Thursday Feb 14, 2008

Nintendo in a Browser

I’ve just discovered a wonderfully effective time-waster: vNes. You can play every single game from the original Nintendo Entertainment System right in your browser! Check out Super Mario Bros, Contra, Metroid, and my all-time favorite: The Legend of Zelda. The original music is there, and even the Konami Code works! The only functionality missing is support for saving games and, of course, the controller (though the keyboard functionality works OK).

Firing up these games brings back visceral memories of the year or two as a kid in which I spent way too much time front of a Nintendo.

Tuesday Oct 23, 2007

"External, Malicious Attack?" I doubt it

I tried to buy World Series tickets online yesterday, but instead ran into 90 minutes of “Connection Failed” and “Server Too Busy” errors. Looks like I wasn’t alone in my frustration.

I find it interesting that the Rockies are blaming an "external, malicious attack," but refuse to provide details. As best as I can tell, they just weren’t expecting 8.5 million hits in the first 90 minutes and so assume they were the target of some sort of denial of service attack. But if we do the math, 8.5 million hits is perfectly reasonable. I was attempting connections about once per minute on at least five different browsers. Over 90 minutes that leads to 450 hits from me alone. 8.5 million divided by 450 equals 18,889 (rounding up). That means it would have taken less than twenty thousand people doing what I did to generate that much traffic. Given that Coors Field seats around fifty thousand people for each game, that doesn’t sound at all unreasonable. Furthermore, if you add in the opportunists who are trying to buy tickets only to turn around and sell them on ebay for a huge profit, I don’t think these kinds of numbers should be at all unexpected. So it looks to me like they just didn’t do their math before opening up the ticket sales, and are now trying to blame an attack instead of admitting they weren’t prepared. This speculation on my part could, of course, be completely wrong. Perhaps there really was an attack. But I doubt it.

They’re opening up sales again at noon today. Let’s hope they’ve actually added more bandwidth, or we’ll see a repeat of yesterday’s fiasco. I also hope they aren’t going to accidentally lock out legitimate customers in their attempts to prevent against DOS attacks.

Friday Oct 12, 2007

New Personal Blog

I’ve decided to narrow the focus of my blog on to technical and work-related areas. I have started a new blog called ProudProgressive to write about politics and other topics.

Monday May 21, 2007

Answers in Genesis?

The other night my son asked me how woolly mammoths became extinct. Since I didn’t know the answer, I did what any good computer scientist would do: a Google search on the phrase, how did woolly mammoths go extinct. The second link in the search results, innocuously titled, "Extinction of the woolly mammoth," seemed scientific at first glance. However, a closer look showed some questionable ideas, such as the claim that there was only one ice age in the history of the earth. It turns out this article is on the Answers in Genesis creationist web site (no, I’m not linking to the site, as their PageRank is obviously far too high already).

I’m not disturbed that there are folks who hold creationist views, or that this web site exists. But I do find it somewhat troubling that it came up as the second hit on a Google search. A child exploring this question on his own might not have been discerning enough to filter out this bogus result in favor of legitimate scientific theories.

Interestingly, the Answers in Genesis site turned up only on the second page of Yahoo search results, and not until the fourth page of Windows Live search results, for the same query. So why did it turn up so high in the Google results?

I think this experience demonstrates a couple interesting points about search engines:

  1. Search engines aren’t nearly perfect. Just because something shows up in the first few hits doesn’t mean it’s actually relevant or accurate.

  2. It’s worth trying search engines other than Google once in a while.

Finally, it’s worth reiterating that you can’t always trust what you read on the web. Just as when reading a book, watching television, reading a newspaper, or listening to talk radio, it’s a good idea to think about the biases of the source and take them into account in your assessment of the information’s accuracy.


Nick Solter is a software engineer and author living in Colorado.


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