunately, the way the App Store has been trending towards free to play has not been kind to traditional non-free to play game studios like Fishlabs. They’ve tried to shift gears to compete in this brave new world of giving everything away for free by shifting their pay models around, but there’s only so much you can do to a game that was designed from the start to be a buy once play forever sort of thing.

Galaxy on Fire 2 is a great game – it combines the graphical eye candy of Infinity Blade with interesting RPG mechanics, fun “pew pew lasers” gameplay, and a decent story.

I never knew their games went free-to-play until now. Apparently the changes they made didn’t work.

Vanamo Online Game Museum
Nov 3, 2013
Gaming · Link · News · Tech · Video

Awesome Kickstarter project that’ll collect and photograph video game hardware so that the world has unrestricted access to high-quality photos of old consoles. Really glad it’s funded -  the quality of his work speaks for itself.

Also note: Evan Amos, the photographer, isn’t keeping the consoles; once he’s done taking photos he plans to donate them to The NYU Game Center and The International Center for the History of Electronic Games to be stored in their archives. That was my only worry when watching the intro video, and I’m glad he’s doing the right thing.

Wind Waker HD: 10 years old, and still amazing
Oct 25, 2013
Design · Future · Gaming · News · Rant · Stories · Tech · Video

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was released 10 years ago for the Nintendo Gamecube. Many Zelda fans were skeptical of the game’s cel-shaded graphics, but as a Mario-playing 10-year-old at the time its cartoon-like quality was the perfect gateway into the Zelda franchise, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

The HD remake released a few weeks ago is just that; the same game re-packaged and optimized for our HDTVs, with a few enhancements and tweaks that make it more fun for new players and pros alike.

So what did reviewers think of Nintendo’s decision to re-release a decade-old game?

IGN gave it an “Amazing” 9.8/10:

Some fondly remembered game designs have aged poorly, but if I didn’t know that The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker came out 10 years ago on GameCube, it would be easy to believe that this HD re-release was a brand-new Wii U game. That’s how well this classic action adventure game holds up… Its admirable longevity stems from excellent combat, charming characters, fun side-quests, inventive dungeons, one of the series’ best stories, and a cel-shaded art style that, while divisive, still looks great. For the re-release, Nintendo made very smart decisions about what to update and what to leave alone….

As a returning fan, I couldn’t have asked for much of a better treatment. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD holds up as a marvelous game full of unique and wonderful surprises that remind me why it’s the best of the 3D Zeldas. If you’ve never braved this amazing seafaring adventure, the Wii U version offers the definitive way to experience a story that’s both charming and elegant.

Game Informer:

Every change Nintendo has made to this game is smart and serves a purpose, and I envy anyone that gets to experience The Wind Waker for the first time via this remake. It takes everything that made the original a classic and greatly improves on its visuals and quality of play. If you’re a fan of classic remakes, you can’t ask for much more.

Polygon:

Wind Waker HD is the definitive version of a modern classic.

I whiled dozens of hours away on the great ocean in the original GameCube release, and happily spent even longer with this prettier, better-paced iteration. That Wind Waker HD only needs a few minor tweaks to feel fully modern proves its lasting appeal — and to capture a feeling of adventure, like a kid in a world of endless possibility.

Take a look at the many other reviews on Metacritic, where its collective score is 90/100, compared to the 96/100 it got 10 years ago.

A 6 point reduction in 10 years’ time, for a game that took only 6 months to re-work? That’s pretty amazing.

This is exactly what Reggie Fils-Aime (Nintendo’s President and COO of Nintendo of America) talked about a couple of months ago, when he posited that the best (and hardest) way to solve the industry’s used games problem was to make better games that players would want to keep, and not trade in at Gamestop for $10-$15.

Reggie, via Polygon:

We understand that used games are a way for some consumers to monetize their games…. They will buy a game, play it, bring it back to their retailer to get credit for their next purchase. Certainly, that impacts games that are annualized and candidly also impacts games that are maybe undifferentiated much more than [it] impacts Nintendo content.

Why is that? Because the replayability of our content is super strong. The consumer wants to keep playing Mario Kart. The consumer want to keep playing New Super Mario Bros. They want to keep playing Pikmin. So we see that the trade-in frequency on Nintendo content is much less than the industry average – much, much less. So for us, we have been able to step back and say that we are not taking any technological means to impact trade-in and we are confident that if we build great content, then the consumer will not want to trade in our games.

Keep this game in mind when you read the next article about Nintendo’s struggle with the Wii U. Wind Waker was a game created for a console that many consider to be a dud, and 10 years later it’s one of the best games available on its current dud. Despite it all, Nintendo still made money on the Gamecube because of titles like Zelda, and if the culture that created Wind Waker still exists at Nintendo (which it does) we can be sure that similarly timeless games will eventually arrive for the Wii U.

Unfortunately, timeless games take a lot of time to make, which is why Nintendo is currently re-living its Gamecube nightmare. Great games fuel the entirety of Nintendo, and until more of them are released on the Wii U, sales of the console won’t change.

Personally, the next Smash Bros. may seal the deal, but we’ll see.

Windows 8.1: Get Your Google Back
Oct 23, 2013
Design · Fun · Future · News · Tech · Video

This is pretty funny, but (unfortunately) not at all surprising.

In Windows 8, any newly-installed app would automatically be pinned to the Start screen, just like Android and iOS.

In Windows 8.1, new apps are no longer pinned automatically – instead they’re placed in the “All Apps” section below the Start screen and given a little “NEW” indicator.

I admit that I’ve waited for a currently-installing app to appear on my Start screen on a few occasions since the upgrade, so I suspect this is tripping plenty of other people up as well.

I know “power users” quickly became sick of the behavior in Windows 8, but honestly I don’t think this should’ve been changed for their sake (they’re cranky no matter what happens). When you install an app, you typically want to try it right away; you don’t want to swipe down to “All Apps” and then pin it to Start from there – you want it to be pinned to Start automatically so you can just tap once and start playing around.

Unless I’m missing something, this behavior is pretty clearly wrong and should be changed back.

The one possible upside to this change is that certain desktop programs that pin a whole bunch of useless stuff when installed (i.e. Microsoft Office) don’t clutter things up anymore. This isn’t really an excuse for changing the behavior of “Metro” Windows Store apps, though, because those apps were restricted to placing only one tile in Windows 8 anyway.

I know personalization is an important thing in Windows 8/8.1 and the design team didn’t want to let ill-intentioned apps force their way into the Start Screen, but I don’t think Google made this video for (justified) laughs - something needs to change here.

iPhone 5S Ad: “Metal Mastered”
Oct 21, 2013
Fun · Link · News · Tech · Video

I liked the “Plastic Perfected” iPhone 5C ad, and I like this one too.

Well, two-thirds of it at least.

1) “slide to unlock” isn’t present on the iPhone’s screen starting at 0:19. I presume they did this to avoid distracting the viewer from the cool Touch ID feature they’re tying to show off, but I feel like they failed to properly demonstrate how Touch ID works anyway – an index finger seems to press the Home button (which is atypical), the screen unlocks, and that’s it. The typical viewer isn’t going to recognize what just happened.

*Update: iOS 7.0.3 released 10/22/2013 delays the display of “slide to unlock” when Touch ID is in use, so this is actually correct now.

2) Contributing to the ad’s failure to advertise Touch ID, the computer-chip-looking layer of the home button is only shown for a fraction of a second at 0:19. The casual viewer will just think the traditional Home button is sliding into place – not that there’s some serious tech behind the iPhone 5S’s button that makes it special.

The introductory trailer for the iPhone 5S from the Apple event showed off the significance of the new Home button a lot better. Multiple layers of computer chip-looking pieces fly into the hole, and that’s how you know there’s something smart about it – otherwise, nobody will know.

iPhone 5S Keynote Touch ID Sensor

I’m sure this ad’s target audience will read all about Touch ID in their magazines, but if this ad’s format couldn’t adequately advertise Touch ID then it shouldn’t have attempted to do so at all. Focus on the liquid gold and the clean hardware, just like the iPhone 5C ad did. Save Touch ID for another time.

3) The index finger that appears at 0:22 is way too wiggly – it moves around uncomfortably the entire time. When the scene cuts at 0:22:50 the finger also moves up closer to the screen than it was in the previous shot. It even goes over the bezel and on top of the screen for a moment. Isn’t that kinda weird? Apple fingers are typically perfect.

4) The icons that fly in at 0:23 are also way too jittery. It looks like frames are being skipped or something – the animation in this ad isn’t representative of the better reality. Why that’s the case? I don’t know, I’m just disappointed.

Anyway… I like it on the whole. The new gold iPhone is beautiful, premium, and lust-worthy: that message comes through loud and clear.

I expect a future iPhone 5S ad to demonstrate Touch ID more clearly than this ad does – not all hope is lost.

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