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April 4, 2005

'Notes on Halo' — by Mark Wallace

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An excellent piece in yesterday's New York Times by computer game writer Mark Wallace on "New Games Journalism," his term for the narrative, experiential approach to describing the effect of the game on the player.

As games becomes increasingly immersive the old-fashioned "previews" that currently make up mainstream game reviews are giving way to a much more subjective, emotional approach that explores the way games interact with "real" life.

I believe the question of what is forbidden and what is not as regards virtual fantasy and interaction with avatars and characters who are indistinguishable from "real" people will become a flashpoint for moralists and politicians seeking to legislate acceptability.

I think they'll be about as successful in doing so as the record industry was at stopping music piracy.

At the end of Wallace's article (below) is a nice reading list enabling further exploration of New Games Journalism.

    Notes on Halo

    Most reviews of computer games cover only the bells and whistles: how quick was the action, how cool the villains, how original the story line.

    Over the last year, however, a handful of gaming writers have been bringing a more personal touch to their work, using a narrative, experiential approach that acknowledges the effect of the game on the player.

    Their young genre even has a name: New Games Journalism, after the New Journalism of the 1960's and 70's.

    The seminal tract was an article by the 33-year-old Ian Shanahan, using his screen name, Always Black, in the February 2004 issue of the British magazine PC Gamer (which has been the house organ of New Games Journalism).

    "Bow, ..." - the second word of the title was a racial epithet - described the mechanics of the online game "Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast" (pictured above), and also recounted how the epithet of the title, typed by an opponent many miles away, altered the course and meaning of a simple light-saber duel.

    That article inspired Kieron Gillen of Bristol, England, to write - after a long night at the pub with a few game-scribe friends - a blog post that has become known as the manifesto of New Games Journalism.

    While the genre takes games as its subject, Mr. Gillen wrote, "what it's really talking about is the human condition."

    It manages to do that quite well.

    "Possessing Barbie," also by Mr. Shanahan (who is better known by his screen name, Always Black), describes a sexually charged encounter in the virtual world known as There, in which the author grapples with questions of virtual transgression and desire - and how they might affect his relationship with this real-life girlfriend, who's on her way up with the afternoon tea.

    According to Mr. Gillen, 29, who has been a games journalist since he was 19, articles by writers like Mr. Shanahan, Jim Rossignol and Tom Chick (who writes for QuarterToThree.com and is one of the field's rare American practitioners), reflect how people experience games more accurately than the "previews" that are the meat and potatoes of the gaming press.

    "If you're telling your friends about getting blown away in a game, you don't say, 'My character died.' You say, 'I died,' " he said.

    "That's the weird magic of games. You do feel involved in something that's actually happening to you."


    NEW GAMES JOURNALISM: A READING LIST

    "Bow, ..." by Always Black (PC Gamer, February 2004). www.alwaysblack.com

    "The New Games Journalism Manifesto," by Kieron Gillen. www.alwaysblack.com/blackbox/ngj.html

    "Possessing Barbie" by Always Black (PC Gamer, December 2004). www.alwaysblack.com/blackbox/possessingbarbie.html

    "All About Eve" by Jim Rossignol (PC Gamer, October 2004). www.eve-online.com/files/pcgamer_eve.pdf

    "Saving Private Donny" by Tom Chick. www.quartertothree.com/inhouse/columns/82/

April 4, 2005 at 05:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Clone Janis Joplin

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That's precisely what Big Brother and the Holding Company guitarist Sam Andrews wants to do.

Short of that, he's searching for the closest thing walking the planet.

Andrews has created Search for Pearl, a reality show which will feature auditions of singers seeking to become the new focus of a revived Big Brother.

Over the years since 1970, when Janis (above) died at age 27 of a heroin overdose, the band has gone through at least 10 lead singers but has been unable to recreate the old magic that made "Piece of My Heart," "Summertime," and "I Need a Man to Love" classics.

The idea is to have the three surviving members of Big Brother travel around on a bus in Mississippi, stopping at little juke joints hoping the second coming of Janis — her nickname was "Pearl" — will be there, just waiting for fate and karma to lift her to stardom.

Best of luck, but don't hold your breath.

April 4, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'Tree Limbs Down' — by A. R. Ammons

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The poverty of having everything is not
wanting anything: I trudge down the mall halls

and see nothing wanting which would pick me
up: I stop at a cheap $79 piece of jewelry,

a little necklace dangler, and it has a diamond
chip in it hardly big enough to sparkle, but it

sparkles: a piece of junk, symbolically vast;
imagine, a life with a little sparkle in it, a

little sparkle like wanting something, like
wanting a little piece of shining, maybe the

world's smallest ruby: but if you have everything
the big carats are merely heavy with price and

somebody, maybe, trying to take you over: the dull
game of the comers–on, waiting everywhere like

moray eels poked out of holes: what did Christ
say, sell everything and give to the poor, and

immediacy enters; daily bread is the freshest
kind: dates, even, laid up old in larders, are

they sweet: come off sheets of the golden
desert, knees weak and mouth dry, what would

you think of an oasis, a handful of dates, and
a clear spring breaking out from under some stones:

but suppose bread can't daily be found or no
oasis materializes among the shimmers: lining

the outside of immediacy, alas, is uncertainty:
so the costly part of the crust of morning

bread is not knowing it will be there: it has
been said by others, though few, that nothing

is got for nothing: so I am reconciled: I
traipse my dull self down the aisles of

desire and settle for nothing, nothing wanted,
nothing spent, nothing got.


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April 4, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

SwiMP3 Player — Bone conduction goes aquatic sans Steve Zissou

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No, you don't get eyes in the back of your head if you use this tricked-out underwater MP3 player.

What you do get is the only such device to use bone conduction — the direct transfer of sound vibrations from the player to your cheek bone to your inner ear and what's left of your brain — while you thrash up and down the pool doing your laps.

"Now swimmers can enjoy clarity of sound never before possible."

PC or Mac.

128 MB RAM flash memory.

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$249.95 here.

Note to AR in Reykjavik, Iceland: this could be the solution to your problem.

April 4, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Art: Rent to Own

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One way to avoid buyer's remorse is to rent something before you buy it.

Few know that you can do this with art.

Laura Randall wrote an informative article for the March 30 New York Times in which she called attention to a number of museums in the U.S. that have such programs, not widely publicized.

They rent paintings valued from $250 to $30,000 from outside their collections to individuals and corporations, with a two-month rental generally priced at 10% of the painting's value.

If you decide to buy it, a portion of the rental fee is applied to the sales price.

The artist gets 50%-75% of each rental or purchase and the museum gets the rest.

Between a third and a half of individuals end up buying the paintings they rented.

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Museums with such programs includes the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Portland Museum of Art; the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo; the Seattle Art Museum; the Delaware Art Museum; and the Racine Art Museum in Racine, Wisconsin.

Some college art museums have similar programs, even renting works from their permanent collections.

For example, the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College has been renting its Renoirs and other notable pieces from a designated 400-piece collection to its students since 1940.

The rental rate is $5 per semester, with a limit of two per student.

I suggest that if you live in a city with an art museum, or near a college with one, that you give it a call and see if such a program might not be in existence there, albeit quietly.

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That goes for countries other than the U.S. as well — for all I know maybe even more so.

April 4, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

World's weirdest hands-free cellphone accessory

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If you liked Saturday's Solar Safari Hat and yesterday's Visor Sunglasses, then you'll love this tricked-out hands-free auto headrest speaker-microphone system.

For $39.98 you get:

• 10.5"-wide speaker unit powered by 3 AA batteries (not included)

• 15" boom microphone with windscreen

• 6' audio cable

• 10' power cable

• cell phone holder for dash or vent mounting

• earphone with 4' cord for private conversations

But why anyone who'd buy this would want to hold a private conversation is beyond me.

Isn't the whole point to cruise down Sunset Boulevard in your Aston Martin convertible while you argue about points with Harvey Weinstein, the whole world listening to his invective and profanity spewing forth from your 10.5" speaker unit?

I don't know about this thing, to tell you the truth: seems to me there are an awful lot of parts and pieces to connect.

I have enough trouble carrying on a cellphone conversation with no attachments.

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But I must say, driving around while talking into that microphone like a tank commander might be cool.

April 4, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Steve Wozniak is 'The Enforcer' in Segway Polo

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Wait a minute... Segway Polo?

Yup.

It's the new new thing out in Silicon Valley, where the world's first organized Segway Polo matches take place the first and third Sunday mornings of every month in Ponderosa Park in Sunnyvale, California.

The matches began last year and now have their own peculiar rituals and rules, including a umpire whose calls are ignored whenever the players feel like it.

Woz is by far the most feared player on the field, primarily because he plays with nonstop fury at top speed (8 mph) without any aversion to head-on collision.

That's because he owns seven Segways, and brings three backups to every game in his Hummer.

Most of the other players own just one of the $5,000 devices and are understandably somewhat more reluctant to go nose-to-nose with the Woz.

The thing I like best about the Woz's status as the Dave Schultz of Segway Polo is that he was the world's least athletic, biggest nerd when he was younger.

So do nerds now rule while former jocks drool.

Josh Sens wrote a great story for last Friday's New York Times about the birth of this new sport: it follows.

    Thwack! Whir!... Whir? Segway Polo Is Born

    When Alex Ko and his companions took up polo, they made some subtle changes to the sport once enjoyed by ancient Mongol warriors, who are said to have played with the severed heads of their enemies.

    Mr. Ko and his friends opted for a 6-inch-diameter Nerf ball.

    And instead of horses, they chose to ride Segways, the self-balancing transportation devices first developed as a short-distance alternative to the automobile.

    "It's similar to real polo," Mr. Ko said, "but without the manure."

    He was standing in the thick grass of Ponderosa Park, a shaggy patch of green in Sunnyvale, Calif., preparing to compete in a game that replaces the thundering of hooves with the whir of battery-run machines.

    On the first and third Sunday of every month, Mr. Ko, 34, a mechanical engineer from nearby Santa Clara, organizes Segway polo matches with friends and colleagues, most of whom work in the Silicon Valley, all of whom belong to the Bay Area Segway Enthusiasts Group.

    Their matches have some of the trappings of traditional polo. Players wear jerseys - actually, colored T-shirts - and use mallets to knock a ball into a goal. Score is kept. And there is an umpire, although players feel free to ignore his calls.

    "There are a few guys who take it seriously, but mostly this is a big goof," said Jon Bauer, 37, of San Francisco.

    This morning's contest pitted four against four. Mr. Bauer's team wore blue T-shirts. Mr. Ko's team wore yellow and included Stephen G. Wozniak, one of the founders of Apple Computer and the owner of seven Segways.

    He is respected, if not feared, on the polo field for his aggressive play.

    "My swing feels off," Mr. Wozniak said just before the match began.

    He whirled his right arm in a windmill motion and said that he was operating on virtually no sleep, having stayed up at a party and then to watch a movie until 8:30 that morning.

    The teams lined up on opposite sides of the field and rushed toward each other when the umpire rolled the ball between them.

    At first glance, Segways could be mistaken for large push mowers, and in the early going, as the players found their rhythm on the grass, the game resembled a frenzied act of landscaping.

    But near the end of the first period, or chukker, in polo parlance, both teams showed signs of organization, even fleeting hints of skill.

    "You should have seen us at some of the first games," Mr. Bauer said. "We were all bunched together. Not much passing. Very little strategy."

    Like the birth of polo, placed variously in Persia or India more than 2,000 years ago, the genesis of Segway polo is hard to pin down.

    Mr. Ko traces his own interest in it to the fall of 2003, when a Segway polo demonstration was staged during halftime of a professional football game.

    "I didn't see it," Mr. Ko said of the halftime show. "But it sounded pretty cool."

    Jonathan van Clute, a real estate and stock investor from Sunnyvale, said he had stumbled onto the idea even earlier, while consulting at a software company.

    "I brought my Segway into the office so everyone could goof around with it," he said. "And this one guy pokes his head through the door and says, 'Dude, two words: Segway polo.' "

    Whatever the case, in April of last year, Mr. Ko and Mr. van Clute met at Ponderosa Park and began to tinker with their version of the game.

    Mr. Ko fashioned a mallet out of plastic pipe.

    They tried different types of balls before settling on a Nerf.

    They adopted rules from polo, water polo and bicycle polo, another contemporary offshoot.

    They outlawed high-sticking, or the polo equivalent of it, and agreed to run their Segways on the yellow-key setting - one of three settings on a Segway - limiting the top speed to eight miles an hour.

    "We've never had any serious accidents," Mr. Bauer said. "But there have been some pretty spectacular falls."

    During the match, the prospect of injury seemed to heighten whenever Mr. Wozniak entered the fray.

    Despite sleep deprivation, he played with zeal, charging after loose balls, leaning forward on his Segway like a ski jumper searching for extra air.

    Mr. Wozniak's opponents attributed his fearless play to his competitive gusto and his fleet of backup Segways, not unlike a traditional polo player's string of ponies.

    "Woz is the only guy who's always cranking his Segway at top speed," Mr. Bauer said. "I think it has something to do with the fact that he's the least concerned with damaging his."

    Most Bay Area Segway Enthusiast Group members own only one Segway, which sell for around $5,000.

    Although the stated mission of the group is to promote public acceptance of the machines, many members spend more time playing polo on them than proselytizing for them.

    Mr. Bauer, in fact, who lives in San Francisco, where Segways are prohibited on sidewalks, said that his was used only for the Sunday matches.

    "I used to ride mine more, but part of me got tired of dealing with the negativity," Mr. Bauer said. "You can't use them on the sidewalk, and if you do, people are yelling at you. Or they're thinking of you as a yuppie, which in a sense you are."

    This was not the dream of Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway Human Transporter, when he rolled out the first model in 2001.

    Easy to ride and ecofriendly, the Segway was hailed as an innovation that would revolutionize the modern city.

    Just how much has changed is perhaps evident in the transportation used by players to get to their polo matches.

    Most drive.

    Mr. Wozniak often shows up in his Hummer, hauling four Segways in the back.

    If the Segway has yet to transform urban living, it has at least altered recreational sport, if only slightly.

    It is fitting that it has happened in the Silicon Valley, a region renowned for finding innovative uses for technology.

    Recently, Mr. Ko said, a group of Segway enthusiasts in Southern California has taken up Segway polo.

    But his hopes for an intrastate rivalry have not materialized.

    "I don't think they're quite that organized down there yet," Mr. Ko said.

    At Ponderosa Park, meantime, the match wore on.

    In the third chukker, Stuart Moore, 39, of San Jose, notched an impressive goal, moments before taking an impressive spill when his Segway bumped wheels with Mr. Wozniak's.

    Mr. Moore hurtled headlong onto the grass; his Segway rolled on poignantly, like a riderless horse.

    The score was tied in the fourth and final chukker when Mr. Wozniak shot at goal and raised his arms in triumph.

    The umpire, Chris Knight, 16, of San Francisco, ruled that it went wide.

    But Mr. Wozniak and his teammates paid no heed, exchanging high-fives with their mallets.

    The goal stood.

    Other things happened.

    A player's shin was bruised and another took a glancing blow to his helmet.

    The blue squad tried a last-ditch comeback.

    But as time expired, the score was 7 to 5, in favor of the yellow team.

    The players left the field, laughing and giddy.

    They were still full of energy, but their Segway batteries were running low.

April 4, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

iSun® Portable Solar Charger

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Who'd a thunk it?

Coleman, the venerable maker of ice chests and campfire lanterns, is embracing the 21st century with some very cool stuff.

Take their new iSun® Sport Portable Solar Charger, pictured above.

It runs small electronics like your cellphone, PDA, handheld computer, GPS, digital camera, Discman, mini-disc player or iPod while you're at the beach or out and about.

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Comes with a whole slew of adapters and accessories that Coleman says with enable you to run over 90% of all small electronic devices.

And for the other 10%, there's Radio Shack, with or without your MasterCard.

The yellow sport version has a rubberized cover.

If you prefer a dressier look, opt for the silver (below).

Either is $69.50 here.

I'll confess: for a second I thought it might be Apple's next laptop.

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Well, a person can dream, can't he?

April 4, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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