Stuff I Say

iPhone App Review: Puzzle Quest Ep. 1&2

Posted in Uncategorized by 51future on July 31, 2009

While the concept of Puzzle Quest is both frighteningly addictive and a whole lot of fun, the actual iPhone implementation reeks of a quick DS port without any attention to the detail or performance that iPhone users deserve. This review will be divided up into two sections, one reviewing the gameplay and the other reviewing the software itself.

Puzzle Quest’s basic gameplay involves matching colored gems in groups of 3, 4 and 5. Matching these gems supplies you with mana to cast spells that change existing runes on the board, deal direct damage to your opponent and/or provide you with bonuses like double-damage or improved defense. Matching skulls causes direct damage to your opponent and battles consist of taking turns back and forth until one of you wins. While random chains and luck will always play a factor in battles, the ability to level up your character, gain enemy spells, ride mounts that give you special powers, and improve yourself via gold and items means that over time you’ll feel your more powerful, while still being challenged due to a number of factors. Furthermore, the depth of all these things, including the ability to siege cities, do quests, gain special items and hunt for new runes means something like 40 or 50 hours of gameplay, really. And you’ll want to, because all this is far too addicting for its own good.

As far as the iPhone port itself is concerned, there are a number of issues that exist even in the current version. Small locations on the map are difficult, if not impossible to select, sometimes and on my 3G there is a little lag when you open certain screens (leveling up, doing things at your citadel, getting rumors) that makes pressing certain on-screen buttons infuriating. You’ll be jabbing the screen over and over, trying to put that one point in Air Mastery, only to accidentally dump all your points into when the screen finally catches up to you and then when you go to try and remove them, you’ll depress the button and watch as Puzzle Quest flounders. Navigating the map can be a pain as well, as you’ll often move to the wrong place and have to fight something you didn’t want to because you couldn’t properly select your final destination. While the fighting itself is mostly fine, selecting spells, especially spells that target specific pieces on the board introduces further frustration, because it’s unresponsive enough to bug you, but far from unplayable. Meanwhile, the graphics are somewhat unclear and muddy, and you’ll come across a number of benign graphical glitches on your quest, some of which require a restart or two to fix themselves.

My final opinion is as follows. The game itself– the concept and the intellectual property, is fascinating. It’s addictive enough that you might just alienate your friends and lovers playing it. If you’re a perfectionist like me, you’ll play 40, 50 hours just to complete all the quests and catch all the monsters. However, the responsiveness of the game will frustrate you, and you’ll wonder why they didn’t take the time to create a native iPhone version of it, one with crisp, new art, larger and more responsive buttons and touch zones, basically, something that was designed for this device, rather than an obvious port from some other device.

Buy it, play it, and review it with the hope that Puzzle Quest 2 will have more polish than its predecessor does.

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Romanization or Why I hate X, Ys and Zs

Posted in Uncategorized by 51future on July 13, 2009

I’m going to go ahead and start this off with two hypotheses: Blue is blue and green is green, and also, Japanese romanization is a linguistic orphan, whose only real strength is conciseness, and (to a lesser extent) interoperability.

So let’s talk about romanization first.

The Jesuits back in the 1600s, more specifically a Japanese Catholic priest or group of priests, were responsible for the first iteration of romanization, which was created for interoperability with their Western printing presses. They spread the word of God and his romanization of the Japanese language until Japan eventually closed itself off from foreign intervention. It wasn’t until a man named Hepburn popularized another romanization system in the late 1800s, which eventually came to be known as Hepburn romanization, that it came back into use. Now it’s unclear to me, just how the next series of events transpired, as I’m not a scholar studying romanization, but according to my digging, Hepburn popularized Japanese romanization proposed by the Society for the Romanization of the Japanese Alphabet (社団法人日本ローマ字会). Shortly thereafter, a Japanese physicist, Aikitsu Tanakadate, created his own variation of romanized script– Nihon-shiki (日本式ローマ字). His intention was to completely replace kana and kanji with the roman alphabet, in order to make Japan more competitive with the Western world. Had he succeeded, he would have at the very least heralded great change, for better or worse, to the Japanese language. After that, in the 1900s, the Japanese cabinet declared Kunrei-shiki (訓令式ローマ字) as the unified standard, which was based on Nihon-shiki, probably because it is more “regular” and thus more logical to the Japanese who are used to the logical progression of kana along phonetic lines and columns. While this is not something I’ve ever really understood very well, learning kana in phonetic groups can aid one when it comes time to conjugate verbs, apparently. Kunrei-shiki was abolished by the Allied occupational forces, and then later reinstated by the Japanese cabinet. A modernized version of the Hepburn system is used for the majority of official documents and public works (road signs, place names, etc.) in Japan today.

Now, on Twitter, @Tomoakiyama notes that Japanese psychologically assign the さしすせそ line of hiragana to sa-si-su-se-so and za-zi-zu-ze-zo respectively in romaji. This is an unfortunate consequence of bureaucracy. Japanese children learn Kunrei-shiki romanization in elementary school in order to write their names and practice the alphabet. However, when they graduate and go on to junior high school, they spend their first month in English classes trying to unlearn Kunrei-shiki so that they can write their names according to the Hepburn romanization that’s outlined in their junior high textbooks.

Kunrei-shiki “makes sense” to Japanese people in that it remains regular down the phoneme lines. The sa-si-su-se-so line is easy to write because all you have to do is change the vowel, however, unfortunately it isn’t very accurate. In my opinion, the ultimate goal of any system of romanization should be to map the roman alphabet to corresponding Japanese sounds in the way that allows a reader to render the sounds accurately. Thus, it makes sense that sa represents the sound さ in Japanese– it is the phonetic equivalent. Su, se, and so furthermore adhere to this rule. This happy go lucky world falls apart at the “siems” so to speak, as “si” doesn’t correspond to the Japanese sound for し, which is most certainly “shi”.

Now here’s where I’m going to lay a few things out.

First of all, the only reason “si” psychologically appeals to Japanese people is because they learn it first. If you taught your children at home than an apple was an orange, and vice versa, they’d be confused and upset to find out the opposite at school. Similarly, if you spent most of your early life memorizing kana from a chart that had the first kana in each line redacted or omitted, you’d find yourself crippled and confused when the time came to correct your mistake.

Second, teachers who teach romanization, and, I’m going to go out on a limb here and speculate too, that this includes most Japanese people in general, don’t understand the concept of phonics (in relation to say, Hangul or the Roman alphabet). In Japanese, kana represent one sound and one sound alone. In the cases where the spoken sound changes or diverges, so does the kana. In English, “ki” can be “ki as in kit” or “ki as in kite.” Letters are like tinker-toys. You put them together and you create a larger whole (say a robot) that dictates the way the different parts of the whole sound (suddenly, those connected bits become arms and legs, and are labeled and perceived differently than they were before the whole came into view), whereas Japanese kana are like predefined computer variables, no matter where they appear, they have the same value, always. This leads to the situation where teachers teach romanization from a chart. They tell their students, who are tiny and have absolutely no exposure to anything comparable, that “si” corresponds to し and that’s that. I think that most Japanese children internalize “si” as a unit, much like they do し in Japanese, and that if you were to ask them whether, say, two consonants sitting together, say, “sk” were a valid construction, they’d almost surely respond in the negative. (And they’d be correct, as far as the romanization of their own language is concerned.)

Really, the blame here lies upon the Japanese government’s wishy-washy policies regarding official romanization and in fact, highlights how apathetic Japanese people are about creating ONE MORE writing system for a language that already has two more than most.

Now that I’ve reached the end of this diatribe, I have one other thing to say, and that is that Japanese culture fosters a lot of memes that gain noteriety specifically because they are Japanese and supposedly indicative of Japanese philosophy, even though when you really sit down and think about it, they’re really more stupid than anything. Failure to come to terms with one, single, worthwhile way of romanizing the Japanese language is just one example of this fervent desire to do it the Japanese way, irrespective of practicality. Two other examples I can think of off the top of my head involve color: namely, the color of the sun and traffic lights.

Scientifically, the sun is closer to white than yellow, but when viewed through the atmosphere, the scattered wavelengths of light appear to be yellow– most of the time. As the sun sets, this scattering becomes more pronounced and the sun can take on a red, orange, or even purple hue as it sinks beneath the horizon and colors the surrounding sky. I’m not sure how I was first introduced to the color of the sun, but I surmise that I just looked up in the sky one day and make that deduction on my own. In Japan, however, children are told, over and over again, until it permeates their very being, that the sun is, in fact, red. Ask any Japanese person what color the sun is, and aside from a few scientists who know better, they will tell you that it’s red. This comes from the flag and traditional Japanese tradition. The Rising Sun, the symbol of the Japanese empire, is red, and thus, culturally, the sun is red. The same red they paint their postboxes with. In the same vein, green lights in Japan are blue. Japanese people will tell you that blue (青) can mean either green or blue, but while a green traffic light can be called blue, a blue sky can’t be referred to as being green (緑). There are a number of traffic lights, some blue and others green, that tell you to “GO.” There are some green and some blue lights in both Japan and America. I’ll even go as far as to say that colloquially, Americans might refer to the “go-light” as a “green light,” when discussing lights that tell you it is legal (and safe) to go. However, the color green does not and will not ever equal the color blue. If you were to show an American a Japanese traffic signal that had a blue (rather than green) signal in it and then ask them what color the light was, the American would tell you it was blue. Whereas, if you were to show a Japanese person an American traffic signal that had a typical green bulb in it and ask them what color the corresponding light was, the Japanese person would invariably tell you it was blue.

This allegiance to specific cultural memes in spite of the ultimate truth to the contrary being both easy to grasp and widely understood, is too responsible for the notion that [psychologically “si” is closer to し than “shi” is], even though the truth is simply that the government mandates that “si” is taught to kids before “shi” is taught to them and that their teachers, teachers who have been teaching “si” before “shi” for who knows how many years, don’t really understand the difference anyway, because, aside from romanization’s function in the modern QWERTY keyboard, its usefulness on road signs, it’s role in helping to compact J-E and E-J dictionaries, romaji as a replacement for kanji or kana in written documents is all but useless to both Japanese people and Japanese language learners alike.

Note: Tomo notes that you can type “zi” on a computer keyboard and get じ and while this is absolutely true, I think this is less about linguistics and more about the QWERTY keyboard and corresponding IME software being flexible enough to accommodate everyone, Kunrei and Hepburn enthusiasts alike.

More Analysis on the iPhone’s No. 1 Sales Records Last Week in Japan

Posted in Uncategorized by 51future on July 6, 2009

So I saw this story via a friend on Twitter, and after reading it I had a lot to say about it, which you can see on the comments over there. However, I think it’s worthwhile to talk about it here, on my own site a little too.

The premise of the article is that the weekly sales numbers of the iPhone 3GS in Japan on the week it launched– namely its No.1 spot, aren’t all that indicitive on it’s popularity and I agree. Weekly sales numbers represent short-term gains which are generally skewed towards new products emerging at the top.

However, delving deeper into the article, we are presented with a few observations about why the iPhone isn’t all that great for Japanese people, which I think, deserve a little discussion.

First, this article has a comparison of iPhone 3G features compared to other cell phones in Japan as of 2008. He uses this data to show that Japanese phones are basically pretty slick and furthermore, to infer that Japanese people don’t really need fancy smartphones to do the things they like to do. At the top of that list are things like One-Seg (TV), which is more of a curiosity than anything else, as reception tends to be terrible, among other problems, followed by things like hardware customization (namely the little loops that you hang ornaments off of) and subscriber IDs for Japanese-only cell phone sites. The article is old and some of those things, like One-Seg, skins, etc. have been mostly remedied, so in the latest article he notes that the iPhone can’t subscribe to the big three mobile social networking sites in Japan, Mixi, Mobage-town, and Gree.

This is true, but it isn’t the iPhone’s fault. These sites lock it out and they tell you why too– because when you go to those sites on the iPhone, they tell you that you aren’t using a phone! You’re using a PC to access them. Get off your PC and go get your phone silly! He asks whether you would use a phone that doesn’t have access to Facebook, Myspace, etc. and the answer that an American person would give you, would probably be a resounding YES. We’ve been buying phones for years that can’t access the internet or popular social networking sites, but then again, the culture is different. Japanese people, I think, feel safer when they can cloak themselves in the odd veil of anonymity on sites like Mixi and communicate with people who may or may not be advertisers or criminals in disguise. And they typically use their phones for things other than calling people, because mobile minutes in Japan are more expensive than typical American plans. So while the question isn’t applicable to Americans as much as it is to Japanese, I think that the logic is sound. Access to social networking in Japan is probably a big deal, but the better question to ask is, as I mentioned in the comments there: “Would you continue to use Facebook if they locked you out of it based on your hardware or OS?” The fact that Mixi doesn’t allow iPhone users to register is really Mixi’s problem, not Apple’s or Softbank’s, and I think that anyone who’s thinking about an iPhone is probably smart enough to figure out where the real blame lies and make their own decision.

In the comments, we started talking about the fact that DoCoMo couldn’t secure the iPhone and while I think this is interesting, I’m not really sure what that means as part of the greater picture. Although Akky claims that Apple has managed to secure contracts with the biggest/most popular providers in America and other places, I’d like to think most Americans and Europeans might disagree that Apple has secured the best carriers in their respective areas. For every person who’s used AT&T, there’s someone who would rather have an iPhone on Verizon or T-Mobile, and, interestingly enough, I imagine Verizon didn’t take the iPhone contract initially, because, like DoCoMo, they wanted too much control over the software– control that Apple wasn’t willing to give up because it would defeat the purpose. Softbank’s new subscriber rates have soared recently because of the iPhone and I’m sure DoCoMo would have loved to claim the same thing, had they been able to loosten their iron grip on the handset enough to have taken it under their wing. DoCoMo couldn’t allow the iPhone on their network because they didn’t want people to A) use a non-iMode browser to access the internet, and B) have access to 3rd-party applications on the App Store. i-Mode is DoCoMo’s moneymaker and lovechild and they think it’s the greatest thing in the goddamn world. When Apple was like, “Here, check out the whole internet,” they probably recoiled in surprise and told Jobs to shove off. Really, the only thing DoCoMo has going for it right now is it’s huge subscriber base. You talk to Japanese people who are on DoCoMo and all they do is admit that, “Yeah, it’s expensive,” and that they “should probably change service providers, but I dunno– my friends use it and I don’t want to bother changing to save a bit of money.”

Akky comments that new Japanese phones surprise and enthrall viewers when you show off their features, but I disagree. I still remember when I went into the DoCoMo shop to cancel my contract a year ago. The employees there all stopped what they were doing and ran over to check out my new phone. When I show people things like this (my latest RunKeeper run): it blows their mind. Show me a Japanese phone that does that and I’ll agree that Japanese phones are all that and a bag of chips. Until then the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen a Japanese phone do is One-Seg, and I got to watch that for exactly 3 seconds before it cut out and the guy spent the rest of our lunch trying to find a signal again. (The iPhone does One-Seg now anyway, with an add-on.)

The final bit I have to say involves cell phone-only sites in Japan, things like Mixi and blogs and stuff. People say that these are important– that since the iPhone doesn’t support them (again, this is not a question of support, but rather, sites locking out Mobile Safari) it’s not that popular. Just how popular these sites are generally, I don’t know. Lots of really popular things (SMAP, Greeen, etc.) are only popular within specific groups in Japan (中学生、高校生, for instance). My girlfriend uses AU’s mobile net to find us hotels and information sometimes, but when it comes to the real heavy lifting, like the hotel we booked today, she does it on a PC because on a phone it’s just inconvenient or impossible. I’ve only met one or two people in real life who bother with Mixi, et. al, and I used to know a high school girl who had a cell phone-only blog that I didn’t end up reading, because, well, my iPhone was locked out. Furthermore, cell phone sites in Japan are hotbeds of criminal activity and online bullying, mostly because (I imagine) people think they’re more private than full-on computer web sites, coupled with the fact that the average young (ie. stupid/exploitable) person in Japan is more likely to have a cell phone than a computer. My point is that I’m not sure these perceived uses are really as popular as the typical Japanese person might think and I think the greater issue with the iPhone is that Japanese hardware moves faster than Apple’s American design focus in regards to things like Suica railpass access built into phones and the digital wallet features that are catching on here in Japan.

In closing, I agree with Akky that the numbers aren’t everything. However, I disagree that the numbers aren’t substantial. Softbank is the weakest carrier, as far as subscriber numbers are concerned, in Japan and those sales represent more than just hardware– every iPhone comes with a Softbank contract.

And another important aspect of all this that no one article has really touched on is the sales of iTouch devices in Japan. Those devices can download applications from the App Store too and as far as I know iTouch sales in Japan are doing well on their own. If the iTouch gets as much market penetration as the original iPods have in Japan, sales in the App Store are going to explode regardless of how the iPhone does, and this will push other Japanese industries, namely websites and other gateways to support Mobile Safari out of necessity. Taking this a step further, I postulate that kids in Japan growing up with an iTouch today, which they will be, given that Apple has all but pushed the other, older iPod designs out to pasture, are going to be buying iPhones in droves when they grow up and grow out of all the microblogging and (anti?)social networking they do on their phones when they’re young. Why? Because they can use all their applications they’re already purchased across all their devices. And hell, the iPhone even has proper cross-carrier e-moji now!

So, yes Akky is right. Those numbers aren’t specifically important or indicative of anything major, but the underlying trend, I think, is pretty clear.

Sore Losers in the App Store

Posted in Uncategorized by 51future on January 27, 2009

There are a lot of devs bemoaning the app store for it’s lack of quality applications and blaming customers (and Apple) for driving down app prices and making it impossible to create high-end apps that will sell for premium prices.

It’s called competition, folks. I know it’s hard, understanding how business is outside of the little Apple-shaped bubble you’ve been living in, but $30 or $40 dollars for an application that adds perspective to pictures? You can sit there and tell me it’s worth it, but it’s also crazy. To expect to then go and charge, on the iPhone, anywhere near the same premium prices that drive the mac piracy machine is completely unreasonable. These are iPhone applications. I tap in the price of my meal after dinner or spend 5 minutes playing a game while waiting in line at the bank. You’re competing against a candy bar or a phone call to my girlfriend– both of which fall squarely in line with a lot of the most popular iPhone app prices: $0.99 and free.

That’s ignoring the fact that Apple isn’t doing anything to encourage low prices– as far as I know, they’ve never dictated the price of any app on the app store. If your competition lowers their app to $0.99 to get on the top 100 list, well, damn, you’ve just been bested by your fellow man. Build a faster application bundle or a prettier UI. Update your program and play with the price until you’ve reached a happy medium and then create something new that Joe Schmoe can’t price out of relevancy. Bitching about it on the internet, especially when your app, Twitterific doesn’t hold a candle to Tweetie (and/or Tweetdeck (when comparing the mac versions), even), just proves you should go back to your contract job and stop trying to compete in a market that doesn’t bend over backwards to suit your whims.

Ultimately, this is one of those awkward “It’s not me, it’s you,” situations.

I think the second paragraph was a little unclear, so I’ll mention that yes, I know that Picturesque is a mac app. My first point was that even the simplest mac apps are stupidly expensive. Following that, I think it’s stupid for developers to think that they can just go and charge the same crazy prices for applications on the iPhone with greatly reduced functionality. It’s also stupid that the most prominent developers blame Apple, of all things. Apple has given developers a completely captive audience (jailbreaking is the fringe science of the iPhone world– yes, I know it’s easy. Yes, I’ve done it. But most people don’t and even the people who do still tend to shop at the app store) and they’ve given developers a DIRECT way to reach everybody with an iPhone and they’re complaining that Apple is colluding against them on the price front? What? What ever happened to advertising anyway? Instead of making you advertise your shitty iPhone app on your backwoods “company” website, Apple’s given you a storefront that’s availible 24/7 AND you can still put your marketing on your own site.

Oh wait, you still can’t fund/market/burn piles of money while laughing about your iPhone application? Then maybe you need to find another job.

Blogging is dead

Posted in Uncategorized by 51future on November 11, 2008

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Reasons You Might Like Japan

Posted in Uncategorized by 51future on September 15, 2008

The more I thought about Evangelion, the more I realized that that particular anime is actually pretty relevant to Japan as a whole, perhaps as culturally relevant as Superman in America, maybe. I mean, sure, a lot of it is stupid, but then again, the themes transcend boundaries because a lot of Japan is stupid too. Without getting into it too much, here are some points to consider:

  • Prominent authors like Murakami Ryu (and people in general) believe that middle school students are the ones who possess the power to truly change Japan.

    Most Japanese men want subservient woman. Some want a new mommy, others just want a wife who’ll stop complaining and let them do their pachinko. (Shinji jerking off to a bandaged Rei… See where this is going?)

    Kids piloting giant mecha suits in Tokyo fight off huge killer aliens that may or may not be God trying to unmend the world pretty much every day.

  • Ok, so maybe some of the themes work…

    Anyway, in short, this entry is about cool stuff in Japan. Reasons why you might want to live here. Things that you might not find in other countries that makes this one a unique, exciting place to be.

    1. Good Cell Reception

    Japanese cell phone reception is pretty awesome, no matter how far from the beaten path you travel. When I lived in Nagoya I was with AU and my reception was great. Sure, I had 0 mins. of talk time, but damn, had I paid the exorbitant fees I would have been able to make calls anywhere. Last year, for the whole of the year I was with DoCoMo in an area where AU reception was trumpeted as being being better. I did sometimes have trouble getting a good signal in the teacher’s room, but other than that, I had full bars most of the time such that I had no shortage of places to use my 20 minutes that came with my $30 plan. Now I’ve got an iPhone with Softbank and I pay by the minute (20円 per 30 seconds?) and again, I can’t fault the reception at all. It’s great pretty much everywhere I go.

    2. Beer

    Japan is a great place to drink beer. Most people do it alone or in large groups of the same sex. There are delicious seasonal brews and three main brands of beer (Suntory, Asahi and Kirin) to choose from based on your budget and taste tolerance. (Hint: Kirin is the high end.) Then of course, for the adventurous, there are local brews too that vary as far as taste is concerned. Out here where I am we have a brand called “Cyonmage”. It’s really delicious.

    3. Fast Internet

    I have fiber to my living room that is touted at 100Mb/s. However, I’ve seen it go as fast as 200Mb/s in controlled bandwidth testing. I’ve uploaded TV shows to the pirate intranets at 3MB/s (yes, megaBYTES per second) and have downloaded builds of Anki at 6MB/sec. Ultimately my connection is usually limited by the other side, rather than my own. Unfortunately, for the purposes of gaming, even a connection this fast is limited by latency. Everything has to pass through thousands of miles of oceanic fiber to reach most North American server facilities. It’s not bad, but it could be better, sometimes. Also, there is very little IP enforcement, here in Japan. FTW.

    4. Long Life Expectancy

    People here live a long time. There are some 36,000 people and counting in Japan over the age of 100. I think its a combination of low crime rates, healthy food with lots of omega oils, and the lack of any real or imagined dangers. There are fences and security guards everywhere, people to help you pull in and out of parking lots, and speed limits that barely breach 50mph on the highways. It’s a paradise for long life.

    5. Ramen Shops

    Ramen is an amazing fast food that pretty much everyone likes. Need I say more?

    6. Tons of Comics and Television Dramas

    If you’re a 12 year old boy who speaks fluent Japanese, there are tons of really awesome comics available for your perusal. And, if you’re a 30-something housewife lush at the idea that you’ll be able to pursue your dream of being a stay-at-home mom, there are a ton of great television dramas with over the top acting and terrible, terrible scripts jam-packed with hot Korean stars fresh-off-the-boat that will woo you with their feminine wiles. (Ok, ok, so there is some sarcasm here. The fact is that while there is a ton of anime, there is very little that broaches topics of any depth. Most manga is about emo kids succeeding in basketball, baseball, or soccer with the help of their coaches who have a heart of gold and a little temper to go along with it.)

    7. Health Insurance

    Japan has great national health insurance that ensures you’ll be able to pay for the doctor visits, all of them, whether it be one for a cold, or 10 for your wisdom teeth.

    Next up: Reasons you Might Not Like Japan.

    Men Are Enriched by Scantily Clad Women and Other Breaking News

    Posted in Uncategorized by 51future on June 11, 2008

    Scientists research “The Bikini Effect” and discover that unfulfilled sexual arousal makes men more creative, impulsive

    It wasn’t that the men were simply distracted by their sexual arousal, which caused them to choose more impulsively. On the contrary, they exhibited improved cognition and creativity after exposure to sexy stimuli.

    The brain may not be as well-oiled as we thought

    One of the key lessons of tip-of-the-tongue research is that the human brain is a cluttered place. Our knowledge is filed away in a somewhat slapdash fashion, so that names are stored separately from faces and the sound of a word and the meaning of a word are kept in distinct locations. Sometimes when we forget something, the memory is not so much lost as misplaced.

    I really should have studied neuroscience rather than Japanese. I still probably could have gotten by without having to go through economics hell.

    DRM is “Totally and Undeniably Rad,” according to Bioware, NBC et al.

    Posted in software, Uncategorized by 51future on May 8, 2008

    Alright, so maybe I’m paraphrasing a bit here, but it’s not that far from what’s actually been said. A lot of DRM-related news has been coming down the pipe recently… Although its not really “news” in the sense of being new or novel. It’s really just more information on how companies are diligently coming up with even more invasive ways of harassing their paying customers.

    Mass Effect and Spore are confirmed to have some shiny, new value-added DRM that uh… well… It phones home the first time you install (the games) and then every 10 days after that. If you attempt to install or play Mass Effect (a single-player game) on a computer without an internet connection:

    Customer: Are you saying I’m not going to be able to play my perfectly legitimate purchased copy of the game, even the retail version, until I get permission?”

    Bioware rep: That is correct.

    The Slashdot comments on the Spore and Mass Effect DRM are pretty much par for the course as far as this sort of thing is concerned. Most of them tend to reflect a few simple truths:

      DRM is always about access control, not copy protection. CSS exists to prevent you from playing a movie in a region not approved by the studio, or from skipping past commercials. It does nothing to stop you from making a copy. The DRM in this game essentially forces the player to ask permission every time he wants to play the game he purchased.

      “Software-as-a-service,” a/k/a/ “software rental model”… translation: you never own anything – you pay and pay and pay and pay and pay, and if you stop paying, they turn off your rig. This is the holy grail for companies that don’t really feel like developing new software, or in updating their software with appealing new features that you might actually buy. They’ll just sell you the same thing for eternity.

      …increasingly, a hacked version turns out to be better than the genuine deal. They just work, anytime, anywhere, no questions asked. More than once, I’ve found myself downloading a hacked executable to run software that I bought and legitimately own, even in ways that wholly comply with the original license – e.g., because the activation server for some defunct app had been taken offline.

    Personally, I’m not quite sure if the copy protection on Spore is anything to get up in arms about, given that the appeal of connecting to Spore’s servers sort of insures a lot of legal sales anyway. However, down the line, when we’ve got phones capable of running the full DirectX 10 version of Spore and I’m rockin’ my jetpack, I imagine that the DRM then could theoretically suck, given that I seriously doubt EA is going to keep up Spore’s official servers forever. I say theoretically, because it’s clear that this DRM is going to be cracked the day of, or potentially, in the weeks before the official release, like every other DRM scheme in recent memory.

    Meanwhile, in the same vein, I caught wind of this article via Daring Fireball detailing why Apple is more expensive than Amazon.

    Again, here it all comes down to control. Apple has it and the labels don’t, leading to a situation that is strangely reminiscent of our democratic primary…

    The only—I repeat only—reason the labels allow competing stores to have DRM-free tracks is that it’s the only way to get music onto an iPod. Think about that for a moment: Apple’s dominance of the music player business is the actual reason you can buy a DRM-free track from Amazon. If anybody else had a substantial chunk of the player market, the labels would be busy trying to make the other player’s DRM the standard.

    To wrap up the discussion, we have NBC Universal’s president of digital distribution Mr. J. B. Perrette reminding us of the benefits of DRM over at this New York Times article about Microsoft’s deal with NBC to try and build “filtering technology that allows for playback of legitimately purchased content versus non-legitimately purchased content” into their media devices.

    Mr. Perrette said NBC understands the potential resistance. “In the short term, this will not win us a lot of friends,” he said. “In the long term, the consumer wants there to be quality premium-produced content, and in order for that to continue to be a viable business, there needs to be significant protection around it.”

    Apparently Microsoft is a little wary of adding “features that consumers don’t like to its Zune products,” but is willing to take one for the team for the sake of… uh, who or what exactly? Poor little NBC?

    As a counterpoint to all this, there are a few people out there who get it. Trent Reznor, for one.

    Trent Reznor introduce[d] his latest album, The Slip, with a note that reads, “Thank you for your continued and loyal support over the years — this one’s on me.”

    Go pick up The Slip (completely and utterly free) if you get a chance. It sounds great in Apple Lossless.

    Eight First Chapters

    Posted in Reading, Uncategorized, writing by 51future on April 9, 2008

    I write in my spare time and I’ve been struggling lately– trying to finish the novel I wrote in November for National Novel Writing Month. In February, when I wrote it, I was having a lot of trouble finding the right voice at first (and even now I’m not sure I found it, even though I did find a voice…).

    I’ve been working on it on and off since February and I don’t really have much to show for it. Lately, I’ve been sitting down in front of my computer and coming up with nothing. The words just won’t come, or if they do, I look at them the next day and can’t fathom why I’d ever start like that, or why I’d bother with character X or situation Y. I can’t see the situations I feel compelled to write about and it makes me doubt whether or not I’m forcing it in the first place. Basically, I’m having trouble.

    So I present eight different first chapters for your perusal. I’m looking for opinions, because I really lack the ability to objectively examine my own work at this point. I’ve been bouncing back and forth between these chapters, struggling with them for months on end and the more I examine them, the less I like them. Words blend together– it’s a problem.

    If you have time, check them out. Read them and tell me what you think. Tell me which one you think is the most compelling. Tell me why. What kind of questions do you have after reading them? Is the perspective as diluted as I think it is? I often feel like I’m typing flavorlessly into a wall and its driving me nuts. Am I just stressed and imagining things? Are any of these worth reading at all? I welcome all questions and comments. Without further ado, here are eight first chapters to the same general story. Everything from the details of the plot, to the events, to the characters themselves change throughout these separate chapters, but there are common threads in each, I think.

    Take it And Run!

    Lark gives Jack a few things and tells him to leave, convinced that its the only way to save him from a somewhat unclear danger.

    The Train Wreck

    Richard (Lark) investigates a major train wreck. Jack shows up, hoping to cover the story before it hits the major outlets.

    Quagmire

    Haunted by a strange dream, Richard (Lark) is awoken in the wilds of Europe with the news that one of his company’s trains has wrecked.

    31 Dead, 1 Confirmed

    Jonah Hawthorne (Richard, Lark) visits the only survivor of a train accident, Pearl Stramn, in the hospital while Mer (Jack) poses as a family member hoping to get a scoop.

    Keep Me Awake

    Cassandra comes home to Bridgett (Pearl) who’s eager to be kept awake. (Borderline erotica, here.)

    Six Years Ago

    Richard Hawthorne (Jonah, Richard Hawthorne, Lark) finds a table by himself, intent on taking drugs in order to help him remember what’s happened to him.

    Purple Powder

    Richard Hawthorne (Jonah, Richard Hawthorne, Lark) takes drugs to help him remember.

    Kodomo’s Brown Bag Special

    Richard Hawthorne (Jonah, Richard Hawthorne, Lark) buys drugs from a dealer named Komodo that he hopes will help him remember.

    Visions

    Posted in internet, Uncategorized by 51future on March 25, 2008

    It’s been a while. I’m still here, but for the next two weeks, I’ll lack internet access at work so updates will be a little more sparse.

    With that in mind, here are two interesting sites to waste time on:

    Twittervision

    Basically, this site shows you all the latest tweets in semi-real time from around the world. It’s a fascinating glimpse at all the world’s little microcosms.

    Flickrvision

    And next comes Twittervision’s brother, Flickrvision. This shows you all the latest posts on Flickr, again in semi-real time. Usually it’s safe for work, but it doesn’t distinguish between appropriate or inappropriate, so take care nodding off to it at work.