Archive for March, 2007

MBTA Trip Planner

March 23, 2007

tsign.jpgBoston’s public transportation system just got an awesome new tool. It is a web-based trip planner that works just like MapQuest driving directions—only instead of driving directions, you get directions by bus, train, and foot. You input a departure time (sadly, no option for desired arrival time), and the trip planner uses official bus and train schedules to figure out the fastest way to go.

The system has gotten mostly lukewarm press since its initial buggy launch on December 15. But I found it to work extremely well. It inspired me enough to order a CharlieCard for the first time. We’ll see how much I actually use it.

If the MBTA does add wireless access, email alerts, and real-time GPS bus location data to the system as promised, Boston’s public transportation will become dramatically more convenient. Imagine if there were a button you could push on your cell phone that would tell you (using your phone’s GPS location) how long before the next bus would arrive at the nearest bus stop. What about an application that would send your cell phone a text message at the exact time when you should pick up and leave your office because the bus for your commute home is five minutes away up the street? There may come a time when we see a virtuous cycle of increased convenience leading to increased ridership leading to increased routes and schedules, etc.

The new web site was built by RDVO, a Massachusetts company, at a cost of $400,000. That is a lot of money for a web site, even for a $1.3 billion enterprise like the MBTA. But in this age of global warming, I feel strongly that the new site is a step in the right direction. Perhaps other cities that do not have a system like it can benefit from the investment Boston has made.

Flash Business

March 21, 2007

I have puzzled for many years over Macromedia’s (and now Adobe’s) Flash business model: They allow anyone to compete freely with the Flash authoring tool (which they sell for money), but one must pay for the right to compete with the Flash player (which they give away for free). Hindsight tells us that the model works, because it has helped make Flash the standard for rich Internet applications. But I have always marveled that Adobe makes enough money selling a paltry few authoring tools and that they don’t mind giving away hundreds of millions of copies of the player for free.

Many pundits (most recently Ted Leung and Anne Zelenka) worry that Adobe’s control of the Flash standard is bad for the web. They are hoping Adobe will hand control of the standard over to the open source community. The concern is that so much power should not rest in one company’s hands—the company will be tempted to abuse it.ring.jpeg

The response from Adobe’s evangelists (e.g. Andrew Shebanow, Duane Nickull) is essentially “we’re trustworty Hobbits—the One Ring of Power is not going to corrupt us.”

But companies must act in the best interests of their shareholders. Adobe should do and probably will do whatever will profit them the most. The question of what is best for the web community is only relevant as it affects Adobe’s bottom line.

Adobe’s own annual report says that they intend to “explore monetization opportunities” for the Flash Player and Adobe Reader (p. 21). My opinion: if they even hint at charging money for the player, that standard will be gone…well, in a flash.

Miyamoto Keynote

March 9, 2007

miyamoto.jpgYesterday, I saw Nintendo’s creative superstar, Shigeru Miyamoto, deliver the keynote address at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. His name is unknown to the masses of non-video game fans. But among gamers, he is revered almost to the point of worship.

The whole speech was great, but the best part was a fascinating glimpse into his personal life. Miyamoto spoke about his wife, who had long held an aversion to video games. His wife did not even care for the wholesome and broadly appealing games of his own design. He came to use his “wife-o-meter” as the ultimate test of broad appeal. Even Tetris, famous for its popularity with women, scored a zero on his wife-o-meter.

When their daughter began playing Zelda: Ocarina of Time, a turning point occurred. His wife put aside her distaste in order to observe and monitor. Later came Animal Crossing, and Mrs. Miyamoto first agreed to touch the controller. Then came Nintendogs (the Miyamotos have a family dog) and finally, Brain Age, and Mrs. Miyamoto became truly interested.

And then today, of course, we have a Wii in our house. So last month, on the 14th, Valentine’s Day (in Japan on Valentine’s Day, women give chocolates to men—it’s very nice). So as usual, I came home rather late from work, and I expected her to be asleep. But I opened the door, and I heard the sounds of the Wii. So of course I thought “Oh, she waited up! Just to give me chocolates! That’s so sweet!” But actually, she was just casting her votes on the Everybody Votes channel. But here’s the amazing thing: what this meant is that she herself used the Wii and downloaded the Everybody Votes channel all on her own. This is an incredible occurrence in my household. Like—it would be more normal for me to walk home and find Donkey Kong eating at my dinner table. So now, things have really changed at my house.

(Full video of the keynote available at