Category Archives: Computing

The future may or may not be here – William Gibson, Google Glass, and wearable computing (Fitbit One review)

William Gibson wearing Google Glass. I’m not sure if this specifically is the future, but something like this is coming to a future near you.


If you look at this year’s CES, wearable computing is possibly the biggest trend of 2013. I thought I’d try some of this recently, to see if it affected my behaviour, so I got myself a Fitbit One (Fitbit One UK/Euro link, Fitbit One US link). In essence, it’s a really fancy pedometer. That’s it. But it’s more – it’s linked to a website so I can see my stats online… But the website is linked back, so if I tell the website I’ve been cycling for twenty minutes, the Fitbit on my waistband updates my calories burnt for that day. That’s quite neat. But there’s also an app on my phone, where it’s easy to add in the food that I’m eating, or the water that I’m drinking (and the alcohol I’m drinking), and it only takes a moment.


This mean that every day, at any time, I can check to see how many calories I have burnt that day, and how many I have put into my body.


Does this, by itself, make me more fit? Of course not. But, when I look down at my waist and see that I have climbed 23 flights of stairs that day, does it make me want to climb a couple more (because 25 is a nice round number)? Yes, it absolutely does. I’ve been using the Fitbit for around a month and I’ve lost about 5lbs (1.5kg). I’ve not been able to shift weight for years, but this feels easy. That is actually incredible to me: a tiny chip on my waist and a bit of networking has made me become more conscious of my health and improved my life.


A few days ago I looked at my waist and saw I had climbed 37 flights of stairs… Well. That’s close to 50 isn’t it? I put a TED talk on my mobile phone, and walked up and down the stairs in my house while I listened to an inspirational talk about technology.


… But when I reached 50 for that day, the talk hadn’t finished, so I kept on walking. But then when the talk did finish, I wasn’t at a nice round number on the Fitbit One anymore, so I put on another talk…


And so, that day, I ended up walking up 100 flights of stairs. This is something I would never normally have done before I got the Fitbit, and the strange thing is that it feels so unconciously natural now. Of course I want to improve my stats: it’s like a real world RPG where I need to grind a little to get to the next level.


I called this post a Fitbit One review, it is (you should get one, it’s fantastic and it has helped me shift stubborn weight in a way that nothing else has, and without any big changes in my life), but it’s also about the future. We see William Gibson, the man who changed the language of the future when he wrote about cyberspace in his short stories and novels in the 1980s (Neuromancer UK, Neuromancer US), and we see him putting on Google Glass, and the strangeness of the present comes crashing home. When he started writing, the idea of a universally accessible data resource was pure fantasy, and how he can have it in his glasses.


Is William Gibson the future? I think he would be the first person to say that the future will now be shaped by people we have never heard of yet, but he is an icon of progress into this weird thing we call modern life.


Google is an icon too, and nothing feels more like the future than what they are doing to us. I’m fairly sure that this version of Google Glass will not be the same form that we are using in a decade, but it seems inevitable that it will be something like it, or like this, or possibly (hopefully) this, or like something we haven’t imagined yet.


When it comes it will feel so obvious and so natural that we will wonder why no-one ever did it before.


Seeing Gibson and Google together is a taste of things to come. Even that phrase ‘things to come’ sounds like the 1950s ray-guns-and-rocket-ships kind of science fiction. We don’t have the language for the current-future yet, but it is here already, quietly walking into our lives in small ways.

Burning Man earns you education credits & the first, obvious, target for iPad hacking

How cool is this? A bunch of architecture students are getting university credits by going to Burning Man and building a structure there. Frankly, I think that’s pretty damn awesome – it gives them all the design side of the process and then the practical experience of making sure the damn thing stands up when the desert wind blows up. What a great way to get through university!

In other news, Apple released the iPad and were trying to keep it free or ‘adult’ material. Guess how long that lasted? Less than a day. Oops. The internet exploded into popularity as soon as you could put pictures on it, and guess what those pictures were of? The home video camera became popular because people could use it to video themselves in private moments. Why did Apple think that they might be able to keep the iPad smut free? On a more realistic level, a good business model should take a realistic approach to human desires and respond to them, and so tech will only succeed if it can support people’s needs.

Spore, DRM, and DLC

Before we get going, here’s an intro for anyone new to all this:

Spore is a computer game recently released by EA and made by the same people who did The Sims.

DRM stands for Digital Rights Management. Essentially this means systems that limit the ways in which a customer can use things that they have purchased. The main idea is to prevent piracy.

DLC stands for DownLoadable Content. This usually refers to extra things that can be downloaded for games, often for a small price (e.g., a more powerful gun, or a different track to race on).

That’s the basics out of the way…

Spore has been getting a lot of attention recently from the gaming press and public. The game consists of five sections that fit roughly onto a wide view of evolution, starting with your creature as a microscopic lifeform and following it all the way up to becoming a race of space-faring beings, at which point you can go off and conquer the galaxy (which has been populated by the creatures belonging to other players).

You can create your creature to look and move in many varied ways, with some incredibly clever animation technology making almost anything capable of walking around. Needless to say, the first things that many people attempted to create were walking penises. That’s gamers for you. Will Wright, the main and most public creator behind the game, said to the AP that some of them are “amazingly explicit, especially when those creations are animated”, but does go on to talk about making sure these don’t spoil anyone else’s fun… No screenshots are attached, before you go looking!

Reviews of the Spore have been generally approving, but player reactions have been more mixed when they are discussing it. Many players have had issues with the DRM on the game. This software, provided by SecuROM, installs itself on your machine without asking for your permission and attempts to ensure that the software is not installed more than three times before a new copy is required to be purchased. Many players have said that they frequently clear their harddrives and would be annoyed that after a year they would be expected to buy a new copy of the game.

Some people have been driven to piracy by DRM: I’ve not had this confirmed about Spore, but I do know of other DRM-heavy titles where people have purchased legitimate copies of a game then downloaded illegally shared and hacked copies from the internet to install on their PCs. Why? The hacked versions don’t have the DRM on it. Clearly, this is an issue that some people feel very passionately about.

I can’t help but wonder if the games industry is setting itself up for trouble here. For how long will people be prepared to do the honest thing and purchase a copy of a game when they intend to download a hacked version to install? Will it take much longer before they get frustrated with persistent DRM issues and decide to not spend the money at all? With the international market and instant online price comparisons, some people in Europe are getting understandably angry about paying twice the price that American gamers pay for the same product.

From the perspective of the games industry, especially companies specialising in PC games, DRM seems essential. When Crysis was released earlier in the year it was reputed to be one of the most pirated games released for a PC, forcing the company into deciding to not make PC exclusive games in the future. Estimates range between 4 and 7 times as many copies of the game were downloaded illegal when compared to legitimate purchases. Yikes!

What can the games industry do about this? Consoles such as the Xbox 360 and Playstation3 provide some part of the answer. Their operating systems are less customisable (exceedingly so for the 360) than a PCs, so pirated games are harder to get working, but there still remains the second-hand market on eBay and through high-street retailers, where a single copy of a game can make the retailer £100+ during its shelf life through sale, exchange, and resale, but the manufacturers only get a percentage of the initial sale.

The best current answer is DLC. By selling small downloadable items for games that can’t be transferred between systems or user accounts, the manufacturers can continue to get revenue from games, even if they have been pirated or sold second-hand. Advertising in games is downloaded to online consoles and computers. When you drive past a billboard in a game you might notice that it’s changed since the last time you played: that’s a new image downloaded onto your machine, and a tiny bit of money added to the bank balance of the game maker. DLC has many advantages for the manufacturers, but the balance isn’t so equal for consumers, who end up with limited use of the things that they have paid for.

While DRM on games like Spore is reacted to strongly (even provoking one unwise moderator on the game’s forums to threaten to disable people’s game accounts if they don’t stop discussing it), it doesn’t seem to be denting the popularity of the title among people reviewing it online. Both expert and user reviews still rate Spore highly despite the problems, and EA claims that a lot less than 1% of the game’s owners will be likely to encounter a problem with the DRM. It could be the usual case of a few people on the internet shouting loudly about views that don’t reflect the majority of the population, but I do wonder where it’s going to end…

Recently I was trying to put CDs onto my mp3 player, something which I am legally entitled to do, but I could get the disk to rip to my harddrive. I tried all kinds of things, and eventually discovered that the software refused to rip because of DRM restricting the use of the CD. I know my rights, but I couldn’t use the disk the way I wanted. I still wanted the music, so I downloaded an ‘illegal’ copy of the music I already owned because it was the only way to use it the way that I wanted.

I think that some form of DRM is going to have to come into place eventually because people will always try and take things for free if they can, but we’re a long way off from it being a solution that is beneficial for the manufacture and sufficiently flexible for consumers.

Has the LHC destroyed the world yet?

In case you’ve blanked news out for the day, the Large Hadron Collider, the LHC, was turned on today. It’s taken 30 years and some silly number of billions of pounds to make a really big ring so boffins can make streams of protons hit each other at light speed then see what happens. I did write in with a suggestion that they shine two torches at each other, but they never wrote back. I would even have supplied the batteries.

Anyway, apparently the amount of energy used is likely to create a Higgs Boson particle, which somehow gives all other particles mass (although exactly how or why I really don’t know). Then again, it might not. What this boils down to is that a load of guys underground in Europe are going to perhaps make a very small black hole. They insist that this is completely safe, which it probably is, but that doesn’t stop everyone else wondering if they are about to destroy the world, which brings me to the point of this..

In case you need to check if the LHC has destroyed the world, there is now a convenient website that is monitoring the situation and allows you to check:

It’s a good joke, but the real comedy will escape 99.9% of viewers. Check out the source code for the page:

[script type="text/javascript"]
if (!(typeof worldHasEnded == "undefined")) {
} else {

[script type="text/javascript"]
var gaJsHost = (("https:" == document.location.protocol) ? "https://ssl." :
document.write(unescape("%3Cscript src='" + gaJsHost +
"' type='text/javascript'%3E%3C/script%3E"));

Comedy gold for web techy people.

[I removed the email address from the code to try and prevent him getting spammed by bots that may scan this page, but it’s there in the page’s code if you want to find it yourself.]

Blu-ray appears to have beaten HD-DVD

It looks like the competition to be the main format for high-definition movies has been won by Blu-ray. There were two in the running, but on Friday the major American retailer Wal-Mart said that it is not going to purchase any more stock of HD-DVD players, effectively signalling that it believes the race is over. Wal-Mart is the largest distributor of DVD players in the US and so this decision says very strongly that Blu-ray is the winner.

Movies in the Blu-ray format have been consistently outselling the HD-DVD movies since the launch of the Playstation 3 (PS3), which has a Blu-ray player built in, although this doesn’t mean that the victory was clear. There were still a million dedicated HD-DVD players sold, a similar number to the dedicated Blu-ray players, but it looks like the PS3 owners swung the market. This can only have been deliberate on the part of Sony – they are the makers of the PS3 and the patent holders on the Blu-ray technology – but their gamble has paid off with a huge success.

What is more important for retailers such as Wal-Mart is that customers are informed that there is now a standard for high-definition movies. The longer the battle continued, the less attractive physical formats for films looked. Downloadable films are the logical step on from downloadable music, and it is a rapidly growing market. It won’t put physical retailers out of business soon, but it is a likelihood that it will eventually.

Regardless of this, only around 15-20% of households in the UK have a high-definition television, so even with a clear winner it’s going to take a while before high-definition films rival the sales of DVDs. Most owners of HD TV sets don’t have any input devices that play in HD, so the technology is often wasted. Annoyingly, the display of standard-definition signals (such as normal television) is often worse on a HD TV than on a normal one, because the picture has to be scaled up to fit on the higher-resolution screen and the software in the television often isn’t good enough to replicate the standard-definition signal.

There is still a lot of confusion in the HD TV market, between 720/1080 and the ‘i’ versus ‘p’ tags, and many consumers don’t realise that they need a new kind of signal going into the television to notice any difference. The resolution of the film formats to being only Blu-ray will certainly help things along, but there is a long way to go before consumers understand high-definition the way that they understand normal televisions.

(New York Times article here.)

Mod scene hits the PS3 with Unreal Tournament 3

I’ve always been intrigued by the modding scene, where players of games go into the code and make their own levels, or sometimes entirely new games using the existing technology, but I’ve never really had a PC that could run them. I tried to get loads of mods (modifications) working on Quake, many years ago, but they never seemed to run for some reason.

I’m very happy to see that this is now going to be possible on the PS3, so clever amateurs can make whatever they want, and it will work on my console without me having to pay the world to get a good PC to run it all. Hurrah!

Essentially, you’ll make the mod, or download someone else’s, save it onto a portable RAM stick-drive (the type that seems to be everywhere and are getting very cheap these days), plug it into your PS3 with Unreal Tournament 3 running and you’re away…

Well, that’s what it says over here. Very cool stuff, a big win for console owners, and an even bigger one for Sony (this doesn’t work yet on the Xbox 360, although I’m sure it will come eventually).

The smiley emoticon is 25 today :-)

At 11:44am, 25 years ago today, the smiley was invented:

19-Sep-82 11:44 Scott E Fahlman 🙂 From: Scott E Fahlman I propose that the following character sequence for joke markers: 🙂 Read it sideways. Actually, it is probably more economical to mark things that are NOT jokes, given current trends. For this, use 🙁

It’s nice to know the smiley is 25, but it’s also interesting that in 1982 Professor Fahlman thought that the internet was becoming clogged with silliness. I wonder what he thinks of it all now.

There’s a brief history of smileys here. My webcomic contributions to the silliness of the internet update twice a week here.

Bless the optimistic New York Times, and a prediction

One of their writers has asked a pretty obvious question about mobile phone ringtones:

Three bucks for a 30-second snippet that lasts a year—when you can buy the entire song online for $1 and own it forever?

What am I missing here? How is a 30-second, time-limited excerpt worth three times as much as the full work forever?

He concludes that this is a money making ploy by record-executives, summarising it as ‘the last great digital rip off’. While I agree that it is a rip-off, you’ve got to admire either the optimism or the hyperbole of the writer for thinking that this is the ‘last great’ rip off that we’re going to see related to digital media.

I’d like to make a little prediction – digital TV and movie downloads are going to be among the next great digital rip offs that turn up as soon as the general public becomes au fait enough with computers to start using them.

The ZX Spectrum is 25!

25 years ago today the ZX Spectrum was released and many people’s destinies were written in silicon. It was the first computer that I had regular access to (after my uncle had bought it, didn’t know what to do with it, and promptly passed it on to my brother and I).

The power of those 48k was astonishing. Games makers packed in dozens of hours of gameplay, graphics, and music. When I started university we were ‘taught’ about computers. The ‘teacher’ (I use the word very loosely because it was clear that the instructor believed that all computers were evil, possessed, and of course utterly irrelevant to art) was demonstrating the scanner:

‘This page is blank white,’ she said ‘so it only takes up 22k.’ 22k? 22k! I remember when you could fit whole games into 22k, and now all you can do is tell a screen that the whole page is white? Have we completely forgotten how to code efficiently already? Then again, this was ten years ago, so it’s probably 3MB to have a white screen now…

Tonight I shall be drinking a toast to Sir Clive Sinclair and the computer that changed my world.

Thoughts about the new-gen consoles

Before I get started, if you’ve got a Xbox 360 then you really should buy Crackdown (UK link US link). It’s a remarkably good game.

For those new to this stuff: The Playstation3 (also known as ‘PS3’) is Sony’s new games console, released 11/06 in the US and Japan and next month (03/07) in Europe. The Xbox 360 (a.k.a. ‘360’) is MicroSoft’s (a.k.a. ‘Micro$oft’ and ‘M$’) sequel to the Xbox games console and has been out for about 14 months. The Nintendo Wii games console was launched globally in 11/06. Until recently these were all referred to as ‘next-generation’, or ‘next-gen’ machines, but now they’re here they must be ‘new-gen’.

The PS3 is a very cool machine, but it’s had a troubled start and people are putting the boot in over it’s backward compatibility issues. Backwards compatibility (b/c for short) is the ability to play games from earlier machines by the same manufacturer. It’s not surprising that they are receiving criticism about this because b/c was one of the key features that Sony was boasting about a year ago when insulting the Xbox 360. I get the impression that Sony would, in an ideal world, have waited until March 2007 to release the PS3 globally, but they needed to prevent Micro$oft getting another Christmas season ahead of them in the key markets of America and Japan.

Part of the reason that I think this is the case is that there’s going to be a big update in March that should be fixing a lot of the issues that people have with the PS3. The NTSC backwards compatibility is around 98% after the January firmware update, so the PAL b/c should get to that level eventually too. It’s quite an important thing for me, because I love some of my PS1 and PS2 games. The b/c on the 360 still isn’t particularly good: I was really looking forward to having access to some of the great games for the Xbox that I missed out on, but the ones I want haven’t been certified yet and consequentially won’t work. Updates to the 360 b/c list are few and far between, so I guess I’ll just keep on waiting until I can play Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath

Also mooted for the March update is ‘extending the media functionality in ways that our consumers really want’, which I’m taking to mean will enable the PS3 to stream media from a PC. Currently, despite the built-in wireless, the PS3 won’t actually do much with other devices on your home network. It’s rather annoying – the Xbox 360 can stream from a PC but is hobbled by Micro$oft insisting that users can only stream .wmv format movies (and who, seriously, uses .wmv as their preferred format?). The PS3 supports the .avi format for video, but currently won’t stream anything from your PC. Aargh!

For the really geeky, there’s already a Sony built-in capability to install the Linux operating system onto your PS3, so there are big possibilities for wireless networking about the house there, as well as the chances of people making their own games. The PS3 currently seems to have a wider range of possibilities than the 360 because it has been opened up by Sony for people who want to hack around in it – this is completely counter to MicroSoft’s controlling approach – but whether it is a wise or foolhardy approach is something that only time will tell.

To me, it doesn’t bode well for the 360’s software support that after a year it’s only just got a title that is truly exceptional game (Crackdown). Everything else has been a bit bland, or is multi-format already. Then again, does the PS3 line-up look more exciting? Maybe… But it’s too early to say for sure. Resistance: Fall of Man is a good first-person shooter, but there are so many unknowns: Heavenly Sword, Metal Gear Solid 4, Tekken 6, Killzone 2, and the European release of Motorstorm. Any of these could prove to be astonishing but they all could simply be more of the same kind of play that we’ve already seen, and how many will be exclusives? Then again, it’s a more exciting schedule than the 360 has managed in the last year. Yes, that’s because the manufacturers have decided to bet on the PS3 branding winning consumers… And they may be right yet. The PS3 is slightly harder to work on than the 360, but if it gets the better games then the hardware becomes irrelevant.

It looks like M$ had the chance to run the field and get a massive head start, but I just don’t think they’ve managed it. Even Nintendo, who have a very cool little machine in the Wii, still only have two games that are worth getting – Wii Sports (which comes free with the machine) and Zelda: The Twilight Princess (which is only good if you like Zelda games… Which I don’t particularly). The Wii still has a chance to make a huge difference to the market, but the new-gen Eyetoy from Sony has buckets of potential and may yet become the family toy that the Wii wants to be.

Despite my doubts of a few months ago, I am really beginning to think that Sony might dominate this generation of consoles once again. Their machine is expensive, looks like a George Foreman grill, tricky to develop games for, and uses the Spiderman 2 font for its logo, but in the end it’s always only about the games, and on this basis I currently think that Sony are going to win again.

The monkey army arises! And other Friday things.

Beware! They’re coming for us all!

Apparently playing The Sims keeps you sane (if you’re at war). Personally, making Sim replicas of your brothers in arms sounds like a short walk to insubordination, but who am I to argue? (They have guns, after all, so I won’t disagree.)

Playing computer games is good for your visual accuity! Specifically, playing action-based games (such as first-person-shooters like Halo) trains the brain to be significantly better at discerning visual patterns than non-action-gamers and non-gamers. The study doesn’t take into account the potential for eye-strain from too long staring at the screen, but it’s interesting stuff anyway!

And finally… New York is trying to ban people from using portable gaming devices, phoens, and even mp3 players while walking:

The legislation will be introduced today to ban the use of electronic gadgets, including portable game machines, BlackBerrys, mobile phones, and iPods, while crossing the road. Those who ignore the ban could face a fine of $100.

Apparently too many people are walking into the road while engaged with other things. While it’s nasty that anyone should die that way (and horrible for the drivers) I’m sure I’m not the only one that wonders if they aren’t doing the species a favour…

Don’t forget to drop by my webcomic! It’s updated every Monday and Friday.

The Xbox 360 and the Playstation3… Leaving the door open for Nintendo?

Micro$oft’s Xbox 360:

As I’ve mentioned in other places, I recently bought an Xbox 360 as preparation for a job interview (which, incidentally, worked). I’ve now had the machine for a few weeks and can categorically say ‘meh’ about my experience of the machine. The graphics are admittedly a step up, but do not currently represent what we might describe as a generational leap and instead look like only slight advancements of the height of last-gen graphics. In terms of gameplay, the options of having hundreds of attackers are used by games such as Dead Rising (UK link US link) to good effect, but does this create anything that hasn’t really been playable before?

Dead Rising serves as a good example of the problems faced by the Xbox 360. It is regarded as one of the best titles on the system, and has many different paths of play in a way that earlier games would have struggled to have contained. It is very much Grand Theft Zombie, and not necessarily the worse for this, but it exhibits issues that should have been resolved long ago. It has early difficulty spikes, poorly thought out save points, a lack of checkpoints after tough achievements, and the combat, while fun, is marred by an inventory system that makes it easy to suddenly begin reading a magazine when you are surrounded by fifty brain-hungry zombies. The worst problem, only made so by the ease of correction, is that the majority of in-game updates are displayed in text so tiny that it is unreadable on a normal television. Did the makers of the game never play it on a system that did not support high definition visuals? On a standard CRT set the text is only readable with a lot of guesswork and familiarity with the words that are probably being written. Reading mission updates in a game should be the easiest thing in the world, but this simple over-sight damages the game experience, and it isn’t the only Xbox 360 game with this flaw.

When I bought the machine I was looking forward to the backwards compatibility and the media centre capabilities. The former aspect is software-based emulation of the Xbox, and as such Micro$oft are going through their back-catalogue and releasing patches for the games. This means that the more advanced games are harder to emulate, so some of the most interesting titles in the Xbox range, such as Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath (UK link US link) don’t currently work, and many fairly mainstream titles need an online update to work with the machine (which costs yet more money if the owner doesn’t want wires all over their house). The media centre feature, despite saying that it allows you to stream music and video content to your living room, is crippled by obscure firewall settings that take a while to overcome, then more so by Micro$oft’s insistence that files must be in certain formats for them to be streamed to your Xbox 360, regardless of whether or not they can be played on your PC.

So the Xbox 360 is powerful, expensive, slightly hobbled by Micro$oft’s decisions, frustrating, and packed with potential that a year after release still isn’t going anywhere very exciting.

Sony’s Playstation 3:

I’ve written about this before, so I’ll keep this brief. $ony have got a lot to lose here. They have made a machine that costs them $840 to manufacture, which is $241 more than the $599 price tag (source) of which the retailer would have to take a cut, doesn’t include how much the controllers, cables, and R&D cost Sony. It turns out that the 100% backwards compatibility isn’t quite 100% (source) and, because this is hardware-based, this means that those games will never work on the machine unless Sony manage some very fancy downloadable coding – again requiring another bout of internet connections and firewall fiddling.

In the box you get a Blu-Ray player, which is a very nice piece of kit for games developers who fancy putting a hell of a lot of content into their games, and it is especially good for high definition video – but again, how many people have high definition televisions, especially to the scale of 1080 pixels that Sony is forcing in as a standard beyond the more typical 720 pixels range? Given that a large part of the delay of the machine and the R&D budget has gone on the Blu-Ray, is it going to be worth it for gamers? This one only time will tell. My instinct about the HD DVD v.s Blu-Ray competition is that neither is going to be winning any time soon: too many people have only just upgraded to DVDs and won’t want to upgrade again. This isn’t VHS v.s DVDs because at least the players will still be able to play DVDs, but who is going to be rushing out to make a very costly upgrade when their system is already satisfactory? In addition to this, do the very limited numbers of the machines available at launch suggest that the difficulty of making the Blu-Ray player is still slowing production? Will the player stand up to long-term use, or will it degrade like the early PS2 DVD players?

As for software: the first few months the schedule is mostly games in very heavily populated genres, such as sports and driving, or non-exclusive titles that either already exist on the PC (usually for a far cheaper price tag) or that will be heavily multi-format. They do have a step-up on the Xbox 360 in that they have a launch title that early reports say is excellent, Resistance: Fall of Man (UK link US link) so that bodes well for the future, but it is going to need to do a lot of space filling before it becomes a must-have console, especially when weighed down by the heavy price-tag.

The opportunity is there for Sony to grab the media centre crown from the Xbox 360, but will $ony, with so many fingers in so many media-industry pies, really want to make it any easier for people to play potentially pirated material in the comfort of their living room? I doubt it…

So the Sony Playstation3 is very, very expensive, possibly with a lower build-quality than is desirable, but with at least one good launch title it does have the chance to grow… But still that price tag looms over everything. Oh, and it’s being launched four months late in Europe. Cheers Sony.

Nintendo Wii:

It’s cheap, it’s reliably made, but it’s completely unproven. Will the Wii be able to make games that are more than just novelties, and perhaps more importantly, does Nintendo want to make Wii games more than a novelty? Judging by The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, (UK link US link) Nintendo are determined to prove that the Wii can produce games that are more than a simple piece of novelty entertainment. Will it be any good? Most likely, but the question remains over whether other games producers are going to dedicate the resources to the machine to create deep gaming experiences… Or whether they even should do this at all.

The trouble with the Wii is not one based on the system itself, it is on the market: is there going to be a sufficient market sector to support Nintendo’s vision of family gaming? Will the games ever get beyond the simplicity of the interface and create experiences that players can become deeply involved in, or should the games even try to do this? Without knowledge of the public’s reaction to the Wii, it is near-impossible to second guess who is going to buy it, who it will appeal to, and whether support from developers will demonstrate a meaningful engagement with the motion-sensing technology of the controller. Nintendo machines have classically been best supported by games made by Nintendo. The revolutionary nature of the Wii’s controller (which senses full physical three-dimensional movement around the player’s room while also being sensitive enough to allow play with just the flick of a wrist) means that developers have the opportunity to think in completely new ways.

Nintendo are certainly thinking in new ways: they’ve made a system that is cheap, easy to develop for (because it is based mostly on old Gamecube technology), very easy to demonstrate the appeal of, and capable of giving non-gamers a level-playing ground with people who have decades of playtime behind them.

Microsoft had a year in which to establish the arena for the new generation of games, but have failed to dominate the field before Nintendo and Sony have entered it. This is a major problem for Microsoft, but Sony look to be making some similar mistakes, and may have crippled themselves with the cost of their hardware. For the first time in a decade, there is a real chance for Nintendo to take control of the gaming scene. The next year of gaming is going to be a very interesting and exciting time.

Blue Screen Of Death (BSOD) Screensaver!

Yes, apparently Microsoft do have some sort of sense of humour… Or they just haven’t noticed that one of the companies that they recently bought have produced a Blue Screen Of Death screensaver.

For those who don’t know (is there anyone?), the BSOD is the dreaded screen that tells Windows users that their system has crashed. This usually appears about two seconds before you were about to save the last five hours’ work. The screensaver takes your system information and accurately mimics a genuine crash/startup cycle. Perfect for scaring the hell out of anyone who may share your machine! Download it now before Microsoft’s anti-humour police find it!

Link source from The Register.

Burning Man on Google Earth

Those of you with the marvellously fun Google Earth software might want to check out the map of the site this year.

Click this link to download and open a Google Earth link to the site. It’s actually slightly to the north-east of where that link lands you. People will be adding on the shapes of their camps over the next week-or-so, making for a 3D virtual version of the Burning Man ‘Black Rock City’. Aren’t computers cool?

(You’ll need the Google Earth software to make that link work. If you don’t already have it then you can download it for free here.)

Burning Man TV

So, if you’re still here and reading this then the chances are that you won’t be going to the Burning Man this year. I’m really missing it, it’s been four years since I last went and I was hoping to keep to a ‘every three years’ pattern. Nonetheless, the joys of broadband, the miracle of decent streaming video (brought to us by the superb new suite of video tools in Macromedia’s Flash 8) mean that we can see updates from the Burning Man all through the next week.

The videos will be going online here over at TV Free Burning Man. I can’t wait to see what people are getting up to, but it’ll be will a little sadness that I’m going to be sitting around in offices and working when I could be out in the glorious desert.

Do you know what the Burning Man is? If not, there’s also a nice little 5 minute documentary on that site about the event… Although, with over 35k citizens of Black Rock City every year, you will tend to find that there are 35k different answers to just what the Burning Man is, and what the Man means.

I really miss it.

What did we do before Google?

I’m working through my footnotes for my Phd at the moment, and I’ve suddenly discovered that I have references to a work by Edmund Burke from the wrong edition: my footnotes refer to the 1967 print, but by bibliography lists the 1889 edition that I’ve got sitting on my shelf (it’s great what you can find in Oxfam bookshops).

So there we have a problem: I’ve got a few page references from one edition but no idea where they appear in the edition that I have in my bibliography. The solution? Google, of course.

So, I wanted to find a couple of quotes:

I am satisfied the ideas of pain are much more powerful than those which enter on the part of pleasure.

When danger or pain press too nearly, they are incapable of giving any delight, and are simply terrible; but at certain distances, and with certain modifications, they may be, and they are, delightful, as we every day experience.

Copy and paste part of the phrase into Google, then use the ‘cached’ link to highlight where the phase appears on the page, like this, and there’s my answer: the phrase appears in section VII, so I just need to find that in my bibliographic copy of the book and I’ve got my new page number.

This still leaves the question ‘What did we do before Google?’. Today, ladies and gentlemen, I present the answer: we worked a lot harder for the same or less results.

The next question would have to be whether we’re now capable of creating better ideas and writing in more knowledgable ways because of Google, and that one is far harder to answer. I suspect the answer might be they we are not; there is only so much knowledge that we can convey and appreciate, and the ‘soundbite’ culture of academia, once an indicator of broad reading, is too easily entered into now without proper understanding of subjects. Google is the cure and the curse for academics, but at times like today I can’t help but marvel at how useful it is.

A bit of code… Simple form rollover submit

I’m in the final stages of putting a new site online, and I decided to put a little polish on some of the buttons. Given that the whole thing is done in PHP and involves lots of forms, I needed a way to make a rollover image that could submit the form for me.

A search on Google initially made this look like it was going to be rather complex… Well, not complex, but unnecessarily lengthy:

Look at the state of that! Lines of code running all over the over the place!

But then I found this thread, with the following lovely bit of code:

[input type=”image” value=”someValue” src=”yourImage.gif” width=”widthInPixels” height=”heightInPixels” onmouseover=”javascript:this.src=’yourImageRollover.gif’;” onmouseout=”javascript:this.src=’yourImage.gif’;”/]

[replace the square brackets with angle brackets]

I customised it a bit so that it would submit my form and to give it some more user-friendly tags:

[input name=”Submit” type=”image” id=”Submit” onmouseover=”javascript:this.src=’siteimages/button-tell-me-down.gif’;” onmouseout=”javascript:this.src=’siteimages/button-tell-me-up.gif’;” value=”Submit” src=”siteimages/button-tell-me-up.gif” alt=”Tell me this clue!” /]

[replace the square brackets with angle brackets]

But otherwise the code is all there. It doesn’t have a pre-load function in it, but for a form-submission button you’d hope that the image file sizes are going to be so tiny that they won’t take a moment to download. I reuse this code a lot on my pages too, so one preload and the whole site looks swanky without the need for piles and piles of Javascript at the top of every page.

I’m a big fan of good coding. When something as simple as and useful as a rollover can be achieved with a line of code then you know that things are working the way they should.

Spam that’s mostly true!

Blimey, who’d have thought it? I was forwarded an email telling me to visit and to click on it to help raise money for mammograms. While 50% of the stuff written in the email is way out of date (it’s been circulating for five years), the site is actually real and does raise a huge amount of money through the advertising revenue from people visiting. They already get a massive amount of visitors, but everything helps and it’s going to a good cause. Visit and click today!

Two excited Japanese women and a robot snake!

Hibin wa roboto des! (‘Naaza’ means snake in Japanese, so I have no idea what that actually means, but the presenters sound very excited about it.)

My gods, these things will kill us all:


There is no confirmation yet, but it is thought that Nintendo is already designing their next interaction system based on fighting a hoard of robotic snakes while being cheered on by excitable Japanese television women with microphones. Shigeru Miyamoto might have said ‘Yes, it is a super new professional play method! It is a new gaming opportunity!’

As Kent Brockman would say, I for one welcome our snake-robot overlords!

2mins 50 secs is quite fun, where the two female presenters are clearly amazed by the robot snake as it swims around behind them.

In other technology news, $ony have said that the PS3 will be released worldwide at nearly the same time in November this year, 2006. This means that the Xbox 360 will have had a one year head-start in the market, so it will be very interesting to see $ony’s sales figures. There were earlier reports that the PS3 would be released around spring-summer time, but there appear to have been delays. $ony states that this is due to optimising the release date, but there has been some speculation that this is due to $ony trying to reduce component costs. The system is believed to be going on sale for an initially high price, even compared to the full 360 pack, which in the UK retailed for around £400. I’m looking forward to the system, but over £400 would definitely be enough to make me pause for a while.

Some good news about the system though: it will be 100% backwards compatible with existing PS1 and PS2 titles. While this isn’t an essential for a new system it is a very nice add-on, and certainly helps during those early months when the new titles are thin on the ground. Interestingly, they are also saying that there will be a 60GB hard-drive fitted as standard in the machine, which suggests that they won’t be going down the two-tiered road that Micro$oft used when releasing the 360 (the standard system lacked a hard-drive and various other useful bits).