Thursday, December 11, 2008

Final Project Aicon Sequence

You can view all the Aicon Sequence comics here.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Future of Better and Worse

When trying to imagine the future the first thing I write off is flying cars. It’s pretty sad that the people in the past imagined we would have flying cars now when we can’t even come up with a reliable alternate energy source to run regular cars. I would imagine a future much like our own, but information and secrets flow more freely, people are even more reliant on the Internet, and several things become obsolete.

We need to face facts, cables and wires for power or any purpose are a pain. They take up space, get tangled, and are just annoying. However within ten years technology may reach the level to eliminate cords to a degree. Right now scientists have successfully powered a 60 watt light bulb from 2 meters away without wires. This was done through the use of magnetic fields which do not harm people and can be used to power things without wasting energy. Though it is doubtful that this method would replace power cables by 2018 the technology will likely be in airports, hotels and in several other areas where business takes place. It may even have a limited availability in homes. This WiTricity, or wireless electricity, would mostly be used for cell phones, laptops, and other wireless technology.

Television, one of the most powerful mediums is going to die. I don’t even watch television anymore, because I hate the over abundance of commercials. Why watch television when you have to turn it on at certain time, and wait through a dozen commercials, when you can watch anything, at any time online, for free, and usually with only 2 or no commercials. The writer’s strike that took place not too long ago had to do with the writers not receiving compensation for their shows being streamed online. That just goes to show the increasing power of watching things online. I envision the computer, television, and many other mediums just combining into one thing.

Sites like My Space and Face Book are slowly decreasing the privacy of our lives. It is true that right now you can set it to “friends only privacy”, but with so much open communication on the web I believe people will become more and more open to everyone. Just putting all this information about you up for people to see can and has lead to highly dangerous real life circumstances.

The jobs of the future will be different in two ways. With communication advancing to such levels it will become less important to meet in person. A higher percent of jobs will become work at home jobs. Also small businesses will flourish greatly thanks to sites like Amazon and Ebay. Also by this time natives of the cyber age will be all around, and they will want to do things differently. Old outdated business methods will be thrown out and more digital methods will be brought in. Internet connections will be several times faster by then so video conferences can run completely flawlessly even by small businesses.

With the growing power of the net, cash will still be used but barely. All physical sellers will make it difficult not to use credit or debit cards. Whether they implement special lanes or provide huge bonus deals cash users will get ripped off every time. Though it is not exactly the same, my super market requires a bonus card in order to get big deals. I always pay extra, because I just have never taken the time to get this card. I still prefer coupons over a bonus card. At least coupons don’t require you to register or fill out paper work.

Sadly I believe the government will eventually pass legislation for a national ID. It is only a matter of time. All that is needed are the right politicians in the states, or a big terrorist attack which would put citizens in a panic. A national ID would meld the states together limiting their power. Naturally microchips will be implanted in these IDs by then. This is very believable as they are already doing this with passports. Though perhaps not by 2018 it would also be natural to expect the ID to become multi-purposed, meaning it could be used as a credit card or a bonus card. Unification is a dangerous thing which can lead to the loss of freedom and options.

The future will present a unifying element which will expand with technology. The national ID can’t be stopped forever. It will eventually force its way through. Well it will definitely ruin state rights, but least we’ll be enjoying wireless power, hopefully.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Power of Future Gaming Consoles

The phrase used to sum up little brother is “Taking back the world one hacked gaming console at a time.” Naturally the two words that I related to most were “gaming console”. There was a time when video game systems weren’t used for anything else other than playing games. This age started to end as it became possible to play CDs and DVDs on Sony platforms. Now days you can do any number of things with the current generation consoles. You can surf the Internet, chat with friends, watch streaming movies, download music, and much more. Generation by generation gaming systems are becoming more like computers with their multiple functions. Little Brother gives a glimpse of what’s to come with the future of gaming systems.

The story Marcus tells about the Xbox Universal is very hard for me to believe as a gamer. That Microsoft would give away a gaming system for free doesn’t sound like a good marketing plan. Of course today Sony is still selling the PS3 at a loss and relying on game sales for most of their sales. This prediction is some what accurate in that other than the Nintendo Wii most game companies sell their console at a loss. For the most part it is the games which make up the profit.
Putting illegal programs and operating systems on your game consoles is something that already exists. You can install Linux or Windows on the PSP or the Xbox 360. In fact hackers have found ways to install homebrew on systems that don’t even usually have storage space. Flash cards have been made for the Nintendo DS, which have a slot for micro SD cards with applications on it. Then you just place the flash card into the game slot on the DS. Though more limited than other systems the DS is still capable of running several useful programs, such as chat programs and emulators. My friend modded my PSP which allows me to install homebrew, which in my opinion makes the system much more useful, considering the PSP‘s game library is comprised of games I already own on other systems.

One might ask what the point of it all is. If you’re going to turn your gaming systems into computers than why not just use a computer. One of the reasons is that gaming systems are usually viewed as more innocent than computers. The DHS broke Marcus’ laptop open to spy on him, but they didn’t do anything to his Xbox. This may have been because they didn’t find it, but I believe even if they had they would have over looked it thinking it was just for games. Another reason is that making all your devices have the features of a computer gives you more options. A PSP is much easier to conceal and use without suspicion than a wide laptop is.

One of the clear messages of Little Brother is it is paramount that you learn to control technology instead of letting technology control you. Whenever my game systems or computers present minor annoyances I don’t let them continue with it, I’ll search online for the solution. With security so tight in the U.S. and the Patriot Act in existence it is becoming more and more necessary that we protect our right to privacy. I may not own a cell phone or a fancy PDA, but I do have two portable gaming systems and I use them both to their fullest. If the development of systems continues on this route the line between a computer and a gaming device will be very thin indeed.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Virtual Enhancements in Halting State

Halting State has an interesting mix of the technology of today and the technology to come. There are three major advancements when it comes to virtual worlds. They are Cop Space, Spooks, and the visual specs people wear to enter virtual worlds. Each of these either pull
people away from reality or force them to rely on technology too much.

Ever since the Nintendo Virtual Boy, and even further in science fiction, people have always wanted to put our eyes up to a viewer and be completely enveloped into a virtual space. Even with the motion controls of the Nintendo Wii it still can’t erase the fact that you know you are just looking at a television screen. You see Mario or Master Chief on the screen. but you are aware that a screen separates you from truly being Mario or Master Chief. 

After the abysmal failure of the Virtual Boy the video game industry pretty much gave up on creating a virtual reality experience through an eye piece. However this technology is still being explored today. In a recent experiment subjects wore virtual goggles that showed them, themselves from a third person perspective. When their virtual selves were poked the subjects would react even though their physical beings had not been touched. The results would “call into question the axiom that everything you are is anchored in your body.” Virtual Experiment  

One particularly disturbing moment in Halting State was the point in which Jack confronts Chen. Jack and Chen are both inside the virtual space, but Jack is stabbed in the real world (173). He doesn’t realize he has nearly been killed until a moment later. This is truly a frightening experience, as it is shown how someone can forget their real body while in a virtual world.
Cop Space is another example of the advancements in virtual worlds. As stated in Halting State “Just Cop Space? That’s not a game, that’s a metaverse like Real World or Second Life…” (51). Cop Space is definitely not a game, as the police seem to rely on it for their information on everything and everyone. Without it the lack of knowledge on crime is astounding. It reminds me of times when I need to Google something or look it up on Wikipedia, and there isn’t a wifi connection anywhere to be found. I get the feeling that 90% of my brain is missing. When Cop Space is going down and all the other technology could be crashing as well, Sue is very worried. Thanks to the easy access of information, more complex sub laws have been created. “The old British government passed, and then revised justice acts since independence, replaced the old catch all offences like “breach of the peace” with a huge array of very specific charages"  (265). With access to great amounts of information at a time institutions are expecting a lot more when they pass laws.
Spooks is possibly the most frightening new virtual reality. This is due to the fact that is  played in real life. There is no screen or specs separating you from this new world. Also unlike the Zone the non-player characters are not computer controlled but are real people. When zombies were moving about in the Zone they were an annoyance. When Spooks players were role playing as zombies it becomes a real life disturbance (301). Spooks was also turning players into agents which is the most frightening prospect. What if we thought we were playing a war video game and were actually be trained to be soldiers?

Jack’s near death experience behind his game specs, the police’s over confidence in Cop Space, and the march of the Spooks zombies all show the control that technology holds over the world of Halting State. Charles Stross has done an excellent job of taking the current day technology and enhancing it to dangerous levels. Losing your self behind virtual goggles has already taken place today though not through out a large population. Second Life is being used to gather information on consumers. Though nothing as large as Spooks really exists, LARPs are still prevalent today as I've seen them at the anime convention Otakon. All these real world things do have the potential to lead to a Halting State.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Virtual Rock Stars and Protestors

About a week ago I purchased the complete Guitar Hero World Tour Band Kit which includes the guitar, drums, and microphone. Although you are not exploring a giant world I still consider this game to have a powerful virtual aspect as you can create a detailed avatars and play with friends online and locally as a band. Since you are with band mates instead of going solo like in previous Guitar Hero Games this “Shared experience creates a sense of reality.”(Meadows 51) One of the best features in the game is the peripherals. It is not that often in games that you feel like you are holding what your avatar is holding. The feel of the instruments, even if they aren‘t real instruments, give you a more authentic sensation than a key board and mouse, which can hardly give you the sensation of walking or swinging a sword. Due to the earlier release of Rock Band which has many of the same features GHWT is up against a wide fan base which feels either thrilled or threatened by a new contender.

Wherever you look online you will find four types of gamers talking about GHWT. There are the die hard Rock Band fan boys who take this game as a threat to their precious Rock Band. They see GHWT as a poor attempt to rip off their game. Often you will see comments like “Ha that’s what Activision gets for trying to rip off Rock Band.” or “Rock Band is so much better than this crap!” These players argue that not only does the interface in the game lack the polish and the usability of Rock Band, but the instruments are also malfunctioning for many people. I find this a funny remark to make considering Rock Band’s instruments have also been plagued by this in the past. They also mention how Rock Band has hundreds of songs to download unlike GHWT
Another type of user accepts GHWT and claims that it is a good game if not better than Rock Band. These people tend to comment by saying “The instruments are much better when they work. I’ve never had any problems with mine.” or “I just like the songs more in Guitar Hero so I am getting this game.” I find that these gamers are constantly in conflict just as Meadow’s friend stated that “people were really opinionated.  They would pick fights left and right over stupid crap.” (Meadows 43)
The final groups are the undecided or buy both. They either don’t know what side to take or just want to buy both games for more songs. This is actually possible since many of the instruments are compatible between both games. 

All the communities I looked at were game review pages and the comments left clearly reflect this. Game reviewers have certain number scores. IGN’s score for GHWT on the Xbox 360 was 8/10 while they gave Rock Band 2 a 9/10. This has of course led to many members commenting that Rock Band is better. Of course 8/10 is still a very good score, this usually means the title is a worth buying. Fans do not respond like that however. Fans are ever passionate about their games, and when a unique game like Rock Band is challenged by a supposed rip off they are constantly on the attack or defense. Comments also ranged in length from a fragment to several paragraphs.

Of course these comments are more than just useless fan battles. Game Companies actually take fan opinions into account for future releases. For example owners of the Nintendo Wii enjoyed Guitar Hero 3, but they had some complaints. Guitar Hero 3 had downloadable content for most of the other systems it was on, but not the Wii. In an E3 interview one of the Vicarious Visions employees who worked on GHWT stated that downloadable content would be available for Wii owners, as that is what the fans were asking for.

I tried to get onto the official Guitar Hero World Tour message board, but sadly it is still under construction. I have little doubt that the problems in GHWT will be fixed in the next game. Developers listen to the fans after all, and Rock Band 2 showed this as many of the problems in Rock Band 1 were fixed in 2. Gamers are constantly over the top when it comes to their opinions on games, especially when they have the Internet to hide behind. 

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Environment of Gaia

Since this week is Halloween, virtual communities all over are having Halloween related events like which usually include trick or treating, new haunted areas, or characters in costume. Gaia Online is no different as the shop clerks wear spooky clothes, candies are out for collecting, and Halloween items are out there to wear. I will examine these events as well as the environmental and personal interactions within Gaia as a whole.
The human interactions in Gaia are extremely limited due to the fact the avatars contain several complex customizable accessory sprites. As far as I can tell all you can do to interact with other people is to chat with each other as if you were using AIM or MSN messenger. You have a list of animating emoticons you can use which are displayed above your avatar’s head. The only real actions your avatar can show others are running and sitting. Speaking of sitting you can’t even sit down in a chair. There are chairs you put in your house but you can in no way sit in them. When your avatar can’t even sit in a chair you know that this world is limited.

One of the player interactions I thought would be really fun was the rally. You can go to a race track and race your friends in your car. Sadly this is just as limited as the rest of the experience. All you can control is your acceleration. The track just goes straight so there is no turning involved. True there are some obstacles but you are expected to slow down to avoid them. Also since it is near Halloween these obstacles include zombies and UFOs. It would have felt much more realistic if you could drive your car to get around the towns, or at least to get in between cities. Like the obstacles here the rest of Gaia is all set up for Halloween.

To represent trick or treating player can either go to shops or towns. In shop the store clerks will give you candy once every few minutes. If you go to towns you can click on candy dispensers to get candy. Both experiences are lacking. After all the whole concept of trick or treating is that you say “trick or treat”. At least in World of War Craft you can talk to the person in charge of the Inn and say trick or treat.
In the towns there are some ways you can interact with the environment. Your avatar can shake bushes to get money, collect the bugs that fly around, pick up litter, and dig up flowers. This doesn’t sound like much and when you compare it to other online communities it really isn’t. In War Craft you can mine from stones, fish, swim under water, and much more. Your options in Second Life are pretty much limitless thanks to user generated content. Of course being a browser game a lot of Gaia’s interactions take place on other sections of the Gaia Online website. For example you can play pinball, cards, jigsaw puzzles, and numerous other events with several people. Sadly your interactions are still pretty much limited to simply chatting. You can see their avatars and view their progress but in the end you are all just playing your own games. Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a multiplayer mode for some of these? What if you could solve puzzles together?   

In conclusion when it comes right down to it Gaia Online is nothing but a chat program with elaborate avatars, a shop, and games to play on the side. Direct interactions between avatars don’t exist. They are extremely lifeless and just stand there. Sure they look pretty but when all is said and done words and looks speak louder than actions in Gaia

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Diamond Age Conclusion

After putting Diamond Age down for more than two years I have finally read the last 80 pages. The conclusion to this story felt very sudden but fitting to the rest of the book. I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed when the bells of St. Mark’s cathedral began to ring I know that my time with Nell, Hackworth, Miranda, and the others was over.
Doctor X’s quest to create the seed is one element I felt did not have a full conclusion. It is true that Nell succeeded in stopping the drummers from completing their action and killing Miranda. However, the drummers would stay in there den waiting to complete their process for years. It would be easy for Doctor X to just replace Miranda with someone else. The seed has obviously been crucial to the plot of Diamond Age, so why is there no conclusion for it.

The chain of events in The Diamond Age was mostly caused by the actions of John Percival Hackworth. Through out the story I felt sympathy for this character as he when through several humiliating and difficult times. Yet this character largely brought about his problems. His attempt to make an illegal copy of the primer for his daughter was selfish and didn’t really matter in the end as Fiona Hackworth gained her own copy of the primer regardless. If only John Hackworth could have been patient he would have avoided so much trouble. When we last see John he is trying to pass the mouse army which of course was something of his own creation. It is hard to say what lies in his future but perhaps Dr. X is correct and Hackworth cannot go against his instinct to fulfill clever methods.

I feel that the mouse army is among the most ingenious ideas Stephenson created in this book. To think that twelve-year-old girls could pose such a threat to other powerful organizations was unheard of. However as Nell demonstrated in her escape from the Fist, the primer clearly makes young ladies a force to be reckoned with. At first I thought that was the wrong thing to teach girls, but in a dystopian future where rape is occurring often self defense is a invaluable skill to have.

Nell has been searching for Miranda and Miranda the same for most of the book. Finally they meet but like the seed the events that follow are not fully worked out. In my experience there are two types of novelist. The novelist who does not tell the reader the future of the characters after the main story is over. It is up to the reader to come up with their own interpretation of what the characters will do. The other type of novelist is the one who will give the readers an epilogue explaining the aftermath of the major events of the book. 

J. R. Tolkein is without a doubt the later as he presents his readers with an epilogue several pages in length about the after math of The Lord of the Rings. This not only tells what happens to most of the characters after the event, but even details their lives up until death. Neal Stephenson on the other prefers to not set the future events of Diamond Age in stone. He leaves the ending open so readers are free to come up with their own ideas of what happens next. Personally I imagine Miranda and Nell seeing other face to face for the first time and embracing one another as if they were mother and daughter since the beginning.