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Monthly Archives: November 2007

My goal in life is to have a failed prediction on Wikipedia

I love Wikipedia for many reasons, but possibly most for its lovely lists of random facts. Take for instance this article on failed predictions made by famous people about everything from the end of the world to the end of Mad Magazine. It’s funny to see how many people assume something popular is just a fad (though the real question would be how many popular things really were just fads).

Some of my favorites:

  • “Television won’t last. It’s a flash in the pan.” – Mary Somerville, pioneer of radio educational broadcasts, 1948.
  • “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” – H. M. Warner, co-founder of Warner Brothers, 1927.
  • “We will never make a 32 bit operating system.” – Bill Gates
  • “A short-lived satirical pulp.” — TIME, writing off Mad magazine in 1956

Maybe now with Wikipedia keeping track of all our predictions, pundits and commentators will be more careful about what they say…yeah, well, as least with Wikipedia, if your insane prediction does come true, you can always edit it.

Every South Park episode online

South Park clips on SouthParkStudios.com, from MTV Networks Your favorite mountain town will be coming to your local website soon. MTV Networks will release every South Park clip ever on SouthParkStudios.com.

Following their successful model with Daily Show clips, MTV and Comedy Central aim to attract online video viewers to their own sites, rather than user-run sites like YouTube.

This is exciting news from a company originally slow in using the web for distribution. MTV and Comedy Central’s parent company Viacom is suing YouTube for $1 billion for copyright infringement for showing Viacom shows on the site. This move by Viacom shows the company is at least trying to provide an alternative to get their content, experimenting with new distribution methods rather than just forcing people to watch TV at specific times.

Though one thing concerns me, specifically the idea of MTV showing all South Park clips, not episodes. Does this mean every South Park episode will be broken up into short, digestible clips? If so, this is not ideal. The Daily Show benefits from being broken up as clips for the purpose of searching and sharing specific segments. South Park, however, is a full story and benefits from having the full context. Hopefully MTV will feature the full episodes, maybe in addition to clips. Though please do not include a commercial between every clip. I might have time to watch a full episode on your site, but I don’t need to sit through five 15 second commercials for Ford cars.

Either way, this is a nice step forward for big media conglomerates. Now if Viacom can just drop their stupid lawsuit, we’ll be all set.

Geek Chic: Should you be loyal to your comic book store?

For my four years of college, I went to a fun, little comic shop in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Mass. I knew the manager and kept a subscription with a nice discount for all my regular purchases. I then moved closer to my comic store, but discovered another comic store only a short walk from my new apartment. My current comic store held comics for me, talked comics with me, and suffered with me through the hard times (Superman’s “For Tomorrow” for instance).

But what of this new, tempting comic store. I have always enjoyed exploring new back issue collections but should I switch my entire comic store when I could still have access to my current one. Do I have to be loyal to my comic book store?

The stores offered about the same discounts, so money wasn’t so much the issue. It’s basically a matter of convenience. I seriously questioned staying with my out-of-the-way comic book store. I didn’t have a problem traveling before because there wasn’t a closer option before. Now, a comic book store rested a short walk from my apartment. So I decided to change my comic store.

In many cases comic book stores are a safe haven for us geeks – a place to talk comics, TV, and play a serious game of Magic: The Gathering. There are few places you take a weekly trip to with such regularity and anticipation.

Maybe I’m over analyzing this. It’s not like I would travel across the entire city of Boston just to go to my old Chinese restaurant. There’s a new one down the street. Or what about my old local market? Why should I give my comic book store special treatment? Which is why I made the change.

And now I’m moving again, far from both comic stores. So which should I go to now?

Every Thursday, I put my geeky gayness to the task of bring geek culture to the fashionable mainstream. This is your geek life guide.

Geek Out Game: Chain Reaction

gog-chainreaction This cute variation on the popular chain reaction explosion games, Chain Reaction pits your spatial reasoning against a grid of rotating curves. Choose one curve to rotate and any line it connects with with also turn. Any lines they connect with will turn, on and on until no more moves can be made. Each round takes a few seconds, so the challenge is how long can yours last? For some extra fun, you can try manipulating the board for an rigged chain reaction. You can’t be too sure how it’ll turn out though.

Geek Out Game: Chain Reaction

Every Wednesday, I profile a unique web game to distract you from real-life.

Marvel and DC find a villain in torrent tracker Z-Cult FM

zcultfm.org Z-Cult FM Comic Community, a popular site specializing in comic book BitTorrents was contacted last week by Marvel and DC Comics to remove torrents of their respective comics. Z-Cult has announced they are complying with the demands of Marvel but have special rules regarding DC Comics.

This move comes a few weeks after Marvel launched its digital comic book service providing online versions of 2,500 comics for one monthly fee. I guess it was only a matter of time before stamping out the competition.

Major comic book companies have been mostly silent about downloading pirated comics. Almost 90 percent of Marvel and DC’s 70 year-plus libraries have been scanned and released on BitTorrent sites and other file-sharing networks.

Z-Cult points out that they are not located in the United States and thus not subject to its laws, but they will work with copyright holders. Z-Cult has also removed SLG’s Disney titles at SLG’s request, but still provides torrents for SLG’s titles with their permission (SLG also has a download site).

To Marvel and DC’s credit, they did not sue Z-Cult, but followed the DMCA and asked that their content be removed. DC, according to Z-Cult, has not responded so as a caution, Z-Cult will not allow new DC Comics until 30 days after being released in stores. Both companies provided phone numbers to remain in contact with Z-Cult and confirm the validity of their copyright claims.

On the downside, it’s worrisome to see Marvel and DC following the lead of other media companies. Marvel and DC could argue there’s lost revenue in downloading free comics, but there’s also tons of publicity to consider. Since new comics come out every month, reading a bunch of older companies might inspire someone to read a new one.

It’s unlikely this will be an isolated incident since there are hundreds of online resources to download pirated comics. Just like the movie and music companies, Marvel and DC might find it somewhat impossible to find all the sources. And for completist comic fans, there is no cost-effective alternative to pirating comics. Marvel’s online offering is minimal at present (and DC’s is non-existent). Trade paperback collections of comics are limited samples and the originals are rare and expensive. I just hope no comic fans get sued for downloading some old Amazing Spider-Man.

7 biggest geek rivalries

Forget about Republican versus Democrat, Pepsi versus Coke, and dogs versus cats. Geeks love our rivalries. We are ferociously loyal to one group over another and thing anyone who disagrees must be an idiot (which, in my opinion, they usually are). So here is, in my opinion, the best, geekiest, and most fun rivalries in all of geekdom. These rivalries must be going on currently (no Nintendo vs. Sega) and it must affect a significant group of geek, meaning Ewoks versus Care Bears will have to wait for another list.

7. Cheats vs. no cheats

Passwords. Hacks. Mods. Game genie. All tools of the trade for people who want to beat the game or just skip a really hard level. But is this ethical? Does reading a walkthrough count as cheating? Who are you cheating? Yourself or the game? Message boards across the internet when asked for passwords will sometimes have users who refuse to tell on the grounds that cheating in video games is wrong. It lessens the experience. Why waste your money on a game you aren’t going to play. Well, what should you do is (for the answer, please hold R while pressing UP DOWN RIGHT UP UP A B LEFT LEFT UP).

6. Piracy vs. no piracy

Yes, another ethical debate. For some, piracy is a way to sticking it to the Man, getting lots of stuff free and easy, or maybe just trying something out before spending the money. To others, it’s stealing, wrong, and immoral. If you want to watch a movie, listen to a song, or play a game, spend the money. It’s the only way to keep more of these movies, songs, and games coming. But neither answer is as simple as the downloading on IRC (it’s not simple, if you weren’t sure). And while lawyers try to figure out the legality of piracy and file-sharing, the practice still causes ire among geeks who are easy to ire.

5. Console vs. PC

In the on-going battle for the hearts of video gamers worldwide, the television and personal computer have been fighting the longest battle. Which works better: Controlling your character with a mouse and keyboard or a home console gamepad? Which has better graphics? Which is simply more fun? In truth, the answer to the first two questions is PC. The mouse and keyboard more often than not provide more precise and customizable control (though it’s far more complex to learn) and PC graphics will long out pace video game consoles. But consoles have many advantages from always knowing your game will play on your system (no processing power requirements), simplicity in set-up and often playability, and cost. And thus far, the market is choosing home consoles over PC by billions more dollars. 2006 showed gamers spent $6.5 billion on consoles and handhelds versus $970 million on PC games. But the battle is far from over, especially as more games are released on both consoles and PCs. Then we might see who really wins.

4. Open source vs. commercial

It’s the David and Goliath battle. Should I use Microsoft Word or Open Office…or maybe even Google Docs? What about hacking my iPhone to use user made software or should I wait for the official releases? And then there’s even those piracy questions, like should I use these open source Bittorrent programs or video game emulators or use iTunes and video game consoles. This all comes down to freedom of software choice. But don’t expect others to like it. It all seems innocent until you can’t share your files. That’s when bitterness becomes anger. Yeah, you know.

Mac and PC comercial, from Apple 3. PC vs. Mac

Ah, this one separates the coders from the designers. Macs pride themselves on simplicity and a long understanding of being better with visual and video design software. PCs, while more complex (a lot more), offer more programs and a mountain of exclusive video games. Hardcore PC gamers will tell you there is no option other than a PC and they’re right. But Apple looks prettier. And does more faster. And you can escape from Microsoft’s Window’s loving clutches. Leaving you more time for Photoshopping. Doesn’t that make you feel better?

2. Nintendo vs. Sony vs. Microsoft

You know a geek fight’s big when it gets mainstream media attention. The video game console wars between the Nintendo Wii, Sony Playstation 3, and Microsoft Xbox 360 haven’t been this fierce since a little company called Atari ran the industry. And that might have not been this bad. The video game industry means a lot more to more people these days. The multibillion dollar industry can be quite the cash cow when mixing in game licensing fees, in-game advertising, and online downloads all of which didn’t exist in the 1980s. And that’s just what the companies fight over. The fans often barely have enough to buy one video game console. So when they buy that console, they want to validate that choice and will fight anyone who challenges them. Preferable in a battle of Street Fight II. That ends up on every system ever made, doesn’t it?

1. Marvel vs. DC

Yes, this little rival of comic book universes is one of the most rabid, cruel, and longest running rivalries in geek history. You either love Marvel or DC. You might like characters in each universe. A Marvel fan might even pick up a Superman comic on occasion. But each comic fan has his or her loyalties with only one. DC Comics is original universe…but Marvel perfected the comic universe. DC is too corporate…Marvel’s too corporate. Batman is the best character…Spider-Man is the best character. The back and forth is endless and likely will never end. The debates over the best comic book company and comic book universe only makes reading comics more fun.

Marvel Comics versus DC Comics, from Marvel and DC Comics

Every Monday, I force my opinion on you, my fearless readers, ranking the seven of something geeky.

Geek Out Game: Paper Ace

paper_ace Paper Ace brings two of my favorite childhood memories – classic 2D shooters and paper airplanes.  Yes, in Paper Ace you have to keep a paper airplane afloat while shooting down evil paper airplanes eager to see your crash and unfold.  The very simple controls, simply press the spacebar repeatedly to stay afloat.  Instead of holding the CTRL button down to shoot, the game handles that automatically.  So you can focus on flying and aiming, for casual gaming fun and an effortless addiction to try to beat your high score.

Geek Out Game: Paper Ace

Every Wednesday, I profile a unique web game to distract you from real-life.

There’s more to reading than words on the page

People may be reading less books, but don’t judge that by its cover. A new study from the National Endowment for the Arts finds Americans are reading less books. Spending on books dropped 14 perfect between 1985 and 2005. But more telling was Americans between 18 and 24, college years, read less voluntarily – only 52 percent in 2002 versus 59 in 1992. And all this lack of reading is causing test scores to drop.

The study attributes many “social benefits” to reading including readers getting more exercise, visiting museums, keeping up with news and current events, volunteering, and voting.

Sadly, the 100 page study appears to link declining readership in books and newspapers as a sign of American’s decreasing reading habits. What the study fails to establish is what people are doing instead. Has everyone become a video game addict or, as the statistics in this very study show, are people navigating online for their information. The study cites a 53 percent increase in home Internet use from 1997 to 2003 but fails to ask what people are doing online.

This study also contradicts the increase in book sales targeted at teens.

Further, there’s more to read than ever before. Email, instant messaging, blogs, and websites all require extensive amounts of readings and writing. I rarely pick up a newspaper, but instead read news stories from papers around the world through RSS feeds.

The study cites David T.Z. Mindich’s article “Tuned Out: Why Americans Under 40 Don’t Follow the News” which claims only 11 percent of 18-24 year-olds list news a major reason for going online, thus not making up for the more than 20 percent drop in college -aged newspaper readers.

I question the definition of “major reason” since so much online overlaps. I want to check my email on Yahoo! and right there on my mail page are the most emailed news articles. If I’m waiting for my friend to IM me, I might check out the New York Times while waiting. Further, the NEA’s own study provides statistics showing “32 percent of teens and 46 percent of young adults actively ‘seek’ news on the Internet, while 65 percent and 48 percent ‘just happen to come across it.” When compared to the 46 percent of college-aged Americans who read newspapers in 1972, interest in news seems somewhat steady.

The NEA wants to attribute less reading of books to dropping test scores and writing proficiency in students but again I worry the correlation does not translate to cause and effect. The New York Times today, in reporting on this NEA study, links dropping test scores with the decline in time spent reading but also finds these drops in test scores are across all academic subjects, including math and science. Could there be other causes affecting test scores (and do we really know what these tests are testing for)?

People, young and old, have untold amounts of knowledge on their little laptops, cellphones, and even gaming consoles (the Wii and PS3 have web browsers). This requires more reading, writing, and understanding than ever before (like how do you get that web browser to work right).

People aren’t necessarily getting stupider by not reading print novels and newspapers. They just might be getting information in new sources and new ways, especially those tech savvy kids. Maybe with all the new technology and resources, it’s our tests and studies that need changing, not the number of pages we read before sixth period.

21 reasons to go broke this week – Week 2 edition

For those of you who have yet to take out a second mortgage from the onslaught of awesome games last week, there’s more spending to be done this week. And while there might be less individual games than last week, remember one of these games cost $170 all by itself. Good luck hunting for quarters in your couch.

  1. Mass Effect, from Bioware Rock Band – All yours for the price of three games (PS3, 360)
  2. Mass Effect (360)
  3. Unreal Tournament III (PC)
  4. Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings (DS)
  5. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune – In case your store didn’t release it early last week)
  6. Mario Party (DS)
  7. Nintendo Wii Zapper with Link’s Crossbow Training (Wii)
  8. Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles (PS3)
  9. Time Crisis (PS3)
  10. Timeshift (PS3)
  11. Final Fantasy XI Online: Wings of the Goddess (PC, 360, PS2)
  12. Soul Calibur Legends (Wii)
  13. Trauma Center: New Blood (Wii)
  14. Soldier of Fortune: Pay Back (PS3)
  15. Medal of Honor Airborne (PS3)
  16. Geometry Wars: Galaxies mario_party_ds(Wii)
  17. Star Trek: Conquest (PS2, Wii)
  18. Phantasy Star Universe: Ambition of Illuminus (PC, PS2)
  19. Godzilla Unleashed (PS2, DS)
  20. College Hoops 2K8 (PS3, 360, PS2)
  21. Avatar: The Burning Earth – A must-rent for achievement junkies (360)

And don’t worry, next week we’ll be back to normal Top 7 lists since there’s only an average number of great games coming out. Whew.

Writers seem to lack understanding of the web

Looking into the writers strike again, some writers reveal that they want something between getting paid when producers get paid to every time someone views their content. At a forum at MIT yesterday, Mark Warshaw, a writer, producer, and director who works on developing transmedia opportunities for the TV show Heroes, spoke about the writers strike. He gave a rhetorical question “Is it fair that Sting gets money every time his song is played on the radio?” to prove his point. Unfortunately, he kind of mixed up his facts.

First, Sting, or any musician in fact, gets no money for playing their songs on the radio. Even the producers don’t make any money. In double fact, for decades, record producers paid radio stations to play their music for the promotional value.

Further, let’s try to understand fair compensation. No one, writers, director, producers, or actors, are paid for each television viewer. Let’s remember, we don’t pay for TV shows. Producers and networks make money on advertising, using the number of viewers to decide on how much to charge for the advertising. That money then gets split between all parties involved (with the vast majority going to the network and tiny percentages going to those hard working writers and actors). Even movies and DVDs, which are paid for in part by each viewer, have many revenue opportunities from product placement, endorsements, etc. (if a line from Spider-Man appears in a Pizza Hut commercial, does the writer have to be paid?). I’m not saying it’s fair, cause it’s not, but let’s look at the real business model.

Now the internet, the source of all our conflict. It is unrealistic for writers to expect compensation for every appearance or viewing of their work. Aside from them never enjoying this kind of business model, the internet encourages widespread use of content that trying to reimburse the original creators for every page would be staggeringly time consuming (just try to get permission to license a song legally and in three years we’ll talk).

Warshaw told MIT that NBC has 10,000 pages of Heroes content and I guess he wants a couple of cents for each page. Unfortunately, NBC is not likely charging advertisers over and over again for each page. Web advertising more often trends toward bulk buys (advertising across the entire site or section) or pay-per-click like Google AdWords. And the reason people would even come to the NBC site is because there’s 10,000 pages of Heroes content. If there was only one or ten pages, viewers would find their information other places.

Let’s not forget, writers are often paid salaries in addition to residuals on their work. Their residuals might suck (four to eight cents for a DVD split between all writers) but writers are getting paid initially for their work; work which is paid for by the networks and producers. Only the entertainment industry enjoys lifelong expectations of residuals for their work (I don’t still get checks for websites I made).

So maybe writers should reconsider how they’re demanding residuals for new media. As I wrote about before (referencing Techdirt’s excellent article), having a rock hard contract might limit revenue opportunities for writers, forcing them into a one-size fits all agreement that can’t possible cover all possible revenue avenues coming over the next several years. And the internet is still so new, media companies still need to experiment on how to make money. It’s not just throwing a video up with ads.

So writers, it sucks that I have to be critical of you guys (I feel everyone else is already beating up on those greedy producers) but be more future looking than your media company overlords and maybe try figuring out what the internet is really all about.