HOWTO: Simulate the “I’m on a business trip” experience

January 30, 2008

Did you ever find yourself longing for that “I’m on a business trip” feeling?  Of course you have!  After all, I know old timers like some of my co-workers are just dyin’ to “get back on the road” and “check into one of those fine business hotels” we all love staying at.  (Gosh, I know I sure do.) 

Well, it just so happens that while on my last business trip, I determined that there are some quick and easy steps that you can do right now in the privacy of your own home, to attain that extra special, “I’m on a business trip” feeling… and you don’t even have to go to a business training conference to do it!

1) HOTEL NETWORK EXPERIENCE
Install IE Throttle (http://www.uselessapplications.com/en/Application/IEThrottle.aspx) on your PC.  This will limit the bandwidth that your PC can consume at once.  This will properly emulate that crappy network connection your average business hotel has preventing you from establishing a stable VPN connection and doing any real work.  Resolve that the connection is bad enough that you might as well tether your cell phone to your laptop because you’ll probably get better bandwidth that way.  Remind yourself later to complain to the hotel front desk to have the daily Internet usage charge removed from your bill.

2) HOTEL AUDIO EXPERIENCE
Download and unzip this .WMV file of a generic “LodgeNet Menu Selection” recording (available here: http://www.evilkoala.org/download/Kurt’sLodgeNetRingtone.zip) and play it.  Hit CTRL-T within Windows Media Player to have it loop infinitely in the background.  You will find the auditory ambiance will be similar to when you accidentally turn on your business hotel’s TV but you forget to change the channel from that default Welcome screen and leave it running “for background noise”.

3) HOTEL FOOD EXPERIENCE
Go online to http://www.labite.com and order some food for delivery.  Doesn’t matter where.  Order something extra fatty.  Like a burger and fries.  Or maybe fried chicken.  And throw in a shrimp cocktail because I know you want one.  Now wait 45 minutes for the food to arrive at your door.  Once it arrives, notice the exorbitant “delivery charge” added to your bill on top of the 20% tip you’re expected to cough up after the meal arrives 30 minutes after it was served… cold and soggy.

4) HOTEL TEMPERATURE EXPERIENCE
Go to your thermostat and crank that puppy up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.  Or 90 degrees Celsius if you’re Canadian.  Next open up all the windows in your home.  Go ahead.   Break ‘em wide open.  Let so much outside air into the room that when the cold front from the outside meets the warm front from your heated environment, it actually starts to rain in the middle of your dining room.  Be sure wear as little as possible to increase the opportunity of catching the infamous “traveler’s flu” from the constantly fluctuating temperatures in your home away from home.

5) HOTEL LIGHTING EXPERIENCE
Go to Costco and buy 6 lamps each with some inane level of illumination… like a 7 watt bulb.  Now disable all the other brighter, more practical lights in your current living space and set these lamps in inconvenient positions all about the room.  Force yourself to turn them all on or all off just to get some decent lighting to work in.  For extra credit, make sure the bulbs are cheap piece o’ crap fluorescent replacements to simulate that synthetic corporate concern over the energy conservation.  Now remind yourself that all they give a damn about is the electrical bill they have to pay.

6) HOTEL BATHROOM EXPERIENCE
Drop all your towels on the floor of the bathroom and just leave them there.  Imagine that this is the universal signal to the hotel maid tomorrow morning that you want “a fresh set”.  Do this every day of the week in protest for ridiculous rack rate you have to pay for your room.  $229/night?  That’s the supposed glorious corporate discounted rate?  Are you frickin’ kidding me?  That’s like $20 less than the rack rate posted on the back of the closet door.  Hell, I’ll be damned if I don’t get a fresh set of towels in my room every day at that rate.  And while I’m at it, I’m gonna leave all the stupid 7 watt lamps on everyday too when I go down stairs to go to general session.  And if I remember, I’ll leave the water running full blast too.  (Incidentally, try to disregard the fact that you’re actually at home, have to pay the electric/water bill, and that there really isn’t any maid in your home, and you’re going to have to pick them all up yourself tomorrow.)

Congratulations! 

You’ve now attained that “I’m on a business trip” feeling without ever leaving the comfort of your own home.  Yessiree.  No need to file that expense report now.  You’re on your way to “coming back home” with the flu, to a Inbox full of mail, and arteries clogged with fat deposits from all that healthy livin’!


HD DVD: “Why Sony & Blu-ray ultimately can’t win” (Part 1)

January 29, 2008

I should have entitled this post "Becoming one with the Force".  I originally wrote a post that proposed that the Media & Entertainment industry folks that supported Blu-ray would ultimately get their just desserts and if Blu-ray does in fact succeed, I believe that there would be some dramatic ramifications.

And what would those ramifications be?

History 101:  Microsoft & HDi in HD DVD
Newsflash:  Microsoft doesn’t really care about formats.  From a software perspective, HD DVD or Blu-ray… it doesn’t really matter that much.  Both formats required video processing and programming which requires both  software.

What does matter is that Microsoft is interested selling Windows & Windows-based software.  Microsoft’s contribution to HD DVD was HDi, the Dynamic HTML-based interface development specification that enables overlays & menu interfaces for HD DVD movies.  It’s HDi that enables the picture-in-picture functionality, the telestrator markup that director’s do on movies during director’s commentary tracks, the split screen that one sees when two streams play at the same time, the floating pictures and text that shows on the screen like pop ups.

HDi is also what makes it so easy to make sure that one HD DVD disc plays in all players.  Complete cross compatibility from day one.

Sony & it’s Partners just accelerated On-Demand
It’s been said several times:  Is the high definition media format discussion moot?  Does anyone really care any more?  With the movie & television market quickly moving to an on-demand model, do people really need HD DVD or Blu-ray?

On-Demand requires 3 things:

  1. Networking
  2. Customers
  3. Distribution

From a networking perspective, right now, typical Internet speeds to DSL-wired households deliver 1.5Mb-6Mbps.  On cable networks, you can see up to 12Mb, and on Fiber-connected networks (AT&T UVerse, Verizon FiOS) the sky’s the limit.

From a customer perspective, any cable customer, any satellite customer, and any Xbox 360 customer are connected to on-demand networks so there’s a very rich set of available customers for on-demand content.

From a distribution perspective, this is usually the most difficult hurdle:  The networks generally have to negotiate contracts (legally) to distribute content on their networks assuming they have the datacenter facilities to send the content to people.

QUESTION:  Who’s got the #1 on-demand video distribution network in the world?
Lo-and-behold, the largest on-demand content network is owned by none other than Microsoft.  The Xbox 360 Marketplace for Videos has TWICE as much content as any other on-demand service on the planet… and it’s cross-publisher meaning it has content from Fox, Disney, Universal, ABC, NBC, CBS, Dreamworks, Paramount, Warner, MTV, Comedy Central, and virtually every major broadcaster out there.  This is more on-demand content than any network including Comcast, DirecTV, and the telcos.

In fact, HD content that is being broadcast on the Xbox Marketplace is already encoded in VC-1.  This begs the question:  If the HD content is already encoded and distributed to Xbox 360’s in VC-1, how hard would it be to send the entire HD DVD experience?

In other words, why couldn’t people get HDi menus, HDi interactivity, HD overlays, etc. all on-demand?

Why would on-demand HDi-enabled movies impact Media & Entertainment?
Look at it this way:  If you’ve built your entire HD media experience around Blu-ray, you’ve written it all in Java, and you’ve frankly locked your content into a specific JavaVM revision.  Good luck getting that onto other platforms – like cable/satellite on-demand video services or Xbox 360.

But if you built your HD media experience around HD DVD, all your existing HDi menuing, your HD interactivity, all that good stuff that you spent extra investment on will port over to an Internet-connected experience.  Why?  Because it’s all Dynamic HTML, right?  Any Xbox 360 will have the software to play back the whole HDi experience as well any moderately intelligent receiver.

Getting the picture now?

DVD Discs… losing money every month
The question will be, how will studios transcend the money-losing hard media formats of today? (i.e. DVD) One of the most inevitable factors of the future is that on-demand will be the next-gen delivery mechanism of video & audio content.  Even today, DVD sales – both TV & Motion Picture – are plummeting. 

High definition had the opportunity to potentially stave off some of these losses assuming that players were available cheaply, and media costs were low.  HD DVD provided this opportunity with players going for as low as $99 (right now they’re $139 at Amazon.com) and movie selling for $14.99 each.

But if Blu-ray becomes dominant, we’re looking at expensive $429 players & $39.99 movies – not to mention legendary incompatibilities between players, terrible load times souring people on the experience, and lousy interactive experiences due to platform limitations.  But that’s the path that the studios are apparently taking.

What’s the silver lining for HD DVD Supporters
HD DVD supporters today may be glum as the spectre of Darth Sony comes down upon them with a light saber worth $500M, but the fact is the very media companies that are pushing this direction are the ones that have doomed themselves by pushing an expensive, DRM/media-company-centric format.

Meanwhile HD DVD supporters may find that they will take a hit in the interim with potentially declining HD DVD sales if things remain status quo, however their investment in HD DVD development and content creation will blossom as they move into the on-demand market.  And most importantly, the movies already created for HD DVD will find new life as on-demand purchases on various networks – not just XBox 360, and will include interactivity – not just video content.

Wait a sec.  Don’t the Media Companies win anyway with On-Demand?
Sure they’re gonna make money on on-demand purchases, and rightly so.  If people rent movies on-demand at $3.99, there’s very little cost-of-goods and a lot of licensing resulting in pretty good profit margins on that $3.99.

But remember that that’s in trade of a $19 HD DVD disc.  And while there are costs associated with production and distribution of HD DVD or Blu-ray discs, reducing that $19 take to sub $10, it’s still more than the ~$3 that would have been had from a disc purchase.

No, the media companies have essentially pushed themselves into the on-demand world whether they like it or not.  And that means lower operating costs, but lower margins as well.

And that means less money is coming in from the buying public.

That’s it?  That’s the reason the Media Companies should have chosen HD DVD?
But the most important point is…  I’m not done yet.  There are still 2 other ways in my view that media companies will find their lunch eaten into as a result of pushing Blu-ray over the less expensive and more easily accessible HD DVD.

And I’ll get to those in parts 2 & 3 of this post.


DEAL: Buy one get one free HD DVD’s at Best Buy

January 29, 2008

Some of the biggest titles on HD DVD are available for purchase with the ability to get a free HD DVD with each purchase.  Check it out:

http://www.bestbuy.com/site/olspage.jsp?id=pcmcat142200050004&type=category


INFO: Why you should never play a 6:5 Blackjack game

January 20, 2008

You’ve probably seen them before in Las Vegas.  A felt gaming table that reads:

Single deck Blackjack
Blackjack pays 6 to 5

image_thumb1If you see this, DO NOT PLAY THIS GAME.  Avoid it like the plague.  The casino has a drastic advantage over you and there is no real way for you to win even if you play perfectly.

PLAY CRAPS INSTEAD
That’s right.  Playing the "pass/don’t pass" line on craps requires little actual skill and thus you can’t ever screw it up, unlike blackjack where poor gameplay can drastically affect your odds of winning.  More importantly, if you go to a casino and you see a blackjack game that pays $6 for every $5 (aka 6:5) that you bet for natural blackjacks, you would be better off playing craps because the odds no matter how intelligent a player you are – will always be better.

CASINO ADVANTAGE WHEN PLAYING CRAPS = 1.40% ALWAYS
Craps has a casino advantage of 1.4%, meaning that for every $100 bet on "red" or "black", a player can expect to lose $1.40.  This doesn’t require any sort of thinking or decision making… just betting on "pass" or "don’t pass" will net the player a disadvantage that will never exceed 1.4%.

CASINO ADVANTAGE WHEN PLAYING 6:5 BLACKJACK = 1.64%-5.39% (Depending on skill)
Assuming that the player is playing at a blackjack table that pays 3 to 2 for natural blackjacks, the average casino player has about a 4.0% disadvantage against the casino.  An ‘intelligent’ blackjack player that has a good idea of how to play basic strategy has about a 2.00% disadvantage against the casino.  But an EXPERT player that plays absolutely perfect blackjack strategy has about a .25-.50% disadvantage against the casino, depending on table rules.

But the moment, the table pays 6 to 5 (6:5) for natural blackjacks, the casino edge skyrockets by an astounding 1.39%.  This means that even the most expert players that never make mistakes play at a 1.64% disadvantage.  Even professional blackjack players that use their skills at watching the cards can at their very best can only narrow this gap to about a casino edge of .83%.

blackjack-scam-1
Comparison chart of Casino Edge taken from Blackjack-Scams.com

WHY IS THIS DIFFERENCE SUCH A BIG DEAL?
Because the existence of a 6:5 Blackjack table is the casino deliberately attempting to squeeze you, the unknowing, out of a lot of money. 

It starts with the premise that in the game of Blackjack, the casino has an advantage over the player because of this specific situation:

If both the dealer AND the player ‘bust’ and go over 21, the dealer still wins

Think about it:  If you take a card, and you go over 21, you lose the hand.  The dealer however always goes last and if the dealer subsequently draws to finish the hand and busts as well, you STILL LOSE YOUR MONEY.  After all, you don’t get your money back if the dealer busts after you bust, do you?  There’s no such thing as a tie… and this little fact provides an advantage to the casino over ~2.0%.

However a large part of what makes Blackjack a more ‘balanced game’ to play in a casino is the 3:2 payoff you USUALLY get from natural blackjacks.  The additional winnings you get from blackjacks provide the player with what is essentially the weight that "balances the scales" against the casino.

When a casino pays only 6:5 for natural blackjacks, this ‘unbalances’ the game.

PLAYING 6:5 = TAKING A $12/HOUR PAYCUT
You see, when you bet $10 a hand and get a Blackjack, you win $15.  This is $5 extra over a normal win against the dealer.  And because statistically on average, a player gets 4 blackjacks an hour, this amounts to an extra $5×4=$20/hour in extra winnings.

When you play a 6 to 5 Blackjack game, things are very different.  If you bet $10 a hand and get a Blackjack, you win only $12 instead of $15.  This is only an extra $2 over a normal win against the dealer.  And over the span of an hour assuming 4 Blackjacks per hour, this amounts to only an extra $2×4=$8/hour in extra winnings.

WHAT IF IT’S SINGLE-DECK?
Usually people see this on ‘single deck’ Blackjack games and think that single-deck is some sort of major advantage when it’s absolutely not.  Over a 6-deck game, a single deck game has about a .12% advantage… nothing CLOSE to the 1.75% you give up with 6:5 Blackjack.  The only thing that really comes as a result of playing a single deck is that you have find the dealer shuffling a lot more, wasting your time at the tables resulting in ~30% fewer hands being dealt.

Imagine if you worked at a $20/hour job and your boss told you that you’d get 4 additional 20 minute breaks during a workday… but you’d be taking a 60% paycut from $20/hour to only $8/hour.  Would you still work for him?

WHY SHOULD I BELIEVE YOU?
Don’t just take it from me.  Read what the real experts say:

CONCLUSION
Seriously.  Don’t play 6:5 Blackjack.  Stay away from this game.  It’s toxic and a sign of a disingenuous casino.  And in case you think that your luck or your purported skill can somehow ‘crack’ a 6:5 Blackjack table, keep this fact in mind:

Even the best professional Blackjack card counters, cannot "beat" this game.  You will never find any Professional Blackjack players playing this game.


The “Noob Tables”: New York New York’s 6:5 Blackjack Games

January 20, 2008

I was just at New York New York in Las Vegas last week and I read an article online that hailed 6:5 Blackjack as the single worst thing to exist Las Vegas in 2007.  It rang so true that it inspired me.

imageDEAR NEW YORK NEW YORK:
I can’t say that I’ll be playing at your casino in the future.

Upon visiting your casino this past week it’s become readily apparent over my few past visits (and stays at you hotel) that you folk intend on squeezing the life out of Blackjack at your casino with your too-many-to-count 6:5 tables.

USED CAR SALESMEN
Paying 6 to 5 to patrons for receiving natural 21s is downright deceptive and the fact that your tables are not well labeled makes this practice even more horrid.  Your hotel’s overly aggressive usage of 6:5 blackjack tables places you in the realm of used car salesmen and boiler room telesales callers. 

It’s frankly almost a ‘bait & switch’ practice preying on the ignorance of the population:  It’s the same thing as a riding the hype behind a popular Dodge automobile and having a car salesman sell a 4 cylinder Hyundai that looks like 6 cylinder Dodge… and implying that ‘it’s all the same thing’ to unsuspecting buyers.

JUST PLAIN DISINGENUOUS
I understand that you’re a business and exist to make money – Lord knows, I’m a salesperson and no one understands this as much as I do.  But corporations generally also have character and ethics policies, and while Las Vegas isn’t known for it’s ethics, I think your prominent usage of 6:5 blackjack in tandem with your lackluster labeling of these tables says a lot about your hotel and MGM Mirage as a whole.

Basically it comes down to this:  In order to bleed your patrons dry more quickly, you’re willing to quietly & disingenuously change the odds of the game in a dramatic & substantial way – in your favor – and depend on people’s ignorance of the impact of your actions.  And that’s pretty sad.

THE NOOB TABLES
The only people that willing play at 6:5 blackjack tables are… well… NOOBs:  People that simply don’t know any better.  People that are uneducated and ignorant enough that they don’t understand what it is that you’ve done.  People on vacation with their defenses down that have an expectation of fairness.

People that you take advantage of. 

It saddens me to say this too because I love eating at Sirrico’s Pizza after a couple hours at the tables at NYNY – win or lose.  It’s like a ritual for me.  And it’s better than eating at the Venetian’s food court after a night of play.  But no more.  I’d rather play the Venetian’s crummy double deck blackjack than your 6:5 tables.


UCLA hires Norm Chow as Bruin Football Offensive Coordinator

January 20, 2008

That’s right.  He’s coming.  Coach Norm Chow:  a_chow_i UCLABruinsLogo

  • former BYU offensive coordinator
  • former USC offensive coordinator
  • former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator
  • former coach to 3 Heisman Trophy winners at USC

…is coming to coach the offense of the UCLA Bruins.

LINK:
http://www.insidesocal.com/ucla/2008/01/chow_takes_ucla_job_1.html


ARTICLE: “Gates’ philanthropy deserves emulation”

January 20, 2008

The dread Mercury News posted an interestingly positive article about Bill Gates – albeit not without taking the apparently irresistible jabs at Microsoft.  Who would have thought that Northern California’s notoriously liberal media would find themselves in a position where they’d have to lecture the wealthy in their own backyard to discover and contribute deeply to philanthropic causes with as broad reaching impact as ‘Bill & the Evil Empire’ has.

San Jose Mercury News – Editorial: Gates’ philanthropy deserves emulation:
"As Gates moves into Act Two of his career, he’s carrying out his philanthropic calling with sweeping goals and steadfast determination. He serves as an inspiration to other individuals – and companies – with business fortunes that could be channeled into saving lives, improving health and education or other good works. Silicon Valley executives (take note, people in Cupertino, Mountain View and Redwood Shores) should follow Gates’ example.

Gates’ philanthropy already has made a difference on a scale that dwarfs Andrew Carnegie or John D. Rockefeller. The Gates foundation, with $37.6 billion in assets, has donated $14 billion since 2000. Its mission is ramping up even more, after investor Warren E. Buffett in 2006 pledged more than $30 billion of his wealth to the Gates’ philanthropy. That means the foundation by 2009 will double its annual giving, to an awe-inspiring $3 billion-plus a year, comparable to last year’s revenue for Adobe Systems."

Note: For those of you without accounts on Mercury News, check:
http://www.bugmenot.com/view/mercurynews.com