Archive for October 3rd, 2007

03
Oct
07

The Failure of Portable Computing

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted on the site and I appreciate all the support I’ve received thus far. It’s been about a year since I started doing Random Digital Musings and it’s been pretty therapeutic for me to give birth to new ideas and opinions. I look forward to continuing the site — I think there are exciting times ahead as technology decides what becomes of the iPod now that the product line is a bit over-segmented, what becomes of Vista now that the market seems to have responded with a resounding, “we’re not impressed” and with the PS3 now that the Wii has demonstrated (despite it’s name) that mainstream gaming isn’t a dream, but a reality. These are a few of the topics that I look forward to covering — God willing — in the coming months…. -devron

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Back in May when Palm announced that it was releasing the Foleo, the technology world took notice. For one, Palm had been taking a pretty predictable and uninspired course over the past few years — considerably different from it’s inspired beginnings, bringing us the Palm Pilot and creating what is probably regarded the first widely accepted PDA platform. The company appeared to be content with simply pushing out new Treos — and even those were starting to see only incremental, uninspired updates. The Foleo was initially attacked a bit by the mainstream press (including by the Engadget editors) as a device that didn’t quite make sense. But to me it made perfect sense.

Laptops have really gotten away from their original intent — (or at least I believe so). Laptops were meant to be portable representations of desktop based PCs. While they’ve been successful in porting the same power as their desktop counterparts, often this comes at a cost. Only the most expensive laptops are small enough and can be considered truly portable to the point where their presence in your office briefcase is unnoticeable. You would think that over time, laptops would have decreased in size dramatically — and they have. But perhaps not at the rate that I believe they should have. Laptops at this point should be no heavier than 3 pounds — 5 pounds max.

It’s easy to blame almost anything that’s wrong with tech on Microsoft, but in this case, I think it’s rather appropriate. Hardware manufacturers are trying to build notebook/laptop computers to keep pace with the growing demand for high visual requirements. We’ve seen with Vista that the visual enhancements brought forth by “a desktop background that has a moving image” and features like “Flip 3D” and Aero Glass come with moderate visual impact and very little gain in functionality to the user.

I think Microsoft could have impacted this course that laptops have taken by implementing a more streamlined version of Windows under the “Vista Business Edition” moniker. There’s no reason why a business version of Vista should run slower than Windows XP. I think they should have created a separate development team, focused on minimizing the OS to a “business basic” form factor with only the most relevant features. (Sure, I know that’s easier said than done. But if this had been the focus of the dev team — an OS that requires minimal RAM, runs efficiently, and is more stable because it’s designed to prioritize stability over features — we might not be talking about Vista as such a failure right now in the court of public opinion.)

I think that laptops should be broken out into two totally different categories — each with a distinct core purpose. Continue reading ‘The Failure of Portable Computing’

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03
Oct
07

King of Kong: Review

As documentaries have gained in popularity over the past thirty years or so, an interesting notion has begun to take hold. It’s the notion that, “what you’re seeing on the screen is the result of heavy editing and cuts to try and tell the story that the director wanted to tell.” We’ve been told that, given the same footage, another director can paint with a different brush and completely reverse the rolls of the protagonist and the antagonist.

To this notion, I say “bull”. While there are certainly ways of using musical cues and the elimination of certain footage to garner a certain emotional response, when people know they are being filmed for a documentary, they have every opportunity to present their best image. And often times they feel that they’re doing so. When I pick up a karaoke microphone, I actually think I’m the closest thing to Chris Martin there is. (Of course, an audio recording of me might tell a very different story.) No, folks — contrary to popular opinion, tape doesn’t lie. It’s we, the people, who do the lying. It’s just that if we’d realize how damning the video footage would be and how many times it would be played and replayed again, perhaps we would have decided against standing in front of a camera in the first place. (Miss Teen USA South Carolina 2007, I’m looking at you.)

When I first decided to check out King of Kong, even as a pretty hardcore gamer, I expected to see the biggest “nerdfest” ever. (And in some ways, I did.) I knew that this was the story about a long-time holder of the Donkey Kong world record being challenged by a new contender, but I didn’t think I’d walk away with this kind of emotion. To refer to King of Kong as “a story about a video game high score” is to cheapen what is now one of my favorite films of this year. Yes, the subject of King of Kong deals with the attempt to beat the long-standing Donkey Kong world record. But besides the video game content, there’s a really rich and emotional story to be found. Digging a bit deeper, I’d go as far as saying the film uncovers an interesting commentary about competition, the corners that we cut in order to stay on top, and how your approach to competition it can affect your life.

The film follows a moment in the lives of Billy Mitchell, a holder of several video game world records (although over the years some of his records have been contested and beaten) including Pac Man, Burgertime, Donkey Kong Jr. and Donkey Kong, (of course) and Steve Wiebe, a guy from Seattle who was looking to beat the Donkey Kong high score.

Without spoiling the film, Billy Mitchell’s world record had stood since 1982. Steve Wiebe, on a machine in his home (with his two children nagging him in the background) managed to beat the high score and sent in a video tape of the game to be considered for the world record. …and then things begin to get interesting…. Lots of favoritism, deception, allegiances made (and broken). Simply put, this is a very incestuous group and simply beating the high score and sending in a video tape would prove to be more difficult than it sounds in order to make it into the history books.

The biggest contrast in the film is the cut between the personalities of Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell. I don’t think I’ve seen personalities that were such polar opposites since I saw Ali take on a young George Foreman in When We Were Kings. By his peers, Billy is pretty much lauded as the hero of classic gaming. They literally adore him. They talk about him reverently. They gather around a TV screen — just to watch one of his personally filmed recordings playing a video game. (This has to be the geekiest bunch around. They even knew to rotate the TV so that it was landscape — evidence that they must watch these tapes regularly). On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Steve Wiebe. Steve is just a guy who has a single video game cabinet in his house and has probably just gotten better over the years due to repetition (since that appears to be one of the only games he has.) One may argue that it was in the director’s best interest to paint Steve Wiebe as the hero of the film. In my opinion, it doesn’t take a lot of cuts and edits to make us fall in love with Wiebe. In a film full of people who obsess about this classic gaming addiction, Steve Wiebe shows himself to be humane on more than a few occasions. He’s had his share of disappointments over the years at his efforts in sports and music. He has a family and appears to be a loving and good dad. He even allows the audience to see him cry — something his friends indicate that he has been known to do on occasion. And while he might be just as obsessive as the other folks in the film for traveling hundreds of miles to a central location, just to have his name in the video game “record books”, he’s incredibly humble and humane in this effort. Continue reading ‘King of Kong: Review’