Archive for February, 2008

25
Feb
08

Phil Harrison….GONE from Sony? Wow.

Engadget is reporting that Sony Entertainment Worldwide Studios President Phil Harrison is…well, gone. And not a week after the Game Developer’s conference, where he apparently said some ‘not so nice’ words about Sony’s Senior Management and their inability to respond to what he felt was an obvious trend of more mass market gaming. During his tenure, Sony showed signs of coming around with things like Home, PlayStation Eye and future potential of the device, Buzz (the buzz-in four player game) and, his big achievement, SingStar (sort of a souped-up Karaoke that’s way more popular around the world than it is here in the U.S.) Wow. I guess the less learned is, “don’t throw your boss under the bus.” But perhaps the frustration he expressed about Sony not being responsive to the mass market trend in the way that Nintendo has been came after the decision to leave. Or not. Regardless, I don’t think is exactly great for Sony.

Gaming culture is so strange to outsiders — I was talking to a friend of mine on the way home about this. She kind of looked at me and tilted her head to the side.

“Why is it such a big deal that an executive leaves the company? Does that, like, lessen the value of your PlayStation 3 any?”

“Well, no — but see, each of the gaming companies have these ‘hype men’. They make you feel good about owning your system. They speak directly to the concerns of the constituency. For Sony folks, he was kinda that guy….

“I still don’t get it.”

And she’s not alone. Honestly, I kinda don’t understand why it should mean that much to us either — but it does. Because consoles have this need to continuously make you feel good about what you’ve bought….and then sell you on the future direction of the box, this not only has to depress some Sony folks, but it outright has to concern some. Losing Phil is big because he was outspoken. Sometimes you need a guy to just give it to you as straight as he possibly can, coming just short of violating any SEC rules. And Phil was that guy for the PlayStation. Quite honestly, over the years he was the only guy. Kaz Hirai comes out, but he can bore you to tears with all of the business speak. Even though he can laugh at his “Riiiidge Racer!” comment made at the announcement of the PS3, he still is the “business guy”.

Funny thing, but Microsoft is kinda going through this same thing. When Peter Moore resigned from Microsoft and went on to work at EA, it was (and is) a big blow. Peter is incredibly charismatic. He’s a real guy. He has that unique quality of being able to speak to the concerns of gamers and the stockholders. Peter was an even better mouthpiece than was Phil. Phil was more of a cocky guy. For one, he’s about six feet nine and he walks around and talks with this unbelievable confidence. (Read: cocky). You just get the feeling when hearing the guy that he’s not going to be anywhere near a loser. Sure it’s a total fanboy sentiment, but when you’re dealing with technology that you’re going to have to live with for the next few years, you wanna hear occasionally from somebody who makes you feel comfortable about your purchase.

Regardless of the ‘fanboy’ sentimental feelings around the guy leaving, this can’t make Sony fans feel comfortable. Or stockholders for that matter. Why is a guy who is as entrenched as Phil Harrison leaving Sony? And could it have anything at all to do with lack of confidence about the future direction of the platform? How about poor progress with PlayStation Home? And speaking of Home, who are they gonna stick out there at E3 to make me feel comfortable about the progress? It can’t be Kaz. Lord, please don’t let it be Kaz.

This is a very interesting development in gaming. It should be interesting to see who they get to step in as the front man for Sony. Someone who can really speak effectively and inspire and excite gamers. Wouldn’t it be funny if Peter Moore found himself somehow in the role? Stranger things have happened….

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24
Feb
08

…And Why Exactly Do You Still Need that DVD/CD Drive Again?

I’m not exactly the biggest fan of the MacBook Air, but one thing I do appreciate — they left out the optical drive. The Air is way too expensive and the form factor is still too big for me (I need it smaller in dimensions and I’d be willing to sacrifice some of the “thinness” they felt was so important.) But the fact remains that leaving out the CD/DVD drive is a trend I certainly hope continues.

I often chuckle inside when working with older PC users who insist upon having a 3 1/2 inch floppy drive in the machine. When I show them a USB drive that fits on a keychain and mention the fact that one keydrive can hold over a thousand floppies of info, they seem completely disinterested. They want their old tech. Like their bank books and their china closets, they want what’s familiar to them. But upon hearing the response that the tech community had to the absence of the CD/DVD drive in the MacBook Air and the simultaneous praise of the Lenovo X300 because of it’s inclusion of one, I had to shake my head in discouragement.

Why are we still attached to these old, familiar ways of doing things??

It’s completely not lost on me that it’s convenient (particularly in business) to have the ability to drop a CD or a DVD into the machine. I’m sure there are tons of situations where an optical drive saved the day. Perhaps they’re handing you a contract and they only have it on a CD. Maybe you need to install drivers. But when you really think about the possible reasons and then consider the fact that we have the web, I just don’t understand the attachment.

The primary need for a CD/DVD drive is to install applications. But how often are we installing applications?? And particularly in this day and age of application releases being done through the web, do we really need these drives on the road? Even the iPod shuffle doesn’t come with a CD, and with that device you need iTunes to get the benefit! (Not sure — perhaps they put iTunes on the iPod?) Regardless, I just don’t see this immense need to install applications all the time. What are all these apps? I need to meet these people who are doing so many installations. Continue reading ‘…And Why Exactly Do You Still Need that DVD/CD Drive Again?’

22
Feb
08

So the Format War is Over…. (or at least the physical format war)

OK, so it’s finally official: HD DVD is dead and Blu-Ray has won. (You know it’s become a mainstream story when my mother talks about it.) I’ve been surveying the tech pundits and listening to them weigh-in on the situation now that the so-called “High Definition DVD Format War” is over.

Much of the tech community agree (and have always agreed) that a war like this wasn’t good for the industry. (At least on the surface, it wasn’t.) The mainstream public is already confused enough about the difference between plasma and LCD….720P and 1080P….Dolby True HD vs. DTS….and now add the fact that they need to choose between high definition DVD formats? While it’s true that having a single format from the start would seemingly make for a clearer choice for consumers, Ben Drawbaugh of Engadget HD had an interesting take on benefits gained from this “war”. On the podcast this week, he talked about the fact that a lot of the progress that both formats have made has been the result of competition. Had it not been for the fierce competition between both the Blu-Ray and HD-DVD camps, we probably wouldn’t have seen player prices get below $400 this quickly. We also might not have seen the same intense effort from studios cleaning up the quality of the film transfers (early Blu-Ray discs were notorious for their poor quality transfers.) And we also might not have seen this many high-def titles released “day and date” alongside their standard definition DVD versions. So, I guess the competition was healthy somewhat in helping to bring us lower cost players and better releases.

So now, the so-called “war” is over. After Toshiba (HD-DVD’s biggest champion) announced that they are no longer supporting the format, Blu-Ray was officially declared the winner. But what does this really mean? I’ve spent a few long bus rides thinking it over and I think that it means a lot less than people may realize.

Here are a few reasons why:

Fool Me Once, Shame on You. Fool Me Twice…. – I remember back in 1999 when I bought my first DVD player. (I’m embarrassed to admit how much I paid.) My first movie was Alien and I must have watched it about five times in two weeks. Man — looking at the quality of DVDs vs. non-digital cable television or VHS tapes at the time was amazing. So I bought a few more titles. It got addictive. Before I knew it, by 2006 I realized that I had amassed a collection of more than 350 titles (not discs…titles. Some titles have multiple discs).

Now, don’t get me wrong — I enjoy my collection. Wouldn’t dream of trading it. I appreciate the fact that I can just go over to the library and watch Ronin or The Godfather or Notting Hill or any other disc that I own on a whim without having to go to the store to rent or wait for it to come on television.

But the fact is that we’ve been here before. I’ve lived through several media switches. I remember looking at my LPs in disgust and deciding to move to the new hot thing — cassette tapes. Didn’t take long to figure out that cassettes were flawed and I moved on to CDs. And now it’s certainly the case that the majority of teens and young adults are “acquiring” their media through digital means…where the only limits are your disk space and how high you’re willing to encode your audio.

When it comes to movies, I was a fool again. Spent hours upon hours recording movies from television onto VHS tapes. (I wish I knew then what I know now). I even collected VHS tapes for awhile (but not nearly as many as my DVD collection).

And now, looking up at a wall of almost 400 unique movies (many of which I’ve only seen once — and some which embarrassingly I’ve never seen) I am sure that I’m not alone in taking a step back and considering how foolish yet another physical format purchase would be. (I know I’m not alone in looking at my collection and wondering what $15.99 times 350 would look like in my wallet. It doesn’t take a fortune teller to realize that if I can get a DVD quality download now, in five years I’ll be able to get a better-than-Blu-Ray quality movie via download.

You might have fooled me in the past, big studios…but you won’t get me this time. Continue reading ‘So the Format War is Over…. (or at least the physical format war)’

12
Feb
08

The Breakfast Club – Best. Movie. Ever.

“So, what’s your favorite film?” The question is bound to arise. Usually it’s question asked on the second date. Or possibly just a filler question one might ask while waiting on line through two showings of the latest summer blockbuster. (Well, actually given the quality of films these days and the availability of “alternative ways of seeing the film”, perhaps this scenario isn’t quite so current anymore, but I digress…). Being a film aficionado, often I’ve thought of how I’d answer the question given the absurdity of trying to identify one film amongst the hundreds — possibly even close to a thousand — films I’ve seen. Maybe I’ll prepare one answer for business scenarios…one that will impress. And maybe another for the intellectual crowd. Perhaps I could keep five or six films and just pull them out when it’s appropriate. Or maybe take the non-committal route that many others take: “Oh, there are just so many films. I could never choose one!”

The Empire Strikes Back was always an easy answer for me. It actually was one of the films that I’ve seen at least 20 or so times and each time I can usually find something else to take from it. In each new showing, I’ll find some detail that I missed or some line that I could only appreciate now having seen the rest of the films. Then there was a time when love jones would be my response. It might be one of my favorite romantic comedies, and for several reasons. The mood that it creates, the chase between the destined couple… more than any other romantic comedy that I can recall — at least for me — it reminds me of all of the ways that you approach a relationship hoping to put your best foot forward as “calm, cool and collected” — yet love has a way of bringing your true self to the surface. I remember how cool Darius looked onstage… only to stumble a bit during subsequent meetings with Nina. And then there’s Terminator and Flash Gordon and Lost in Translation and Pulp Fiction and Magnolia and so many other films that I could pull off the shelf and just get lost in their respective worlds. But strangely over the years there has been one film that has withstood the test of time and for me, barring some great epic that changes my life, has been and will be my favorite film ever…

“…And these children
that you spit on
as they try to change their worlds
are immune to your consultations.
They’re quite aware
of what they’re going through…”
David Bowie

….The Breakfast Club. Yes, that’s right. That Breakfast Club. On the surface to many, it seems like a cute, teeny, 80s movie. But having seen it, probably nearing 30…maybe 40 times now, I can tell you that this is much more than your average teen 80s movie. From the opening quote, (certainly not typical of most 80s Private School/Ski Patrol/Nerd vs. Jocks, etc. movie) you kinda get the feeling that you might be in for more than you bargained. And as the film plays out, you learn so much about the strange things that happen between strangers when forced into situations of social interaction. You’ll also learn a lot about yourself. Continue reading ‘The Breakfast Club – Best. Movie. Ever.’

04
Feb
08

The New York Giants… Never. Say. Die.

t1home2200giantsap.jpgI remember being a kid in January of 1987 and watching the Giants win Super Bowl 21 and hearing a mentor say, “See what happens when you stick with your team?” That was an incredible year. The Mets (my true heart and first love) had won an incredible series in October and only months later, the Giants did it again. It was sports euphoria. It was incredible. It wouldn’t last.

The Giants did go on to win Super Bowl 25 in equally incredible fashion in 1991, but it had been awhile since I had the chance to enjoy a team I followed winning the championship. And tonight I got that rare opportunity.

But before I go on, I have a confession….

About halfway through the season, seeing how up and down the Giants offense was, I looked ahead to only one moment. Game 16 on the Giants schedule was against New England. It was such an incredible run to see New England winning game after game after difficult game. I got a little scared after watching the Patriors beat the Colts… and as the season drew to a close, I only had one hope. Not that the Giants would make it to the post season. But that the Giants would beat the Patriots to give them that blemish on their record.

That’s right, I was willing to see them lose — first round, whenever — for the chance to see the Patriots not go undefeated in the regular season.

With that said, I was willing to ride this thing out for as long as it would last. Beating the Bucs was great. Didn’t expect much more. Beating the Cowboys was incredible. Beating the Packers was envigorating. (I cried for about three minutes after that win.) But to face the Patriots? How much more could you ask from these guys?

All week I had been doing my best to set myself up not to be disappointed. I didn’t touch any Giant jerseys. Didn’t pull out my jacket. I just talked to anyone who would listen about how proud I was of my team (and how proud I would be — regardless of the outcome of this so-called “Super Bowl”.) The important thing is that the Giants — the team that nobody chose to win — were champions of the NFC.

As much as I am overjoyed by this win, I have to apologize to Eli Manning. As a matter of fact, a LOT of people have to apologize. I know he’s young. But Sunday after Sunday of watching unforced errors kept me wondering how long it would be before we’d see him show what he was made of. (Or if he ever would emerge from his brother’s shadow.) Well, he had been showing me all season. I just wasn’t watching closely enough. I was looking for him to be some other guy. But in the end, he showed me what he was made of.

After watching Tiki Barber leave, I was pretty down. And then hearing him give inside accounts of Eli and how he lacked leadership qualities, kind of made me wonder if it would ever happen. I’m so glad that the team shut me up tonight.

This will probably go down as my least coherent and all over the place blog posting… but please excuse me. This is truly an emotional win for me. After this game, I couldn’t fight back the tears. This time for a bit longer. It’s an incredible feeling to have your team win. It’s another thing to have them win in the face of what people call ‘impossibility’. Today the Giants showed us that anything is possible. Climbing that mountain. Attaining that goal. Even perhaps beating “the greatest team in the history of the NFL”.

When I wished only for the Giants to beat the Patriots in that last regular season game, I did so because I thought that was the best scenario that there could possibly be. Well, tonight I was wrong. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Congratulations to the Giants. From Feagles to Madison, Plaxico to Osi, Tynes to Coughlin, Tuck to McQuarters, Dockery to Hedgecock — you guys have given me a reason to smile. I’ll never forget this season where you made the impossible within reach.