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September 2003
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November 2003

Tog on Magic and Web design

In Web wizards weave their magic, Bruce Tognazzini discusses similarities between conjuring and web design.

As a magician, and web slinger, I find the article to be amusing. I won't argue with it, but I think Tog should expand his thesis to include computers in general. One similarity he missed is that computer users, like spectators at a magic show, will often create elaborate and misinformed "explanations" for the behavior their witnessing.

Tinderbox Teaser

Mark Bernstein is playing with adding support for Macros to Tinderbox. That's such a good idea that I wish I had suggested it. Tinderbox clearly has a powerful text substitution and resolution engine under its hood, and exposing it in a way that lets users create their own macros, resolved at export time, is a neat idea. The complexity will surely befuddle some users, but I'm hoping it makes it out of the lab and into the product soon.

Burning Monkey Mahjong Solitaire Review

I recently picked up this new Freeverse game for Mac OS X and thought I'd share a few first impressions. Ever since Activision released "Shanghai" in the late 1980s I've been a fan of this type of game, and I've probably bought a dozen different versions of it, for various platforms including the GameBoy and Palm OS.

This version plays quite well, and has a good number of layouts -- many of which aren't totally silly -- a common problem in this genre. The price is also right, retailing for around $20.

Activision, of course, had the good sense to leave "Mahjong" out of the title of their game, since the only thing these tile-matching puzzles share with the real game of Mahjong is the tileset, and a penchant for vaguely "oriental" trappings. Oddly, Freeverse not only uses "Mahjong" (which again, it is not) but also adds the head-scratching "solitaire" to the title. I guess this is supposed to imply that it's a single-player game, and to associate the game with their successful Burning Monkey (cards) Solitaire.

Some parts of Burning Monkey Mahjong feel rushed. There's a glaring typo on the back cover of the box and the manual takes the lazy-man's approach to documentation by simply describing what every menu command does. (Including the startling revelation that choosing "Quit" will quit the application.) As a documentation professional, this disappointed me, especially after the opening page's interesting "haiku" installation instructions.

All in the all the game is quite good. The controls are responsive, matched tiles fade off the screen with a satisfying visual effect, and the required "show next move" is smart enough to suggest reasonable strategic alternatives.

The "Burning Monkey" part, however, might not be to your taste. Luckily, you can turn off the wise-cracks and silliness if it disturbs your concentration.

But there is one glaring, serious problem that will prevent some Mac OS X users from using the game. The application requires a minimum screen resolution larger than 800 x 600. There's no mention of this on the package or the website. To add insult to injury, an email to Freeverse Tech Support about this issue has gone unanswered for four days now. Beware, if you have an older iBook that's limited to 800 x 600, this game is not for you.

Awash in junk mail

Just for the hell of it, I decided that I wasn't going to delete any of the spam that I received in September. Instead, I let Mac OS X's Mail application just dutifully flag and file it away, for the whole month.

By the end I had nearly 7500 junk messages.


That's about 250 per day. How sad that email has come to this.

It turns out that ignoring your junk mail folder wasn't a good idea. At the end of the month I was so overwhelmed by the number of messages that I couldn't possibly ferret out any legitimate email that was incorrectly identified as junk. I started to try, but awash in a sea of spam, I gritted my teeth and deleted all of them in one fell swoop.

So, damnit, it's back to doing a little daily weeding of the crap pile. It was nice for a while to completely disregard the growing stench of spam, but it didn't work out as well as I'd hoped.