Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Smile, Darn Ya, Smile!

Amazon recently launched Smile, a way to shop and help charities to get money. This is noble and devious. The noble part is obvious, The devious part is the smile. And I'm not talking about McDonald's horrible mistake.

Normally, when I go to Amazon, I type "amazon" in my browser and off I go. now, I type "smile" and if just feels better. Fun even. OH MY GOD THEY'RE CONDITIONING ME TO ENJOY THEIR SHOPPING! Seriously though, it does seem a little insidious.

Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of donating some of those corporate dollars to charities. It's not altruistic as it's going to help drum up business and allow them tax write-offs. That perfectly fine. But every time I shop on their site... SMILE!

Whoever thought of this is freaking genius. Not the charity thing, that's been done plenty of times before this. No, the Smile is the stroke that makes me come back for more.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

#XboxReveal Kind of Disappointing

Before I start on this, let me preface this with not liking sports or racing games. That said, I understand why they highlighted those and I consider them for their gaming value rather than my personal tastes.

The big reveal was a little disappointing.

I love what they're doing with the XBox One. Bringing together media, entertainment, usability, ease of use and so on. The power should usher in a whole new age of games. But that's what was really lacking in the reveal: no game play. The demo of CoD: Ghosts at the end was more trailer than actually showing someone playing the game.

So let's look at what we do know: Impressive system specs, expanded XBox Live support, exclusivity deals, blended (not just combined) entertainment options. It's all nice. I really like the idea of not having to find the remote to switch between TV, XBox, and what not. Hmm, can I have XBox One switch to my PS3 for me? That'd be funny.

I have to admit, making the Kinect more built-in is quite the gambit. I know the Kinect wasn't originally as successful as Microsoft was hoping, but they put time and effort in to it and evolved its integration. The ability to include voice commands in games in a less clunky way would also be divine. Playing CoD: Ghosts and telling everyone to take cover rather than pull up some menu would make for a much more unique experience.

The work that EA (yes, I don't like them much, but I still have to analyze what they're doing) is putting in to their sports games is refinement. Let's face it, you play a football or soccer game, there are rules that just won't change. The only difference in competing game franchises is how well the game runs. Everything else is more or less gimmicks. EA is telling everyone they can improve how well their games will run. Better calculations, improved AI, greater graphical detail, all of it a step up. This translates well to other games yet to come.

One of the things that caught my ear was "persistent worlds". I hear that and I envision MMOs. Whether it's RPGs or otherwise, this could have a big impact. The style of free play or subscriptions is getting old, especially with so many companies getting it wrong. This could introduce new gaming models that will bring more satisfaction to players.

Let's looking at "Trending" next. Cool story, bro. I'll be blunt, there's nothing to convince me that anything trending isn't sponsored or that I'll care about it. I'd be more interested in watching The Price Is Right than The Today Show. However, given that I myself generally don't watch "trending" stuff, it could introduce me to some new content. Personally, I'll be more interested in Netflix support. But like everything else, there's potential. Possibilities. Promise.

Yeah, that's all it is right now. Promise. I'll be watching E3 for both Sony's and Microsoft's game play demos. Given its early stage of development, I really shouldn't have expected a whole lot, but when you're selling a game system, and it is a game system with a built-in media center, you need to sell games. Telling us there's a new CoD arc on the way is cool and all, but don't show brief demo clips and call it game play footage. Something more substantial would be needed. Even 15 to 20 seconds of continuous, actual game playing would be better.

For now, we have specs to help us determine base possibilities. I look forward to seeing what can actually be produced. Give us an appetizer at E3, not smells from the kitchen that you gave us at the Reveal. Looking forward to it and have fun!

PS: Did you see that plug for Halo: the TV series? Who would have thought they'd have a commercial in such a big presentation?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Disruption of innovation

"Soft SOPA" & How Copyright Disrupts Technological Innovation

Copyright and free speech have been at the forefront quite a bit lately. To some, we need to afford protections to creators. To others, it is manipulation of laws to suit their personal wants. The result is everybody losing.

The internet has created a huge disruption in sales and distribution of many kinds of media, including movies and music. The biggest problem many people have pointed out has been that, rather than adapt, old business models refused to adapt and instead tried to get laws to force things from changing. This is especially obvious of the RIAA who simply fought against the MP3 format rather than embrace and use it. Now, Apple, Amazon, Google, and many others are making a lot of money they never will. All because they refused to change.

Instead, they tried manipulating laws and suing people in order to extract money. For this, the popular media and the public have demonized them. Yet they continue for the sake of stagnation.

This is a disruption of innovation.

Disruption in the business world is supposed to strengthen the money that goes in and out of coffers, but this is because people are “building better mousetraps”. When innovation is disrupted, they are essentially happy to let the mice run free if their product does not work properly.

The issue here is copyright. Copyright is not a bad thing in and of itself. Nevertheless, the way it has been manipulated has forced people to fight in ways that are shocking to the old business models. In the past, if someone profited off your work without permission, you could sue him or her for profits. With the modern internet, they have encouraged people to fight back by not making money off those works.

This strikes me as interesting. They know these people are not making money and yet they sue them anyway. Where exactly is the profit? I could go on and on, but plenty of people have realized this is a dead horse. Well, everyone except lawyers…

The point is, we have a broken system, and that is our current copyright laws. We need to overhaul it. It used to be your work was yours for 14 to 28 years, which may not seem long now, but let us consider how long a work is profitable. A book comes out. It will sell, make some money, movie rights are sold, it becomes a blockbuster, toy action figures are sold, kids have the characters on their lunchboxes (do they still do that?), and so on. The time frame for this? Let us take Harry Potter as an example. The first book was released in 1997 and the last movie was released in 2011. If we take that series as a whole for our argument, that is 14 years alone. Obviously, the series was VERY profitable. To this day, it is still making money. The 28-year limit above was if an author applied for an extension, and you can be sure J. K. Rowling and Warner Bros. would have applied for that extension.

By 2025, Harry Potter’s fame and profitability should be very much diminished, such that entry in to the public domain would not really cost anyone. That is 28 years. So what about Disney? Mickey Mouse is still popular and they are making money off of it, right? Disney is a poor example of protecting copyrights. Simply put, they have made quite a bit of money off of public domain properties. Disney’s first feature length film was Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. The movie was derived from Snow White, first officially published, if I understand my sources correctly, in 1857. They made a fortune off that movie using nothing but a public domain work.

Disruption of games

The Next Xbox Has Mandatory Kinect, Game-Swapping and New Controllers, According To Leaked Info

The speculation of Microsoft’s next-gen console having systems in place to stop people from playing used game discs has many people speculating. If true, the used game market could take a nosedive in an empty pool. The idea is that once a game is installed and played on a single console, it cannot be installed on any other console. So, once you install it, it’s your for life. Even if you lend to a friend, he couldn’t play it.

Now, I know quite a few people who, once they are bored with a game, will trade it in for store credit and get another game. This business would come to a halt. While I know people who would not shed tears for their $10 credit for a $50 game being around anymore, there is also a misunderstanding about how the used games market works. When you trade in your game, they are essentially taking a chance that the game will be bought by somebody else. While they give you a $10 credit and them mark it up to $30 on their shelves, if the game does not sell, they’re out that money for good.

“So what? They make plenty of money from new games, right?” Wrong. Game stores usually buy a game for $45 and sell them for $50. Not a big profit. Now perhaps you can understand why they are willing to take such risks: much bigger profits.

So what is the uproar then? Developers do not get a cut of used game sales. They make money based on how many new games are sold. While people purchase a game 10 million times, only 5 million of that may be new games.

With this new suggestion of locking a disc to a console, the used game market is cut. The business of selling games becomes disrupted. So why is this “better” for consumers? Well, if developers can make more money on their games, they can lower the prices on them. Naturally, consumers win.

This begs the question; why not just go digital on games? XBox Arcade does that now. There is Steam as well. Why not just sell those AAA titles digitally? This is because of places like Walmart who threaten to cut shelf space for everything if they do. Stores do not make much money on games, but they do make money on peripherals, like controllers and HDMI cables. Companies like Microsoft make good money on those too. With games on the shelves, people will come in to buy the games and increases the chances of buying peripherals as well. Walmart makes money, Microsoft makes money, and prices stay high.

This has been true for quite some time, but physical stores are losing to virtual stores. Amazon can give you a comparable deal to Walmart. What’s more, they could set themselves up to sell games digitally as well. By cutting out more need for physical game discs, they can cut prices. At that point, if Walmart were to do away with selling peripherals, they would only be hurting their own bottom line.

We have two cases of disruption that essentially cut out the middleman. Companies can sell virtually direct to consumers without shelling out money to print millions of discs and get a much better return. This may take some time to bring about, but at this point, it seems inevitable.

Disruption of smartphones

Is the Samsung-Google alliance heading for a crossroads?

The article describes how Samsung and Google may have cooperation problems in the future. However, let us back pedal a bit.

Apple released the iPhone. Suddenly, the smartphone was at the forefront of the electronics consumer market. Sure, it built of the popularity of the iPod. However, the iPhone was quick to take the market by storm and if you did not have one, you were behind the times.

Sometime after, Google unleashed the Android operating system. It was obviously a competitor to the iOS system, and thus to Apple’s successful iPhone. Apple, who enjoyed a virtual stranglehold on the smartphone market, suddenly was losing market share. The war was on.

Now, Samsung has the option to insert more competition in to the smartphone market. With a new smartphone operating system, they can wean themselves off Google’s Android system and launch their own.

They are disrupting Google and Apple’s dominance.

This, as many people will argue, is a good thing. While Samsung has not innovated software or hardware, they have made great strides in combining the two. Their smartphone OS, named Tizen right now, would reduce their reliance on Android OS and allow them a substantial boost to their bottom line if successful. Google and Apple would have to step up their game.

Apple has shown, in my humble opinion, a lack of creativity. We see less and less innovation from them. Their latest phone sought to throw off Google Maps simply because they wanted to cash in on ad revenue. They failed miserably and their replacement app has become the laughingstock of the tech world. Meanwhile, Google released a replacement that many people quickly downloaded.

Google, on the other hand, is very versatile. They are very familiar with trying new things and cutting what does not work. In their latest “spring cleaning”, they are eliminating Google Reader, simply because it is not working as they want any more. Sure, many people jumped to other services. I myself tried to join Feedly, but I couldn’t right away because of the vast amount of people accessing their servers.

So, if we end up having 3 viable smartphone sources, the only thing that can happen is competition. Innovation. Improvement. These are good things. Not only would Samsung bring a new product that would make the market stronger, but also Google would respond by stepping up their game. Hopefully Apple will react appropriately and bring some new ideas to light. Win for the companies and win for the consumers.

Disruption in our world

Of all the words to become buzz-worthy, I would not have imagined that disruption would be one of them. After reading the articles, I have come to believe that it's more than buzz. It is fear.

There are plenty of stories of "the student becoming the master", and I am not talking of Darth Vader. Usually these stories are of the old masters teaching new students who eventually out do their master. However, I rarely see these successes being "Oh, I just did a better job than you." They are more along the lines of "Oh, I can do it in a better way." This is disruption. We are seeing it more and more in our modern world at a faster pace than before. I would like to look at a few of these cases and evaluate them and what impact they could have. In addition, we will see what is being done to stop it.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Connecting History to Diverstity

One of the classes I have to take for my Associate's degree is Intercultural Communication (COM 225). This is not like "I just HAVE to get that toy/gadget/pair of shoes/midget!" It's more like "Aw, do I have to?" Despite that, I figured it should be fun or at least an experience.

One of the other classes I have to take is American History to 1877 (HST 201). This time it is more along the lines of "You HAVE to eat a vegetable! Do you want broccoli, green beans, or vegetable medley?" If you're wondering why I'm making these have quotes sound childish, it's because the objections I have are really minor. If I were not required to take the other classes, it would really narrow my views and education.

Yesterday in COM 225, we were looking at diversity and how it can enrich your experiences. One of the questions asked during the class was "How much empathy should a president have?" Now, I considered this a loaded question. Clearly, it was asking for an opinion. The catch was, any office of president, whether of a country, a school, a company, or a local hobby club, is executive. That means he carries out the will of others. In other words, a president should not have any empathy.

That said, I thought back to HST 201 from the day before. We had covered the Whiskey Rebellion. Simple summary, the newly formed Congress passed a tax on distilling alcohol and people in Western Pennsylvania refused to pay it. Washington gathered a militia to march on the rebels using a force of about 12,000 men. The rebels who were completely outnumbered changed their minds and agreed to pay the taxes.

Now, this is an example of a president. He enforced the laws that were passed did not need empathy. However, what followed after was somewhat surprising. Two men were convicted of treason and sentenced to hang. Washington pardoned these men. He had no requirement or need to do so. That alone showed a sense of empathy that was certainly not required of his position.

In the end, even if your job does not call for it, you are going to have some sense of empathy and compassion for other people. It is an aspect of human nature. We might as well accept it and use it. Well, unless you are a psychopath or sociopath.

Have fun!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Too soon?

"Snape kills Dumbledore!" At 11:59 PM, right before the 6th Harry Potter book was going to be sold on the east coast of the US, a guy pulls out a bullhorn and announced that to the long line of people (many of which were children) waiting for the release in a Walmart. Naturally this caused a mighty uproar and caused a lot of kids to cry. The big problem? The book hadn't been released yet and he revealed a major plot point. Soime people considered it illegal, except for one problem: The book had been released five hours earlier in the U.K. where the book was published. (This exact story is hearsay and I couldn't find a news article directly pointing to it, but this story has been around for some time as well as many versions of it.)

I think everyone will agree that 5 hours from release is way too soon for spoilers, whether it's a book, game, movie, whatever. But just how soon is too soon?

The standard fallback of "It varies for everyone" never applies. When one friend of mine was getting ready to watch the 6th movie, I asked "Are you gonna shout 'SNAPE KILLS DUMBLEDORE!' when he kills him?"
He looked at me aghast and said "Dude! Way to ruin the movie!"
"What are you talking about?"
"The movie just came out two days ago! I hadn't seen it yet!"
"... Dude, the book's been out for four years."
"... What book?"
Yeah, I didn't cut him any slack. I had a similar occurrence with the Lord of the Ring movies and had no shame in talking about books that had been out longer than I had been alive while others whined that I was spoiling things.

So I think we can agree as far as a standard goes, 5 hours can generally be too soon and 4 years is more than long enough. But then we have issues with people who honestly haven't experienced something yet.

My girlfriend has never seen the original Wizard of Oz movie. She knows a lot of the references though and doesn't really care to see the movie since she pretty much know what happens. Part of me is aghast as it's a deeply woven part of American culture. Heck, if you say "I don't think we're in Kansas anymore," people not only know what you mean, but where the reference comes from. (For added spice in outer space, use a more local reference. Imagine Luke Skywalker saying "I don't think we're on Tatooine anymore.")

I guess it really does come down to personal consideration. If someone is expressing interest is enjoying something for the first time, don't ruin it. Let them enjoy it in its unfettered beauty.

Except for Snape killing Dumbledore. Everyone already knew that. Have fun!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Borderlands 2: Be careful what you wish for

Borderlands was a good game, but it was lacking in story. Sure it had plenty of chuckles, but not a lot of substance. So when the sequel was announced, a lot of the fan base asked for more of a story.

We got it. And it ain't pretty.

While Borderlands 2 has lots of laughs, it also delves more in to the who/what/etc. of the planet. There are some very dark moments, which definitely changes the tone of the game when you hit them. I'm not one for putting out spoilers, so you'll have to play through. I hit one point where suddenly I felt extremely horrible about what had happened. In a sense, "Shit just got real, yo."

Good job, Gearbox and 2KGames. I want to kill Handsome Jack not because it's the goal, but because it's personal. And I don't mean that "Good job" sarcastically. This is a story that starts off light and layers it on heavier and heavier. I'm now vested in my character and her motivations (Yeah, I'm playing Maya) and want to see this through to the end.

Oh, and if you want to know what the gameplay is like, it's a lot like Borderlands with more variety, which is a good thing. They took what worked and improved on it. They added a few new elements to re-balance the game and tied it in with the story. And the music just fits everything so well. It's also nice to have some more landscape colors other than Brown and More Brown.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Yogurt Boost

So here's an interesting kick twist for breakfast: Yogurt and Pancakes. No, I don't mean put yogurt on top, I mean inside the pancakes. This recipe for pancakes serves as an excellent base, but you may want to change the ingredients to...

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup yogurt and milk
  • 1 egg

Instead of adding milk, you can add a single serving of yogurt mixed with milk. Most yogurt comes in 6 oz. containers, so you won't need much milk. The easiest way to do this is to put the yogurt in a one cup measuring cup and fill it the rest of the way with milk. The pancakes come out a little heavier and more cake like. The batter is also much thicker, so you can't pour it like regular batter. I've found a couple spoonfuls make a good sized pancake.

Another fun mix is pudding. Many smaller instant pudding packages call for 2 cups cold milk. Again, replace some of the milk with a container of yogurt and you'll get a creamier pudding. What's more, you can have some fun mixing flavors of pudding. Strawberry yogurt and banana pudding make for a great combination, but experimenting can really produce some excellent results, like Jell-O's French Vanilla pudding and Yoplait's Triple Berry Torte yogurt.

There are other recipes you can do the swap with and has some guidelines you can follow. Are you making things a little healthier? That's debatable, but you can certainly make them tastier. Have fun!

Eurocuisine 2-Quart Yogurt Maker from