What in God’s name is this world coming to?

July 20, 2007

I have a philosophy about orphaned animals:

I believe that it’s imperative that true advocates for abandoned and homeless pets actively surround themselves by these unfortunate animals by visiting shelters and volunteering their time for their cause.  And no matter how depressing and how sad their bleak situation may be, it’s our obligation to suck it up, put on a smile, and genuinely be a positive force for them.

Why?  Because negativity is contagious and prospective adopters looking to adopt a pet don’t need your sadness and desperation.  What they need is a positive, comforting guide to help them find their new family member.

Just as importantly, it’s also important that you be a positive force amongst the animals.  Dogs, cats, rabbits… they’re all very empathetic and know when the people around them are upset.  How many times have you had your pet rub up against you or lie with you quietly when you were sick or crying?  They don’t need more sadness around them than that which they already have so don’t contribute to the problem.

But most importantly, it’s important to remain positive for yourself.  You can’t subject yourself to a cause daily that simply makes you sad and unhappy all the time.  So if you care about homeless animals, and you want to make a difference, you have to change your attitude perspective to one that’s positive – one that simply appreciates the animals for what they are.

And then at 3:32AM in the morning, I read articles like this and this.  And for all my principles and philosophy before me, I can’t help but cry uncontrollably in front of my laptop.

What in God’s name is this world coming to?

I don’t believe anyone else has said it better than Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) on the Senate floor, on the topic of Michael Vick’s indictment:

At one point, Byrd began shouting and pumping his fist:

"Barbaric!," he yelled. "Let that word resounding from hill to hill, and from mountain to mountain, and valley to valley across the broad land. Barbaric! Barbaric! May God help those poor souls who’d be so cruel. Barbaric! Hear me! Barbaric!"

"I am confident that the hottest places in hell are reserved for the souls of sick and brutal people who hold God’s creatures in such brutal and cruel contempt," he said.

"One is left wondering," he said. "Who are the real animals: the creatures inside or outside the ring?"

(http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,290061,00.html)


INFO: iPhone bugs

July 19, 2007

Welcome to the complex world of Mobile Software development, Apple.  68 bugs and counting according to this site:  http://www.applehound.com/node/104

And security wise… well, be careful:
http://www.infoworld.com/article/07/07/16/Security-firm-says-to-not-use-iPhone-Web-dialer_1.html
http://www.everythingiphone.com/forum/iphone/when-someone-calls-me-they-can-hear-4141.html
http://erratasec.blogspot.com/2007/07/our-first-iphone-bugs.html
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/07/03/iphone_hacking_progress/

If anything, I have to believe the focus on security & testing that folks like us and Blackberry have put into our phones is finally being recognized by industry pundits. 

And to our credit, while we don’t have a pretty sliding interface like the "Phone+iPod" does for it’s music player, we do play MP3/WMA files quite flawlessly while the user is doing other things like reading mail or surfing the web on Windows Mobile.  And we pause the music when someone is calling, as it should.


A comment on Peter Moore’s departure

July 19, 2007

I want to qualify that this is my opinion and I have nothing other than my own personal experience to draw from in forming this opinion however I think it’s important that people stop drinking the haterade and start recalling all the positive work that Peter’s done for Microsoft and the Xbox division:

<my opinion>
PETER MOORE LEFT MICROSOFT FOR A BETTER LIFE – i.e. he was anything but fired.  Peter wanted to live with his family in the Bay Area and EA is paying him truckloads of money.  Plain and simple.
</my opinion>

I only make this comment because I think it’s wrong really for everyone to wipe their shoes all over a guy who’s been an absolutely great leader for the Xbox division.

  • Is the XBox 360 the leader in next-gen gaming?  Absolutely. 
    13M consoles sold next to Wii’s 6M and PS3’s 3M.
  • Is the Xbox 360 doing hand over fist better than Xbox Original?  Absolutely.
    Far more titles, way more developers, with revenues coming in from 5 different sockets (like Xbox Live subscriptions and in-game advertising) instead of just games & accessories sales.
  • Is the Xbox 360 doing as well as the hyped Wii?  Of course.
    The Wii has sold 2.8M consoles since launching.  In the same span, Xbox 360 sold 2.7M consoles and it’s a year old.
  • Are there 4x as many games being produced for Xbox 360 than PS3 or Wii?  Darned right.
    With PS3 exclusives falling left and right to Xbox 360 and Wii not being able to get any decent developers on board other than 1st party games, all the dev skill is going to Xbox 360.
  • Is the holiday line up of games undeniably kick ass relative to the other consoles?  Oh hell yeah.
    Mass Effect, Bioshock, Halo 3, Grand Theft Auto 4 with Xbox 360 exclusive levels & content, Virtual Fighter 5 with Xbox Live Multiplayer (unlike the PS3 version), Madden 08, & SceneIt?.

The bottom line is that Peter Moore has been a great face for the Xbox and he did a tremendous job.  He made the brand what it is today, and he established the network of partners that has made Xbox 360 so successful.  Partners like EA, Epic, Team Ninja, Ubisoft, Valve, id, etc.  They wouldn’t be with us if it weren’t for Peter.

WHAT ABOUT THE 3 YEAR WARRANTY?
The common "evidence" I keep hearing is the charge that we’re extending the warranties on Xbox 360’s to 3 years in what some describe as an "admission" of fault in the hardware.

I just don’t believe this.  Why?  Because even if this were directly attributable to Peter, we at Microsoft simply don’t fire people for mistakes like these.  In my experience, it just doesn’t happen – especially big public departures like these.  People get let go for all sorts of reasons but this just isn’t one of them.  Our culture is generally one in which people aren’t penalized for mistakes so much as their encouraged to learn from them, and even if you could say that Peter Moore was responsible for a $1B chargeback to the Xbox division, I don’t believe our leadership would put a gun to his head but instead say, "Okay – what do we do to fix this and how do we avoid this sort of thing in the future?  You go figure it out."

WHAT ABOUT JAPAN?
I’ve heard some comments made about our lack of traction in Japan being the cause of Peter’s departure.  Look:  I’m Japanese and knowing oy ethnic heritage’s nationalism,  I can’t tell you how hard it must be to try to get an American console into a Japanese living room.  You have to not just get games written for the Japanese but also design a console that the Japanese might actually take to.  For example:

  • The Japanese want things small.  The console had to transform from the black behemoth that it used to be to the "thin, curvy" thing it is today.
  • The Japanese equate the "X" to a negative response.  "X" means "No" in Japanese.  We had to change the emblem of the Xbox to a ‘circle with an X in it’ to make it more positive.  Don’t believe me?  Look at a PS2 controller:  The ‘circle’ is the ‘ok’ button or the acknowledge button;  the ‘X’ is the non-acknowledge button or the ‘cancel’ button.
  • The Japanese believe Sony is godlike.  Sony is the symbol of Japanese success in electronics the same way that Toyota is the symbol of Japanese success in manufacturing.  Microsoft had to make the Xbox 360 ‘Japanese’ with Japanese developers, Japanese-specific targetted games, Japanese casings, Japanese exclusives, etc.

The bottom line is that Peter Moore was a great leader and an incredible influence on the Xbox 360 division and folks that are fans of Xbox really should pay him a debt of gratitude for helping create and market such a great product.

In fact, think about this:
Electronic Arts Sports games are already playing at 60 frames per second on the Xbox 360, making the game play twice as smooth and twice and beautiful than it’s Playstation 3 version which only plays at 30 frames per second.  Now that Peter Moore, a man who made his greatest accomplishment building the Xbox 360, is focused on building these same Sports games.

Which console do you think is gonna benefit from this move?


Former CIA Director George Tenet speaks out on 9-11 & the War in Iraq

July 9, 2007

Wanna see some seriously interesting info about Washington?  George Tenet paints an ugly picture of VP Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Presidential Advisor Richard Pearl.

I listened to George Tenet’s book, "At the Center of the Storm" on AudioCD and it’s every bit as fascinating as this video clip from CBS’s 60 Minutes.  Based upon what I heard/read/gleaned, he implies, among other things:

  • Dick Cheney was at the center of most of the deception around Iraq and drove US policy with Machiavellian fervor.
  • Condoleezza Rice is a political animal that even when told, dropped the ball around executing defenses for 9-11 and was more about deflecting blame than anyhing.
  • Former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card was an straight shooter caught in the middle of some very underhanded dealings.
  • Bill Clinton’s budget cutting of the CIA was the reason for the US’s lack of global intelligence coverage. 
  • The invasion of Iraq and destablization of the middle east was the ultimate goal of a small group of 4 Washington folk who had believed it necessary for unknown reasons, including Presidential Advisor Richard Pearl.
  • Former Secretary of State Colin Powell was a good man with a lot of bad people around him that got screwed in the end.
  • Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was a politician worse than Condoleezza Rice, was twisted morally by his own jockeying for power, and was otherwise a very scary individual.
  • Bob Woodward was a lackey and a podium for the White House party line.

The topic of President George W. Bush is covered and he really doesn’t have anything bad to say about him except basically that his cabinet is filled with snakes and that his administration didn’t react quick enough to CIA warnings after being getting settled into office in April 2001.  He’s actually a little complimentary to President Bush stating that while he’s portraryed as a moron in the press, W is quite lucid, thoughtful, and makes shrewd decisions daily.  He sort of implies that he either a) doesn’t know what his staff is doing a lot of the time as they inform him on a need to know basis, or b) he could be purposefully removed from much of the tactical decision making for the purposes of plausible deniability. 

Either way, he doesn’t impune President Bush’s integrity… but he doesn’t hold back on the rest of the White House.  This was one interesting book.

http://images.soapbox.msn.com/flash/soapbox1_1.swf
Video: CIA’s George Tenet on 9-11 & Iraq


HD DVD… so sweet.

July 8, 2007

NBC’s Heroes is about to release in beautiful HD DVD format in 7 discs.  That’s right.  Only on HD DVD.

The Matrix Trilogy is also released in exacting HD DVD format.  All 3 movies in a single package.  Only on HD DVD.

There’s also Batman Begins, which looks frickin’ bad ass.  This is one of the best HD DVD’s out there for it’s clarity and hi-fi audio.

And Blood Diamond, the Leonardo DiCaprio film, sports some fantastic interactive features only made possible using HD DVD.

The HD Forum has HD DVD supporting studios releasing many titles during 4th quarter of the year including "Battlestar Galactica Season One", all 4 "Harry Potter" movies, and "Oceans 11 & 12".  Yep, HD DVD is releasing major hit after major hit in it’s format.  Here’s a listing of what’s here and what’s coming from Amazon.

WHY DOES UNIVERSAL STUDIOS CONTINUE TO ONLY SUPPORT HD DVD
Universal Studios is asked, "Why HD DVD" when Disney, Fox and other has gone BluRay.  They’re quite eloquent in their explanations:
http://www.philly.com/dailynews/features/20070530_Jonathan_Takiff___Universals_gamble__Will_consumer_win_.html

  • Ethernet Support available in all HD DVD players
    (Warner Bros "Blood Diamond" for HD DVD takes advantage of HD DVD players’ online-connected experience, where as the BluRay version does not)
  • Interactive Software Support (like rich iHD menus) available in all HD DVD players
    (Warner Bros "The Matrix" and "Batman Begins" are published only on HD DVD because of the rich programmable interactive software technology available.  BluRay supports Java programming for BluRay discs on only some of its players – requiring a system software upgrade for others.)

OTHER MUST HAVE HD DVD MOVIES
Here are 5 HD DVD discs that Perfect Vision magazine highlights as must-haves for the HD DVD owner.  (And they also list other "great HD DVD discs" along with a dozen "discs to avoid")
http://www.thelookandsoundofperfect.com/_pdf/060107_discstodiefor.pdf


Why is 6:5 Blackjack so awful?

July 7, 2007

I originally wrote this as part of another entry but I thought that this was important enough of a point to write its own entry about.

Many casinos are rapidly moving to dealing blackjack at tables with rules that specify that people that get "natural 21s" or are otherwise initially dealt an Ace & a Ten-card, are paid only $6 for every $5 they bet (6:5), instead of the traditional $3 for every $2 they bet (3:2).

While this might not appear to be a big deal to the lay-person, this is a monstrous advantage for the casino and they’re hoping – in fact they’re BETTING – that you won’t know any better or you won’t care.

GETTING FLEECED BY THE CASINO WITH 6:5 NATURALS
Put simply, the "6:5" game is sheer highway robbery and a horrendous advantage for the casino.  This rule has gotten more and more popular as ignorant tourists come to play random tables in the casinos, completely unaware of what 6:5 natural payouts do to their opportunity to win. 

Whereas a typical game of blackjack would have the casino net an average of $2.60 an hour, assuming $10 bets at 100 hands/hour, a 6:5 game nets the casino $14.30 an hour.  Let me repeat that:

  • $2.60 is lost per hour when betting $10/hand for 100 hands/hour, on a 3:2 table
  • $14.30 is lost per hour when betting the same amount, on a 6:5 table

$2.60 vs $14.30:  Hello?  McFly?  Again, casinos are betting that you’re too blind to notice or care that they can take your money much faster if they make their tables 6:5.  Intelligent people take heed – there’s only one basic rule you need to know about this topic:

ONLY DOPES PLAY TABLES THAT PAY 6:5 ON NATURAL 21

There’s a great article written on this in the Las Vegas Sun, basically depicting casinos that put 6:5 games in their pits as folks that consider their customers to be stupid and deserving of being fleeced and swindled of their money as quickly as possible.

THE SINGLE DECK BAIT & SWITCH
The most common scenario in which you’ll find 6:5 tables is to highlight it as a "single deck" game,
(often advertised as "Now back by popular demand… Single Deck Blackjack") which in comparison to a double deck game, negates the traditional -0.35% advantage the house gets from using 2 decks, however if the table is also paying only 6:5 on naturals, players are getting gipped of -1.37% for a grand total of -1.02%.  Compare this to a typical double deck game with a house edge of only -0.36%.

BOTTOM LINE:

Players lose their money 3x FASTER on a "single deck 6:5" game than on a "double deck 3:2" game.  Take it from Blackjack legend Stanford Wong – this is his article on 6:5 tables:
http://www.bj21.com/bj_reference/pages/6to5blackjackpayout.shtml

(Sidenote:  Don’t even get me started on blackjack tables that pay EVEN MONEY on naturals or tables that state that TIED HANDS LOSE.  This is a colossal -2.29% disadvantage for the player and a -1.79% disadvantage respectively.  Yes, you read that correctly… paying even money on naturals creates a larger disadvantage for the player than losing with tied hands.)


How to pick the ‘best’ Blackjack table (a.k.a. The Cost Benefit of Rule Variations)

July 7, 2007

I got asked the other day, "How do you know what table to play when playing Blackjack?"  It’s an interesting question that not a lot of folks know:  Which of the many Blackjack tables in the pit should you choose to play at? 

The implication is that not all Blackjack games are created equal and this is certainly true depending on what Blackjack table rules are imposed.  What you essentially want is a table that has as small a theoretical advantage for the casino (or "house edge" as it’s called) as possible.  The impact that these nuances have are more and more relevant to your chip stack the longer you play.

First it should be stated that NONE OF THIS MATTERS if you don’t play perfect Basic Strategy.  No amount of minimized table edge will make you a winner if you don’t play absolutely perfect Basic Strategy.  Rule Number 1:  Memorize a strategy table or buy a strategy card from the gift shop and bring it to the table with you.

Getting back to casino advantage:  Well, it turns out that the answer to selecting the table with the best rules is as simple as doing some observations about the table and doing a little math in your head.  Let’s assume that unless stated otherwise, the baseline casino rules are as follows: (These rules provide zero net advantage to the casino if the player uses basic strategy)

  • Single deck
  • Dealer stands on soft 17
  • Doubling is allowed on any two cards
  • Double not allowed after splits
  • Natural 21 pays 3:2

COMMON RULES VARIATIONS
Here are some common rules that you can either seek out or avoid in order to minimize the casino’s advantage.

  • +0.08% Resplitting A’s
  • +0.19% Double after split
  • +1.86% Naturals pay 2:1 (untied only)
  • +2.29% Naturals pay 2:1 (all)
  • -1.37% Naturals pay 6:5
  • -0.10% Double only on 9, 10, 11
  • -0.20% Double only on 10, 11
  • -0.20% Dealer hits soft 17
  • -0.35% Two decks
  • -0.52% Four decks
  • -0.58% Six decks
  • -0.61% Eight decks

NO LOVE FOR THE PLAYER?
As you can see, there are very few rules available these days that provide a better advantage for the player, but a lot of rules – common ones – that give a stronger advantage to the casino.  For example:

Let’s say you’re playing at a table with doubling after splits, 2 decks and dealers hit soft 17.  The resulting edge for the table would be 0.19%-0.35%-.20%=0.36% assuming otherwise perfect strategy by the player. 

The arbitration between selecting a table with good rules, playing with perfect basic strategy, and using methods like card counting to gain a more significant edge on the house is called "advantage play".  There are very few individuals in this world that truly are "advantage players".  I think it was Blackjack Hall of Famer John Chang (a VERY famous Blackjack player who beat the casinos for millions of dollars in the 90’s along with the MIT Blackjack team) said that there are only a few hundred people in the entire world that truly are advantage players and the rest don’t have the discipline.

GIVING PLAYERS AN EDGE WITH COUPONS
Hey!  Where does one get a game where Naturals pay 2:1?  Well, they don’t really exist.  The only way to get this kind of edge is through casino coupons which are in things like Player’s Club mailers or coupon books like Anthony Curtis’ Las Vegas Advisor Coupon book.  Coupons are vouchers that allow a player to get benefits like 2:1 on blackjacks or give the player "match play" – i.e. the coupon doubles your bet in front of you at no risk to you.  A great discussion of this topic is available as an article on the web site "Beyond Counting", a book by James Grosjean, Game Theory Mathematician, Advantage Player, & Blackjack Hall of Famer.  The article is called "Beyond Coupons". (http://www.beyondcounting.com/pdfs/beyondcouponsbjfo.pdf)

(Incidentally, James Grosjean is a fascinating individual and one of the people in this world I wish I could meet some day.  He writes a column in All-In Magazine – the only paper-based magazine out there for Blackjack players, and his articles are always very interesting to Blackjack players, even if they’re a little less useful than his material on advantage play.

EXPECTED HOUSE EDGE
In general, the house edge can vary wildly depending on the tactics imposed by the player & the rules laid down by the house.  Here’s a swipe at the percentage advantage differences between the edge the house has over players depending on these circumstances and tactics.  To the mathematically precise, please understand that these are broad generalities, however for the purposes of giving people a mental picture of the differences, I think they’re accurate enough to give you a picture of the difference in the ‘odds of winning’ when putting in a little effort, so use these as guidelines:

  • -5.00% to -10.00%:  Typical LV Strip casino edge over the tourist that doesn’t play basic strategy
  • -2.00% to -3.00%:  Typical LV Strip casino edge over the player that plays strict basic strategy
  • -0.20% to -1.00%:  Typical LV strip casino edge over the player that uses basic strategy at a table with reasonable rules (i.e. No 6:5 naturals, doubling down available on any two cards, etc.)
  • +1.00% to +2.50%:  Typical edge player has over the casino using unbalanced card counting techniques (like Knockout or Speed count)
  • +3.00% to +5.00%:  Typical edge player has over the casino using advanced balanced card counting techniques (like traditional Thorp HiLo with indices, two-level counts, all calculating true counts based on shoe depth)

A NOTE ABOUT THE VENETIAN HOTEL & CASINO
Personally, I’m something of a fan of the Venetian Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.  They get ripped by some online web sites like VegasTripping.com for their purported lack of atmosphere for table play but I don’t think it’s that bad at all.  I’ve always liked their dealers who are far less grouchy than other places like Frontier or Caesars, it’s a quick hop to some fast eats, and the cashier rarely has much of a line. 

Most importantly, they also have two tables in the pit specifically designated as double deck tables with reasonably good rules at about a -0.30% house edge and they have YET to institute any 6:5 tables compared to Mandalay, Hard Rock, Palms, etc. which you really have to respect.  Say what you want about the Venetian’s faux-Italian theme:  The Venetian has all the synthetics of a typical strip casino with the class of the Bellagio.  They’re also fluid with comps which makes it a little more attractive to stay there if you play a lot.