Survey of Conference Attendees
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If you have attended a conference this year where people have used Twitter, IRC, or similar tools to carry on conversations during the live event (a “backchannel”), I’d appreciate it if you would take this brief (5-15 minute) survey:

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As Difficult as Possible
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For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.

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I built a site to read mailing list archives because of the list MUD-dev. It’s a high-quality, all-signal discussion of online game developers. The authors are some of the creators of the current crop of massively multiplayer virtual worlds, and the archive collects their wisdom.

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Done at the Post
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Yesterday was my last day at the Washington Post. I don’t have a lot to add to my update 6 weeks ago; aside from some updates to the database of Guantanamo Detainees all of what I’ve done has been internal improvements to start the upgrade to Django 1.0 (80 apps take a while), tidy up templates, and make sure all my code and projects are smoothly transitioned to other newsroom employees.

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Web Game
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The big project I’ve mentioned is a web-based game: in 5-20 minutes per day, you recruit and send out your roster of secret agents on operations from secret bases in an online world made up of your friends and hundreds of thousands of other players.

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NearbyGamers To-Do List
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NearbyGamers has been growing steadily without a lot of direct action on my part. I’ve been bugfixing and moderating, but aside from some performance improvements in November, it’s been quite a while since its had any user-visible improvements. Mostly this has been because I keep distracting myself with side projects: they’re deceptively simple to start but always have some area(s) of significant non-obvious complexity and a need for time-consuming polishing and refinement. I’m going to finish them off and then give attention to NearbyGamers.

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Small Plans
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My last day at the Post is Feb 20, and I’m headed to Chicago on the 22nd. I’ll be helping a family member recover from surgery, so my schedule (both day-to-day and how long I’ll be in town) is pretty vague, but I’ll be around at least a few weeks before returning to DC.

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Giving Notice
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Today I gave notice that my last day at the Washington Post will be February 20. The primary reason is that I need to take time off to help a family member convalesce. I’m not taking a leave of absence because I’ve long wanted to work for myself.

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Linearization of the Playing Field
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It bugs me when people say that tools like Amazon’s EC2 and S3 “level the playing field”. They really don’t, the playing field is still as tilted towards the large players as ever.

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Free Shipping From Amazon Merchants
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I read a post today about a guy who bought a camera from an Amazon Merchant and left negative feedback after it was shipped poorly (via BoingBoing). They offered to refund the shipping cost ($75) if he’d take down his negative feedback. This caught my attention, because it’s happened to me.

A few months ago I bought from Amazon Merchants for the first time, getting three things from three different merchants. Everything arrived fine and within the same two days, so I went to leave feedback for all of them. They were all small, easily shipped, reasonably-priced, and they arrived fine, so I just gave them all three stars and got on with my day.

Within the next few days, all three vendors contacted me and asked me to remove my “negative” feedback. Well, not so much negative as “average” when I could have chosen “superb”. One looked like a form letter. All of them offered to refund my shipping if I’d delete my rating to stop pulling down their average rating.

It sounds like Amazon Merchants believe that even the smallest amount of feedback that’s not a 5-star rating hurts them significantly. I don’t know if that’s correct, if they’ll be explicitly punished by Amazon or just don’t want to risk having a lower total rating than their competitors, but they would all pay to remove my imperfect ratings. (I didn’t mean to harm them, so I just pulled the reviews without getting refunds.)

Perhaps it’s just chance that all four vendors offered to refund shipping to remove less-than-glowing reviews, but I have to wonder if Amazon’s feedback system is too strict. Buyers won’t see real negative feedback because Merchants are paying to have it removed. If Merchants can’t shrug off a few reviews now and then, unscrupulous buyers could leave negative feedback to bully Merchants into giving discounts after the sale.