The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

September 28, 2007

Tinkering under the hood

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 11:40 pm

You might notice themes changing every once in a while here.  I’m trying to find one I like, and that won’t mess up the pictures (the default WordPress themes compress the pictures halfway to oblivion, the one I have set here should hopefully not do this.) 

Designers Who Don’t Get It – Part 1

Filed under: Design — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 11:34 pm

One of the things I see a lot of in the course of my wanderings is bad and/or questionable design.  In a lot of  cases, it can’t be helped (this is usually because there’s some perpetually clueless manager out there running the show and telling them what to do.)  On the other hand, there are times when it’s clear that someone is overpaid and out of touch with reality, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.  As I see examples of this on a regular basis, I plan to make occasional posts chronicling these examples of questionable design.

 First up, we have a promotional display for the line of PGA Tour licensed apparel made by Perry Ellis and sold at JCPenney.  See if you can spot what’s wrong with this picture:

…But not good enough to keep the approach shot out of the bunker, it would seem.  Here it’s also interesting to note that in spite of the PGA Tour branding used for these items, most of the items in the line do not actually have any visible PGA branding, which is rather unusual for licensed items.  Given the fact that few of us aspire to play golf professionally (or in my case, adequately) I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing.

Second, we have this, seen in the window of MNG by Mango, another of the many interchangable and seriously overpriced womens’ fashion stores at Bellevue Square:

Call me crazy, but I don’t forsee this becoming the hottest new fashion trend anytime soon.  They already tried this style (or something resembling it)  with Catholic Rosaries back in the Middle Ages, but the people responsible for that particulat example were more interested in punishing people who fell asleep in church than they were in following the latest fashion trends.  As long as we’re on the subject of bad design, this particular store’s website   provides a textbook example of mystery meat navigation, and a CPU-melting full screen Flash UI.  I’ve got to give them a couple points back for the Roomba in the corner though, even though it might have just been left over in the backroom from the Brookstone store which used to occupy this particular space in the mall.

Finally, we come to this display in the window of the mall’s Puma store, representin’ the old school and not doing a particularly good job of it::

I’m not even sure where to start with this one.  First of all, the TVs look exceptionally fake, almost as if some designer Googled for pictures of old TVs, couldn’t quite figure out how they worked, and decided that the knob on the front was there just for decoration. The “rabbit ears” in the back are made of clear plastic, and look a whole lot less convincing in real life than they might seem from this picture (and if you were watching Yo! MTV Raps in the first place, you’d have cable and wouldn’t need to use the TV’s antenna anyway, unless you were bumming videotapes off your friends.)  What’s even more puzzling, however, is the “TV” on top, which is displaying a video loop on what appears to be about a 6″ LCD screen embedded in the middle of the fake TV.  Not only that, but what appears to be the controls for this LCD are embedded in the middle of the TV screen as well.  I don’t remember ever having a TV with the controls in the middle of the screen, do you?

More examples of questionable design as I find and collect them.  I suspect it shouldn’t take long…

September 26, 2007

Supermarket Scope Creep

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:25 pm

Edit and bump:  A response from Fred Meyer has been added below. 

Apparently “12 items or less” isn’t working out so well these days, so someone at Fred Meyer decided that it was time for a change:

 Express Lane - About 12 items

Granted, you probably weren’t going to be escorted out of the building for having 13 items in the express lane before, although surely some obscure company policy would have required the checker to slightly raise his eyebrows at you for doing so, followed by a pronounced scowl for any additional items.  This just makes the whole thing unnecessarily vague though.  Does this mean that the two items you’re carrying are insufficient to qualify as “about 12 items,” meaning you’ll have to either go back and stock up on canned dogfood or sit in the other line, behind the lady with three cartloads of supplies for the fallout shelter in the backyard?  Exactly how much wiggle room are they allowing here?  If I can present some highly complex mathematical proof to the cashier that the 73 items in my cart are roughly equivalent to “about 12 items” will they inform the angry shoppers behind me of this fact and start scanning?  If I bring exactly 12 items to the checkout, will the cashier sternly inform me that I’m doing it wrong, and make me add half a roll of Lifesavers to the cart in order to provide the required level of uncertainty? 

It seems that even shopping for groceries is getting unnecessarily complicated these days.  I have sent an inquiry to Fred Meyer to try to figure this out, and will post any response that I receive.

Edit 9/26/07:  A response from the manager of the local Fred Meyer:

Thank you for taking the time to bring forward your concerns on the Express
signing we have recently changed in the store.  Studies were conducted and
the results showed that during peak times, 50%-60% of transactions are 15
items or less.  The intent of changing the Express signing was to
accommodate those customers with small orders and process them quickly.
“About 12 items” is meant to service orders of 17 or less.
We hope that you will feel comfortable using the Express lanes with a small
order.  If I can be of further assistance, please contact me at the store.
Christa Brackenbush
Store Sales Director, 664
(phone number deleted)

So there you have it.  Apparently “About 12 items” means 17  items now.  Good news for the people trying to sneak a couple extra items into the express lane.

September 25, 2007

Finish the Wait – The Halo 3 Line

Filed under: Games — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 12:27 am

Over the years, I’ve waited in my fair share of lines for the sake of video games.  When the Xbox360 launched back in 2005, I found myself ignoring my better judgment (it’s a hobby of mine) and camping out in front of the local Costco overnight in near freezing temperatures to get one on launch day.  The cold temperatures were mitigated somewhat  by the availability of electricity, which resulted in a number of TVs and Xbox systems showing up to pass the time away.   In spite of the Xbox 360’s spotty reliability record, I still have my original 360, which has never red-ringed on me.  I suspect the fact that it gets relatively light use probably helps that fact.

More recently, last November found me spending 8 hours sitting in line in a crowded Hollywood Video store (which is about 7 1/2 hours more than I ever care to spend in a video store again) awaiting the Midnight launch of the Nintendo Wii at the attached GameCrazy.  With about 130 people in front of me in line, and only 2 cashiers, I was given ample opportunity to remind myself why I hardly ever watch movies anymore.   There’s something particularly soul-crushing about the experience sitting around bored out of your skull in the comedy section of a video store at 2 in the morning with at least another hour of waiting in front of you, but given the fact that it would turn out to be four months before I’d have another chance to purchase a Wii, I do not regret doing so.  In addition to the usual swag that’s since been relegated to a dark corner of the closet, I was able to get a free totebag to carry the system in for answering a trivia question correctly.  The bag has proven useful, as the Wii has been a hit with the rest of the family and has done a fair bit of traveling.

Fast forward to today, with the biggest game launch of the year, Halo 3.  Since my copy has been ordered already and should be set to arrive tomorrow, I think I’ll go ahead and sleep in my own bed tonight, and skip the long wait.  I did drop by the Bellevue Best Buy to see what was going on with one of the official launch events.  Here we see the front of the line:


More pictures after the jump.


September 22, 2007

Gold Farming in MMOGs – A Modest Proposal

Filed under: Games — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 10:11 pm

From PlayNoEvil (via Kotaku) comes an interesting suggestion toward solving the ongoing problem of gold farming in MMOGs:

The more I have considered this issue, I think spectacular, arbitrary punishments are the best penalty for gold buyers.

I’m leaning towards “The Roll Back”. The game operator detects a gold buyer. He reviews the account file and makes a notation of where the player was when he bought the gold (or farther back, or at the time he is detected). This state is quietly saved. Then, at some random date in the future – say, 1 to 6 months later, the player is notified that he was busted for gold buying and his account is rolled back. No gains, no experience, no nothing from the time since counts.

This should be done rather publicly on a daily basis… banner headlines – a Player was rolled back from Level 63 to Level 20. He lost X gold, Y experience, the following items….. One of those annoying news tickers (with RSS feed, of course).

This puts risk on the Player… and he doesn’t know when or if he will be caught. And, most importantly, the alleged benefits of gold buying become risks.

Before I launch into this topic, I should first confess that I’m not entirely blameless here, having purchased some items off of eBay on my Asheron’s Call account many years ago (I could probably even use the standard “young and foolish” excuse to justify it.)  I should also say that I have pretty much quit playing MMOGs at this point, primarily due to loss of interest in the genre, although I have devoted not insignificant amounts of time to Asheron’s Call and World of Warcraft.  That said, I will still occasionally play the part of the armchair developer, and although I favor anything that severely punishes those who exploit the system, there’s one element that seems to be missing here to make the approach truly effective:  Paranoia.


September 19, 2007

Get Away From Most of it

Filed under: Technology, Wanderings — Brian Lutz @ 1:14 pm

It seems that I’m not the only one having trouble staying connected to the Internet lately.  For some reason  (which I believe I have now figured out) the wireless NIC on my desktop system has been acting flaky for the past several days, resulting in heavy packet loss and a generally unreliable Internet connection.  My notebook and other devices have been fine though, but it’s a bit of a pain to dig out the notebook every time I need to check my e-mail.  When I stayed with my brother for a couple of days down in Provo, his connection was down the whole time I was there also.

Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing to be offline every once in a while.  The problem is that I’m not particularly good at actually doing so.  I’ve pretty much accepted the fact that I’m never going to be able to fully escape from technology no matter where I go.  At the very minimum, I’ll probably be carrying at least one PDA (usually my phone, sometimes my Axim X50v if I’ll be somewhere my phone won’t have a signal) but I have to admit that I just might overdo it at times.  On my recent trip, I found myself traveling with my notebook, two PDAs and a Nintendo DS.  In spite of all that, I still found it difficult to keep connected for the entire trip due to flaky Internet connections in places (ironically enough, I think the best WiFi connection I was able to find was probably in the most middle-of-nowhere place I stayed on the trip.)  And that’s when I’m determined to stop spending all day on the computer.

On the other hand, when I go on trips, it generally involves a fair bit of wandering, which means that it’s nice to have decent maps to work with to avoid getting too hopelessly lost.  This is especially helpful, given the fact that when I travel, on occasion I will do so with no idea where I will even end up going to.  This means I can either rely on those racks of brochures that seem to pop up in hotel lobbies and generally don’t do much more than tell you 27 different places to go horseback riding, or pull up a few websites and get the info I need so I have at least some general idea what there is to do in the area.  Still, that entails embracing that which you are trying to get away from, and kind of defeats the purpose of the whole exercise in the first place.  Maybe if I was actually trying to get away from it all, I wouldn’t keep bringing it all with me along the way.

September 18, 2007

Sure, we’ll get right on that for you

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 11:53 pm

Let’s say you’re a drug runner, and you’re trying to sneak a couple of backpacks full of Cocaine into Canada. Unfortunately, the cops are around, and you need to stash your load somewhere out in the woods until the heat is off.  The problem is, you seem to have forgotten where you stashed it, and the boss is getting a tad suspicious.  What would you do:

A) Make up some elaborate excuse and hope the boss buys it?

B) Tell the truth, and  hope they go easy on you?

C) Call the Border Patrol and try to have them make up an excuse for you?

 In this case, option C was chosen, which resulted in arrest on a felony drug charge (Possession with intent to distribute) when the two missing backpacks were located by a Boy Scout two weeks later.

September 13, 2007

Skip the mess, just go straight to disaster area

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 11:34 pm

While out doing some shopping today to try to catch up after being out of town for nearly a week, I saw this at Target:


According to the packaging, this toy is supposed to offer “mess-free fingerpaint.”  What you see is some sort of paintlike substance which is under a layer of flexible vinyl, so the child can “draw” on the surface.  In theory, this should keep the room clean, but I get the sneaking suspicion that somewhere along the line, a particularly determined toddler is going to figure out how to get at the “paint” inside this thing, and the result is going to be a truly epic living room disaster.

It’s beginning to look a lot too early

Filed under: Uncategorized — Brian Lutz @ 11:05 pm

Are you the type of person who needs to plan out their Christmas decorations three months in advance?  Fear not, Costco has got you covered:

Christmas already?

At this rate, pretty soon Christmas in July is going to be considered getting a late start.  Ironically, I don’t recall seeing any Halloween stuff there yet (it looked like Target was just getting theirs set up when I was there today though.)  I suppose it could be worse though.  At least when I was growing up, I don’t ever recall seeing back-to-school sales starting two weeks into Summer vacation.

September 12, 2007

Greetings from the Middle of Nowhere

Filed under: Wanderings — Brian Lutz @ 8:33 am

If there’s anyone out there who actually reads this thing on a regular basis, you might have noticed posting to be a bit light recently.  For about the past week or so, I’ve been traveling, first visiting my brother, sister and new brother-in-law down in Provo Utah, then heading up north into Montana where I just spent the day at Yellowstone, and I am now posting this from the Chico Hot Springs resort in Montana, about 30 miles from the north entrance to Yellowstone (which I found based on a recommendation made by Robert Scoble on his Blog about a year ago.)  It’s not quite the middle of nowhere, but you can definitely see it from here.  The place has been around since 1900, and in some ways looks every day of its 107 years.  On the other hand, in spite of its age, it has a huge pool fed by natural hot springs, and many of the furnishings are still original.  Given the lousy luck I’ve had with hotels over the course of the past couple of trips I’ve taken, I can’t complain too much.  Oddly enough, the Wifi connection here seems to be the best one I’ve found on this trip so far.  Unfortunately, the wiring here looks like something installed just around the time when someone decided that the whole electricity fad was going to stick around, so there’s only a couple of outlets in the room currently taken up with chargers.  That means I’ll have to make this short.

 More on the trip once I get home. 

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