Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Yo Adrian!!! You gotta cut me, Adrian! Not there Adrian, that's my ass! God help me if I start bleeding out my ass...

The Year of Our Lord 2007 was not a bad first round of boxing when spectating the video game console wars. The Apollo Creed-like X-Box 360 came out strong, landing solid jabs and hooks on the sluggish yet sturdy Balboa PS3. By middle year both were in a rather unexciting clench what with the lack of titles released but in the final minute of the round both pugilists started landing some serious blows on each other, letting us know that we were in for a decent fight.

I think in the second round that is 2008 we are going to see a far more even match-up. Microsoft's momentum may finally start to wane and from here on in the X-Box 360 might face an uphill battle.

The problems lie in keeping the 360 at technological parity with the PS3 over the next five years or so. In the past couple of years Microsoft has done a very effective marketing campaign convincing us that the 360 is just as powerful as the PS3 but costs less money. They did this so that the two machines would be in direct competition for hard-core console gamer business. Hard-core gamers will spend far more buying games than any other demographic and that is how these companies intend to recover their considerable development expenses. As of this writing neither console is operating in the black and despite cheery predictions both might not do so this year.

The 360 now has two fairly serious setbacks in this regard, limitations the PS3 does not possess. One of them is a lack of either built-in Blu-Ray or HD-DVD. Not only does this limit the total size of what a game can be but it also adversely affects the streaming of data from the disk while in game play. A 360 game will have to be smaller in size and that data will take a longer time to process. The second issue is the decision made by Microsoft to not allow game developers to load game data on the HDD; all the game must run directly from the disk. What this means right now is fairly long load times and minor issues with frame rates and other visual imperfections. Mass Effect perfectly illustrates the struggle the 360 has with ambitious looking, lengthy games.

I think these two issues are going to really make themselves increasingly apparent in the next couple years. It hasn't been a problem this past year because multi-platform developers are making games with moderate-spec PCs and the 360 in mind. Game tech advances however at an incredible rate so at the heart of the issue is whether or not the 360 is future-proofed or is it a machine with a game PC-like life expectancy?

There is something to consider in the video game industry right now; just because 'next gen' hardware has been made, it doesn't mean that software developers are going to capitalize on it smoothly or easily. The reason why so many PC developers have gone like gangbusters on the consoles is because they were the best trained to do so by making last-gen, high-end PC games. This is especially true with regards to the 360 and its very-PC-like architecture. It gave the 360 a killer launch year. The PS3 however is radically different and the companies that made games for the PS2 had little previous experience that was relevant. They are well on their way to learning however and what they are doing with the Cell processor is very encouraging. We've already seen some pull-away, titles suitable for the PS3 that the 360 can't play with all the features intact (Unreal Tournament 3, for example.) This year it looks like we will see even more.

The PS3 took a real ass-kicking for sticking to their guns and making such a high-end device with options and capabilities no one knew what to do with. In the long run however it looks like they made the right choice. They took their time, they didn't succumb to short-term solutions, and now they have a machine that third party developers (like Crytek, developers of the super-advanced Crysis) are very interested in because they find the unit has much room for growth.

The X-Box 360 offered a stripped down console at lower prices and advertised their lean product as giving customers the power of choice. Hard drives and high-def players were an option the buyer could consider rather than being forced upon by the company. Choice is all well and good but these options have a direct and deep impact on how advanced the games themselves are going to be for that system. In order to include all your customers the lowest common denominator must apply. 360 games therefore have to run without using the HDD and on standard DVD. None of those two issues are going to be the industry standard much longer.

In a couple years time Microsoft may very well find it having to reverse some key decisions in order to justify hard-core gamer loyalty. They may find their product being described as a middle-tier unit; the step between the Wii and the PS3. That might not be a bad place in the long run (the Wii seems to revel and thrive in it) but their yearly financial expectations will have to be seriously lowered from that point on. Halo 3 broke all kinds of records but it wasn't a game built for a mid or low end system - no blockbuster is. You want the big bucks, you have to play in the big game.

If I'm still writing this blog a year from now we get to see how wrong I was and you get to read how I'll explain all of this ass-wind away. Stay tuned!

The cloned meat for us to eat; it's all good baby! You don't have to worry your pretty little head because the F.D.A. released a final risk assessment that's over nine-hundred pages long, giving replicant livestock the two-thumbs up. I want to make a comparison here. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote about a fantastic world of elves and dwarves and dragons - you may have heard of it. Now if Tolkien made a quicky brochure outlining Middle Earth we readers may have not have felt the magic, but Tolkien wrote around nine-hundred pages and what that did is give us a dense and complete enough picture so that we may suspend our disbelief and enter this world while we read his fiction.

And that's what this fucking shit is too! It's the same thing except instead of the Dark Lord Sauron we get diseases mankind hasn't even thought up names for yet. It takes the F.D.A. around nine-hundred pages to convince Americans what we all know in our hearts to be wrong: Cloning animals for food is going to get us into serious trouble. This technological advancement is going to result in ass-blood, as in blood pouring out of your ass, non-stop. I have NO PROOF to support my notion but be honest, you believe me more than the F.D.A., right? I am armed with nothing but profanity and alarming imagery but I know that in this particular case you hold my predictions in higher esteem then F.D.A. doctors and scientists. That's because we humans have evolved with a moral core that steers us away from wrong-doing if we choose to listen. You won't touch cloney burgers because you know that lunch comes with 32 oz. cup of ass-blood on the side. Search your feelings, you know this to be true! We all do.

This is an interesting slice of news. The drug situation at the U.S. border has become so intense that they are really cracking down on the cartels now. I guess they should seeing as the gangsters are packing rocket-propelled grenades. It's amazing how wrong-headed our drug policies are. Prohibition has resulted in producing criminals with the money and connections to sport military-grade hardware. This isn't taking control of the situation, in fact this situation is a result of total lack of control. We need to legislate and tax these products, that's how you get them back under government control again.

I've always found it interesting that so many narcotics grow wild in third-world countries and that it's the developed nations (those with money and therefore most likely to enjoy the luxury) that ban them outright. I guess in the end we don't want to give these developing nations a product that might make them legitimately wealthy. We keep them in their lowly place and if they bring the bounty nature offers them to market they are branded as criminal regimes. Convenient that.

Is this even news? I guess I find it strangely satisfying, like potentially finding the answer to a question I never asked. "How do those rappers wind up so buff?" It could be the hiring of personal trainers and chefs, maybe there is lots of time to pump iron while on tour, but in our quick-fix more-is-more society shooting up growth hormone is as good an answer as any. The allegations are there but I guess we'll have to see if this story goes anywhere.

Friday, January 11, 2008

What if you could live in a world where Darth Vader was YOUR father... So awesome...

If your consciousness could enter limitless realms of virtual reality that were immersive in every way would you be willing to give up your physical form for long periods of time and perhaps even indefinitely? This idea might chill some. I think that not only is our technology moving towards making this possible but our society is developing to accept this fate on a subconscious level. Ascending into a spirit world is a global mythological theme from the dawn of history but I wonder if might wind up being a self-fulfilled prophecy.

You see something with your eyes, it gets logged as a memory, and in the doing certain parts of your brain are activated. When you remember the thing you have seen, when you elect to see it again within your mind, the same parts of your brain spark to life. Scientists have performed experiments and have seen this occur. The brain doesn’t care about the temporal aspect of the viewing; visualization is as good as a stored memory for eliciting an emotion. This may be salient in re-prioritizing the value we place on real life and a simulated version. If our brains are fine with either and our consciousness resides within, who are we to get picky?

Matter, or at least our concept of it, is for all intents and purposes an illusion. It’s solidity and stability; its permanence can be questioned. Atoms in part or wholesale wink in and out of our existence and this has given rise to quantum physics and the theories of alternate universes, that atoms may spend times in places other than our own reality. If other universes are apart of nature then there should be no stigma in us attempting to create our own, we ape nature continuously and to the benefit of all.

Human corporeal existence is a wearying exercise in compromise. I cannot spend an hour on a beach in Tahiti after work because of natural laws such as space and time as well as man-made hindrances such as finances and responsibility. What we call life is in fact a prison planet of boundaries and limitations that we have accepted utterly. The great promise of virtual reality is that we may escape these chains. Glorious, gorgeous Tahiti might be constructed down to the last grain of sand and we might get there after work in the same way we send an email. A simulated existence has the dual benefit of not only being exactly the same as the real world but also being something far more fantastical. Rather than beaming to Tahiti we might wish to fly there instead so that we may admire the ocean view and cloud formations along the way. A life lived in virtual reality is one that might see more, do more, experience more, and therefore live more.

A human in motion through our world consumes in great quantities and expels waste in equal fashion. We burn our surroundings steadily, much less of course when we sleep or are inanimate. Our requirements for public and private space become much reduced when our consciousness is shunted to another realm. A civilization that spends significant time within a virtual reality will use resources more efficiently and thus become more sustainable and long-lasting than what we are currently. Our society might start small in this regard and still reap significant benefit. Many of us work on computers in an office. If the office was in a virtual building you could still attend meetings, have access to the Internet, and have discussions with co-workers but you would not burn gas, use paper, or even spend a premium on fast food lunches.

Modern society has shifted its focus dramatically in the past couple decades. The infrastructure of our cities is mostly built, we don’t seek to expand as we use to, rather now we concentrate and vertically integrate. In our increasingly dense communities our focus shifts to entertainment, to diversion, and to solitary study. With the necessities of life not requiring all of our day’s attention we give ourselves more and more time to indulge our wishes and whims. This trend increases with every generation and it seems to me the modern way of living prepares us for a smooth transition to a virtual existence.

Like every human on the planet I dearly hope that our species might live on for the rest of time but it won’t unless we do some truly miraculous things. Living on a planet with minimal environmental impact is just the tip of the iceberg. One day our sun will alter in intensity and even the smallest change might make this world inhospitable. It will eventually burn out and essentially destroy the solar system itself. Long before such inevitability we might be victim to some catastrophic event such as a massive asteroid. At one point or another we will need to leave this place if the human race is to have a billions long year history. We may never achieve faster than light travel and so we’ll have to get to other stars the old fashioned way; taking hundreds and even thousands of years. Virtual reality becomes an absolute necessity at this point. We must lay dormant whole civilizations, revive them only when absolutely necessary, and in those long stretches in-between give them a life to live.

Video games are the tip of the virtual reality spear. Humans in vast numbers enjoy looking at a simulated reality of one kind or another to the point where it is now an industry exchanging billions of dollars yearly. As I type this I am doing so on a virtual piece of paper and you are reading it in similar fashion. Watching television, whether it’s a movie taking place in Japan or a hockey game is another virtual reality stepping stone. The Internet and its explosive usage is a self-evident testament to our desire for virtual libraries, shopping malls, and arenas of competition. Fake or representative versions of real things are useful and we all learn to appreciate them because of the convenience they bring. The more we use these fake things and take them for granted the more real they become. This doesn’t cheapen reality; it expands our definition of it. We are all training for the kind of future I’m describing whether we know it or not! Don’t worry, it’s a good thing. This is a serendipitous development of events. We need this. The first heaven we visit will be on-line and it will be of our own creation.

A good time to start thinking about buying a Playstation 3…

Warner opted to put their high-definition movies exclusively on Blu-Ray disc and now that most media publishers have weighed in Sony’s proprietary format has the clear advantage. Other companies like Universal, who at first stated they will produce only HD DVD product, have backtracked, stating that they too will provide Blu-Ray material. Industry experts are calling Sony the winner and that HD DVD will eventually go the way of Beta though in truth even the unsuccessful storage medium take a while to finally die. If you are going to buy a new high-definition disc player for movies however, take a tip and go Blu-Ray. No point in having to buy something else a few years from now.

Boat fly-bys are SO not as cool as plane fly-bys…

I wanted to touch on the DEF CON 4 episode of the month. Small Iranian Revolutionary Guard speed boats got nice and close to a few U.S. battleships travelling through international waters off the Straits of Hormuz. It was a very tense situation because military analysts have predicted that if Iran was going to take down the big battleships they would do so with explosive laden small boats that could get in quickly and avoid being targeted by the big guns. It is said the Iranians issued threats over the radio but this has since been questioned.

I watched the video footage and there is no question that it was pure and blatant provocation. I think those U.S. boats should be commended for their restraint and nerve because any captain would be well within their rights to torch those boats in order to safeguard their crew mates. It was however a win-win for Iran's forces. They got to witness U.S. naval readiness firsthand and that is probably some A+ intelligence. If the U.S. did strike an Iranian boat they could play the victim and enjoy the negative U.S. press that would surely come. It was an asshole move but an effective strategy.

Everyone loves to read a great speech, right? RIGHT?!?

I’m trying not to follow the American leadership caucuses because this is journalism at its lowest, drama for drama’s sake and the tiring punditry over every teeny tiny thing that comes up. The news agencies have no filter, it’s like they have to fill all twenty-four hours of the day with this stuff and quite frankly, there is nowhere near enough real news material.

This link however is Barack Obama’s concession speech in New Hampshire, where he lost by a low margin to Hilary Clinton after beating her in Iowa. You can really see how he has studied the words of Martin Luther King and is evoking the style to great effect. This is damn fine piece of writing and oratory. I hope he wins!

Darth Vader gets a makeover!

My picture today is from this art exhibit. There are some very neat versions of the iconic, glossy black villain. In retrospect Vader should have had multiple helmets to convey his mood. One for when he was going to terrorize an Ewok village, one for when he was going to torture a princess, one to impress the Emperor, and maybe one for when he just felt like spending a night alone, by himself, some quality ‘me’ time. If that particular helmet had curlers that would fuck us all up. When a guy who can crush your throat with his mind sports a set of curlers men like me get scared as hell! There is just no beating a guy that tough and crazy. Darth Vader in curlers would make Han Solo curl up and cry. Darth Vader in curlers wearing a Wookie pimp coat may be my Halloween costume next year.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Iowa Caucus is in full swing but I can't seem to care so you'll read about none of that here...

Happy New Year, gentle reader! I hope you enjoyed your holidays as I did mine. One high point was my daughter’s transformation into the Master Painter upon providing her with an easel and art supplies. It dominates our living room as it did on Christmas Day but I don’t have the heart to move it yet. You see, the Master Painter flourishes when working before an audience, someone who can listen to her running commentary. There are already about forty original works, should you drop by the home you may secure one before they enter the art world proper.

The turkey was another high point, it came out great. Gravy from scratch still vexes me. Who would have though that combining stock, drippings, and flour to make a divinely smooth concoction that makes love to your mashed potatoes would be difficult? I’ve received advice to this end and more than once been told about gravy making powders. Don’t get me wrong, in me you have a man who loves powder but in this case it seems wrong to throw down your culinary integrity in favour of DOW Chemical thickening agents whose inner working we are wholly ignorant to. Once I’ve perfected making good gravy from scratch then I can decide if it’s worth the effort. Until I get it right I’ll never know what I’m missing.

I just remembered something! I am not in fact a fifty year old woman and this isn’t her blog. I should therefore stop talking about cooking.

I received an I-Pod Nano which is cool because I’ve wanted one but it underscores how old I’m getting. You know you are getting old when you can’t easily incorporate modern technology into your life. The little black nano is sexy and the snug leather carrying case with its magnetic snaps only enhances the sexiness but now I must do things to make it functional. I must find music in MP3 format to download and then I must actually find the time to listen to the device itself. I drive to work, I work, and then I go home to raise children at various levels of intoxication. Ear buds to not lend themselves to this regiment.

New Years was especially lovely. Good friends had us over for a private pre-party social and stuffed us with finger foods. Thank you Joel and Emma! I briefly played the Wii again and it remains a gimmick. I know I'm alone on this and in truth I prefer it that way. I also belted out a few tunes on SingStar and was impressed with the high quality of microphone. Though my wife and I were home and cozy by nine we had a great night together talking in the New Year.

My thoughts remain fixed on Pakistan and their turbulent times. I feel especially bad for Bilawal Bhutto Zardari; the nineteen year old son of Benezir Bhutto. First of all this kid is going to develop something of a Harry Potter complex while attending university at Oxford. He’s going to have to deal with his mother’s death while walking the storied halls of that institution as kids whisper, point, and politely pump him for information.

Bhutto the Third ordained to eventually rule Pakistan

What’s worse however is that he has been appointed to replace his mother to rule the Pakistan People’s Party in time, which when one looks to the viciously pruned Bhutto family tree is something akin to a death sentence. Of course young Bilawal’s father Asif Ali Zardari will act as court vizier while Bilawal finishes school and a long-time member of the party will be the candidate in the upcoming election, but it looks that in the long run the line of succession will trump all.

The mindset of the Pakistani masses confounds me. Is not the concept of democracy and voting for leaders a response to dynasties and appointed rulers? The Bhutto’s have become a royal family and what’s most perplexing is that they have been elevated to this lofty post by the citizenry themselves! Do none of them think that leadership of their own country can come from within? What is the point of endorsing a nineteen year old who is years and even decades away from performing the task to which he has been assigned?

Bhutto’s Manner of Death Questioned

Thanks to Marc for this tidbit, it’s worth going over. For a little while a member of the Pakistani government claimed that Bhutto died as a result of her own clumsiness, that while she was ducking down to avoid being shot she hit her head in the car and died as a result of skull trauma. There was the predicable response of outrage and request for inquiry. The story has since receded back into the woodwork.

If you were a desperate fool and thought that such semantics might tarnish the title of martyr that Benazir Bhutto has earned then you might try the above weak ploy. It is however a tactic that cannot stand up to the facts of the case. Bhutto was attacked by a man wielding a gun and wearing a bomb. She died after his attack and the exact manner is utterly irrelevant. Had the assassin not attacked she would still be alive.

Some fool must have believed that this kind of hair-splitting would be a worthwhile gamble and in doing so they not only exposed their own flawed judgement but tipped the hand of President Musharraf as well. Anyone willing to capitalize or spin the death of another has to appreciate the fact they died at all. If Musharraf thought Bhutto’s death was a bad thing he would not try to fight the fact that she would be regarded as a martyr. As well, he is the President and a General. If he wanted Bhutto protected he could have, in fact no one in Pakistan could have done a better job. So while I can’t say he ordered the kill I’m prone to believe that he knew it was coming and did nothing to prevent it. There is no doubt in my mind that he knew this smear attempt was coming and did nothing to prevent it either.

Conflicting Stories on the Basra Pull-Out

Thanks to Mike for this article. A while back I posted a link regarding Basra and the British troops that pulled out in order to halt the violence directed against them. The end result was a more peaceful province. Now it appears that the original report may have been only so much good press for the peace of mind of the English back home. Iraqi officials are stating that Basra is as lawless and violent as ever and that the British pulled-out before the task was completed.

Into the Valley of Death

This article shows us what life is like serving in Afghanistan in one of the most contested stretches of land in the entire theatre. Here a small group of American soldiers are fired upon daily by the Taliban and of course it takes a heavy toll.

On-Line Gaming Gone Evil

Thanks to Jeffrey of Pundit for sending this excellent article out. It explores a Korean MMORPG called ZT Online. Most games use time as their currency: you play a lot and you get more powerful. One clever but corrupted businessman decided that if money is used instead of time players could get everything they can afford and he would get rich in the process. Not a bad concept for a certain kind of player; those with coin and a busy agenda but this being Asia it’s taken to the extreme. The story starts with a wise and benevolent girl who becomes Queen, tries to buck a system that compels people to fight, and winds up getting gang raped repeatedly in prison. Hey now, that's my kind of fairy tale!