Michael Buffington

Human or Robot?

Friday, April 15 2011

It was my what, tenth time? Logging into TurboTax and doing some taxes was practically an automatic habit by now. This time though - this time I got past the step where everything is going to be OK and I’ve happily given TurboTax their preparation services dollars.

Then they ask me if I am a human.

It’s a question that’d normally trigger a rapid lung emptying sound meant to convey a mixture of incredulity and mocking.

Not this time. This time I was worried. After slogging away through countless menus and double checking countless and ridiculous answers to ridiculous questions, this question wasn’t so ridiculous any more. Was I still human?

They wanted to know if the oil splotches and polka dots on my screen were letters and/or numbers. What a peculiar test. If I cannot recognize them and don’t mind, am I a robot? If I cannot recognize them and panic, and I a human?

What if I cannot recognize them, don’t mind, take a wild stab and succeed?

Would a robot feel as proud as I do for passing the test?

Doing What I Love

Monday, April 02 2007

A few weeks ago at SXSW I got to see one of my heros give what was unarguably the best talk I’ve ever seen. I feasted on Will Wright’s every word, and if you watch the video (1 2 3) of his talk, I think you might be able to understand why I rank it so high. Of course, I’ve always ranked Will’s work highly.

I can thank Will Wright for sparking my interest in computers more so than any other individual. We had some sort of Apple II clone in my house as a kid, and Zork and the like were fun, but I really didn’t get into computers until the original Sim City came out.

I spent a month during the summer between junior high and high school working for my dad so I could earn the money to buy the game, and spent the rest of the summer begging my mom for some computing time. My mom was writing a book at the time, so play time was sparse.

The next summer I worked hard manual labor for the entire summer break so that I could earn enough money to buy my own computer. My dedication was impressive, and I kept myself going by reading reviews about the RPGs Ultima 6 and Ultima 7. Ultima 7 had me especially drooling because it had simulated weather patterns. I was thrilled with the idea that at any moment while exploring this land that it could start snowing. At the end of the summer I had $2400 saved up (amazing what $5 an hour will get you as a teen).

My dad and I went to a computer show underneath the Anaheim stadium, bought a 386-33 with 2MB of RAM and a 85MB hard drive. I’m pretty sure he had to match my dollars, because at the time this was a top of the line machine.

I savored Ultima 6 and 7 for a few months until I discovered the modem. Within a year of buying my first computer, I had set up a BBS in my bedroom, and had hooked into Fidonet, effectively putting me on the Internet in 1991. I had several hundred local BBS members. We traded files, swapped stories, and played games like TradeWars 2002 and BRE along with a multitude of other BBS door games. It was a sublime period in my life, and when I look back on it, it’s nearly shocking to think that some of the player to player interaction and community building aspects were stronger then, even with the limitations, than a lot of multiplayer games have now.

Within those first few years of owning a computer I knew, without question, that I wanted to do two things as a career and two things only: build communities, and build games. I’ve spent time doing both of those things in the past 12 years, but rarely both at the same time – I was most recently the community manager for Values of N, and before that built and ran llor.nu.

And now that Values of N has announced its second product, I intend to reorient myself with the original path I set out for so long ago. I’ve left Values of N – no bridges were burned and I wish Rael and crew the best the of luck. I learned an incredible amount about true entrepreneurism and how everything you do matters in a small startup and will use the lessons liberally moving forward.

I need to do some housekeeping first, but within a few months I’ll be putting my focus back on building clever games on the web and building real communities around them. Will’s talk didn’t make the decision for me, but the seed he planted certainly helped remind me of what I enjoy doing: uniting and enabling people to have fun.

Stikkit Nominated for SXSW Award

Friday, February 02 2007

I just posted about how Stikkit has been nominated for a SXSW Award in the Technical Achievement category. This is obviously great news, and I spent most of yesterday grinning about it. We’ve been so busy and deep into some really technical stuff – it’s great having that announcement hit around the same time as two other big announcments:

We launched our Stikkit API yesterday (you should read Rael’s announcement post – very good insight into our philosphies).

Merlin Mann announced that he’s joined the Values of n advisory board.

Regarding the SXSW Awards, the People’s Choice voting application went live today, so you’re able to go in and cast your votes for who you think should be the winner. Start voting! For Stikkit!

		<li>Update<br /> [We won!](http://www.valuesofn.com/blog/2007/03/stikkit-won-sxsw-award.html)</li>

The Valentine One

Tuesday, January 30 2007

I own the Valentine One radar detector, and this morning saw it pay for itself fully. Right as I pulled onto the freeway it went nuts, as a traffic cop on a motorcycle approached with radar in full force.

He pulled in right behind me and waited a few minutes until someone inched up over 50mph by a few more miles per hour. He pulled that car over.

Minutes later the detector was going bonkers again, showing the signal approaching from behind. He locked onto me again and waited. A few minutes later he pulled someone else over.

And he did the same thing again, zooming right up to me, waiting, then pulled someone else over a few minutes later.

This is just one reason I spent $400 on a device that tells me if there is radar present. In Oregon, the maximum speed limit on a major metro freeway is around 55. 65 if you’re out in the country, but no greater than 55 on my commute. And for most of the way, it’s 50.

Now, people scoff at my idea of paying $400 for a radar detector. They say “well, you shouldn’t speed”. These people have no leg to stand on given they also speed, even if just by a few miles an hour. A speed limit of 50mph was easy for my 1972 Datsun 510 to break. My Subaru WRX STI can break it in first gear. In California, if you drive 50mph on the freeway people will crash into from being at 30-40mph (given you usually do 80-90 there if traffic is moving).

And if the behavior of that police officer is any indication of things, in my car, I need a radar detector even if I’m going the speed limit so that I can be reminded of when I should drop down to 40mph when a cop is approaching.

At $150 per speeding ticket (not to mention moving violations on your record and insurance hikes), $400 pays for itself in no time, and I’m extremely pleased I did it.

Top Ten Things I Will Do for an iPhone

Tuesday, January 09 2007

One look at the new iPhone (that will run only on Cingular) and I’m suddenly sickened by my recent move from Cingular to T-Mobile. I made the move so I could use a Sidekick, which in my opinion was the best mobile device out there, prior to the new iPhone.

So sickened, that I’m scheming all sorts of ways to get out of my T-Mobile contract. Surely, with such a far superior product soon to come on the market, I should be allowed out of my T-Mobile contract based on T-Mobile’s now utterly supreme lack of relevance in the mobile phone market.

I have myself thinking of all sorts of stunts that will ultimately result in me having an iPhone, on Cingular, without having to carve one of my legs off.

And because I want this to be dugg, here are the Top Ten Things I will do for an iPhone. I expect, by some miracle of the internet, that I will succeed if I do all of these things, or maybe even just some.

1. I will practice complete phone absitence until June.
2. I will wage, in court, the complete inadequacy of all phones and phone service available on the market, aside from the iPhone. It’s as if we’ve all been riding unicycles, and someone just came out with personal jet packs that are fueled by good thoughts alone. Surely, there’s some sort of precedent set that nullifies horribly inferior service contracts.
3. I will wear cerulean blue until June, namely because it would embarress those around me, and maybe they’d all pitch in for the phone. And maybe because I only have two cerulean blue t-shirts, which I’d have to wear multiple times in a row without doing laundary to remain environmentally and economically responsible.
4. I will call T-Mobile every day and ask them when they’re going to get a phone better than the iPhone. I will record every call, and each time I call, I will use a funny voice. Sometimes I will sing, sometimes I will pretend as if I’m Dick Cheney.
5. I’ll not cut my hair. This one is easy, since I’m already in a hair growing contest. But those of you who saw me with a handle bar mustache, you’ll forgo Starbucks at least once a week to contribute to my iPhone fund in order to avoid the ugliness.
6. When speaking publically, I will make a point of taking out my current exclusivelly T-Mobile phone, and point at it, shaking my head in shame, then throw it across the room. I will not use it to make phone calls, adhering to Thing one.
7. I’ll break Thing 5, and just shave the hair off my left arm until June. This would not be effective, but I’ve always been curious what that’d be like, so might as well toss it in.
8. I’ll put signs in my car that say “Call me, and let me tell you about how inferior my phone is to what appears to be the perfect phone.” I will be breaking Thing one, but for a good cause. This is the only time I will break Thing one.
9. I’ll give up Pepsi. Forever. After writing that, it almost makes me reconsider this entire campaign, but I think I could do it. Conversely, if Pepsi wants to sponsor me, and make me their marketing shill for drinking Pepsi forever, that’d work just fine.
10. I’ll admit that there is indeed an extreme Saddahmist movement, more so than there ever was, and tell me children stories intended to motivate them to be wary of the extreme Saddahmists, which aren’t to be confused with the benevelont Saddahmists.


Monday, January 01 2007

Leah described one of her body parts as an olive the other day. I won’t say which, but it was all Carrie and I could do not to split our sides laughing while calmly asking “oh, is that so?”

Happy Birthday Dead Dictator

Friday, December 29 2006

I no longer have reason to be jealous of Carrie sharing her birthday with Elvis. I now share my birthday with the day Saddam Hussein was executed, as does Tiger Woods, who is my identical age down to the nano second. And yes, while I’m writing this on the 29th, it’s the 30th in Iraq.

No More Hybrid

Thursday, December 21 2006

A few months ago I raved about buying a hybrid. I did all sorts of calculations on the money I’d be saving on gas, gushed about the new in dash navigation system, and determined that this was my new way of being. I was living an ideal I had in my mind for a while that lasted in reality all of four months.

The problem with the hybrid was that the puppy love wore off quickly. The fancy navigation system had a mediocre user interface, the voice commands never really worked, and when cooler temperatures came the gas mileage dropped like a stone.

So here I was in a very humble and entirely unexciting vehicle. I was somewhat okay with that sort of outcome – I’d made my bed and knew I should see it through. That opinion began to change as winter started to really come. The back end of the car would often slip out around corners, and the lack of accelleration nearly cost me my life once as a Secret Service SUV came barrelling down on me.

One morning as I was driving to work I hit what looked like a small patch of ice, maybe six inches in diameter and the car spun out of control, doing a full 360 in the middle of traffic. Luckily I hit nothing, and ended up going the same direction I had been going without getting hit by someone else.

That afternoon I was in negotiations with a Subaru dealer. The next day I drove off the lot with a 2006 Subaru WRX STI – my dream car. About a month after getting the hybrid I horribly missed my Subaru, and having a two wheel drive car with a bank of batteries in the trunk was the exact opposite of what I was used to (and needed) – a car that actually stayed on the road in foul weather.

A lot of people are content with having simply a car as a means of conveyance. If it runs, has two wheels and gets you where you need to go, for some, that’s completely acceptable. For me, a car is a tool I use to get around. I’m not content with baseline tools. When I buy a hammer, I do research on the hammer first, and I determine what makes the best hammer. I don’t skimp when it comes to buying a computer. The chair I sit in is just as important.

But any car that can do what you’ll see in the following video is what I’d call a real car – according to the driver it’s stock except for the rollcage and safety harnesses. I don’t plan on doing this in my car, but knowing that I could reinforces my opinion that there’s more to choosing a tool that functionality alone – the best tools, whether cars, hammers, chairs, web applications, are ones that go a bit beyond acceptable, and move into the realm of incredible.


Speaking in March

Monday, December 11 2006

Hey, yay! I’ll be at SXSW in March as a speaker for the second time. This year I’ll be doing a solo power session (a new sort of shorter panel format). I’ll also be speaking at ETech for the first time later in March.

In both cases I’ll be giving a talk called “Your Web Application as a Text Adventure”, which is a polite way of saying that if you can’t easily create a text adventure style interface to your web application, you’ve got serious problems. Either your application has a poor API (or none), or your API is too complicated, or the organization that pulls the strings is out to lunch.

I’d love to start hearing ideas and reactions to my premise either here, or privately, as I begin to assemble slides and rehearse. Email me at michael.buffington@gmail.com, or talk to me via AIM at elbowdonkey.

When I Say Cancel, I Mean Cancel.

Wednesday, November 29 2006

Because we got rid of our television, we no longer need DirecTV or TiVo service, and so I set about to cancelling them today. In both cases, both companies tried to retain me, and the dialog went something like this:

>Retention Specialist: We’re sorry to hear that sir, is there a reason you’d like to cancel?
Me: Yes, we no longer have a television.
RT: Not even for the news?
Me: I’ve never depended on my television for the news, ever. Please cancel my service.
RT: Most people who get rid of their televisions end up getting new ones. Are you sure you want to cancel your service?
Me: I’m not sure how that’s relevant to me wanting to cancel my service. Could you please just do as I ask and cancel my service?
RT: We can lower your rate to n per month.
Me: That’s wonderful, but it’s not what I asked for. Cancel my service now please.
RT: long pause

This sort of struggle goes on for several minutes. In one case, the RT said “it’ll take me about 15 minutes to process this. Please remain on hold. There will be no hold music or background noise, so please do not assume I’ve hung up. In order for the cancellation to go through I must give you a confirmation number.” Right. He leaves his screen up, goes for a smoke break, and if I’ve had to the nerve to stick around pushes a single button and finally cancels my service, and he’s down a retention number.

Corporations, take note:

There is no way in hell that I will ever consider coming back to you as a customer if you put me through this. I am the customer, and when I want to cancel, it should take a seconds, and I shouldn’t have to listen to you retention strategies. I don’t dig layers and layers of phone systems to find the option to cancel on a whim.