January 2006 Archives

Race in Science Fiction


Usually it would be just me in the basement sprawled on the floor surrounded by snacks, Legos and books to read during the commercials. If he was off shift, sometimes Dad would come down and join me in his leather recliner by the stairs. Every once in a while Mom called down from the kitchen Are you letting her watch those weird things? And we'd lie in unison, No. If she came down to check for herself, Dad would get in trouble.
Dad had his own names for the movies.
What's this? 'Escape to a White Planet?
It's called 'When Worlds Collide.' I'm sure I sounded indignant.
'Mars Kills the White People.' I love this one.
Daaaaad. It says it right there. 'War of the Worlds'. I know I sighed heavily, but was careful to turn back to the tv before rolling my eyes.
Once he asked me which was more real, the movie or the skits between. I didn't get it, and told him that they were both stories, so they were both fake. He didn't bring it up again until a skit came on. I can't remember if it was a 'Soulman' skit or one of the caveman gags (the cavemen were multicultural -" basic white, Polish, Italian, and black). But I remember Dad saying, how come you never see anybody like that in the stories you like? And I remember answering, maybe they didn't have black people back then. He said there's always been black people. I said but black people can't be wizards and space people and they can't fight evil, so they can't be in the story. When he didn't say anything back I turned around. He was in full recline mode in his chair and he was very still, looking at me. He didn't say anything else.

SF author Pam Noles' essay entitled Shame, a memoir on Earthsea and the bastardization that was the Sci-Fi channel "Legend of Earthsea" miniseries.
WARNING:The rest of this entry contains spoilers on Star Wars. Though I feel the statute of limitations has passed for this, you probably shouldn't read any further if you don't want to be spoiled.

links for 2006-01-31


Pixar and Disney


If you've been following the news at all, last week Pixar agreed to be bought out by Disney.
Many industry analysts have been pondering why Steve Jobs agreed to this. Jobs owns 51% of the stake in Pixar, so his participation is necessary. I've been thinking about it myself. John Lassetter, one of Pixar's VPs will be handling most of the day to day business interactions with Disney.
As far as I can see, the situation with Pixar is a lot like the problems we experienced with Castaway in finding a publisher. Film is much the same. Pixar is an independent animation studio, but at the end of the day, they need a distributor to get their films out to the theaters -- not just throughout the nation, but throughout the world. Who has the resources necessary for doing that? Only the biggest distributors can internationalize. Pixar cannot do this by themselves -- their greatest hits have been under the Disney label. Most other distributors are generalists -- Disney is a bit more niche -- aiming squarely at the family market, and they've had more success with promotion of children's films. I think though at the end of the day, it just comes down to the money of it all -- Disney is going to give them the sweetest deal -- Disney needs Pixar more than any other studio house -- and Disney is probably the only company that isn't going to balk at the $100 million price tag that an average Pixar production costs.
Contrast this with other animation projects in the recent past:
Hoodwinked (independent - $15 million)

Racing Stripes (WB - $30 million)

Chicken Little (Disney, est. 60 million)

Shrek 2 (Dreamworks, est. 75 million)

All of this seems good for Disney, but what's in it for Pixar?
As far as I can tell, it's the ability to make hack sequels and really reap some of the benefits from the Disney name. Pixar is at the end of their creative chain in original storytelling -- Cars has got to be one of the weakest story ideas put onto the drawing board -- but with access to Disney's properties, they can churn out Toy Story sequels until infinity and beyond, which no other studio could have given them.



I finally saw a Pontiac Solstice on the streets of Mountain View yesterday. It was being driven by a middle-aged man. I personally don't like Pontiacs -- i think it has to do with that swiss cheese grill that they insist on sticking on the front of their cars. Solstice is supposed to go head to head against the Miata. While both cars aren't the prettiest cars to roll across the earth, I think the Mazda's proportions give it a "I'm small, I'm sleek and I'm cute" feel about it, while the Solstice says "I am the American version of the Miata -- taller, wider and heavier." Of course I think the main thing is this: those that wouldn't be caught dead in a Miata might drive a Solstice, out of loyalty to Pontiac. I'd think about driving a solstice if it was less pontiac-like. Get rid of the grill, get rid of the emblems all over the place, and get rid of that stupid reverse hood and I'd think about it.

links for 2006-01-30


Intolerance in WoW


Sara Andrews wanted to create a guild in WoW that was friendly to GLBTs. What she got instead was a notice from Blizzard for sexual harassment. I don't think this is right, considering that there is already so much language in the game that is pretty derogatory towards the GLBT community already. To create a community where they'd be safe from the gay-bashing would be a nice change of pace.
The audience in WoW is older than most games, but it doesn't mean it's more mature by any respect -- it's still a hostile environment for certain groups -- anonyminity seems to protect both those victimized as well as the victimizer. The difference is that in WoW, you can essentially mute people. Someone has a political view you don't agree with? You can silence them and never have to interact with them again. And I guess that's the problem I see with Blizzard's view that it would cause more issues of harrassment -- because of this ability to ignore the other person -- the issue need only go on long enough for the person being ignored to become tired or bored of the non-interaction.
For everything great that a MMOG is, there's alot of garbage that comes with it. MMOGs act as a mirror -- serving to reflect the best and worst of people.
Blizzard on GLBT policy.

Hello Kitty Robo


TOKYO (Reuters) - Need temporary help on your company's reception desk? One Japanese employment agency is suggesting you try recruiting a robot.
For just under 50,000 yen (240 pounds) a month, a fraction of the cost of a human temp, the PeopleStaff agency will despatch Hello Kitty Robo, a robotic receptionist capable of sensing a visitor's presence, greeting him or her and holding simple conversations.

I get angry enough at voicemail, not quit sure how I could handle a robotic Hello Kitty receptionist.
Robot Receptionists debut in Japan

Happy Lunar New Year!


Today is the first day of the lunar calendar, it is the year of the Dog.
Lunar New Year celebration traditions in Taiwan

links for 2006-01-29


links for 2006-01-28


Remembering Challenger


I've always had memories of watching the Challenger disaster unfold on television. Whether it was live or not, I do not know -- it was a big deal for those of us in Southern California, with the aerospace industry being huge at the time, so I remember TV sets being carted into the classrooms so that we could watch the launch of the first teacher into space. I also remember a memorial ceremony a few days later, as the entire school gave 73 seconds worth of silence (which was a really long time as an 11 year old).
In honor of what happened 20 years ago, MSNBC has published 7 myths about the Challenger accident.
The realities:
1. Few people actually saw the Challenger tragedy unfold live on television.

2. The shuttle did not explode in the common definition of that word.

3. The flight, and the astronauts- lives, did not end at that point, 73 seconds after launch.

4. The design of the booster, while possessing flaws subject to improvement, was neither especially dangerous if operated properly, nor the result of political interference.

5. Replacement of the original asbestos-bearing putty in the booster seals was unrelated to the failure.

6. There were pressures on the flight schedule, but none of any recognizable political origin.

7. Claims that the disaster was the unavoidable price to be paid for pioneering a new frontier were self-serving rationalizations on the part of those responsible for incompetent engineering management -" the disaster should have been avoidable.

Gamebridge Quote


I've been quoted on Adaptec's site for the GameBridge.

"Adaptec's new GameBridge is the best device I've found for connecting and playing console video games on the PC," said Michael Huang, a 30 year-old gamer and professional game developer. "As a bonus, it can record both screenshots and video while you're playing. It's small, affordable and simple to use, and will be a valuable solution for those gamers looking for an all-in-one media entertainment system for their PC."

A month ago I was asked to give feedback on the device. I was impressed by the GameBridge and told them so, as I felt the GameBridge opened possibilities for a decent sized audience of people such as gamers, game developers, game reviewers, and bloggers. Being at such an affordable price also won points in my book -- it's not often that such a useful device can be had for less than $100.
My Review of the Gamebridge, and the original announcement about the GameBridge.
Adaptec GameBridge

Adaptec GameBridge (Test Unit) -- Actual Unit Packaging may differ.
Adaptec GameBridge

(PC, Xbox, GameCube, PS1/2)


Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Adaptec

links for 2006-01-27


Only in Texas...

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Corpus Christi rancher Star Locke, has proposed eliminating property taxes in the Lone Star State with revenue from taxing three things he finds undesirable. Specifically, Locke is proposing a $10,000 per-abortion tax on medical clinics that perform abortions and a 50 percent tax on all soda that "contains added glucose, fructose, sucrose to the beverage for sale to humans". However, gamers will be especially alarmed by the third part of Locke's property-tax-relief proposal--a 100 percent tax on "violent video games."
Locke's other platform promises call for the repeal of all alcoholic beverage laws and a 50 percent "grease tax" on "all food prepared by deep-frying or cooking in any form of oil or grease for human consumption."

The man is insane, and a longshot challenger for the Republican nominee for governor (luckily enough). He won't win, his ideas are a little too radical; I'm sure there must be some rights being violated in his proposals.
Texas politician proposes 100 percent game tax(Gamespot)

How to Make Creme Brulee

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Creme Brulee is one of those desserts that I've really only had in restaurants. Cool, creamy custard hidden underneath a caramelized crust. The Brulee part of the name refers to the caramelized sugar. It surprised me to learn that this restaurant dessert can be made easily at home (provided you have a kitchen torch).
It doesn't take very long to make, but it does involve a bit of pre-planning because you will need to refridgerate it for a couple of hours to set the custard.

Are there too many choices in cars?


For example, BMW's M5 is considered the ultimate sports sedan. And yet the uber-5er faces a bewildering range of operational decisions: three suspension, shifting and e-traction levels; two horsepower options and eleven gearbox modes. While a hard-core cadre of enthusiasts embrace the Bimmer-s programmability, most newbies sit in the M5's driver-s seat and freeze. After overcoming their initial shock, they rely on one or two factory settings-- or walk away thanking Gott in Himmel they own something a lot less complicated.
The M5-s complexity reflects automakers- overly literal interpretation of America-s favorite shibboleth: freedom of choice. Carmakers clearly believe that the more their products cater to each owner-s personal preferences, the better. You only have to count the number of motors underneath a S-Class- seat-- or tally-up the number of ways it can massage, heat or cool its occupant-s hindquarters-- to see the philosophy in action. And it-s not just the luxury playas kissing ass. Even a humble Hyundai Elantra offers eight-way adjustable seats. This sort of multi-variable "feature creep" is spreading through the automotive landscape like electronic kudzu.

Car Reviewer Robert Farago, The Truth About Cars
I think there is a fair amout of feature creep in cars -- particularly the high-end luxury ones, but adjustability is a good thing, it's there for the ones who need it and ignored by the ones who don't. If I'm going to spend the kind of dough one drops on a luxury sedan, you can bet that I will spend the time to read the manual and learn all the functions, while most other people will not.
It's when options are locked in strange combinations that are frustrating -- for instance, why does having side-airbags on the Toyota Corolla remove the option to have an auto-dimming mirror? Why should the customer have to make a decision between the two different unrelated options? Why can they have both? They end up deliberating the choices: do they choose side airbags or auto-dimming mirrors? Do they choose safety or convenience? Or does Toyota just lose the sale because they don't offer both and they'll look for one that does?
I've noticed that people tend to choose both rather than go without something.

links for 2006-01-26


Review: Citronelle


A couple blocks down from San Jose's Santana Row sits Citronelle, a Vietnamese restaurant with a stylish interior. Like any good Vietnamese restauarant which can do Pho and Bun, they also have many other selections. We started with the Citronelle Sampler, a plate which contained three of each appetizer: imperial rolls, shrimp rolls and curry chicken kabobs. These came with peanut sauce and fish sauce and a small side of cole slaw. Most of their meat comes from Niman Ranch, which makes this restaurant friendly for those who don't like antibiotics and hormones in the food that they eat. I had the rice in a clay pot, which was sweet rice mixed with sausage and mushrooms and topped with grilled chicken. A Vietnamese iced coffee finished off the meal.
A nice change from the typical Pho house, Citronelle's Californian-Vietnamese dishes delight the senses with quality cuisine.

Dance Dance West Virginia


CHARLESTON, W.Va. - West Virginia, which has one of the nation's worst obesity problems, is expanding a project that uses a video game to boost students' physical activity.
All of the state's 157 middle schools are expecting to get the video game "Dance Dance Revolution," and officials hope to put it in all 753 public schools within three years.

West Virginia Middle Schools now have DDR Program

Retelling the E.T. videogame story


Keith Schofield directs videogame inspired movies. His latest work is for Wintergreen, a music video entitled "When I Wake Up", which features the story of Atari's E.T., the worst video game of all time. While the video is a fantasy, Atari really did dump 5 million copies of the game in a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico.

links for 2006-01-25


Project: The Real TiVo to Go


This project sort of happened as a result of needing a S-Video to Composite Video (for my Project: Apple PowerBook in a Car). In the United States, the current trend is to make the car more like a living room. With that in mind, what living room can be considered complete without a TiVo?
I want to point out that while this does work, it could have been any device that I could have chosen to plug in, I just happened to choose the TiVo because it has S-Video in and it allowed me to evaluate my PowerBook's performance and utility in the car. This could have easily have been a PS2 or Xbox360 or any other piece of electronic goodness one can find hooked up to a living room television.
For more thoughts and pictures about this project read on.

Project: Apple PowerBook in a Car


I've never really understood why people make such a big fuss everytime someone installs a Mac mini in a car. It's really not that hard, and it shouldn't cost $5,000 for a custom Mac mini install (and trust me, any Mac mini install in a car is a custom job). My best guess estimate for a do-it-yourself job would range from $1,300 to $2,500, which would include the Mac mini. If you happen to have a lot of parts lying around, or have done previous car stereo installations, the cost may even be less -- like maybe just the cost of the mini.
I don't have a Mac mini, but I have a PowerBook, so as a proof of concept, I attached my Powerbook to my car. After seeing how the PowerBook did in the car, it made me realize that I will never spend the kind of money people do on Mac mini'ing their vehicle -- a laptop is much more cost effective (and you can take your computing area anywhere).
For those curious about how to install a computer in the car, read on.

Mac mini Car


Recently, Gizmodo covered 2point5's custom Mac mini Car that they were showing off at MacWorld SF. What flabbergasted me was the cost of this installation -- a whopping 5k (Mac mini sold separately). In any kind of accounting, that amounts to a nice, healthy profit margin.

Gizmodo: Mac Mini car

links for 2006-01-24


Down Under the Sea


Nudibranchs and their snail-related cousins form one of the subdivisions (Subclass Opisthobranchia) within Mollusca. Nudibranchs are found in reefs, and range in size from a few millimeters to a 40 to 50 centimeters. Their name means naked gill, and there are over 11,000 species in the world.
Gary Cobb's photo collection of Nudibranchs from Sunshine Coast, Australia

Massive Savings off Macs at Amazon


Amazon is running a promotion right now where you can receive up to a $200 rebate with the purchase of Apple Macintosh Systems. It's interesting to see that there's a $5 dollar difference between the Intel Core Duo systems and their G5 counterparts, in the Intel's favor. I'm guessing that Amazon must want to clear their inventory of systems before all the new stuff comes in.
MacBook Pro (Intel Core Duo)


Mac Mini (PowerPC G4)

Power Mac Desktops

iBook (PowerPC G4)

Powerbook (PowerPC G4)

RC Katamari Damacy


Some students created some Katamaris out out felt and velcro, sat stuffed We Love Katamari characters on top of radio controlled cars and let them loose to collect objects. Looks like a lot of fun.
Video of them moving.
Initial Project Design

Katamari Game Project Description

How They Built the Katamari Game

Faxing in OS X


I often use the ability to print to PDF on Mac OS X, however up until today, I didn't realize that Mac OS X has functions for Fax built into the OS. It can turn the Mac into a Fax Machine, capable of receiving and sending faxes, which definitely comes in handy for those blue moon occasions when you need to fax something rather than e-mail.

links for 2006-01-22


Vegetarian Beef Noodle Soup


On rainy days, there are foods which are really comfortable. I'm going to share my recipe for one of my favorite rainy days foods: Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup. My mother used to make this soup for us on cold chilly days. The traditional form of this is called niu ro mein or Braised Beef Tendon Noodle Soup. Since I don't eat beef anymore (with the exception of all natural, organic, no hormones and no antibiotics Fredsteak), I've had to adapt this recipe for my own personal preferences (namely the avoidance of beef). I would advise against using gluten meat substitutes in this recipe -- because the main cooking component it is boiling, gluten tends to not come out well. There are more complicated recipes, but since I'm a lazy cook, the faster and quicker I can make my food, the sooner I can enjoy it. If you've ever seen me cook, you know that I don't follow recipes exactly, and nor should you with this one (after all, it is written by me).

links for 2006-01-21




One of the casual games that I was looking at a while ago is called Dofus, a MMORG. It features a combat system very similar to Final Fantasy Tactics. Their Flash site is one of the better sites I've seen for a game, and is a finalist for Flashforward 2006 Conference.

Everything the Media Thinks about Piracy is Wrong


The re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica is making a lot of waves in television. In an interesting story, Mark Pesce gives a talk on hyperdistribution, in which he talks about how BSG's popularity may be partially the result of piracy.
The British aficionados of the series provided torrents for each episode within a few hours of each broadcast. Many fans in the US picked them up and watched them; so did many people in Australia.
While you might assume the SciFi Channel saw a significant drop-off in viewership as a result of this piracy, it appears to have had the reverse effect: the series is so good that the few tens of thousands of people who watched downloaded versions told their friends to tune in on January 14th, and see for themselves. From its premiere, Battlestar Galactica has been the most popular program ever to air on the SciFi Channel, and its audiences have only grown throughout the first series. Piracy made it possible for "word-of-mouth" to spread about Battlestar Galactica.

Source: Mindjack: Piracy is Good? How Battlestar Galactica Killed Broadcast TV

Downconversion for Blu-ray and HD-DVD?


I used to be a huge home theater buff. I was one of the early adopters of the DVD format, and on more than one occassion, I was tempted to purchase one of those new big screen LCD televisions so that I could get the most out of my DVD player and the rapidly expanding DVD library. This was of course, years ago, before my Everquest addiction. In many ways, having spent that time in Norrath probably saved me tens of thousands of dollars that I might have otherwise spent on Electronics and DVDs.
A few days ago, I predicted that Blu-ray was likely to become the new standard in high-definition media, while HD-DVD was likely to befall the same fate as Circuit City's DivX format. Today, there are whisperings that both Blu-ray and HD-DVD will need to downconvert HD signals for analog inputs.

Instead, the affected analog signal must be "down-converted" from the full 1920x1080 lines of resolution the players are capable of outputting to 960x540 lines-"a resolution closer to standard DVDs than to high-def. Standard DVDs are typically encoded at 720 horizontal by 480 vertical lines of resolution.
The 960x540 standard stipulated in the AACS agreement represents 50% higher resolution than standard-def, but only one-quarter the resolution of full high-def. Whether a particular movie is down-converted will be up to the studio.

Clearly this option will not be popular amongst those early adopters whose first generation HDTVs were manufactured without digital inputs since a standard had not yet been decided on at the time of production. The down converted signal would be a little bit better than DVD quality.

CD Burn, Rot and Lost.


A few years ago at Christmastime, I was looking for a CD to burn some data onto. So I dug up an old CD-R package that must have been sitting in my room for the last decade or so, and it looked like it had seen better days. This year, when my sister went home, she found some CDs she had burned while she was attending UCLA. On most of them, the data was inaccessible. I kept everything on Zip Drive when I was in college. After the last move, I managed to get the Zip disks and move them onto my external harddrives. It was fun looking at the old things that I had worked on and designed, but at the same time, it was one of those works that while I might have been proud of doing during my college years, certainly didn't stand the test of time well.
Sometimes data is better off lost.
Burned CDs don't last forever

MWSF 2006: Best of Show: iPod Case


This was a hard one to give out, as there were so many good quality cases there. While the iPod sock will always be a staple for carrying around Apple's white music player, I was looking for something with a little more thought in the design of the case -- something that didn't look like a repurposed cellphone case. Smart fabric manufacturer Eleksen created a line of iPod products to make use of their fabrics, which they've licensed to other manufacturers. They were showing off their iPod Jacket, which makes use of their smart fabrics, as well as the Audio Case.

MWSF 2006: Best of Show: iPod Car Device


Since having an iPod installed into your car seems to be the new standard for the iPod generation, the car installation people were out there in force this year. While almost all the direct car installations of the iPod were nothing more than a box with the iPod cable that plugs into a cd-changer port, there was one device which sets the new standard for ipod integration, the Harman Kardon drive + play iPod Control system. This device features a dial controller to simulate the iPod's interface, and includes an LCD screen to display the familiar menu interface of the iPod.

Google at Gunpoint


Search Engines order to release information, Google fails to comply. Depending on which side of the coin you're on, this is either Google "being good" and recognizing evil actions that could set a precedent for future subpoenas, or Google being lazy, since it doesn't actually involve any user information. Other search engines have released this information, Google has not. The Department of Justice is not happy about this, and I've got a bad feeling about this situation filled with images of FBI raiding Google offices, confiscating computers in the name of justice. Google might not be the place one wants to be today.

links for 2006-01-20


To Laugh is to be Human


I just heard Terry Gross' interview with Albert Brooks about his new film Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World. The film originally was supposed to be distributed by Sony but later decided against doing so, leaving Warner Bros. Independent Pictures to release this film. It sounds funny. I want to see it.

Beat the Heat in Games!


It's always nice to read a story that paints both police and video games in a positive light: Police fight crime with games. Evidently cops in Edinburgh have figured out a way to keep crime off the streets by holding game competitions in the local library.

"It took them 15 attempts to beat me at Gran Turismo but they thrashed me at the football," Police Constable Robinson said.

While I'm glad that there's a positive impact in the neighborhood, I can't imagine how loud and noisy the local library has gotten as a result of this.

The Pile


The Pile isn't a new book or movie. It's not a new tv show show magazine. It's a habit of mine that has to stop. The Pile is a barrier to my workflow, which prevents me from getting things done. Horizontal surfaces, no matter the size have become places for me to pile up. If it's not papers, it's books, if not books, it is whatever other object can be found in arm's reach and be arranged in a vertical fashion. It's a pretty sad state of affairs when your desk begins to resemble a three dimensional version of the Towers of Hanoi.

Review: Battlestar Galactica - Season One (2004)


links for 2006-01-17


New Canon Digital SLR coming soon?


This is a speculative prediction from me that by June we will see an announcement for a new Digital SLR. It just seems to me that we've been seeing a lot of discounts from Canon lately, and it seems to me that Canon tends to discount heavily before the announcement of a new DSLR. Shortly before the announcement of the 5D, the EOS 20D was being discounted by nearly every online vendor. While the Digital Rebel XT is currently seeing heavy discounts, it may be time for Canon to add a new camera to fit the area inbetween 5D and 20D. My hope is that it will be a full-frame Digital SLR, however there is no need currently for Canon to release such a model; they are not in danger of losing DSLR customers anytime soon.

2006 - Predictions in Gaming


A recent
Reuters report
points to alot of numbers and predictions about the game console market, but here's what I think in a nutshell for 2006 in games.
My predictions are below.

Next Year CES and MacWorld overlap


Next year CES and MacWorld will overlap, due to CES changing their date. While there is some intersection in audiences, MacWorld is clearly the smaller convention, and with most of it's announcements given on the first day, I suspect that many media will send out reporters to cover MacWorld on the first day, leaving the remaining days to CES.
This isn't just a problem for media, however, but also for exhibitors showcasing their goods. While CES is more concentrated towards the consumer electronics end of things, MacWorld encompasses everything Apple.

links for 2006-01-16


Review: Oster 27 oz. Citrus Juicer 3186


links for 2006-01-15


The Return of Stardust


Tonight Stardust will be returning a sample of particles collected from a comet.
NASA is asking for participation from people to help observe Stardust's descent.

"If somebody could see that line, that would be fantastic, because it would tell us how much carbon is being lost by the heat shield at that moment," observed Jenniskens. "It would be better yet if several observers at different locations were to videotape the entry of the capsule appearing in front of the moon because then we could trace the ablation of the carbon along the capsule's trajectory, especially at locations between Carlin and Elko," he added. Videographers should fix the focus of their cameras at 'infinity,' because auto focus may be unreliable for nighttime recording, according to mission technicians.
The best way to see the capsule pass in front of the moon would be with a large telescope at high magnification, according to Jenniskens. Due to the long viewing distances, the tiny capsule will appear as a dark dot, only 1-2 arcseconds across, but darker if the capsule is clearly visible. One arcsecond is 1/3600th of a degree.
Moving at many times the speed of sound, the capsule will take only two to three video frames to appear to pass by the moon.

In addition, once Stardust lands, people can help analyze the stardust with Stardust@Home

links for 2006-01-14


Michael Dell doing some smack talkin'


You know 'pimped' is a word that has gone out of style when
Dell uses 'pimped out' to describe their latest system.
At the CES keynote, Michael Dell had some choice words about this red machine covered with flame graphics. I guess Dell is trying to target the gamer audience, because in addition Dell questions XBox360s street cred, calling them poseurs because Dells are "much faster than any gaming console you can buy". And while that may be true, game developers are exiting the PC market and going to the consoles to bring their game experience to the widest audience possible. The future of games on the PCs are MMORGs and FPS. The consoles will have everything else.

What price is the Sony PlayStation 3?


Last week at CES, Pioneer unveiled a standalone Blu-Ray player for $1800. Sony's Playstation 3 is speced to include a Blu-Ray drive, which has analysts believing the Sony PS3 could launch with a $500 price tag. When it comes to pricing Sony products, analysts have been wrong before -- such as predicting the PSP would be $500, when it actually released at $349. The war of the consoles, this time played out by Microsoft vs. Sony, is turning into an interesting one -- the field to be won is not in hardware, but in software.
What a short sense of history we have. DVD players initially were expensive -- about $1800 for the top of the line Sony units -- in time as DVDs were adopted as the next-generation format (there was a brief format war between DVD and DivX), the cost of manufacturing players dropped, and now DVD players can be found for less than $100. The Playstation2 when it was released was $50 less than a Xbox, and $50 more than the Nintendo GameCube. It also had the advantage of releasing first and including a DVD player at a time when the cost of a PS2 was equivalent to a standard low end DVD player.
I expect much of history to repeat with Blu-Ray. Xbox 360 does not have a Hi-Def media player bundled in. As people move to HDTV, the desire for HD content increases. I've experienced this myself after watching kwc's HDTV Plasma. When it gets to that res, what used to be acceptable now begins to look rather low-quality, and the search for HDTV content begins. Much of next-gen gaming is aimed at HD content, and consumers will get to the point where I believe given the choice between an HD console without HD-DVD or Blu-Ray (XBOX360) and a HD console with Blu-Ray (PS3), from a hardware standpoint, I believe the consumers will choose the PS3, because it is easier to justify the purchase of 1 thing for a slightly more expensive cost because it is less disposable. If PS3 as a gaming platform flops, you still have a Blu-Ray player. This, is also why I believe Blu-Ray will be the format of choice for high def video content. Even with the possibility of USB ports to hook up additional devices (such as external Blu-Ray or HD-DVD) consumers are likely to notice that it is at an additional cost, and given that they've already done the core plus buying peripherals marketing scheme any further purchase looks like a bad buy. If Xbox360 flops, all you have is the library of bad Xbox games to fall back on.
What it really comes down to, however is the software, and Nintendo is actually best poised to leverage its library of game classics as a major sales point. Playstation 3 seems to be putting it's bet on Blu-Ray, while Microsoft, in their race to be first out the door will be the first to be obsolete. Maybe that won't matter as they sell games, but as far as I can tell, game sales for Xbox360 have been rather weak. Christmas is over, and with the arrival of credit card bills, many consumers who may have thought about a next generation gaming system will probably wait for another system to release before making their decision.

What is an ExpressCard?


expresscard.jpgWith the announcement of the MacBooks, one of the features that Apple lists is the "ExpressCard/34". Unless you are into hardware, you probably haven't heard too much about the ExpressCard, because it's relatively new, and the use of ExpressCards relies on three pieces of technology that until very recently haven't been assembled together -- the right chipset, PCI Express architecture and ExpressCard.
What is an ExpressCard/34?

The ExpressCard is a way of getting a PCI-Express expansion slot onto a laptop. It's a new format of I/O device card designed to replace the PC Cards of yesteryear.
How fast is an ExpressCard?

It's much faster, theoretically capable of a throughoutput of 500MBps (250MBps in each direction) when compared to the PC Card (132MBps) The speed of the ExpressCard makes it ideal for doing data transfer without compression (useful for harddrives and other detachable media devices). For comparisson, USB 2.0 is 60MBps, Firewire 800 is 100MBps, Gigabit Ethernet is 125MBps.
What else is new in an ExpressCard?

There's two formats for ExpressCards at this moment, the ExpressCard/34 with a width of 34 mm and the ExpressCard/54 with a width of 54mm. Unlike the PC Card, instead of relying on an ejection button, the ExpressCard sticks out a little bit so one can just pull it out with their fingers.
What can we see in the future for ExpressCard?

I expect to see ExpressCard addons to include HDTV tuners (HDTV quality video display would choke a PC Card) and as the replacement for the PC Card, so we can expect to see any device produced for the PC Card to make its way onto the ExpressCard as well. Already available are some memory card readers and network adapters.

Judging a Book By Its Cover


A Gallery of Book Covers that you can comment on.

Healthy Living


One of my resolutions this year is to try and eat a little healthier.
Years ago, I linked to the The Meatrix, an advocacy campaign against factory farming. Now, the Sierra Club has created
True Cost of Food, a short animated film on sustainable food.
Some handy-dandy food sustainability links:

  • The Eat Well Guide:A listing of places that support sustainability.
  • Seafood Watch, the Monterey Bay Aquarium's list of seafood that is okay to eat and those to avoid.
  • The Meatrix: Fight the Factory Farms (link to the Flash Movie).
  • Krafted: How Kraft uses genetically engineering in their food products without consumer knowledge.

  • Take a Pass on Chilean Sea Bass: How our eating habits are driving the Chilean Sea Bass to extinction.

Please feel free to add more resources to this list via the comments function.

MacWorld SF 2006


My sister and I went to San Francisco to check out the MacWorld exhibit hall. The iPod has definitely started a resurgence of interest in Apple products -- unlike last year, every square inch that could possibly be used as exhibitor space was utilized, and it was actually pretty hard to take good product photos at the show. While the introduction of the MacBooks and the new revised iMacs with Intel was pretty major, it wasn't quite as cool as the iPod shuffle being introduced.
Like last year we managed to get there a little bit before the exhibit halls opened and take some photos of crowds assembling outside Moscone and some of the San Francisco advertising billboards. And just like last year, the billboards changed after the keynote was over. This year, about half of the billboards were advertisng MacWorld, which were replaced by what seemed to be Apple's theme for the show: "What's an Intel chip doing in a Mac? A whole lot more than it's done in a PC."
I'm not really quite certain that MacWorld should be called MacWorld anymore. The emphasis now seems to largely (from the number of vendor products at the show) seem to be largely targeted at the iPod.
iPod car integration still seemed to be very popular.
Flickr Photoset: MacWorld SF 2006
For a full summary, read on.

Core Duo Goodness


Research: Video Game Violence Desensitize Brain to Violence


Psychologist Bruce Bartholow from the University of Missouri-Columbia and his colleagues have found that people who play violent video games show diminished brain responses to images of real-life violence, such as gun attacks, but not to other emotionally disturbing pictures, such as those of dead animals, or sick children. And the reduction in response is correlated with aggressive behaviour.

I can sort of understand it -- the first time you see something, you react strongly, and each sucessive viewing just makes that image more mundane. I agree with Jonathan Freedman, a psychologist from the University of Toronto, who says "All we are really getting is desensitisation to images. There-s no way to show that this relates to real-life aggression."
I think for a game player, a certain amount of desensitisation to images is necessary, given the amount of times things cycle through. Until technology gets to the point that unique visuals are created in real-time, it's impossible to separate out the images from the actual action.
New Scientist: Violent video games alter brain's response to violence

links for 2006-01-08


The Force is More than Meets the Eye


Hasbro creates Star Wars Transformers
Vader and Grevious look pretty good, but Luke and Obi-Wan look pretty horrible.



At CES Philips is demonstrating an LCD based tabletop called the Entertaible. It features a 30 inch touchscreen LCD built into the tabletop surface, integrated sound, and interactive dice and pieces. There's also a video (Windows Media Player) where they show the Entertaible in action.

Research: In-Game Advertising


Okay folks, it looks like the secret to marketing to teens is in-game advertising.

Two main avenues are open for advertising through games: in-game advertising and advergaming. The former is an extension of the product placement common in movies and television, and can range from graphical representation of a product in a game to wholesale sponsorship of a gaming title. With the increase in open-ended gaming that allows a player to wander around a virtual world (such as the Sims or Grand Theft Auto), opportunities for product placement are numerous. Advergaming refers to a game, usually online, that is wholly intended as a promotional device.
Aside from ads integrated into games themselves, marketers would be wise to advertise on related Web sites. Young consumers spend more hours per week on the Net than adults, and Forrester found that much of this time is spent on sites related to gadgets and games -" almost 80% visit games sites, almost 50% visit movie sites and over one-third visit music sites.

While I don't like advergaming much, I like it a whole lot better than in-game advertising. The problem with in-game advertising is much like going to the movie theater or watching a television show and noticing that the camera lingers too long on the badge of the car, or a can of Pepsi standing out prominiently on someone's desk. In-Game advertising is nothing new however, and has been in games for quite a long time. Early LucasArts adventure games would make references to other games in their product catalog or other Lucas-owned properties.
In the movie State and Main, one of the problems for the fictional movie company was how to insert advertising for a dot com company within their movie, which was a Western. So far, the games have been rather good about their advertising, and placing the ads within the context of the game. Crazy Taxi, for instance has the player's fares going to destinations such as KFC or Pizza Hut. In Burnout 3, there's not likely to be any billboards passed which don't contain advertising for EA Games. EQ2 has real-life pizza ordering within the game. Hopefully we'll never have to see anachronistically placed advertisements (like airline ads in an caveman game).

And the Award goes to...


As a reader of science fiction, I've always had a great respect for the awards that they give out, particularly the Hugo Awards, because the voters of the Hugo Awards are the attendees of the World Science Fiction Convention, in other words, they are fans. This year, the special category for L.A.Con IV is "Best Interactive Video Game".
Greg Costikyan parses out exactly what that means, with a plea that to WSFC that they never do this again.
It's probably been a category long missing from the Hugos.
Awards are essentially meaningless. Funny thing for me to say, considering how full the trophy case was at Blizzard, but it's true. It's nice to receive an award and have that moment of recognition, but if the game is good enough and fun enough, it gains recognition and reputation on its own. It was always much nicer to hear a fan express praise for the game than receiving another award.
Video Games have been in the mainstream consciouness since the early 80s, but has never quite attained the prestige level of the other forms of entertainment. Now we've reached the point where gaming is recognized by other industries, but at the same time, the way they've gone about it shows a clear lack of understanding for games and the industry.
Games are not a solitary project -- there's always dozens of people involved, and it becomes hard to split who should receive the credit for the game, so rather than a producer, director or programmer or artist stepping up to accept the award for the game, it's either an executive or a public relations person, people who usually have little to do with the actual production and design of the game. There's a picture on the showing me and the rest of the Diablo II team, over 40 people, and that didn't include the Blizzard executives or the marketing and public relations people -- that was just people who had their hands in the project. Every award we had ever received was accepted by these people, and then put inside the display case in the main lobby.
Here are a couple of problems I see in the game selection and review process, and this is true for all awards, not just for Hugos:

  • Getting the material out to review. While books and movies are relatively cheap to view, videogames are much more expensive -- they require a console as well as a game.
  • Reviewing the game -- how does one evaluate a game in time for judging -- games usually take a while to finish -- it's not like a novel that one can finish in a night.
  • Popularity and voting numbers isn't a good indicator of quality. It's more a measure of what's on people's minds.

Even so, while I'm happy that folks are recognizing games as worthy of receiving a Hugo, they may want to qualify what part of the game is the qualifier -- is it the story or the art or the design or something else entirely?
Since qualifying titles must be published in 2005, World of Warcraft (the obvious choice) is out - it was published in 2004, leaving 2005 full of dark horse candidates. Some notable games that I'd put on the list deserving of a Hugo:



Because one can never have too much Carcassonne...

The End of Asheron's Call 2 and the Future of MMOGs


Last week, Asheron's Call 2 was shut down for good. The original Asheron's Call however, continues to thrive.
Some last screenshots of Asheron's Call 2
Saying goodbye is never easy, even when the digital armageddon of a world has a timer attached. Even so, there was assorted nerdspeak in the final moments along with the traditional 'goodbye'.
This world will be shutting down in 1 minute. Please log out.
Malee Xv: "For the Quest is achieved, and now all is over. I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things,", Frodo Baggins"

This world is shutting down NOW! Log out!

Ctf: so long and thx fer all the FISH!


A short history of the Asheron's Call franchise and some thoughts about the future of MMOGs follows.

Gamer dies after playing for 10 days straight


Guess where? Yep. It's in Korea again. I've been keeping track of these gamer-related death stories for a while now, and odds are these days that it's either Taiwan or Korea. Once in a while someone in China dies playing games, but those stories tend to be a bit more violent, or just game re-enactments gone horribly awry. Japanese gamers don't tend to die, but they did have an incident a few years back with the Pokemon cartoon inducing seizures.

SEOUL (AFP) - A South Korean man collapsed and died from exhaustion after playing computer games for 10 days without a proper rest.
The 38-year-old man collapsed Thursday as he was playing an on-line game at an Internet cafe in Incheon, west of Seoul.
"He was carried to a nearby hospital but declared dead on arrival," a police officer told AFP.
The officer said the man had played computer games from morning to night every day and had barely stopped to sleep.
In August, a 28-year-old man died in southeastern Taegu city after playing an online computer game for more than two days.

Source: (Yahoo)

How Korea Plays Games


Jim Rossignol recently reprinted an article he wrote for PC Gamer UK entitled Sex, Fame and PC Baangs: How the Orient plays host to PC gaming-s strangest culture". He explores the economic and social factors behind this phenomenon, taking a look at the baangs of Korea, attends a nationally televised Starcraft League game, and talks with NCSoft about virtual economies and Lineage II. He also mentions something that I forgot we had done when we exported Starcraft over there -- we had to change the blood color to black for certain countries due to laws involving graphic violence.
Considering how big the game market in east asian countries are, it is surprising that there isn't more written on the subject, particularly because China and Korea are the up and coming game markets of the future.

Is 2006 the Year of Firefox?