Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Razor's Edge

The Razor’s Edge Review: Somerset Maugham’s ode to Brahmanism

The Razor's EdgeThe Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“For men and women are not only themselves; they are also the region in which they are born, the city apartment or farm in which they learnt to walk, the games they played as children, the old wives tales they overheard, the food they ate, the schools they attended, the sports they followed, the poets they read, and the God they believed in. It is all these things that have made them what they are, and these are the things that you can’t come to know by hearsay…”

This was my second time reading Maugham’s grand opus on existentialism. What is the purpose of life? Why are we here? What makes for a meaningful life? And what can we do to find the answers to these vexing questions?

Nonetheless, I came away somewhat disappointed when compared to the first time I read this novel some 30 + years ago. Upon my first read, I was thoroughly absorbed by Maugham’s writing style and insight into human affairs. I was satisfied with the ending and it served as a great preliminary introduction to Eastern and/or Indian mysticism.

Reading it a second time, I was slightly less impressed. I believe this has to do with the fact that I didn’t like the style of Maugham’s writing. He wrote long-winded sentences that in today’s fiction just don’t read well. I found myself forced to reread certain phrases because I felt he was trying to stuff too much description when it wasn’t needed. He also wrote too many empty phrases describing a character’s physique or reaction to a particular situation. Descriptions of Larry’s smile, for example, just fell flat for me. This novel is essentially one long conversation between the author and the principal characters. There’s no action in it at all.

What I always loved about Maugham was his observations about humanity. And this novel includes some prescient ones. His observations about marriage, morality, God, were just as validating to me as the first time I read them. I believe Maughm was gay. I think it’s because of Mr. Maugham’s sexual orientation that he’s able to express such discernment into heterosexual relations.

I love this story not just because it focuses on one person’s search for the meaning and purpose of existence but how Maugham uses as a backdrop the contrast between the “gay” 20’s with the Depression 30s as a way of reminding the wealthy that they too are not immune to the unpredictability of life’s economics. Of course, noblesse oblige saves the day for Isabel and Grey, thanks to charming but snobby, Uncle Elliott.

I also like how much Larry actually learned about himself from his sojourn to India. He gained tremendous acuity about human consciousness and spirit, something Isabel was never interested in. And in the end, each character finds what they are looking for. It’s a very satisfactory conclusion. I also did not recall that the second to last chapter is really where Mr. Maugham shines as he delves into Larry’s pursuit of Indian mysticism. You could really skip everything that precedes this chapter and just read it as a stand alone. From this chapter you would learn everything you need to know about Larry’s quest for meaning. It was this chapter that introduced me to Brahmanism.

My only quibble, again, has to do with Somerset’s writing style. I don’t think it has aged well. I love the 1946 movie version of Razor’s Edge. It sorely lacked specifics about Larry’s sojourn into India and that remains the weakest part of the film. Otherwise, the acting is uniformly excellent.

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Big Indie Pitch 2014 - San Francisco

Byron Gordon – featured apps judge at Big Indie Pitch San Francisco 2014

From exploring the strange tale of #FlappyBird to discussing how best to secure a feature with Apple, Pocket Gamer rocked the Gaming World stage at Apps World SF 2014. And yours truly was at the center of it.

Big Indie Pitch 2014 - San Francisco
Big Indie Pitch 2014 – San Francisco
Big Indie Pitch panel of judges 2014
Big Indie Pitch panel of judges 2014

My words of wisdom to mobile app developers:

Technorati’s Byron Gordon added, “Give plenty of time to review your app before it goes live, at minimum a month.”

Gordon added, “Promote the idea as opposed to the app. How is your app standing out from the rest? What larger trends is your app capitalizing on? What do you know about your audience? Are they hardcore, midcore, what other specific criteria can you specify? Will they finish the actual story to your game or will they quit half way through because they become bored or frustrated? How do you keep them engaged?”

Flappy Bird

Dong Nguyen’s Flappy Bird in 2014: Be careful what you wish for

Dong Nguyen
Dong Nguyen, creator of Flappy Bird (on the right)


I just came back from the recent AppsWorld held at Moscone Center West in San Francisco. I played judge on a big Indie Pitch panel. Developers came up one by one and had three minutes to pitch their latest mobile app. Some came very prepared with a polished product. Others were entirely ill-prepared and came with nothing but the best of intentions. One of the winners our panel of judges selected was Revel, a social networking picture game app that integrates photos taken from your mobile phone. Instantly, every judge got the concept. It’s social, uses your mobile camera, and facilitates socializing between groups of people in any number of urban environments, like bars or clubs. Everyone loved it and quickly understood the branding and marketing opportunities for this game.

The judges listened carefully to each developer wanting to appreciate their hard work. But the final product must answer important questions.  Does your app capitalize on a new idea? Is it traveling down a road less traveled? Is there anything groundbreaking about it? Is the artwork original? Does it captivate?  Does it have that “fun” factor making you want to share it with others? Does it have a story worth telling? Does it feel like it’s not just a complete waste of your time?

Flappy Bird
Flappy Bird

It’s 2014 and fresh out of the mobile app gate is (was) Flappy Bird

Candy Crush took the mobile world by storm in 2013. Its got the fun factor; it’s social; it provides a comfortable escape from your nauseating reality, and it carefully lures you into wanting to purchase more In-app extensions. Now, in 2014, pushing the mobile game envelope even further, we get (got)…Flappy Bird; a Nintendo-era looking piece of mobile graphic garbage that  has surpassed anything its creator could have imagined. Flappy Bird was downloaded more than 50 million times from the iOS App  Store and Google Play Store. It received more than 600,000 reviews, helping it pile up four out of five star ratings. But questions were raised about the authenticity of some of those rankings due to bot activity.

Grinning all the way to the bank was Flappy Bird’s creator, Dong Nguyen, who in an interview let it be known he was hauling in a cool 50K a day from In-app ads. My goodness. I tell all of these mobile app developers that they need to focus on a mesmerizing or clever idea, something that captures the imagination, is fun, thoughtful, social, and what did Dong create?  A game depicting a bird that can only fly if you keep tapping on your mobile phone constantly as you guide it through a maze of pipes.

I tried playing it for about two minutes. I couldn’t take it. I wanted to toss my iPhone into the garbage. Everything I told these dream-filled developers came back with the image of Dong laughing at my face.  Flappy Bird is no more, however. Dong took the game down less than 24 hours ago.

Walk the fine line of game development

When it comes to mobile game virality, what did Dong’s success teach us? You don’t need great artwork. You don’t need a great idea. All you need is to know how to walk that fine line between being horribly obnoxious and addictive at the same time.

You see, Dong, I was both disgusted and in awe with what you created. Flappy Bird was a simple but difficult mobile game that unfortunately catered to the mundanity of everyday life. You made bank (while the game was still publicly available) and you threw back the droplets of insight shared with all those mobile app developers and their dreams of glory at AppsWorld.

Were you content with your preliminary success? Your final tweets (before you took Flappy Bird off the market) suggested otherwise.

I can call ‘Flappy Bird’ is a success of mine. But it also ruins my simple life. So now I hate it.

— Dong Nguyen (@dongatory) February 8, 2014

Message? You reap what you sow.

I’m here to say you got lucky, Dong. You definitely proved there are always exceptions. The mobile millionaire might remain a myth but you are/were an example of reality. What did Flappy Bird’s success prove? It proves that you can never underestimate the desire for simplicity. And you can never underestimate the low barrier for entertainment mobile apps provide. Better yet, the rules for viral mobile gaming success may have just been forever changed because with Flappy Bird, who needed graphics? All you needed was annoying repetition.

Or maybe it’s all one big exercise in futility because there was no pattern here to replicate. If I were to go back and speak to every one of those mobile game app developers at AppsWorld, I would let them know that they should never give up on their dreams. If what matters to you is success at all costs than by all means keep pushing yourself to that finish line. If your game’s secret sauce is dependent on simplicity and poor quality graphics, then by all means continue.

You earned your success, Dong. Nothing to be ashamed about. You could not have known just how widely popular Flappy would become.  I just hope no other developer tries a repeat performance. Games that set the bar for mobile gaming entertainment as low as you did do not deserve to be emulated.

Meanwhile, even it it no longer applies because Dong has taken down Flappy Bird from the iTunes store, this remains a favorite Flappy Birds hack of mine on YouTube.