December 14, 2005

Xbox Disappointment

The rumors of the new Xbox 360 console back in May sparked anticipation within the electronic and gaming community which exploded earlier this month. Microsoft purposely held back on the manufactured amounts creating such an intense demand that individuals were able to acquire even the most basic core systems only by camping out in front of stores. It is currently impossible to purchase the console in stores and nearly every site has customers wait-listed until possibly as late as February. Microsoft has sold roughly half-million consoles since its release and Ebay seems to be the only place where consoles are available and the price for avoiding the waitlists is between $500-$600 – without the controllers and games included.

However recently, excited gamers have expressed extreme disappointment with the system and glitches with the system have led to the suing of Microsoft by a man in Chicago. Accusing the product as being “defectively designed”, the console constantly causes the hardware to overheat (a problem for the heat-sensitive chips) which causes a freeze in the middle of game play. Unfortunately for the company, the usual excuse of the problem being an “isolated incidence” won’t hold because it seems to be a problem among many users across the board. The problem can especially be seen on online forums and sites (example of smart mobs!) and my own friend’s Xbox underwent the same exact problems. Console owners also have complained of (along with the freezing) random crashing, black screens, and a variety of error messages.

Critics and analysts have blamed the faulty systems on Microsoft’s rushed production of the program. After Microsoft’s initial press release, Sony followed suit and soon began releasing promotions for its own PS3 console. To date, Sony has reportedly sold 100 million PS2 game systems, a good 74 million more than Microsoft’s original Xbox. The video game console industry itself is worth $21 billion and people have suggested Microsoft rushed the technology to meet the Christmas rush and to beat Sony’s own release – its game plan for beating Sony sales.

Such an incident relates perfectly to Ben Schneiderman’s theory in Leonardo’s Laptop that companies can no longer create ignoring the consumer demands: consumers must demand high quality from companies and companies in response must listen and meet these demands. Microsoft is one of the largest technology companies and is known world-wide. However by placing their own profits and their competition above that of consumer desires, the company is now suffering and could possibly face fines and recall all the long-awaited consoles from disappointed customers. This is not only hurt their name but also incur tons of costs which could have been avoided in the first place.

December 13, 2005

Death by Gaming

My cousin called me a few months back commenting on how stupid Koreans are. She went on to tell me about how she was watching the Korean news with my grandfather when the death of a 28-year-old was reported. It turns out the man died from playing online computer games. I was stunned. I thought I misunderstood. How could someone die from playing video games?

The man died from playing 50 hours straight – no sleep, no food, and no rest (except for quick bathroom breaks. But apparently, this isn’t the first incidence of such a death in Korea. In 2002, a man died in Kwangju after 86 hours of marathon gaming. The man who died recently was so addicted to the PC rooms that he was fired from his job due to missed absences from gaming.

The gaming craze has begun to raise concerns – currently about 35% of the population (a massive 17million) are self-labeled as obsessive. The number of counseling sessions for game addiction quadrupled last year, the government says. There were 8,978 sessions in 2004 compared with 2,243 cases the previous year, and the first seven months of this year saw 7,649 sessions.

Unfortunately, the country seems to encourage such an addiction with the world’s highest per-capita rate of broadband connectivity (70%) and the internet cafes cost only (our equivalent of) $1/hour. There is a group of people who play for months at a time who leave only in quick spurts to change clothes but who return to sleep and eat there. Additionally, because so many young people play so often, the competition is high and the nation seems to embrace the gaming world.

There are companies who hire children to play against each other with millions of dollars as an incentive for winning. There is a slang for the intense competition, “E-sports”, and even the government is chipping in to build the world’s first e-sports stadium which is to be completed by 2008. Moreover, gaming is a lucrative industry; professional gamers can earn more than $130,000/year, there are physicians who specialize in the health of gamers, and there are numerous teaching professions available in universities.

Smart Mobs: Texting & Mobilization

Thinking back on all the books we read in our SAGES course, I realized how irrelevant Smart Mobs was to our class. Not in the theory of ubiquitous computing nor in the idea of how technology will transform our futures. The book is irrelevant because such a mindset is unlikely to occur in the near future of our country.

In the case of the Philippines where individuals got together to impeach a political leader, there was an overwhelming sense of political interest and urgency. Yet in a country as politically apathetic as ours, is such a physical mobilization possible??

For the first time in awhile we saw the country split during the most recent presidential elections between Bush and Kerry. Even the mass media was in on the political war with the “Vote or Die” mantra used by the MTV crowds and with the public aware that every votes does indeed count after witnessing what happened in Florida the four years prior. Yet even with all the celebrity endorsement the voter turnout was still barely over 50% (55.3). It would be interesting to imagine something like the Orange Revolution here in America.

As I began thinking about other mobile revolutions I realized ubiquitous technology is undeniably dependent upon the culture of a country. It depends upon the links between the younger generations and a common source of interest. The only two things I could imagine which could possibly work to physically mobilize the youth of America were celebrities, religion, and free giveaways.

If the G8 concert had been advertised solely through the text messaging venue, tens of thousands would have still shown up to support both the cause and the performers. Most people are followers of some sort of religion and religion is such a personal and sensitive topic that it would be easy to mobilize such an event especially because it would be encouraged by older people as well. And people are so cheap that anytime there is word of anything being free, people storm by the masses and take everything. One instance of this occurred in Virginia a few months back. A high school had purchased Apple Computers early on in the year but ended up signing a deal with Dell instead. Therefore they ended up giving away all the previously purchased computers for FREE and the storms of people waiting resulted in chaos.

Unfortunately, even though these three things have the most potential in succeeding to draw forth such crowds, there is still a strong possibility the mobilization efforts would fail. If the news were spread solely by texts and without other forms of promotion, most people receiving the text would doubt the authenticity of the text. Others would not have time to pull away from their schedule to attend such a mobilization and lastly, texting is still not cheap enough for everyone to take advantage of such an event. It costs me 10 cents for every text message I send and if the message is too long, the phone company counts the text as two separate messages. Our country is technologically advanced and we have other branches of smart mobs but in terms of texting and physical mobilizations, we still have awhile to go.

Smart Babies

Hammacher Schlemmer, an innovative company known as "the place to go for things hard to find”, was established in the 1800s and was the first store to offer products such as the steam iron, electric dry shaver, pop-up toaster, microwave oven – each of which have become common household items. Their main goal is to provide consumers with new, on-the-edge products which will “enhance customers' lives by bringing them unique products that either solve problems or further their lifestyle, and eliminate their need to comparison shop by providing them with, not only the best products in the marketplace, but the information supporting the reasons why these products are truly the best.”

The company also features a toys/games section on its online site and in particular, I noticed a recurring theme among the infant section. There seems to be a trend in introducing children to interactive DVDs as a way of encouraging development and increasing stimuli.

The first program is a customized DVD filled with family photographs and voice clips to stimulate facial recognition among babies. Like the hit Baby Einstein series, this DVD also comes along with music, footage of animals and bright colors, and toys in action to hold the attention of the child. The DVD is perfect for children with lots of family who live far away and in maintaining the child’s memory and relationship. I really the idea because my family is constantly on the move and the only way that we’ve been able to retain a close relationship with my younger cousins is by constantly having other family members show them our pictures. Using that system of recognition, my cousins have constantly been able to view us as family rather than strangers and gives us extra valuable which could be used in fostering a relationship rather than trying to use the time to reestablish the relationship once again.

The second developmental DVD comes paired with a plush stuffed animal. There are three different animals you could choose for your child and depending on your choice, dictates the main character of the DVD. The DVD- doll duo was created to encourage child interaction with the screen and therefore stimulate learning rather than being simple observers. There is a stimulation device inside the doll which is activated by benign electronic signals from the DVD and results with the doll laughing, singing along, and flashing lights In tune with the program. The doll also uses age-appropriate vocabulary and the lamb & dog are for 3 to 12 month olds while the cow is for 12 to 36 month olds. Although I initially thought it was a cool idea, the more I thought about it, the more I disliked it. The program is geared towards 3 to 36 month olds, an age which is considered unsafe for children to left alone. Furthermore, this is when parent/child relationships are established and by providing a toy which does all the interacting for you, it discourages parents from getting involved and encourages laziness.

It is sometimes amazing how one company can feature two items which can be so far from each other in practicality and use.

Flexibility

The first articles we ever read in class talked about a flexible, e-interface. Whatever it might be, whether a pad, or a sheet, this futuristic technology would revolutionize the way be think about mobile technology and could essentially replace paper.

When we spoke about a bendable computer, one that could be rolled up, thrown around, and be downloaded I was amazed. I never thought about computing in such a way and imagined a future where such technologies would be ubiquitous. I never would have imagined that time would be now.

Recently, Fujitsu debuted the world's first film substrate-based electronic paper. The "paper" comes with a memory function which allows for continuous display of the same image even when the electricity is off. It is based off a photoconductivity technology that uses only 1/100 to 1/10,000 of the energy usually needed in conventional display technologies. Once an image is set, it is held there by static charges – like an electronic Etch-a-Sketch . The technology also ensures that the quality will not be compromised when bent and that the colors will not alter either.

Examples of what this technology can be used for include: Transit advertising on trains, information displays on curved surfaces, electronic shelf display tags, point-of-purchase displays, restaurant menus, pperating manuals, work orders, and other short-term information displays. Furthermore, because of its digital components, information updating would be instant and cost-efficient.

Fuji Xerox is also getting in on the new business and is actually planning to sell E-paper Visual Index Cards next year.

In response, NEC (an electronics company specializing in semiconductors) has recently developed a 0.3mm thick flexible battery technology, that can also (allegedly) recharge in about 30 seconds. The battery is completely bendable and was invented to go hand-in-hand with the new electronic paper technology being developed.


Gizmo Pen

The Fly Pentop Computer has been on the Bestselling Christmas lists across the country. The technology is derived from an optical scanner that “sees” everything you write and scan on the special dot-matrix FLY paper. It has a built-in computer processor and has the ability to read outloud what you’ve written. What’s most amazing is the fact that you can draw a schedule and the pen will remind you of upcoming events. You can solve math problems on a calculator that YOU drew. You can draw instruments and to MAKE MUSIC off those drawn instruments. You can even download music to listen to and furthermore, you can create your own interactive games with friends.

However, unlike the PDA stylises, the flypentop is actually a pen and requires ink refills but needs to be recharged in order to maintain its electronic capabilities.

The technology actually reminds me of the Leapfrog electronics for younger children. My three-year-old cousin owns one and loves it. Created to enhance the learning process for growing kids, the system consists of a writing tablet with an insertion slot in the back. Programs consist of books, learning programs, etc. My cousin has book insertions and every word you press on the page is read aloud by the “smart” pen connected to the computer.

The Leapfrog products have been a huge hit with parents and children however I have a feeling the Fly pentop will only enjoy a fleeting success. Whereas the Leapfrog is targeted to young children and reads aloud to them and is a useful “toy” in educating kids, parents are also the main consumer market for this product. The success of the Leapfrog does not depend on whether toddlers enjoy the toy but whether parents find them useful and whether the parents like it. Furthermore, the parent/child interaction, numerous choices of programs, and the fact that the Leapfrog has programs for varying age groups helps keep them to keep their customers for several years. On the other hand, I am assuming the Fly is marketed towards elementary à middle schoolers (specifically 8-14 yr olds). First of all, most kids are too lazy to draw out a calculator especially when they own one. All children are given free school planners so there’s no point in drawing one out. Yes, it is cool that someone can draw a keyboard and then actually play it but who can draw one accurate enough and also have the patience of doing so when you could instead just go straight to one?

With the increasing, fast paced advancements in technology, and with the short-attention span of the consumer market, the Fly pen top will not last very long in the race against other technologies. Furthermore, the technology is not cheap. For one pencil it costs $100. This of course does not include the charger, ink pack refills, speakers, backpack, case, batteries, special notepads, and interchangeable face plates. Parents most likely will find the item a waste of money and as kids grow older, their laziness increases and by the time the next generation comes around, the technology will be replaced by something cooler.


December 08, 2005

The Seattle Public Library

The Seattle Public Library’s mission statement claims that it strives to be “the best public library in the world”. Although a considerable goal, the library seems to be well in progression. Perhaps what sets the library apart from others is its strive towards universal accessibility and ease for all patrons. Furthermore, the SPL integrates the entire community into its decisions and works to turn itself not only into a top quality location for reading and studying, but as a cultural center as well.
The library is comprised of multiple locations each of which offers: teletypewriters, computers with Magic Screen Enlargement. Furthermore, the new central library will have c computers with JAWS Screen Reader, Duxbury Braille, PowerBraille/65 character display, Closed-circuit television magnifiers, Kurzwell Reading Edge, Versapoint Duo Embossers, Perkins Brailler, APH Tape Player , and TTY machines. Such a collection of equipment works to accommodate the elderly, blind, and deaf. They also feature a language center which contains collections written in eleven different languages and ELS classes for patrons interested in learning English. Also, all computers feature a multi-language option.
The library also features the world's first structural Books Spiral. This provides a continuous floor for the library's nonfiction collection and "unwrapped," the four-level tier stretches out to more than eight city blocks. This innovation is similar to KSL’s Smart Stacks movable bookshelves which work in efficient space utilization.
One of the neatest technologies used by the library is a mobile, wireless “smart” necklace. Each staff member wears the device which enables instant, live assistance to patrons seeking help. Library staff regularly use the hands-free communication devices to quickly research materials and answer questions in real-time to outside callers. In terms of technology availability, the library offers over 50 databases, more than 400 public computers, an automated book check in/out service, self-checkout machines, computer-assistant learning services, and Wi-Fi services.
The Seattle Public Library is dedicated to the concept of the universal usability of the library not only in terms of services and accessibility but in purpose as well. Rather than create generic spaces for reading/studying, the library infrastructure has a versatility which allows for change in the usage of the are depending on user needs and intentions. One such example is of the meeting rooms available throughout the library. Although they are set up in a theater style, users are able to manipulate the space into five other different arrangement according to their preference. They can either utilize the theater style, hollow square, classroom style, conference style, banquet rounds, or a U-shape. Furthermore, a Boeing Technology Training Center containing an instructor’s computer is accessible for video conferencing and audio conferencing as well.

Lastly, the library frequently employs the talents of the local community by inviting community members into part of its development. The library offers art pieces by local artisans, holds concerts, and even hires tutors to aid students in homework. This eleven-story cultural mecca gives us a glimpse of how technology can transform the meaning of space into something more useful if not more meaningful.