For quite a while the two of us sat at our table, viagra wordlessly stirring our coffee. Ervinke was bored.
“All right, seek ” he said. “Let’s play poker.”
“No,” I answered. “I hate cards. I always lose.”
“Who’s talking about cards?” Thus Ervinke. “I was thinking of Jewish poker.”
He then briefly explained the rules of the game. Jewish poker is played without cards, in your head, as befits the People of the Book.
“You think of a number; I also think of a number,” Ervinke said. “Whoever thinks of a higher number wins. This sounds easy, but it has a hundred pitfalls.
“All right,” I agreed, “Let’s try.”
We plunked down five piasters each, and leaning back in our chairs, began to think of numbers. After a while Ervinke signaled that he had one. I said I was ready.
“All right.” Thus Ervinke. “Let’s hear your number.”
“Eleven,” I said.
“Twelve,” Ervinke said, and took the money. I could have kicked myself, because originally I had thought of Fourteen, and only at the last moment I had climbed down to Eleven. I really don’t know why.
“Listen,” I turned to Ervinke. “What would have happened if I had said Fourteen?”
“What a question! I’d have lost. Now, that is just the charm of poker, you never know how things will turn out. But if you nerves cannot stand a little gambling, perhaps we had better call it off.”
Without saying another word, I put down ten piasters on the table. Ervinke did likewise. I pondered my number carefully and opened with Eighteen.
“Damn!” Ervinke said. “I only had Seventeen!”
I swept the money into my pocket and quietly guffawed. Ervinke had certainly not dreamed that I would master the tricks of Jewish poker so quickly. He had probably counted on my opening with Fifteen or Sixteen, but certainly not with Eighteen. Ervinke, his brow in angry furrows, proposed we double the stakes.
“As you like,” I sneered, and could hardly keep back my jubilant laughter. In the meantime a fantastic number had occurred to me. Thirty-five!
“Lead!” said Ervinke.
With that he pocketed the forty piasters. I could feel the blood rushing into my brain.
“Listen,” I hissed. “Then why didn’t you say Forty-three the last time?”
“Because I had thought of Seventeen!” Ervinke retorted indignantly. “Don’t you see, that is the fun in poker: you never know what will happen next.”
“A pound,” I remarked dryly, and, my lips curled in scorn, I threw a note on the table. Ervinke extracted a similar note from his pocket and with maddening slowness placed it next to mine. The tension was unbearable. I opened with Fifty-four.
“Oh, damn it!” Ervinke fumed. “I also thought of Fifty-four! Draw! Another game!”
My brain worked with lightning speed. “Now you think I’ll again call Eleven, my boy,” I reasoned. “But you’ll get the surprise of your life.” I chose the surefire Sixty-nine.
“You know what, Ervinke,” – I turned to Ervinke – “you lead.”
“As you like,” he agreed. “It’s all the same with me. Seventy!”
Everything went black before my eyes. I had not felt such panic since the siege of Jerusalem.
“What do you know?” I whispered with downcast eyes. “I have forgotten.”
“You liar!” Ervinke flared up. “I know you didn’t forget, but simply thought of a smaller number and now don’t want to own up. An old trick. Shame on you!”
I almost slapped his lothesome face for this evil slander, but with some difficulty overcame the urge. With blazing eyes I upped the stakes by another pound and thought of a murderous number: Ninety-six!
“Lead, stinker,” I threw at Ervinke, whereupon he leaned across the table and hissed into my face:
“Sixteen hundred and eighty-three!”
A queer weakness gripped me.
“Eighteen hundred,” I mumbled wearily.
“Double!” Ervinke shouted, and pocketed the four pounds.
“What do you mean, ‘double’?” I snorted. “Whats that?”
“If you loose your temper in poker, you loose your shirt!”Ervinke lectured me. “Any child will understand that my number doubled is higher than yours, so it’s clear that -”
“Enough,” I gasped, and threw down a fiver. “Two thousand” I lead.
“Two thousand four hundred and seventeen.” Thus Ervinke.
“Double!” I sneered, and grabbed the steaks, but Ervinke caught my hand.
“Redouble!” he whispered, and pocketed the tenner. I felt I was going out of my mind.
“Listen” – I gritted my teeth – “If thats how things stand, I could also have said ‘redouble’ in the last game, couldn’t I?”
“Of course,” Ervinke agreed. “To tell you the truth, I was rather surprised that you didn’t. But this is poker, yahabibi – you either know how to play it or you don’t! If you are scatter-brained, better stick to croquet.”
The stakes were ten pounds. “Lead:” I screamed. Ervinke leaned back in his chair, and in a disquietingly calm voice announced his number: four.
“Ten million!” I blared triumphently. But without the slightest sign of excitement, Ervinke said:
And then took twenty pounds.
I then broke into sobs. Ervinke stroked my hair and told me that according to Hoyle, whoever is first out with the Ultimo wins, regardless of numbers. That is the fun in poker: You have to make split second decisions.
“Twenty pounds,” I whimpered, and placed my last notes in the hands of fate. Ervinke also placed his money. My face was bathed in cold sweat. Ervinke went on calmly blowing smoke rings, only his eyes had narrowed.
“You,” I answered, and he fell into my trap like the sucker he was.
“So I lead,” Ervinke said. “Ultimo,” and he stretched out his hand for the treasure.
“Just a moment” – I stopped him: “Ben-Gurion!”
With that I pocketed the mint’s six-month output. “Ben-Gurion is even stronger than Ultimo,” I explained. “But its getting dark outside. Perhaps we had better break it off.”
We paid the waiter and left.
Ervinke asked for his money back, saying that I had invented the Ben-Gurion on the spur of the moment. I admitted this, but said that the fun in poker was just in the rule that you never returned the money you had won.
Due to the BAFTA-nomination of youth health no tea, it’s all the same to me”>the BBC’s new version of the Hitchhiker’s text adventure (as updated by Sean, Shim and Rod Lord), the guy who co-created the original game is coming to town next week.
We think it’d be fab if we could get him in conversation publically, you know, giving a talk about the games he’s worked on (such as the legendary Planetfall and Leather Goddesses of Phobos), the history of Infocom, his work at WorldWinner and all that.
- We need to find a decent central London talk venue for 100-or-so people
- Once we have that venue, we need to announce it
The most suitable date for this is Thursday 3rd March. (There is a small but definite chance that it may be Tuesday 1st instead, but for now, it’s the Thursday we’re working on.) Obviously, final details will be posted here once I have them.
Can you help? Let us know.
UPDATE: All sorted. Big thanks to James Wallis for the venue suggestion and James Cronin for booking it!
Very Late Update: An audio recording of the event is available here (90MB .ogg file)
In honour of the BAFTA award nomination for the BBC’s new Internet edition of the classic Infocom computer game, cheap The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, we present two titans of the text adventure:
Steve Meretzky and Michael Bywater, in conversation
(on interactive fiction, Douglas Adams and other lost worlds)
As well as working with Douglas Adams on the Hitchhiker’s game in 1985, Steve Meretzky is responsible for such other classics of the genre as Planetfall, Leather Goddesses of Phobos and Zork Zero. In 1999 he was named one of the industry’s 25 “Game Gods” by PC Gamer magazine. He currently holds the position of Principal Game Designer for WorldWinner, Inc.
Veteran writer and broadcaster Michael Bywater has been involved with interactive storytelling since the eighties, both with Douglas Adams on Infocom’s Bureaucracy and the legendary British games company Magnetic Scrolls. He worked with Adams again in the mid-nineties on The Digital Village’s Starship Titanic. His third book, Lost Worlds: What Have We Lost & Where Did It Go? (not, as previously suggested, a collection of his columns for The Independent On Sunday) is out now.
Date: Thursday 3rd March, 8:00pm
Price: £4 on the door – all proceeds go to Save The Rhino and The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund
Venue: The Brockway Room, Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL (map)
Any questions: email@example.com
Like many others, patient I had written off Dave Winer’s recent obsession with the new Google toolbar. That was until I actually downloaded and installed the thing, check and realised – oh my god! There are some really important points he’s raised, and everyone needs to hear them right now!
- “The issue for authors and publishers is whether readers know they’re reading text that’s been modified.” And it’s so ambiguous! Admittedly, in order for the web page to be altered by the Google toolbar, an “AutoLink” button needs to be pressed every time (it doesn’t do it automatically), and the first time you press it this pop-up window appears which explains everything. Personally, I don’t think that’s nearly enough! A large claxon should sound, the screen should flash, and the user should get a phone call from a Google employee explaining the incredibly ambiguous and possibly-accidental button press. After all, the user might not realise that they had altered the content of the page if they were incredibly forgetful or stupid.
- “What happens when Google isn’t satisfied to add links to our sites, suppose they were to change the actual words? I haven’t heard Google say they would never do that, have you?” This is an incredibly good point! Just because the Google Toolbar does something that is only helpful at the moment, there’s nothing stopping them from making a later version do it automatically. They could also redirect all links on a page to go through Google. They could leverage their total domination of the search-engine market to provide completely false information about how big Larry Page’s penis is. And then, they could use all the cash from their recent IPO to build an army of attack robots and mount an invasion of Belgium. The fact that in the previous seven years of market dominance they have done nothing that would even approach this kind of non-consensual content modification has no bearing on the argument! Sure, it would utterly destroy their credibility and popularity and decimate their userbase, but such a move from Google’s decision makers would be quite possible if they were incredibly forgetful or stupid.
- “It invites Microsoft, with it’s [sic] virtual monopoly in browser [sic], to do the same, to the detriment of the market, and even Google itself.” Gaah, Dave, as blindingly insightful as you are, I wish you hadn’t said that out loud! I bet that the noise has attracted the IE7 team and they’re now thinking, “Whoah, he’s right! We control the horizontal and the vertical too! Why can’t we just use our awesome monopoly power to, say, erase all mention of “Linux” (spit!) from the web?” Sure, they could have thought of this from the very beginning, but not if they were incredibly forgetful or stupid.
- “At minimum it should provide an opt-out as described above, but we really want AutoLink to be opt-in.” Dave speaks for all of us web creators when he says that the content of a web page should only be viewed in exactly the way its author intended, even if the user (by pressing the AutoLink button) requests otherwise. Even though the earliest web browsers included such content-altering features as “Turn Off Image Downloading”, and that modern screen-reading browsers have to change the way text is rendered to disabled users, not to mention the approximately 10 billion other ways in which dynamic content alteration has become a vital part of web usage, (such as Google Cache search) all this behaviour is clearly wrong. After all, if a web author had to specifically opt-in to have their web page altered for any of the above purposes, the web would be much, much more valuable and have better integrity. It’s worth disagreeing with those who decreed that the specific rendering of a web page should be ultimately left to the end user’s preferences – such as the entire W3C, for example – because they might not have thought of these potential violations if they were incredibly forgetful or stupid.
So, there you go, folks! I’m not the only one who feels this way: hundreds of others agree! And the only way they could all be wrong is… um… nope, can’t think of anything.
Dave: thank you for your response. And that’s a genuine thank you, page not a sarcastic thank you. That said, I had hoped that, despite the satirical tone, my previous post on this topic at least contained enough solid arguments to be considered slightly intelligent. But perhaps not. My tone (and use of the word “obsession”, which I think is at least partially justified since you’ve been repeatedly focusing on this topic for over a week now) came from an exasperation at seeing you and many others drawn in to a pointless and potentially harmful battle.
Sarcasm and its problems aside, the point that I was trying to make was that (as you pointed out to me with the sentence starting “When you take that first step down the slope…”) your prime argument against the AutoLink feature is a slippery slope fallacy. The Google AutoLink feature is a fundamentally useful one now. Since it must be directly activated on each page, it does not defraud the user into fooling them that the content they are seeing is as it was originally created. (Surely they would only press the button if the content was lacking in useful links) It does not remove or replace any existing links or ads. It only does something for which the user has specifically asked.
The argument that you raise in your response to me hinges on what Google/Microsoft/A.N.Other BigCo might do but haven’t. To which I say: well, when they do something that actually is fraudulent or dangerous, we’ll complain about it then. You are saying that AutoLink legitimises the wilful changing of content in its passage between creator and user; I say that it does nothing that the user has not specifically asked for. And if the user has asked for it, there is no reason why they should not have it; after all, they could save the HTML to their hard drive and edit it for exactly the same effect. (In fact, the user could do far more wilful damage to HTML than the AutoLink feature does.) Content creators should not have to provide specific opt-in permission; if they had to do this for every such feature out there, most of them would never work.
You say you care. I agree, you obviously care, and I don’t dispute that. However, we clearly have very different ideas about what is good for the web. My argument is that AutoLink is both harmless to the web and good for users. It is a useful feature and I don’t think it does anything worth pulling out of users’ hands. You say that it breaks a taboo about content modification; I say that taboo has never existed, and useful content modification (by both clients and servers) has been happening since the web began. It is a vital feature of the web that has been implemented in a thousand different ways, most of them useful (pop-up blockers, screen readers and mobile-format filters are just some of the ones that immediately spring to mind). Please don’t devalue this feature by saying that this one harmless user-invoked Google function will somehow lead the web to doom.
I’m not saying that harmful content filters will never appear; they have in the past and doubtless will do again. But, as Cory said, what makes them harmful is not content modification, it’s fraud. This distinction must be made, or it may end up scaring people into disabling much of what makes the web great. And this is why I disagree with your fight: I don’t think that, in this particular case, it’s helping.
UPDATE: Yet another response. (Last one, honest. Really.)
Apparently, viagra some more definitiveness is required. Not only did I get another (email) response from Dave asking me to further clarify things, health system but several other smart people also seem to be touting the slippery slope argument as well as demanding that their content be delivered to the user’s eyeballs unaltered. “We are on the first step down the road to madness!” they yell. “Where is the line to be drawn?” God knows, I’ve been aching to draw a line under this whole thing since it started (which was the point of my first post).
Dave specifically requested I answer his email publicly: I shall quote it in its entirety with my interspersed responses, and tackle Scoble, Calacanis, Rubel et al at the same time. While eating a banana. (Excellent value for your attention dollar, that’s me.)
Now how about answering the question I asked.
Where is the line?
What are the rules?
I thought Roger Benningfield nailed this one already, but clearly it needs further clarification. You want a completely solid line? Here goes:
If a content-modifying function:
- has a definition that is completely understood by the user
- is only invocable at the user’s request and in isolation (i.e. not automatically)
- has an effect limited to the user who invoked it
… then it’s entirely within the spirit of the Web, no matter what modification it performs. No exceptions.
Google AutoLink fits completely within that definition. Hence, it’s fine and not worth arguing about. There are other existing functions out there that step over the line. (Note that stepping over the line does not automatically imply evil. Just that staying behind the line is a guarantee of non-evil.) But, for the rest of this discussion, we’re dealing entirely with tools that work like Google AutoLink, since that’s what everyone seems to have a problem with.
It’s at this point that I say goodbye to anyone who wants to run off down the slippery slope and imagine a bunch of plugins, browsers and robot henchmen that are outside of this definition and, say, eat puppies. Please feel free to do so, but not here. As soon as reality catches up with your imaginings, I will too. Until then, I prefer to deal with real problems that exist today.
Can I scrape Google and replace their ads with mine?
Sho’nuff, as long as it stays on your machine (point 3). If you want to write a plugin to do it and pass it around your friends, that’s fine too, as long as it fits with the rules above. It’s only if you publish these scraped pages to the web that Google might have a problem with it. But then, they don’t seem to have shut down Scroogle yet. (For many other fascinating Google-scrapers, see Cory’s excellent collection.
(If you can’t see the difference between making the modification on your own machine and publishing it to the rest of the web, then you need to read up on fair use in copyright, not to mention the concepts of passing off and fraud.)
Why not? No, really, why not? What’s the difference between Microsoft doing it, Google doing it, and my 10-year-old neighbour doing it? The argument doesn’t magically change just because you write “Microsoft” in the title bar, no matter what Scoble seems to think. Abuses of monopoly power happen when the consumer has a choice taken away from them. Nobody is forcing anybody to install Google Toolbar. Were an MSN Toolbar to be similarly optional, exactly the same rules would apply.
This leads onto another hot topic, which is that Google AutoLink creates links to providers of Google’s own choice, as if any company which doesn’t also advertise its competitors is somehow evil. We now have a situation where Google, bless ’em, have modified the Toolbar so it can link to Yahoo! Maps if the user wishes. This is a wonderful feature and in no way were they required to do it. If you want all your map links to go to Yahoo!, then install the Yahoo! Toolbar. If you don’t like the fact that Google AutoLinks to, say, Amazon, then don’t click the AutoLink button. They’ve been completely open about what it does, and nobody’s forcing you. This really isn’t that hard.
And while we’re talking about Microsoft, I should point out that for several months now, Microsoft has automatically installed on its users’ machines an automated content-modifying function that is part of Internet Explorer. Furthermore, this is a function which removes ads and thus hits publishers’ revenue. Yep, it’s the pop-up blocker in SP2. (Thanks, rOD.) And Microsoft did it because the users were crying out for it. I’m intrigued to know who amongst the AutoLink opposition have automated pop-up blocking enabled in their browsers, and whether they think this might be a teeny bit hypocritical.
Please post your answers on the web.
Here you go. If you like, you can download this page and do whatever you want with it as long as you don’t republish those modifications without my permission. (Because, Natalie, such changes have no effect on my site. They only change one person’s view of it.) It’s weird that I have to spell that out because that’s how the web — no, wait, that’s how publishing has always worked.
Jason: Imagine that you’re a paper magazine publisher (free or paid, doesn’t matter). I’ve got one copy of your magazine and taken it home. Are you seriously suggesting that I shouldn’t be allowed to do whatever the hell I like with it? That, say, I shouldn’t be able to rip all of the ads out of it (or scribble over them) if I so choose? Are you further suggesting that if News Corporation creates some kind of paper-mangling machine that turns your magazine into a Fox News papsheet, that I shouldn’t be allowed to buy it? As long as I am completely informed as to what the machine does, why can I not be allowed to make that choice myself?
After your ad hominems and sarcasm, there wasn't much left other than "I
I sincerely and unreservedly apologise for any ad hominem attacks on you, Dave.
As for sarcasm, I believe (and many others around the web seem to agree, based on the trackbacks) that satire was a valid and effective way to communicate my problems with the argument. Clearly, there have been some problems with it since you believe that there was no argument there, even though there is nothing I argue in the second piece that wasn’t in the first.
Okay, I’m pretty much done here, and I hope that I can mostly leave this sorry mess behind and get on with blogging about something more directly relevant to me, like cleaning this banana off my keyboard. In the meantime, however, I want to leave all those who are still opposed to my viewpoint, and still running off down that tempting slippery slope, with this thought:
If you must have a slippery slope to play with, then imagine one that slopes the other way. One where the content publishers have more and more control, where they have the power to decide, say, who can link to a page, how long your browser must stay on a page before being allowed to leave, which pages it is allowed to exit to, etc.
Just like the slippery slope I’ve been complaining about, this one is similarly absurd. But if you want to take the first real step down it, it’s simple: Turn your pop-up blocker off.