Thanks to Steve Rioux's translation help, I put up a French version of fastr today. I also updated the Spanish version with the changes I've made recently. And I removed the remote mirrors, for now at least. I'll see what the traffic looks like tomorrow and maybe remove the mirror page altogether. For today, at least, it was calm enough to handle on one server. If anyone wants to do translations for other languages (or fix my errors on the existing translations), let me know.

 

Aaron Barker made a JavaScript bookmarklet to track other players on fastr, called FastrFriends. It's a cool idea. Basically you click on a player's name, and it will keep the name highlighted in the score list. So if you're playing against people you know, you can easily watch their scores.

In my testing, it didn't work in Safari for some reason, but it worked fine in Firefox. I didn't try it in IE.

 

I want to find one that is good for searching but which also isn't in the business of turning this into this.

reynir, on Ask MetaFilter

This whole Google censorship thing was less disturbing as an abstract concept. Looking at the pictures, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that Google is exchanging principles for money.

 

One of the most common requests for fastr has been to link the photos to their flickr pages. At first I thought this wouldn't work because then you could click on the link and see the tags, and you wouldn't have much reason to guess the tag. And it's already too easy to cheat. But several people pointed out that it could just add the links after the answer is shown, so this is what the game does now, satisfying both players' desire to have links and my desire to discourage cheating.

Speaking of cheating, there is now — I believe — only one way to cheat. I've fixed every other method known to me. (If you know of another, I'd like to hear it.) I'll go ahead and explain the one remaining in hopes that doing so will make it a less interesting challenge. Basically, the answer is always available in the source of page; it's just hidden until you guess it or the time runs out — then it's shown. It's pretty trivial to add JavaScript to the page, either through a bookmarklet or a greasemonkey script, which makes the answer visible at all times.

What you get out of this is a perfect score. The other methods of cheating, which I fixed today, would allow more than a perfect score. Because it's trivial and you don't get much for it, it's not interesting, and no one is impressed by those who do it, as they might have been when someone had a million points by another cheat.

But even that was pretty boring, and I never saw anyone cheat for more than one round. Basically someone would spend five minutes figuring out how to cheat, and then get bored and go back to playing the game. Luckily the game is more fun than the cheating, or I would have had more trouble with cheating before fixing it today.

So why am I not fixing the last cheat? Because doing so would slow down the game, and I don't think it's a worthwhile sacrifice. To make it impossible to cheat, I'd have to remove the answer from the source of the page. Then when you typed in a guess, it would send the guess back to the server, which would respond saying it was correct or not correct. It's that constant querying of the server that would slow everything down, probably enough to cause the server to die (again). So I have no intent to do that.

Now, back to links. There are also links allowed in player names now. This wasn't formally requested, but I saw people setting their player names to things like myblog.blogspot.com, so I figured I'd make their lives easier. This also gave me a new way to do tech support, by putting a link to my AIM address around "Questions?" as my player name. I answered three or four questions today, all of which were basically "how do I play this game?"

I'm somewhat afraid this will just devolve into a link farm. There is currently someone named "cheap domains" playing fastr. (The domains aren't actually cheap — I checked.) For now, though, low scoring players scroll off the page, so someone has to keep playing to keep their sales link visible. And hopefully while they're doing that, they aren't sending us all emails advertising their "cheap" domains.

If I decide the player names are becoming too full of advertising, I'll just remove the links. But I've seen a few people linking to their flickr pages or personal websites, and it's nice to get a better idea of who exactly I am defeating with my superior tag-guessing skills. (Not to mention my knowledge of all the tags I chose.) For now anyway, fastr is full of links.

 

This is a great country, built on the backs of the poor. And there's a whole lot more room to pile on.

Rep. Richard Martin

 

Doh

So first the database locked up from too much activity, and then the web server itself died. Apologies to anyone else being hosted on the same machine. My brother Kevin (who doesn't update his website enough) kindly offered backup hosting, which will hopefully hold until I make a page to split up the traffic and/or the traffic dies down a bit.

It's been a crazy couple of days. And it's not over yet.

 

At one point today there were 250 people playing fastr at the same time. It's currently down to about 120. I'm not sure exactly where the avalanche of traffic began (do that many people really read MeFi projects?), but it definitely picked up the pace significantly when fastr landed on del.icio.us/popular, where it currently sits both third and twenty-eigth (twice because I made the mistake I previously cautioned against by pointing to both randomchaos.com and www.randomchaos.com in different places).

I've had a few notes about bugs, most of which I've managed to fix today. One problem that isn't entirely solved yet is that there are few enough tags being used that some people have memorized them and are winning simply because they've been playing the longest. I just started using my new Flickr API key, which allows the game to show a random ten out of a hundred photos instead of the ten out of twenty it was showing before. That will hopefully level the playing field a bit, but I really need to add more tags.

Some people have suggested the tags should be random, but that's how it was when I first made the game (when just Jessica and I were playing), and it really didn't work. The problem is that people use tags that you could never guess from the pictures, like 500v50f or interesting or sarah. So I have to restrict it to certain tags to make it any fun at all. I just need to add more tags to make it more fun.

Other problems: people clearly want to be able to include links with their names, which was possible for most of today, until someone pointed out that it was also possible to insert malicious JavaScript in the name field (by doing so). So now it strips all tags. Eventually I hope to allow only link tags, but I need to remove most attributes (e.g. onload) to filter out problems.

People have been testing the limits of the name field all day, and I need to force the names to be a bit smaller to conserve space, but that's not a high priority. I added highlighting for your own name, so that should make it quicker to see where you fall in the list. But the list is too long, and I'm still not sure what to do about this.

Finally, the Google ads are awful. I don't want to just remove them because that would drop my pay for this project from the current $0.30 or so per hour to nothing, but Google continues to send various general technology ads rather than game ads. I was hoping maybe other people were seeing better ads until I saw a player named "spilt testing is obsolete," which made me laugh.

Later I saw a player named "split testing is NOT obsolete." I've toyed with the idea of adding chat to the game, but I'm pretty sure I won't, for a variety of reasons. It would be hard to chat and play at the same time. Also, there are enough people already using their player names as flame bait that I don't really want to know what chat would look like. And I also kind of like how the limitations of a username forces people to be more creative in expressing themselves.

I expect the numbers will die down eventually, but I hope today's surge of traffic will result in a steady stream of users over time. Despite all the problems I've discovered today, fastr is definitely more fun when more people are playing.

 

After making some improvements and posting to MeFi projects, there were just 72 people playing fastr at the same time. Surprisingly enough, it's still working. The first website I saw pointing to it was Tecnicalia, a Spanish tech blog. That made me think maybe it was worthwhile making a Spanish version. I thought it would be a fun way to practice a second language, and also let Spanish speakers play in their first language. But I haven't seen anyone playing it yet.

 

When you're a law student, they tell you if say that if you can't argue the law, argue the facts. They also tell you if you can't argue the facts, argue the law. If you can't argue either, apparently, the solution is to go on a public relations offensive and make it a political issue... to say over and over again "it's lawful", and to think that the American people will somehow come to believe this if we say it often enough.

David Cole, Georgetown University Law Professor

 

Any motion, anyone who moves in the zone, even if it’s a three-year-old, should be killed. Over.

Israeli Company Commander

Wow.

 

I made a game today.

Fastr is a game that uses flickr images. It loads ten images that all share a common tag, one by one, and you guess what the tag is. When you guess right, the tag will turn blue. Then you can watch the pictures until the next set begins. The faster you guess, the more points you get.

It's basically win, lose, or draw without the drawing, and more interesting pictures. I still have a few kinks to work out, but I think it's ready for some testing beyond Jessica and I. If you play it and notice any problems or room for improvement, please leave a comment here.

 

I believe I just discovered my Canadian double. He has brown hair, is interested in web development, specifically PHP, and his name is ... Scott Reynen. If only I had thought to patent myself, I'd be collecting sweet royalties now.

 

Danny Ayers does a quote of the day, mostly for semantic web stuff and I've decided to steal the format. Here's today's:

Basically, if you want to be gung-ho about it, the entire web is a copyright violation.

Roger Benningfield

 

Boing Boing has been going on about iTune's new mini store for two days now, and it was interesting at first, but now it's starting to get a little silly. Some facts not mentioned on Boing Boing:

  1. The mini store doesn't show up at all until after you've purchased songs via the iTunes music store. So it is off by default. It's just few of those worried about it are still in the default state.
  2. The site receiving the data from iTunes, 2o7.net, collects similar data from hundreds of popular websites, including Comedy Central. For example, when you're watching the Daily Show, much celebrated on Boing Boing, 2o7.net is tracking every video clip you watch.
 

Dave Rogers writes:

And let's return to this romantic notion of "subverting hierarchy." Where did that come from? It sounds like a good thing, right? Being "subversive" sounds kind of edgy and cool. The hierarchy is the stale, old "establishment." Hyperlinks "stick it to the man," I guess. Except subverting hierarchy is merely a form of competition, and competition determines its success or failure through measuring changes in rank in a hierarchy. How else can you tell if you're being "subversive" unless you're paying attention to rank? I mean it's implicit in the whole idea!

Good point. This is why I'm wary of Green Party enthusiasts. It's easy for the Green Party to push good ideas from the outside, but I have little faith that they would continue to do so were they to achieve any real control of the government. I watch as the Green Party gains acceptance in America, and I see the candidates quietly morph from people with ideas to push to people with themselves to push.

The Green Party is pushing ideas I like, but the success of those ideas is tied to the success of candidates, and I don't trust those candidates to hold to their principles once in power any more than I trust Democrats or Republicans to do so. Power breeds corruption; Green Party power breeds Green Party corruption.

This mistrust won't prevent me from voting Green on occasion. If I only voted for politicians I trusted, I wouldn't vote at all. But don't feed me this line about voting only for Green Party candidates because any other vote will be an acceptance of the status quo. The status quo in American politics is blind party allegiance, even when the parties change.

 

I think music training generally makes musicians worse, not better. I know a few good trained musicians, but I think their talent is in spite of their training. Once you've taken the time to learn about scales and chord progressions and so on, you can't help but think about those things when you're making music. And then you're not thinking about whatever you were thinking about before the training, back when music was fun.

That's my theory anyway: music training takes the passion out of music. A friend of mine has his own music training theory, which I suspect is more accurate than mine. He's not entirely opposed to training, but he does minimal training. If someone wants to know how to play piano, he tells them to play just the black keys or just the white keys.

By making the instrument simpler, it becomes difficult to create bad music, without really causing the musician to do any thinking that might get in the way of the soul of the music. But I'm not sure this strategy scales. Eventually we'll all get bored with playing only the black keys, and I don't know what comes next. At some point, most of us need to start thinking about the music to avoid getting bored. So I fall back on my strategy, which is to avoid training and start thinking about the music less consciously.

I know a lot of guitar chords I couldn't name. I learned them by putting my fingers into new shapes and listening to the sounds. When I liked them, I played them again and again until I knew the chords. If I don't like them, I never play them again. This is still music education, as I'm still learning, but it's not music training. I have no course to follow, and no next step I feel compelled to do even as it sucks away the fun of music.

So I don't like music training, and this is the first thing that came to mind when I read Kathy Sierra's recent post on learning and passion: Learning music changes music...The more you help your users learn and improve, the greater the chance that they'll become passionate. Note that this is the opposite of the experience I've just described with music.

I was getting ready to leave a comment to that effect when I got to Kathy's own comment explaining my position better than I could:

...for a lot of us, our products aren't the ultimate *destination*, but a means to doing something else that we ARE (or can be) passionate about. 37signals creates products that let users spend more time in flow -- using 37signals software to do something ELSE, which could be the thing they ARE passionate about. Some of the products people are most passionate about are simply the tools that enable and then get the hell out of the way so that the REAL thing they're passionate about can happen. But through "misattribution of arousal" (as the psychologists call it), some of that passion spills onto the product/tool that allowed you to experience that optimal experience or "flow state".

I'm passionate about skiing, not my skis...

Exactly. By analogy then, I guess I'm not passionate about music, but something else music allows. What is that something though? I'm not sure. It's some subset of communication that is intentionally ambiguous. It's sort of like poetry, I think, where poets choose each word carefully with an eye toward how it will be read. Only music isn't as demanding, because the melody can mask the difference between words with flexible meaning and words with no meaning.

So I guess that's my second theory of music: musicians are poets with a crutch. It's a crutch that allows new forms of expression though. I like Nirvana and Radiohead, but their lyrics don't often mean anything — to me anyway, your mileage may vary. Scratch that — your mileage will vary. And that variance is what I like. Music, more than poetry I think, creates meaning. Anyone can string together random words, and if they are set to a good melody, people will assume a meaning where none was before.

That assumed, created meaning will be a little different for everyone listening to a song. And different people will talk about their own meanings with each other, and agree on shared meanings. Good music eventually makes new ideas. There, that's my third theory. So I guess I'm passionate about new ideas, not music. Good to learn.