Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thoughts on Advertising

This is actually a topic that I've been thinking about for a while now, going back to a conversation I had at with Corvus Elrod at his "moving to the West Coast" party. We were discussing advertising in games, and generated a lot of interesting points. As a storyteller, it is anathema for him to see anything that pulls a player out of the game experience, and have them thinking about products in the real world. I agree with this, to a point. When one thinks of the rise of casual games, and the free product business model, it has to be conceded that advertising is one of the main revenue streams (and therefore driver of) the games industry. Armor Games was a company that I though had nothing but cheesy, vapid fare, until I was given a disk by the people of the Indie Games Showcase. Some of their offerings, particularly in the puzzle category (which I usually avoid), blew my mind with their innovations. This company, which is producing quality (though flash) games, is completely supported by the ads on their site (as far as I can tell). 

However, I just bought a new cell phone (a Google G1, in fact, and I love it), and got my first telemarketing call on it a few days afterward. Rather than encouraging me to buy whatever product they were hocking, all that call did was remind me to add my number to the "Do Not Call" list. So, the real question here is, why don't I mind unsolicited advertising next to games I play online, or even in my email, but there's a national response to telemarketing and spamming?

One word: Interference.

If advertising interferes with what you're trying to do, then it's a problem. Calling my phone, or sending me email, wastes time that I would otherwise spend doing other things. Interrupt me, and you're not hooking me as a customer. If I'm already on a website (or watching TV, or at some sort of sporting event), I'm an audience member already. If I happen to look at an ad that is up while I'm waiting for the next play, that's not interfering with what I'm trying to do, it's not breeding any resentment in me. In fact, if it's entertaining enough, I might even be glad it's there. Just look at how many funny/amazing commercials have been posted, by random people, up on YouTube. I readily admit that I would not buy Brawndo if they hadn't gone with an over-the-top, hilarious ad campaign.

Personally, I have no problem with advertising. In its most basic form, it's just trying to get you to buy something. That's fine, if we didn't buy things, we wouldn't really have an economy. Buying things drives innovation, and makes our lives easier. I even don't have a problem with targeted advertising. Some people say it's an invasion of privacy, and it is slightly, but personally, I'd rather not be pitched Depends while I'm checking my email. I see nothing wrong with companies collecting information about buying habits, customer satisfaction and whatnot. It's all supposed to make things more efficient and convenient.

However, if advertising gets too pervasive, too omnipotent, then we have a problem.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dealing with Null or "All" Parameters in MS SQL Reporting Services

I finally had something happen to me at work that I can add to this blog. Oh happy day, I feel as if I might faint.

Either way, I've recently become the SSRS "rock star" at my office, where even my bosses are stopping by and asking me questions about how to get their queries/formatting to work. It's not as glamorous as I thought it would be, and the groupies haunt my nightmares, but it's fun...ish.

Anyways, the person who was running the Reporting Services before me had an interesting way of dealing with using parameters to filter results in the SQL Query. I know there's a way to filter just using the wizard, but I'm of the opinion that it is probably faster (or at least more efficient) to do filtering in the query. For our filters, if the user doesn't want to use that filter, the first option says "All", but actually has a value of null. The way my predecessor would handle this would be to have a single query for every combination of null/not null parameters. So, if there was one parameter that could be null, there would be two queries, and IF statements to select which one. If there were two nullable parameters, that number raised to four. Three meant nine separate queries...et cetera

This wasn't really acceptable to me (mostly because I didn't want to have to add five more queries), so I looked to see if it was possible to use the IF statements right in the middle of the WHERE clause. No dice. So, what I did instead was use the following style of WHERE filter:

WHERE/AND (@param is null OR object.RelevantValue = @param)

This way, if the parameter the expression would still evaluate to true, and the filter statement would only matter if the parameter was actually specified. Now, the report query is 1/4 of its previous size, and 1/9th the size it would've been if I had done it the old way. Rock star? Maybe, maybe not, I don't care. This is just what I do.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Tables for Layout?

I love this


It was a response to a page that claimed that the average time that a web developer took before abandoning CSS for web layout was 47 minutes. Anyone who has worked with me (or watched me work on a web project) will vouch that I have toiled untold hours of my life away, simply trying to get a CSS layout to work. It warms my heart to see that other people are willing to be as fanatical about standards and best practices as I am.

Also, I'll be at the Philadelphia Game Expo this weekend. If you're there, say hi!

Sorry about the lack of posts, I've been working quite dilligently in what little free time I've had, but hopefully some more posts will be forthcoming soon.