Tuesday, September 25, 2007


So on my recent trip to Taiwan and Indonesia, I picked up various kinds of electronic equipment for friends and for myself: a microSD card, a reader for said card, a portable hard drive. This being Asia, invariably there were stands nearby selling all kinds of pirated DVDs, music, and video games. (On one of the occasions, I was wearing a suit, so it was a little weird walking through.)

I'm not going to talk about the benefits and evils of pirating. I'll make one quick comment and one long observation. First, quickly, Taiwan has really cleaned up its piracy issues. I remember several years ago walking along the night market outside my grandma's house as seeing DVDs everywhere. Nothing now.

Second, and longer, the experience in Indonesia especially got me thinking about some recent developments in video games. It's very difficult to copy-protect DVDs - sooner or later someone cracks it. But I wonder whether the recent trends of online play, constant updates and upgrades, and occasionally half-finished game releases aren't in some way tied to anti-pirating efforts. On several of the games, I saw disclaimers (in English, surprisingly) that you could not use the DVDs to play online. In addition, the ones where that was possible (I haven't obviously tested whether this is true) appeared to be older games that came out a minimum of 1-2 years ago.

And the reason online play is blocked is because the game developers can constantly check up on the legality of your copy. Most cracks to play games illegally require invasive changes to the executable file or core game files. That kind of thing is pretty easy to suss out. Similarly, constant file updates also make it very easy to catch crackers and force them to reinstall. Cripple your initial release just enough, string out your updates long enough, and you'll likely get all the people who were going to purchase the game to do so legally.

So, how plausible is this? I'm sure it's not the only reason behind buggy releases and constant updates with limited tweaks. But it could very well be a contributing factor to why certain types of games - especially single-player, offline ones - are increasingly being packaged with specific online features.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Crunchiness and Granola

I've just come back from the cultural/spiritual center of Java, and while I can't say that I've learned any more or crystallized my thoughts on Indonesia, I did discover a few things about myself. For example, there's a reason I don't backpack anymore. It was all fun when I was in India and maybe even a little after I started working in Taiwan. But comparing my hotel room to the places where some of the Westerners I met were staying - well, there was no comparison. I was invited back to their place for some drinks (remember, it's Ramadan, so alcohol is hard to find) and quickly came to the conclusion that I would not be spending the night there under any circumstances. The fact that my 3-star hotel room was all of 300 meters away really wasn't an important factor in this decision, and I realize how much I've grown to enjoy my creature comforts. Like an actual seat on the toilet.

Also, I've become more firmly convinced in my disinterest - bordering on distaste - of Western tourists looking to find themselves in the spiritual centers of Asia. Yogjakarta (shortened to Yogja and pronounced "jog-ja") has loads of Hindu, Buddhist, and historical sites, as well as a cultural asthetic marred only by the commercialism that has crept in because tourism is a primary driver of the local economy. As a result, you get lots of people doing the extra-crunchy granola backpacking thing, something which - while I respect it - I'm not sure how much it's based in a realistic understanding of the people's lives.

I suppose that's partly the point - you go to these places to escape the rigors and stresses of the world. But at some point, I do wonder whether the travelers are mistaking the spirituality and "hush" lent to a location by virtue of it being a past religious center with the spirituality that in some sense should emanate from the people living in the location. It's hard for me to square the spirituality of the location with, say, the commercialism I mentioned earlier. So, India never struck me as the spiritual place that many of my friends thought it was, except in the Tibetan monasteries, where spiritualism was a way of life (the human element joining with the location). The same was in Yogja.

All of this is really me trying to say that multiple times, I felt very old. In a far different place than a lot of the college and post-college kids I met: much more firmly established and far less able to join in their conversations about things that, frankly, didn't seem at all interesting to me. This was even the case with some of the older individuals I met there. It makes me wonder about my time backpacking, and whether I was really as idealistic, perhaps even naive, as the individuals I met.

As for the city itself, it's a very pretty place with some great sights to see. The Borobhudur temple in particular is quite simply massive, and a monumental achievement for the Buddhist religion. I'll post pictures when I get back to the U.S. But like any heavy tourist spot, there were innumerable touts and people looking to sell overpriced handicrafts. This was a great contrast to Turkey, and I found myself longing for a place that is firmly used to the idea of tourists. So, as GF and I are planning a vacation next summer after I quit, it's a race between Southeast Asia and a Mediterranean tour. I think you know which one I'm going after.

And one thing I forgot to mention last time. Indonesia needs to cut off about three "0" off its currency. It's nice being a millionnaire, but the 9500:1 exchange rate - and the fact that things cost at least some multiple of 100, if not 1000, pre-tax - means that you get very large and unwieldy bills in your wallet.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Notes from Abroad

Just thought I'd share a couple of observations from my time in Indonesia. Since I've largely been shuttling between meetings, hotels, and restaurants, I don't think I have the best impression of the country, but - with that major caveat - here goes:
  1. I've never seen worse traffic in my life. My coworker here gave an excellent piece of advice: always use the bathroom right before you go somewhere else. You never know when you'll get another chance. It took us 15 minutes to get to one meeting prior to rush hour. It took an hour and 15 to get back. That's happened EVERY DAY, without fail, on almost all the streets.
  2. That said, aside from cars, Jakarta is nowhere near as crowded as I had thought. Like LA, there's no city center, so you don't get that crush of people in particular areas.
  3. Also, the streets are very clean. The air is often terrible, but I have seen very little litter on the ground.
  4. There's something of an identity crisis going on, despite the fact that everyone keeps talking about (and I'm going to butcher this spelling) panchasila - which is kind of like a national philosophy. Even so, I don't know how many people have really embraced the ideas of pluralism and diversity, enough so that they can celebrate their commonalities amid a strikingly diverse range of people, cultures, and languages.
  5. And finally, there's a crapload of malls over here.

I take off for Java's cultural center tomorrow, so I'll hopefully have more insight later.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Why Save Craptown?

I spent a lot of time this week trying to catch up on the New York Times, which since we began subscribing about a month ago has turned into an intimidating tower of reading threatening to take over our living room. Anyway, last week there was this story about a mill town in New Hampshire called Berlin that's dying. Apparently paper milling is disappearing as an industry in the United States and its dragging Berlin down the drain with it. (Who makes paper now? Brazil?) With no industry and a rapidly dwindling population, the town is desperate to save itself and has therefore cooked up two new industries to attract and retain residents-- a prison and a off-roading truck park. I don't want to make light of the Berlin's new industries. Prisons have to go somewhere I guess, and why not in the middle of nowhere. But clearly, when you're counting on an SUV park to save your town, you've reached the point of desperation.

My question is: why bother saving the town at all? Why not let nature take its course and let the town die. Couldn't this just be better in the long run? Pull down some of the houses, dig up the concrete, bulldoze the strip malls and give the whole piece of land back to nature. Or give it to a Native American reservation.

Let it go. Its dead. Why is there this obsession with keeping this crappy town alive? There are thousands of dead end towns across this country, and, quite frankly, we don't need them. They take up space and occupy land that would just be better used in an ecosystem.

Any thoughts?