Sony hasn’t had the best of luck so far with their plans for the successor to the PlayStation 2. First the launch was delayed from “Spring 2006” to some time in November, and then the company had a disappointing showing at E3, with most of the attention on the PS3 focused on the US$499 to US$599 price, rather than its features.
Now an additional patch of gloom has appeared on the horizon, coming in the form of a report from analyst P.J. McNealy of American Technology Research. McNealy told a group of marketing people at a luncheon that the PlayStation 3 was the “most complex box that’s ever been built in this industry” and that the number of pieces that go into its manufacture are “even more astounding” than the over 1,700 parts that comprise the Xbox 360.
So what does this mean for Sony’s latest game console effort? According to McNealy, despite Sony’s built-in manufacturing advantages, they are going to be limited in the initial yields of the new machine. Sony, for their part, remains committed to their target of 1 million PS3s manufactured each month, with a goal of 6 million shipped by March 2007. However, as with Microsoft, Sony has decided for a simultaneous launch in North America, Europe, and Japan, and this puts additional pressure on the manufacturing process to deliver adequate supplies of the new device.
Microsoft has been down this road before, with initial shipments of the Xbox 360 selling out quickly and shortages following thereafter. It wasn’t until many months had passed that Microsoft was able to resolve their manufacturing difficulties, by which point the early adopter rush had already worn off. However, according to Microsoft, the company has met its manufacturing goals and has now shipped 5 million units of their next-generation console worldwide.
There are some indications that Sony may be aware of possible shortages in the initial shipment. Some retail stores like EBGames and GameStop are reporting that they will be receiving only 20 PS3s per store to start off with, as opposed to the Xbox 360 launch where many stores received up to 50 systems. What could be causing the shortages? With so many advanced components going into the box, it could be many things: the Cell processor, the Blu-ray drive, or even the NVIDIA RSX graphics chip, which was late going into taping and is currently underclocked in the latest PS3 development kits.
Whatever the cause, if the shortage is real it could mean big problems for Sony in the battle to retain its console supremacy. In the all-important Christmas season, if people go to buy a new PS3 and find it sold out, they may just pick up an Xbox 360 instead. Clearly Microsoft is crossing their fingers hoping just such a thing happens.
Art imitates life, and life imitates art. Fans of ABC’s Boston Legal may recall a recent episode where a man sued a company over a dating website that was purportedly ruining his reputation. Now a similar complaint has been filed in the "real world." This time James Spader is nowhere to be found, however.
Todd J. Hollis, a Pennsylvania lawyer and "victim" of what he sees as malicious gossip, has sued both several users and the proprietor of dontdatehimgirl.com, which calls itself "a powerful online resource that lets women out the men who have cheated on or lied to them!" Founded by former Miami Herald columnist Tasha Joseph, the site provides women with the opportunity to create profiles of men and then populate those profiles with (usually) unflattering assessments of their once-suitors. A quick perusal of the site shows common themes ranging from attacks on men’s, um, fortitude to questions about their sexuality, intelligence, fidelity, and even their wives and families (in some cases fictitious, in other cases not).
Hollis was similarly "outed" on the site, where three women made various claims against him, including implying that he carries sexually transmitted diseases, is a failed professional wrestler, and a womanizer. While Hollis is named and identified, his accusers are free to remain anonymous and Hollis contends that not enough is done to verify their identify or the truth of their statements. The site’s only attempt to solicit truthful information is a "checkbox" that users check before submitting information. For Hollis, this is an unacceptable situation, and his suit charges that the proprietor "conspired with disingenuous people whose only agenda is to attack the character of those individuals who have been identified on her site."
Things don’t look so good for Hollis’ case, however. The 1996 Communications Decency Act has again and again been interpreted by the courts as absolving both ISP and website operators for complete responsibility of the materials posted by third parties to the site, although this does not mean that the third parties themselves are necessarily protected. According to Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, one of the lawyers representing Ms. Joseph, holding the site proprietor responsible for the comments of its users is akin to holding a coffee shop owner responsible for what their patrons say. Hollis and his representation see the matter differently, arguing on their website that the service could be considered "an aid to the promotion of hate literature or slanderous material."
Our cursory investigation of the site did turn up some questionable policies, including a prohibition against posting the names and pictures of women who are known to be cheating. "www.DontDateHimGirl.com is for women to post the pictures and profiles of men who have allegedly cheated on them, NOT vice versa," according to the site’s rules. The website also forbids accused men from fully participating in the discussion, instead only allow them to e-mail rebuttals to the site’s administrators, which they say they will post for the men in question.
Whether or not this or any other facet of the site could land the website in hot water remains to be seen. Those who post defamatory materials could be in trouble, however. Website or not, knowingly posting false information with the intent to harm the reputation of another person can be illegal. In this case of "He said/She said," it may take a real judge to settle matters.
Video game retailers are heading into a tough spot right now. Digital distribution is taking off there are more and more ways of selling and buying used games online. I have no doubt they're still making money, and will continue to do so for the next few years before digital distribution really hits its stride with the consoles, but are they looking to the future? Can the chain gaming stores change to meet the online demands of their customers, or will newer companies take over when Gamestop can't keep up?
They have a few years to get their strategy together, because right now there's no official console hard drive add-on that could support the storage of several full-length games. The options brought up in this Next-gen.biz article don't get me excited about their ideas though. Go to the store to buy point cards to spend online to buy games? Will anyone go for that? The only market I see for a service like that would be people without bank or credit cards, otherwise why add a middle-man to that sort of transaction? A Gamestop download service was also mentioned, but with more companies looking into selling their games direct to the consumer, why again would they go through a middle and lose some of the profit?
Used games will always be a good way to make money, but if the license for games you bought online is able to be transferred, that market could dry us as well. Do the brick and mortar stores have a chance, or is digital distribution so far out that worrying about it now is kind of silly? I think it's closer than we think, and the higher-ups are starting to get the sweats. They know it's coming; will they have a good business model when the time comes?
How big is your hard drive, exactly? This question has caused no small amount of consternation, not only to geeks, but to hard drive companies as well. Western Digital, one of the largest manufacturers of computer hard drives, has just announced a settlement in the class-action lawsuit filed against it in California.
The lawsuit charged that Western Digital sold hard drives, specifically their 80GB WD800VE drive and their 120GB WD1200B011 model, that had only 79,971,254,272 bytes (74.4GB) and 120,002,150,400 bytes (111GB) of usable storage. All this confusion comes from the binary definition of kilobytes, megabytes, and gigabytes, which are 210 (1024), 220 (1,048,576), and 230 (1,073,741,824) bytes respectively.
Apart from math geeks and fans of the binary counting system, does anyone really care about the differences between kilo- and mega- in their binary forms versus their metric forms? The lawsuit charges that consumers do care, because they have become familiar with binary amounts in two ways: from the typical amounts of memory received with every new computer (128, 256, 512 MB and so forth), and because the computer’s operating system itself reports free space in terms of binary megabytes and gigabytes. The suit even went on to reference the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and that organization’s proposed renaming of the binary standards to “kibibyte” and “mebibyte,” arguing that the world’s failure to adopt these new terms means that the old binary definitions for kilobytes and megabytes should still stand.
In the end, all this fibble and kibibble winds up with Western Digital offering to compensate customers with a US$30 refund, which the company will provide in the form of free backup and recovery software valued at the same amount. Customers wishing to take advantage of this offer need to visit WD’s site and sign up for the Claim Form, which must be completed by July 17.
Last night I finally made it out to my local IMAX theater to check out Superman in 3D. I'm not going to review the movie for you, there are a lot of places online for that, but the 3D effects bear mentioning in terms of movie-geekery. It was quite the experience. There are some very slight spoilers ahead, so be careful.
The first thing a lot of people don't know is that the entire movie isn't in 3D, only about 20 minutes or so give you the effect. A blinking glasses icon on the bottom of the screen warns you when something is going to happen, and then if the theater is packed you get to listen to hundred of people put their glasses on at the same time. It's quite the noise. The glasses themselves were large and comfortable, and fit easily over my prescription frames. The first 3D scene is kind of a fun look back at Supe's childhood, and the second one… well, it's worth the price of admission alone.
The plane crash scene, on the IMAX screen, in 3D, was more exciting than many rollercoasters I've been on. In my theater the sound was cranked, and many people had their hands over their ears. The 3D effect is intense, and does a good job of putting you in the movie. I felt battered by the time the scene was over. I actually heard people screaming in the audience in places. It didn't feel like a comic book movie during this scene, when people got hurt, it looked brutal. Some of the imagery was beautiful, some of it ugly, but everything together made your jaw drop. When the scene is over and you get the nice reveal shot of Superman, a lot of people stood up and cheered. You really did feel like you saw something, well, super.
The 3D effect was impressive in most cases, but there was some slight doubling in the image even with the glasses on in places. You can also catch some odd details when the effect glitched up. In one scene a hand seemed to be about a foot in front of the arm it was supposed to be attached to. Other than these slight nitpicks, it was a great way to watch the movie, and the flying scenes were all incredible.
The movie itself I found pretty blah, but the 3D experience more than made up for it. If you have an IMAX in your area, it's worth the drive and the extra money. I left impressed, and ready to sit down and see the whole thing again.
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.