All entries for Tuesday 10 January 2006

January 10, 2006

PSP vs Nintendo DS

A year or so ago, I had a chance, briefly, to try out a Sony PSP and a Nintendo DS. Both handheld game consoles, but they couldn't have been more different. The PSP was – and is – a gorgeous piece of hardware which looks great, feels great in the hand and has a beautiful, bright widescreen display. Like the best of Sony's designs over the years, it feels as though it's been beamed back in time from about five years in the future; it's the iPod of consoles. Nintendo's DS, on the other hand, felt as though it had been beamed forwards in time about twenty five years; it looks and feels like it was made by Mattel in about 1980; it's big and clunky and if someone showed you the two of them side by side and asked you which one you wanted, you'd have to be insane to pick the DS.

And yet shortly before Christmas, I bought a DS. Am I insane? Not for that decision, at any rate. The trouble with the PSP is that it lacks the one crucial thing a console needs; good, distinctive games. There are games which look great when you see them running – Ridge Racer, for example – but the overwhelming majority of the PSP catalogue is stuff which has endlessly been done before – first person shooters, racing games, sports games, movie tie–ins. Owning a PSP is just like owning a PlayStation only smaller, and while I can see that for some people that's exactly why it's great, for me it's just completely uninteresting.

(As a slight digression, what I think is most regrettable about the PSP is Sony's boneheaded refusal to see that their DRM obsession is stopping them from having a genuine category killer in the PSP. If they'd given it a 30GB hard drive and made it easy to copy music and movies to it, and they'd encouraged rather than worked frantically to block all those developers who want to port their own applications to it, they could have completely ruled the emerging personal media player space with the PSP. What a waste.)

But back to the DS. It took a while for a range of interesting titles to emerge for it, but before Christmas I started to hear great things about games such as Advance Wars, Animal Crossing, Mario Kart, Sonic Rush, Kirby Power Paint, Meteos and others. Some of these games obviously aren't completely original, but they all offer something distinctive on the DS that hasn't been done before; Mario Kart, for instance, has managed to include genuinely seamless wireless multiplayer gaming which just works, even over public wifi access points. Sonic Rush plays across two screens simultaneously. Kirby Power Paint is a platform game which is controlled by drawing and tapping rather than the conventional joypad approach. They all feel fresh, different, innovative. And that's worth much more than a high gloss case or a big screen.

(Bonus points: If you close the lid of the DS, the game you're playing is automatically suspended and restarted when you open the lid. You couldn't ask for a better handheld for the parent who has to cope with 4 year olds materialising at a moment's notice to demand attention. And the DS plays GBA games as well, allowing me to resurrect some of my old favourites from the Game Cupboard of History.)

Metrics for a good day

I've been thinking a bit recently about what distinguishes days when I feel I've been productive and successful from days when I, well, let's say, not so much. Some of it I suspect is just random; some days I just feel more motivated, more productive, more able to get lots of things done. Some days follow nights where a happy hour or so was spent soothing a stroppy six month old back to sleep. That's got to make a difference too.

But given that some days seem more successful than others, what's the difference between those days? How might a successful day be measured? It's different according to the sort of job you're doing, of course; if you're a programmer, you could measure lines of code written, (although that's actually a pretty bogus sort of metric) or you could think about bugs fixed or features added.

But I'm not a programmer any more, I'm that most amorphous of trades, a manager, so measurable results are irksomely hard to come by. One possibility is to assume that the best metric for your success is the success of the teams you manage, but I'm not keen on that; it seems like just piggy-backing on the talents and abilities of others. If, as I do, you deliver a service or services, then you could think about customer satisfaction, but while I do think it's useful to have that somewhere in your mind, I don't think you can measure the success of an individual day in that way; the success of a year, maybe.

If you wanted to pick the most tragic possible metric, you could think about meetings attended, reports written or emails answered, perhaps. But let's not do that. You could be circular about it and just say that successful days are the days when you feel as though you've been successful, or when you got done the things you wanted to get done. But the possibility I'm coming around to is that for me good days, successful days, are the ones with ideas in them. So yesterday, for example, the valuable parts of the day were when Chris and I hit upon some useful ideas for improving the performance of FormsBuilder, and when Rob and the other e-learning guys and I worked up the idea of a database support service. Today's most useful work was, by some margin, accomplished in the first half hour of the day, when Kieran and I batted around ideas about the best way to show people details of the files they've uploaded into our content management system.

The details of the ideas aren't that important, and neither, up to a point, is the question of whether the ideas work out as planned, or even whether the idea is brilliant, mediocre or stupid. (Obviously having a continuous stream of stupid, unworkable ideas isn't the best possible arrangement.) But it does suggest that a smart strategy might be to figure out the circumstances in which ideas might arise and see if it's possible to arrange more time like that and less time doing stuff which at the end of the day doesn't really seem as though anything is appreciably different from how it was at the start.

Do other people have ways of measuring how successful their days are?

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