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My former coworker who wrote that 2600 article I mentioned recently sent me this link to a GameSpot review of SkillJam Arcade.

This is the last project the both of us worked on while at SkillJam. We essentially developed all the back-end support and integration into the existing tournament engine for the mobile version of the games. It is quite satisfying to see our work reviewed in a major online publication. Most of the work I have done in the past wasn’t geared toward the consumer market and thus wouldn’t be featured by any reviews.

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Remember that online games are written by humans and thus are subject to the bugs and flaws that humans are so good at introducing.

This was made quite evident by an article for the current issue of 2600: The Hacker Quarterly that a former coworker of mine wrote. It’s an interesting read and I encourage you to check it out, though it is only in print on dead trees.

In this article he describes a flaw that became apparent to him within a newly released BlackJack game on the Paradise Poker website. In BlackJack, when the dealer is showing an ace, the dealer offers the players the option to purchase insurance. This is a way for the players to pay to cut their losses should the dealer have ten (10, Jack, Queen, or King) in the hole.

On this particular online game, he noticed that when the dealer did have a pocket ten, there would be a noticeable pause before he was prompted with the Insurance request. When there wasn’t a pocket ten, the prompt appeared immediately.

After doing some quick calculations, he realized this bit of information gave him an edge over the house. He ended up playing the next seven hours exploiting this bug and made a nice chunk of change during that time.

Obviously I don’t know what caused the flaw in the game, but my guess is that there was some calculation the system needed to make to determine whether or not to offer insurance. That calculation may have taken more time to perform in the situation the dealer had a ten.

Let’s pretend I am right (not a huge stretch as I am always right) and think about that for a sec. The code itself may have been completely correct in the sense that it did what it was supposed to do. It was the amount of time the code needed to execute that ended up being the tell. No different than when a poker player twitches when holding a great hand.

The fix may have been to change the execution profile of the code so that it made the same pause no matter what was in the hole. Talk about a challenge for game developers. Not only does the code need to be bug free in syntax and semantics, but they now need to worry about the execution profile for their games.

Who knows if there are several other timing flaws like this in other games. It didn’t even require my friend to hack into anything. He simply observed the timing disparity. Now imagine if he was running a timing program specifically designed to look for other timing flaws. Something that would notice discrepancies down to the millisecond.

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CampSigns

If you’re heading off to Burning Man this year and want to swing by and say hi (and have a drink), we’re staying in Hysteria (the outermost ring) between 8:00 and 8:30. Our camp will be clearly marked with these camp identifiers.

Today I’m in San Jose staying with my friend Kyle ready to get a bit of work done. Tomorrow bright and early we’re heading off to the BRC.

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As many of you know, I will be heading to Burning Man this weekend. That’ll put a crimp in my blogging for a week since I won’t be bringing my tablet to the playa.

There are a lot of misconceptions about Burning Man, often propagated by those who have never attended, but sometimes propagated by those who have attended and did not understand the event. It is often characterized as a lot of drugged out former hippies walking around nude. Certainly you might find a few, but walk the halls of Congress and you’ll find the same (except for the nude part perhaps). Heck, our president is an ex-coke abuser.

In reality, Burning man is more of a music/arts festival and an experiment in radical participatory community and survival. Heck, even the CEO of Google has been in attendance in the past.

In any case, just to show how tame this temporary community can be, I was going over the events calendar and found this gem: Daily Mathematics Discussion/Presentations/Lectures Detail. Sweet!

Oh you know this geek will be there. I may even give a short presentation as I’ve always liked discussing the Monty Hall Problem. It’s a very simple problem, but there are always holdouts who love to argue against the correct answer. Besides, I should keep it simple. You really can’t expect to engage a bunch of drugged out nude hippies in deeper conversations about the whether axiom of choices should truly be accepted as an axiom of set theory.

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Jeff Atwood writes that truly great programmers are not only lazy, but dumb too.

If you ask my wife, you’ll learn that I’m about the laziest guy around. In fact, I’m quite tempted to end this blog post at that, but I’ll fight my natural state and continue.

To bolster my case I should add that my short-term memory makes you wonder if the movie Memento was inspired by me.

So what was I writing about? Oh yeah, by this criteria I must be the greatest programmer ever! At least I thought so until I read that humility is also a key trait to programming success.

Humility?

Look. I’m here to make computers obey my every command, not seek enlightenment in a monastery after 20 reincarnated lifetimes of trying not to step on insects. How does one embrace humility while trying to act as a complete and total authoritarian to a machine? To the machine, I am God! Bwahahaha.

If you thought your last girlfriend was controlling, you haven’t seen a developer with a computer. You ever see how a software developer gets when the computer doesn’t obey his/her commands to the letter? Let’s just say the stream of profanities is enough to make a grown sailor cry to momma.

But here goes… he’s totally right! There’s nothing more frustrating than that developer who won’t admit a gap in his or her knowledge. That person has ceased to grow as a developer.

Heck, I met a guy who just might have well known everything there was to know about writing software (as others seemed to indicate). But I also learned that he was an arrogant insufferable prick and was nearly impossible to work with. What’s the use of a developer who knows it all when he is incapable of sharing it with his team and brings down everyone’s morale?

So to bolster my claim to the title of “Best Programmer In The World” (and in an attempt to wrestle the title away from Jeff), I humbly admit that I know jack shit about software development. In fact, I’m really just a janitor using the computer at the library to post this. The persona of “Haacked” is really one of my many fine personalities. Good evening and I’ll get to that spill in room #327 soon enough.

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Gizmodo had a piece on an armored iPod yesterday which was made by someone in Japan. My wife helped me translate the original site and send a tip to Gizmodo. So the “Phil” in the little thanks section is me. Of course I was hoping for a link. ;)

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Well my Page Rank (and traffic numbers) are suddenly down as of last week. It wasn’t a gradual drop as one would expect, but more of a rapid freefall descent like any stock I’ve ever purchased.

But this post isn’t here to whine. I’m just giving a bit of thanks and link love to those who linked to my blog in order to help my PageRank. It’s reminiscent of a modern day “HaackedAID” benefit. (For the price of one link a day, you too can join us to help helpless bloggers like Haacked one day have hope to emerge from the basement of Google PageRank and live a normal and overly obsessed about numbers blogger life. Won’t you help. This is Sally Struthers signing off.).

So as I said, I really appreciate those of you who linked to me to help. It was very kind. It didn’t work.

Nonetheless, throw some link love right back atcha, but in Romper Room style.

I see Scott Cadillac, and there’s Jayson, and, oh look over there! It’s Ryan Rinaldi and Barry.

Ummm… this is what happens when you drink very very strong coffee. You start bringing back bad memories of Romper Room.

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Well I didn’t have a date with Destiny, but we had a productive meeting with the client, and then he proceeded to ply us with drinks until we were all having a very merry time at some bar (I think it’s called the Jungle Room) in the Mandalay Bay).

It was such an obvious attempt to thwart our attempts to limit the scope of the project to fit the budget (Sure! We’ll build you an online presence complete with mobile integration, CMS, CRM, and AJAX in exchange for a Snickers bar, a bit of string and some pocket lint. Just buy me another drink!).

God I love Vegas.

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I’m in Las Vegas for a business trip. The usual scope definition/requirements gathering type of planning meeting. You just have to love the slot machines in the airport. They seem to attract badly dressed tourists like moths to a flame.

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My PageRank has been in decline lately. I was as high as a five, but just checked and am now down to three. Was it something I said? Or is this the result of rel="nofollow"?

My guess is that it’s a little bit of both. It seems that this has been implemented far and wide, but in such a manner as taking a sledgehammer to pound in a nail.

Hopefully I can correct this in Subtext. First, I need to make sure that rel="nofollow" can be turned off and on easily in Subtext. I really don’t need it since I delete comments left on my blog almost immediately.

Better yet is to have Subtext render the rel="nofollow" in the attributes of comments for a short period of time (configurable of course). After that period is over, the rel="nofollow" is removed. By then you should have surely deleted the comment. That way we can all spread the Google Juice around.

If that doesn’t help, then I’ll start link whoring. Hello? Link to me!

UPDATE: My blog’s homepage is ranked three, but my archives are ranked five. Odd.

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You ever work on a project trying to change out how something works and uncover a beautiful elegant extensible design that just makes it a snap? Me neither, but if I do run into such a phantasm, I’d probably get very excited.

Well that’s how I feel about A List Apart’s new design. It just makes me go “Unnnhhh!” (and that’s a good thing in case you didn’t know).

Taking a look at it, my first thought was “Steal Steal Steal!” And by “Steal” I mean, “Be Insipired By”.

It’s such a cleanly laid out site that makes good use of screen real-estate. I think current web-design is often stuck in late 90s mentality that a page width has to fit within 800 pixels. Heck, my own site is stuck in that mentality. But I noticed that A List Apart (ALA for short) requires at least 952 pixels of width to fit it all in. By not kowtowing to the remaining grandmas who still can’t crank the resolution above 800x600, a lot of space is opened up to present more information in a much cleaner fashion.

If I didn’t have so much work to do right now, I’d redesign my blog right now.

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Well I’ve decided to start a new magazine called Desert Survival. Check out the inaugural issue.

MagazineCover

Ok, I lie. I built this using the fun and friendly Magazine Cover creator. Took me all of five minutes. Now it’s time to quit goofing off and get back to work.

[Listening to: Bruce Lee - Underworld - Beaucoup Fish (4:42)]

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Putting the ball in the back of the net in a competitive game of Soccer is one of the most exhilarating feelings around. Why, I think it can feel as good as … well I won’t go there. Suffice to say, it’s a great feeling, even in a city rec league. As long as there are teammates patting you on the back, refs blowing a whistle and a net to capture the shot, it just feels great.

Scoring two in a game, well, that’s even better.

Missing a third great game-winning opportunity, well that almost makes you forget about the first two in frustration. That’s the nature of sport.

My league team that played so dreadfully last season has bounced back this season and we are riding high on an unbeaten streak. We won our last three or four games in a row until this past sunday when we could only pull out a 2-2 tie, both scored by yours truly. Unfortunately, I had a fantastic opportunity to put the game away off a corner kick. I beat the goalie with my header but a defender standing in the goal headed it out just in time. A great defensive play, much to my dismay.

I attribute my personal improvement to taking the entire weekend off from work, which was a welcome and refreshing break. It’s amazing what a full weekend away from the computer (apart from checking emails and reading blogs which don’t count) can do for a person’s sanity. I recommend it.

Last night after the game, we went out to dinner in K-town for some Soon-Dubu (Korean Spicy Tofu Stew). I love Soon-Dubu. The spicier the better. Unfortunately, it has its downsides the day after. For those of you familiar with Korean food, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Let’s just say spicy going in, spicy going out and leave it at that.

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UPDATE: They now have a book on Amazon.com!

This site (postsecret.com) is one of the most interesting, compelling and touching (in that pulling the heart strings kind of way, not in the Michael Jackson sort of way, though there is a bit of that I suppose) website/blog I’ve ever had the pleasure of discovering. I found it via Ian White’s blog. (Apparently he is a geek.)

This is a site where people anonymously send a postcard with a secret. Some are sad, others are anger inducing, and then there are the humorous ones like this one.

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After reading over my last blog post, I wondered why my posts take such a virulent tone towards Joel Spolsky when I think he’s wrong. Looking around the web, I noticed I am not the only one.

I mean, I’ve never met the guy. He hasn’t killed any puppies that I know of, nor has he insulted my mother. In fact, I am pretty sure he doesn’t even know my mother.

Then I read this snippet of a great comment from Melissa in my blog…

Joel just likes to write with conviction, irrespective of the matter at hand. He probably has strong opinions about light butter/no butter/movie theater butter on his heat-expanded maize kernels, and he could probably write a persuasive as hell argument for his position and the more suggestable among us would immediately agree and get on their knees to show their appreciation for Joel’s relieving them of their obligation to think for themselves.

That’s it! Joel is an authority in topics of software, and like it or not, authority carries with it power, which carries with it responsibility (thanks Uncle Ben). He writes that BDUF is absolutely necessary, and suddenly hundreds of software middle managers across the country are thwarting their teams efforts to engage agile methodologies.

“If Joel says BDUF, then we do BDUF. We’re bringing back Ye olde Waterfall Methodology.

So it’s not that I think he’s wrong, it’s that he is so forcibly and authoritatively wrong. I’d love for him to try and make BDUF work with some of my current clients. A few weeks into it and I’d have to have the straight jacket and padded room reserved (Lord knows I’ve had a stay there).

So that explains my harsh attitude. Well… that and the arrogant tone he takes. That seems to get my dire up. Especially when he put down corporate developers.

In any case, one post mentioned why anyone is still reading Joel. Well as much as I like to get my panties in a bunch when he says something stupid, 99% of his writings are still top notch insightful and worthwhile. In every position I’ve been in, I would circulate links to various articles he has written to help improve software development practices. 99% of the time, he knows his stuff. It’s that 1% of the time I wish he’d just shut up.

[Listening to: Stretch ‘n’ Vern / Get Up! Go Insane! (Fatboy Really Lost It Mix) - Fatboy Slim - Greatest Remixes (7:14)]

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Gray Hair Well it had to happen sooner or later, my first gray hair. Today, a gray hair, tomorrow I’m shopping for Depends. I need to quit working so much.

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Now I like to take shots at myself for producing drivel now and then, but today, I’m going to take a shot at someone else’s drivel. I really should be working right now, but I really need to stop a moment to respond to some FUD. Once again, Joel Spolsky sprays more ignorance on his readership with this quote…

I cant tell you how strongly I believe in Big Design Up Front (BDUF), which the proponents of Extreme Programming consider anathema. I have consistently saved time and made better products by using BDUF and Im proud to use it, no matter what the XP fanatics claim. Theyre just wrong on this point and I cant be any clearer than that.

First, as Brad Wilson mentions, Agile does not mean no design.

The primary mantra of agile methodologies is to do only what is necessary, and no more. For a product company like Joel’s FogCreek, a functional spec is absolutely necessary. (As an aside, I’m a fan of his Painless Functional Specifications Series and have used it as a template for functional specs on several projects). They are not treading new ground with their products and the requirements appear to be very stable from release to release. For example, for CoPilot, Joel dictated the requirements which the interns implemented.

However, I’d point out that the spec he published for all to see is a great example of doing what is necessary and no more. Notice he didn’t list out the specific database tables nor class diagrams. This spec is not an example of big design up front. It is a great example of doing just enough design up front as necessary. How very agile of you Joel and you weren’t even trying.

The second fallacy is that Joel takes his narrow product-based experience and applies it to all of software development. When you are the one who gets to define requirements and your project does not explore new ground, Big Design Up Front hands down can work. But try applying that approach to a client project and watch with horror as three months into the project, the client changes his mind on a feature and leaves you with a hunking mass of outdated and useless UML diagrams you spent eighty man-hours producing.

Agile methodologies are designed to manage change. When you don’t have change to worry about, you can resort to BDUF (though even then I’d only do what is necessary). Agile methodologies weren’t designed to handle developing the software for the Space Shuttle. Requirements are fixed and hardly change in such a project.

But most real world projects have a lot of change. Where does that change come from? The client! There are other sources of change during a project’s lifecycle as well, such as new technologies and from new ideas gained during the project, but the majority of it comes from the client changing his or her mind.

Your typical client knows jack shit about how software is really developed. Yet you expect the client to be able to express extremely detailed requirements for what he or she wants? Might as well hand her a keyboard and tell her to write the code for what she wants. Would you try that with a home builder?

“Hey, I’ve written you a list of exactly how I want my house to be. I’ll be back in a month to see the finished product. Can’t wait!”

I sure hope you wouldn’t. Most likely you’d want to check in every now and then and see how things are going. And as you see the house develop, you might change your mind about a few things.

Developing software for a client is very much like that. A client often doesn’t know what she wants until she sees it. As the project unfolds, the client (and development team) learns more and more about the product and starts to realize that some of her initial requirements don’t really make sense, while also recognizing that there are other requirements that she hadn’t thought of, but your demo reminded her.

Try BDUF on a project like that, and you’re setting yourself up for disappointment and failure. That’s where an agile methodology really shines. Divide the project up in iterations, do just enough up front high level design to give the system coherency, and then flesh out the design during each iteration via some up front iteration level design and refactoring. Again, do just enough design as necessary, but no more.

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Hulk I just hate it when software designed to save you countless hours of development work just don’t work out of the box. Especially when you pay good money for it. I’ve come to expect a few hiccups here and there with open source software. But purchasing an expensive rich editing component from a leading vendor, performing a fresh install, and having buttons popup javascript alert boxes with debug information is inexcusable. Along with some other features just plain not working.

It just makes me angry! And you don’ want to see me when I’m angry! Grrr…

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Wireless PC Lock I don’t know about you, but running into an unlocked workstation in the office is like finding a voucher for a free airline ticket and hotel stay at Vegas complete with gambling money. In other words, pure fun. (Ok, perhaps I overstated that a bit. I’d much prefer the free stay in Vegas. Anyone? Anyone?)

There are any number of interesting pranks you can pull, but my favorite continues to be to take a screenshot of the user’s desktop, and then move all desktop shortcuts into a backup folder. Also make sure to hide all the taskbars. Then find a decent inconspicuous vantage point and watch as the unsuspecting user flounders with an unresponsive desktop. That’s usually good for a few laughs.

Alternatives include replacing desktop background with embarassing images and changing all the sounds in the systems to embarassing sounds, or simply to sounds for other system functions. The last one is quite subtle, but can be quite confusing as it shows how reliant we can become on sound to navigate a computer.

In any case, in his role as desktop hijinks party pooper, Scott Hanselman has unveiled his latest installment of his “Some Assembly Required” column.

In this installment, he highlights a fine piece of USB hardware, a wireless pc lock, used to automatically lock your machine when you are away. The hardware unfortunately comes with some lame software, so he proceeds to build improved software that can not only lock your machine when you’re away, but set your IM status to away (along with other functions and an extensibility model). That’s pretty sweet and all, but if this catches on, finding unlocked workstations could be a thing of the past (unless you happen to wander into the business or marketing department, the source of all email viruses in any company).

Well, I guess there’ll always the prank of stealing the USB dongle.

Security Question\ I am a little ignorant about how USB works, but one security question this raises is what happens if you walk away, and I put an intermediate USB device between the dongle and the computer, and record the data going back and forth. When the user returns, he or she is quite unlikely to notice if the dongle is in the back of the computer (think corporate workstation). How will this device and software protect against that?