Sony completely dominated the console market in the last generation with the PlayStation 2. After driving rival Sega out of the hardware business, the console went on to ship 100 million units worldwide, leaving remaining rivals Microsoft and Nintendo in the dust with roughly 20 million units shipped by the second and third place finishers. Still, the history of the console market shows that leaders in one generation can often fall behind in the next. Microsoft’s launch of the Xbox 360 last November, combined with Sony’s delay for the PS3, and a lukewarm reaction to the PS3’s announced price, all put the pressure on Sony to stay on top. One thing the company can count on, however, is wholehearted support from the Japanese market. Or can they?
A recent survey of Japanese game developers puts even this in doubt. The survey was released in the latest issue of Japan’s Ge-Maga magazine, and paints a picture of dissatisfied developers in the land of the Rising Sun. According to the survey:
90 percent disagree with the PS3’s price point.56 percent disagree with the idea of having a “low-end” PS3 and a “high-end” model.56 percent think the console will not sell given its announced launch title lineup33 percent feel less confident with the PS3 after its E3 showing.62 percent feel the PS3 won’t reach its goal of 6 million units sold by March 2007.
The number of “unsure” responses to each question was less than five percent, with the exception of the post-E3 confidence question, to which 15 percent gave an indeterminate response. The real kicker is the question about launch titles. Although a console can often make up for a poor launch—the PlayStation 2 had very few good launch titles, with SSX and Dead or Alive 2 being rare exceptions—if developers feel the PS3 will not sell well for any reason, it will make it less likely that good titles will arrive later on.
What will Japanese developers do if they don’t enthusiastically jump on the PS3 bandwagon? One thing they certainly won’t do is support the Xbox 360, which has fared even more dismally in Japan than its predecessor. They might instead decide to focus more on the Nintendo Wii, or on portable platforms like the PSP and DS Lite. Another option might be one that the industry as a whole is leaning more towards: cross-platform titles. Some would say this move is already underway, with Sony losing exclusivity for titles like Grand Theft Auto. Since we all know that the real value of a console is in its games, if most games go multi-platform then the console with the cheaper price is likely to win.
A new study conducted at the University of Utah and published in the journal Human Factors (subscription required) reveals some interesting points of comparison between those who use mobile phones while driving and drivers impaired by alcohol.
The study used 40 subjects, each of whom was tested under four different sets of conditions: undistracted, hand-held mobile phone, hands-free mobile phone, and intoxicated to a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent (a common legal threshold in many states). Participants were placed in driving simulators and asked to follow a pace car around a specified course.
Three accidents occurred during the testing, all of which involved cell phone users rear-ending the pace car. Phone users were also slow to brake, displaying reaction times 9 percent lower than unimpaired drivers, and slow to accelerate, with a 19 percent decrease in returning to speed after braking. This is viewed by the researchers as especially significant, since it has implications regarding traffic flow in high-density areas. In contrast, alcohol-impaired drivers tended to drive more slowly, yet more aggressively than other drivers.
Contrary to the opinions of lawmakers who have legislated against the use of hand-held phones while driving, little distinction was noted between drivers no matter what style of phone they were using. That suggests that it is the conversation itself—as opposed to the device—which is responsible for the distraction. This seems to jibe with the results of a study released in February, which tracked drivers’ habits over a period of months, and found that conversing with fellow passengers in automobiles is just as distracting as using a cell phone.
Both intoxicated drivers and those with mobile phones shared the common trait of believing themselves to be unimpaired while behind the wheel. Additionally, cell phone users and intoxicated drivers tended to be less perceptive of changes in their environment. This result was almost certainly anticipated in the case of alcohol users, since the effects of that substance have been well-studied. It would be instructive to see how mobile phone users fare on a future version of the ape test.
Frank Drews, an assistant professor who worked on the project, suggests legislators may wish to consider outlawing cell-phone use in automobiles. He may be jumping the gun: a small study using 40 subjects and which appears to lack a double-blind environment can hardly be considered definitive. Although one might find reason to take issue with the exact degree of the study’s results, it looks like it has been proven once again that driving distracted is a bad idea. Perhaps the most important aspect to come out of the Utah study is an apparent lack of distinction between using different types of phones from a distraction point-of-view. As a cell-phone-using driver myself, I’d certainly hate to see the devices outlawed completely.
I would not be surprised to find out that there is a first rule of Apple Store fire sales stating that you do not talk about Apple Store fire sales, so utterly devoid of advertisement are they. But for those who do know, substantial savings can reaped, savings greater than the "Special Deals" section of the Apple Store online. To that end, it's time to break the code of silence.
Apple Store fire sales are supposed to take place on the last weekend of the month, but sometimes happen during the first weekend, and sometimes not at all. They never happen at the Palo Alto store on University Avenue, which coincidentally (not) is the store closest to where Steve Jobs lives. Fire sales are uncharacteristically cluttered and disorganized events among the sharp lines and antiseptic lighting of the retail outlets, a jumble of discontinued items, returns, and demos haphazardly sorted on folding tables and in boxes on the floor.
The Macs for sale are labeled demos or refreshed, that is they have been inspected and ensured to be complete and working. However, they cannot be resold as new, even though the warranty is exactly the same as a new Mac. Refreshed Macs are generally slightly more expensive than demos, but have the advantage of not having been beat upon by small children for weeks or months. An employee can show you the Mac you want (a good idea), and can even boot up to the registration screen, so you can check for dead pixels. Discounts for Macs run up to 20 percent. Here is a list of some of the items and their costs from the sale I saw today.
15" MacBook Pro (demo) 2GHz Core Duo/1GB RAM/100GB HD/SuperDrive US$1999.9520" iMac (demo) 2GHz Core Duo/512MB RAM/250GB HD/SuperDrive US$1529.9513" MacBook black (refresh) 2GHz Core Duo/512MB RAM/80GB HD/SuperDrive US$1349.9513" MacBook white (refresh) 2GHz Core Duo/512MB RAM/60GB HD/SuperDrive US$1169.9513" MacBook white (refresh) 1.83GHz Core Duo/512MB RAM/60GB HD/ComboDrive US$989.95MacMini (refresh) 1.66GHz Core Duo/1GB RAM/100GB HD/SuperDrive US$849.9560GB iPod US$349.9530GB iPod US$249.95iPod Nano 4GB US$199.95iPod Nano 2GB US$159.95Airport Extreme Base Station US$129.95AirPort Express US$79.9515" PowerBook G4 battery US$69.95
Who would buy a returned battery? An employee told me batteries are returned because someone bought the wrong one, which sounds crazy but I took a chance. The battery I bought last month gets 3 hours of battery life, which is what I would expect from a new one, and for nearly half off.
For those considering a Mac and within traveling distance of a brick-and-mortar Apple Store, better deals are difficult to find. And if you don't live near an Apple Store, is there really a point to living?
For a while now, PBS’s Robert X. Cringely has been grappling with net neutrality issues in a series of articles at PBS. His latest article, which a number of readers have emailed me about, proposes a novel idea for solving the net neutrality issue altogether: co-operatively owned last-mile fiber.
The basic suggestion is that neighborhoods and homeowner associations could take out a loan to cover the costs of laying fiber to every home in the neighborhood. The numbers work out to be much cheaper than the current going rate for either cable or DSL. Futhermore, not only would you get access to a huge pipe, but nobody could tell you what to do with the bits that were moving over it. If you want to run a server, run a server. If you want to use Bittorrent, use Bittorrent.
I think the idea is fantastic, mainly because it approximates what the South Korean government is already doing for its citizens. Of course, in America you could never do on a national scale what the South Koreans have done. It would be politically impossible. Not only would the telcos pull out all the stops to oppose a nationwide, publicly funded broadband rollout, but Big Content would fight it tooth and nail, as well. (I’m sure the *AA would be appalled at the thought of all those fat, fat fiber pipes, with all that digital media just streaming over them from house to house. Static IPs might make lawsuits easier, though.)
At any rate, there are a few problems with this idea that should be pointed out. The most obvious one is maintenance. When your Internet connection goes out, there’s no Comcast guy that can drop by and maybe nap on your couch for a bit. This isn’t that big of a deal, though, because I’m sure that an industry of private contractors would emerge to handle this sort of thing.
The bigger limitation of Cringley’s plan is that it doesn’t offer much to transient populations, like renters in urban areas. Furthermore, African Americans, who as a population have a significantly lower rate of home ownership than whites, would see the emergence of a “bandwidth gap” to go with the home ownership and the wage gaps.
None of the problems pointed out above should put anyone off the idea of co-operatively owned last mile infrastructure, though. Cringely’s idea (or rather, Bob Frankston’s idea, which Cringely relates) should be viewed not as a silver bullet but as one solution to the last mile problem among many.
I think it’s likely that some form of wireless, like ultrawideband (UWB) mesh networks, will turn out to be the ideal last mile solution for urban areas—especially for renter populations. UWB’s combination of high bandwidth, low power, non-interference, and ability to pass through walls easily makes it perfectly suited to densely populated urban areas. And unlike fiber, the renter’s UWB hardware can move with him.
I got a barrage of enthusiastic responses to my idea, put forth in this news post, of writing a step-by-step how-to manual that shows just how easy it is to rig electronic election. Not only do a lot of people think this is a good idea, but some of them are already taking the idea and running with it. The idea clearly seems to have struck a chord, so I'll commit to making it happen, but only if you'll commit also.
Here's the deal: between a Ph.D. (in early Christian history, no less!), a book that's coming out this summer, Ars, and my rapidly approaching wedding, I don't have a ton of time to devote to any new projects. Furthermore, in the next two years I'd like to make more progress on the Ph.D., which will mean doing fewer things that aren't directly related to my academic work. This being the case, I can contribute to an electronic voting book project, but I can't do it alone. In fact, I can't even do the bulk of the work myself. This will have to be a collaborative effort from the start, with a core of people who own the project and make it happen.
So, with all that out of the way, let's get started.
The consenus among those who either posted in the news forum or emailed me, is that this should be a website and a wiki, with a book to accompany it later. I concur, so wiki + book will be the overall shape of the project.
With this in mind, here's what we'll need:
Site hosting: Anyone who volunteers hosting space should be prepared to handle not just traffic, but legal harrassment. It would probably be best to put the site up somewhere outside the US, but I'm not an expert on how best to fight takedown notices from angry corporations who would rather pay big bucks in legal bills to shoot the messenger than spend a few dollars fixing their faulty products.
Also, the project needs an actual wiki installation, some way of managing content, and all that stuff.
A name, logo, etc.: Someone has already registered stealthiselection.com and plans to put up a site there for this project. I think it's a very good name, being an obvious riff on the counter-culture classic "Steal This Book." But just in case I want to solicit suggestions for other good domain names that we could pick up and possibly use.
A way to coordinate: I just created a Google group called stealthiselection. Right now, membership is invite only, but anyone can read the archives. If you want in on the project, email me with information on who you are and how you plan to contribute, and I'll add you.
Legal advice: I wish I had a lawyer looking over my shoulder as I write this post. Also, see the next item.
An understanding…: that all the text of the book and the wiki will be released under some flavor of the Creative Commons license. It'll probably be one that does not permit commercial exploitation of the work except for with the licensor's permission. What I'm thinking is that the main thing is to get the information out there, but we should retain the option of making money off the project in order to make it all self-sustaining.
On a final note, let's all be clear that nobody here has any intent to engage in or promote election fraud in any way, shape, or form. It's also not anyone's intent to share proprietary information or trade secrets of any type. The project is intended to disseminate information that's already public knowledge, soley for the benefit of improving the security and reliability of the elections process.
So, if you're interested, drop me an email at the group email address, which you can find either by navigating to the link above or by appending the name of the group to @googlegroups.com, and we'll get started.