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.
As the debate over Windows Genuine Advantage rages on, Microsoft is attempting to rein in speculation that the antipiracy tool could be used put an abrupt end to the use of pirated versions of Windows. A spokesperson for the company firmly denied that the tool would be used in such a manner, saying that "No, Microsoft antipiracy technologies cannot and will not turn off your computer." Confusion remains over just what WGA is designed to do.
Dislike for WGA and what it represents has been brewing for years, stemming back to the release days of Windows XP. At that time, Microsoft required new copies of the Windows XP operating system to "activate" over the Internet using Windows Product Activation (WPA), a process that required a user’s consent to send identifying information about their computer and OS to the company. While that information was essentially nothing more than an authenticity code coupled with select system specifications, many users were uncomfortable with the tactic. Still, it was much like a tetanus shot: one quick
prick click, and it was over.
Piracy, of course, lived on, and WPA has largely been assessed as a victory only to the extent that it stopped many forms of casual piracy. With Windows Genuine Advantage, Microsoft is looking to improve on the anti-piracy tools of 2001, and WGA is best understood as the heir to WPA. Whereas the original tools only required activation once in the first 30 days of use, WGA is designed to constantly monitor a system’s licensed state. In very general terms, the idea is to make life as a so-called pirate difficult.
"The game is changing for counterfeiters. In Windows Vista, we are making it notably harder and less appealing to use counterfeit software, and we will work to make that a consistent experience with older versions of Windows as well," said a spokesman in a statement.
Still, the company has not fully disclosed their vision for WGA, leaving many questions unanswered. After talking with several trusted sources about Microsoft’s plans for Windows Vista, I believe I can shed some light on the reasons why WGA behaves as it does, and why Microsoft will indeed be using antipiracy strategies that continue to monitor one’s licensing state long after the initial setup.
The itch that WGA scratches
WGA is designed to identify a computer’s licensed state and to report that state to Microsoft. Generally speaking, Microsoft wants this information for two reasons. First, they want to fight casual piracy, and this is one way to discourage it. The company believes that tools such as WGA will make it less likely for people to share OS copies or install the same OS throughout, say, their home.
Second, they want you to be wary of pirated software, and this is one way to encourage that. Microsoft believes that commercial forms of piracy are especially egregious because they typically involve a third party selling counterfeited software—software that Microsoft ends up supporting for free. WGA is designed to kill two birds with one stone by tying OS updates to WGA monitoring. The end result is that Joe Consumer has a good reason to make sure his software is legitimate (to get updates), but there’s also a new side effect: the company believes that if Joe Consumer learns that he was sold counterfeit software, he’ll help nab the crooks, as it were. You can see this aim in Microsoft’s policy regarding known cases of OS piracy:
"Qualifying customers who fill out a counterfeit report, provide proof of purchase, and send in their counterfeit CDs may receive a genuine copy at no cost. Customers may also purchase an electronic license of Windows XP Home for $99 or Windows XP Pro for $149, or from their favorite local resellers," the spokesperson told Ars Technica.
From Microsoft’s point of view, if you have pirated/counterfeit software on your computer, you’re either a victim or a pirate. If you’re a pirate and caught, or if you’re a victim but have no proof, you can buy legitimate keys. If you’re a victim and you can prove it, you get a free replacement. The program is clearly designed to smoke out counterfeiters while collecting licensing fees.
The move to constant monitoring
This still does not address the change from a one-time authenticity check to what is essentially constant monitoring. To explain this, I offer the following hypothesis: constant monitoring is going to become very important with Windows Vista. Here’s why: the new OS will be the first from Microsoft that supports upgrades on the fly, allowing users who purchased one version of Vista to "upgrade" to other versions by simply obtaining a new license key and inserting their old installation disk. Dubbed Anytime Upgrade, the program takes advantage of Windows’ modular design. When consumers head to the store to pick up Windows Vista next year, they will actually be picking up media that has all flavors of the desktop OS on it, regardless of what the box says. Joe’s Windows Vista Home Basic disc will also have all of the features found in Vista Ultimate, and Joe can activate those features for an upgrade price to be announced later.
The end result is that the OS can be upgraded "in place" using existing media. The benefits are obvious: Microsoft hopes that users will learn about features in the Premium and Ultimate versions of Vista and want to upgrade, and the chances of them doing so are much higher if they already have the media and a simple way to obtain a new licensing key. It could even become an impulse buy. (And I must point out that this can also be used to sell future updates to Vista as well.)
The potential rewards also come with risk. What is to stop users from buying the cheapest version of Vista (or even pirating it, for that matter) and then using hacks to easily upgrade to the best version? This is where WGA’s persistent monitoring comes in. Through updates delivered to the application, known exploits will eventually be identified, or so the company hopes. Post installation hacks, whether to gain new features or change product keys, can now be identified in the field and targeted dynamically instead of waiting for the next major service pack (which could be years away). Furthermore, valid keys that are leaked can also be quickly disabled, although the company hopes to have another solution for leaked corporate keys in place soon. The fight against key leaks explains why the persistent monitoring will also be applied to OSes such as Windows XP, which cannot take advantage of Anytime Upgrade.
As we move closer and closer to a world where portable physical storage formats will be replaced by high-performance networked storage, software developers are drooling for a safe way to sell software and software upgrades online, cutting out the middle man. Some are doing it already, others want in. For big-time targets of piracy such a Microsoft, the rush to sell software online must first be subjugated to antipiracy strategies. Microsoft and others know that post-installation exploits can be attractive for pirates, even sophisticated exploits that involve more than just replacing a specific DLL or editing a registry key. For Anytime Upgrade and its forthcoming brethren to be a success, persistent monitoring is going to be part of the equation.
Many may have heard by now about a very vocal group of white MacBook owners who had begun to complain about the palm rest areas of the white plastic on the MacBooks were beginning to stain. Apple's original response to this was that the MacBooks were subjected to "improper handling" by owners that ultimately caused the odd discoloration on the otherwise pristine-looking casing of the computer. Truth be told, even Infinite Loop's Clint Ecker says that he was convinced that his MacBook palm rest stains were, he thought, a result of merely using the computer with "dirty hands."
Well, Clint, you can pick up the pr0n again, as Apple appears to have changed their stance on MacBook stains. While cosmetic issues on Mac laptops and desktops have never been covered under AppleCare, Apple seems to have decided that the issues with discoloration on the casing of white MacBooks is, in fact, not necessarily due to improper handling by users but due to a manufacturing defect.
What kind of manufacturing "defect," you ask? Well, nobody knows. However, Apple is offering to replace the top case of your stained MacBook if you are being affected with the discoloration affliction.
Those with discolored MacBooks should contact AppleCare and inform them of the stain problem. The replacement top case should no longer have this issues, nor will the newest Macbooks as Apple seems to have changed the plastic, the newest MacBooks having a much smoother feel to them in those areas, while the ones with the problem feel rough.
Of course, the mere existence of such a cosmetic issue on machines that are often considered to be amongst the sleekest and sexiest laptops can't look good for Apple, however it seems that they're hoping that public acknowledgement and fixing of the problem will save their (somewhat struggling, these days) PR image.
What would you do if your web site was “sandboxed” by Google? If you’re children’s search engine KinderStart.com, you’d spend a few weeks wondering why site traffic had fallen by more than 70 percent and why AdSense revenue was in the toilet. Then you’d sue Google.
The company filed a complaint (PDF) against Google earlier this year in which KinderStart alleged that Google’s behavior was monopolistic and violated the smaller company’s “constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech.” The blockage of KinderStart’s site from the Google index allegedly occurred without warning or notification of any kind, and the company’s attempts to get answers from Google have fallen on deaf ears. Now KinderStart wants its day in court, and its complaint seeks class action status for all companies similarly affected.
Google is no stranger to these sorts of lawsuits. Courts have so far been unwilling to rule against the search engine because it is a private business that is allowed to make its own editorial decisions about what will and will not be included in the Google index. Google agrees, and in its motion to dismiss points out that chaos would result if courts got involved in the search engine business.
Plaintiff KinderStart contends that the judiciary should have the final say over that editorial process. It has brought this litigation in the hopes that the Court will second-guess Google?s search rankings and order Google to view KinderStart?s site more favorably. If KinderStart were right, and websites could use the courts to dictate what the results of a search on the Google search engine should be, neither Google nor any other search engine could operate as it would constantly face lawsuits from businesses seeking more favorable positioning. Fortunately, KinderStart?s position finds no support in the law.
Though the judge in the case has shown skepticism toward most of KinderStart’s claims, he did show interest in the charge that Google may be abusing a monopoly position in order to silence competitors. He may now give KinderStart time to amend its complaint with more specific information ahead of a September 29 hearing. His concern is apparently that Google has taken some sort of action against a rival search engine, a move which could be seen as an abuse of market power. KinderStart agrees.
“What Google is trying to do is take out the competition,” said Gregory Yu, KinderStart’s attorney.
This claim seems difficult to reconcile with the fact that Google provides ready access to far larger search engines like Yahoo, MSN, and Ask, just as it is difficult to make the case the the Big G is actually a monopolist (it currently serves up less than half of all Internet searches in the US).
It must be frustrating for a site like KinderStart to have its traffic dry up without explanation, but the business model has a problem if 70 percent of all traffic comes from Google searchers. Such a number suggests that the site has been unable to attract repeat visitors or to build its brand as a one-stop destination for children’s information. It also highlights the need for a diverse revenue base, one that is not built solely on AdSense.
I'm not going to say that games are making as much money as movies, because then the comments would be nothing but numbers and people arguing about the box office vs. DVD sales, so let's all agree that games are a huge business. The issue of course, is that no one really seems to know how to market them. Commercials are nearly worthless, no one in the target demographic watches them, and what can you say about a game in thirty seconds that will make people want to play it? You have games like Halo, where teasers and trailers will be drooled over and argued about for months, but not every game is a Halo. So how do you get the excitement level for games up to movie levels?
This article has a few ideas, but each of them has a drawback. Hardcore events… but what about the casual gamer? Viral marketing… but that only works with people who tend to spend a lot of time on the Internet anyway. The game version of King Kong simply used the momentum of the movie to great success.
It's clear that there aren't a lot of strategies out there that work for games, and most of them will simply appeal to a core audience and then rely on word of mouth from there. The example offered by Blitz: The League is a great one, however. When they didn't have an NFL license they played that aspect of the game up, saying they were showing you and letting you do things that the NFL would never have agreed to. That lead to a lot of buzz as people wanted to see what the NFL was so scared of. The NFL wasn't scared of anything, they were just bought out by EA. The trick worked though, and the game sold well.
You have to admit, that's pretty brilliant. Maybe it's just a matter of ad execs thinking on their feet and coming up with something just as good for every game. Of course that takes time, and creativity. Two things both the ad and gaming business are often lacking in.
There's a time in every gamer's life where you have to make the decision: do you enjoy playing videogames, or do you collect? You can do both of course, but there's certain behavior in each group that usually makes people fall into one specific camp. People who just like playing games have no trouble selling their titles when they finish them. Collectors, on the opposite extreme, will often buy rare games they find even if they won't get to play them for a long time, if ever. In fact, the game may just sit in the shrinkwrap, never loved, just so someone can say they have a mint copy of Suikoden 2 on their shelf. These are the sort of people who will look at you sadly if they see Greatest Hits versions of games on your shelf.
Having my game collection in storage has broken the collecting bug; the only games on my shelves are the ones I'm playing or reviewing. Once I get those racks and racks of games back in the house? It's over for me. A game goes into the collection, and it completes a series or simply makes one system's row look bigger, and it's never leaving. From my copy of X-men Legends signed by Stan Lee to my Dreamcast shooter collection, there's a lot of stuff I could never part with.
Gamespot has a feature that shines a light on the seedier side of game collecting, with the editors talking about the five games they have on their shelves that they think make them look cool. Sometimes it's an underappreciated gem, sometimes an import, sometimes it's something as mundane as Guitar Hero that's there to prove they can still rock. Admit it, if you collect you have one or two things on your shelf that you always hope someone notices when they come over. The best reward for collecting is someone pulling a game out of your stacks and exlaiming, "Oh man, you have a copy of this?!?" There simply isn't a better feeling in the world.
If nothing else, this feature should remind you just how cool Otogi is.