Genetically Superior

Dynolicious: is not about dinosaurs at all by Tony
August 23, 2008, 12:05 pm
Filed under: Technology, Written by Tony | Tags: , , , , ,

Dynolicious iPhone applicationIn fact, it’s the only application in the iPhone’s new library of (awesome) applications that I didn’t mind paying for. And I paid a lofty $12 for it too.

Now that I’ve hyped it, Dynolicious is a super-sweet employment of the iPhone’s accelerometers: it measures the acceleration of your car using its advanced three-axis accelerometer.

Of course, I was skeptical from the beginning. I wondered whether the sensors in the iPhone would be sensitive enough to give accurate readings, and wondered if it was just a glorified stopwatch that was more gimmick than gearhead gotta-have. So after leaving work one day, I took the long way home and did some time trials.

I live at the edge of Columbia, Missouri so it’s easy to find long, flat, empty, straight two-lane roads all around my home. It didn’t take long to find a suitable one, outside the city limits and the range of police patrols (I hoped).

Keeping an eye out for traffic [of course], I launched the application and set my iPhone down on my center console. I revved my engine, tapped the Start Test button, waited a couple seconds for the application to calibrate, and then dropped the clutch.

My ’96 Nissan Altima—all 150 horses of it—jumped and raced to the 60 mph mark. When Dynolicious had calculated I had traveled 1000 feet, it vibrated to signal the test was over. The results:

0-60 in 12.2; 136 HP

Which seemed to be pretty accurate. I was soft on the clutch, so I didn’t get the quickest launch I could have. As for the 136 horses, the application is set to measure horsepower at the wheels, so a 15 HP reduction from engine to wheel is definitely acceptable, especially before taking engine mileage and the rough estimate for weight that I input to the system into account.

[For more on the accuracy, read here]

The skidpad feature is pretty sweet as well. It definitely makes driving the twisty two-lanes more fun, even if glancing down to check the current g-reading on a blind curve qualifies as abhorrently dangerous.

My advice: if you’ve read this far and have stayed interested through the gearhead gobbledigook—and own an iPhone or iPod Touch—buy it.


Flashy Journalism by Tony

One of my favorite style and culture magazines is going to get even flashier come August.

If you haven’t seen it already, Esquire editor in chief David Granger says the September issue will have the first E-Ink cover, which is admittedly pretty dang sweet. The cover will use inks that change color (in this 1.0 version, it’ll be just black and white) by applying different voltages to the magazine cover. A tiny battery will power the cover for about 90 days. The flashing text will say “the 21st Century Begins Now”.

A bit intrepid? Perhaps. But for the journalism industry, this marks an eager foray into the convergence of centuries-old print technology (the printing press was technology at one point) and print’s biggest foe: the electronics industry.

Thus far, no print media outlet has found a way to wrangle the power of the internet to make its print product better. Even now, a decade after the Internet went mainstream, many news organizations’ newsrooms have separate online and print divisions. In fact, only a few weeks ago did the New York Times move its online and print newsrooms into the same building. Until the newspaper industry finds a successful combination of the two, including learning to embrace citizen journalism without cutting newsroom staffs, it will continue to fail.

However, the magazine industry is a completely different story. Circulations, aside from those of weekly newsmagazines like Time and U.S. News, have held steady througout the online news push. In fact, studies have shown that magazine reading rates among young milennials are nearly the same as among aging baby boomers.

In addition, another study has shown that young readers will avoid reading serious news online, instead choosing headlines that appeal to their humor or pop culture tastes. The participants in the study, aged 14-18, called their experiences with reading online news “stressful”. I can completely agree. It’s not often that I’ll get on and read anything other than the headlines that interest me most: the weird, the sexy, or the explosive (and if there’s video of an explosion, you can bet I’m going to click on it).

I’ve been all over the place in this post, but I guess my lasting opinion is that journalism as we know it is both enduring radical change while simultaneously weathering an information revolution that is evolving around it. The key to traditional media surviving the information age is its keeping credibility with the public (something that seems to be a bit of challenge lately—thanks danratherfoxnewsphotoshop!).

Better than Google? by Kevin
July 28, 2008, 9:14 am
Filed under: Technology, Written by Kevin | Tags: , , , ,

Today, Monday July 28th, 2008, a new search engine called Cuil launched as direct competition to current search mega-giant Google. Cuil (pronounced “cool”, not “kwee” like I imagined) works entirely differently than Google, relying on the context of a website rather than number of inbound links.

First Impression

Looking at it side by side with Google, Cuil has a much more modern, sleek appeal, mostly because of its black background and royal blue logo. Google changed the whole idea of search when it launched, instead of filling the page with text and links like Yahoo!, it simply had a search box and a small row of links below. This simplicity was definitely one of the things that led to Google’s initial success.

Once you actually start using Cuil, the similarities end. The first thing you notice is Cuil offers search suggestions that update as you type; this is a tool I find both attractive and useful (and is why I am in love with Firefox 3’s “awesome bar”).

Now I wanted to test which site brought more relevant and useful information, I used “Beijing 2008” as my test query. Google’s results were very familiar, with the official Beijing 2008 Olympics website on top followed by the International Olympic Committee, news stories, etc. This was essentially what I expected from Google, relevant results which could answer any of my questions. Could Cuil do any better? Cuil’s results were initially a little daunting. I was presented three columns with a list of 11 results and an “Explore by Category” box. The first few results were the same, listing the “official” sites, but this is where the similarities end. No Wikipedia entry, often Google’s top result, no news stories, and, most notably, no “Sponsored links” box. Cuil’s results produced a schedule of Olympic events and venues, information on the torch relay, as well as travel information. It is difficult to say whether this is more useful than Google or not, but it is compelling.

I must admit I admire Cuil for even trying to take on such a juggernaut. Google is one of the biggest companies in America and one of the most progressive companies on the web. Everyone loves them. Their products always work as described, their services are almost always free, and on top of that they have some of the best PR in the biz; they are one of those seemingly untouchable companies. But Cuil makes lofty claims that they index three times as many pages and their engine is faster.

Whether these claims are true or not, Cuil definitely has a lot of work ahead of them, even it is better it will be difficult to pull users away from Google. Saying “Cuil it” lacks the same ring as “Google it.” It will also be interesting to see how they plan to draw a profit. Monetizing search is difficult, Google has done very well using “Sponsored links” but most of their revenue is drawn from Adsense. It will also be interesting to see how Cuil plans to expand and match Google’s massive amount of processing power within its multi-million dollar datacenters.

Google is way more than just a search engine for me, it is central to much of the time I spend on the internet. This is where Cuil will need to expand and offer better e-mail services, mapping services, image searching, etc. Only then could it compete directly. I say try it out, but I won’t be making a switch anytime soon.

Something I wrote about Apple. by Kevin
July 23, 2008, 1:16 am
Filed under: Technology, Written by Kevin | Tags: , , ,

Apparently, Apple is set to release a Macbook Touch in October (oh geez I’m so excited<-sarcastic), this unconfirmed rumor comes from a “close source” who says Apple is planning a “product transition” in September. All I really have to say about that is: big fucking deal, I really don’t care.

But it absolutely blows my mind the amount of press this tiny unconfirmed rumor about a “product transition” creates. This left me wondering how Apple manages to create such enormous buzz with just about anything they ever do. I understand they make good products, I have an iPod, I wish I could afford an iPhone, I sort of want a Macbook; but what I don’t understand is their power over the citizens of the internet.

One must first look at the amazing turnaround they have accomplished over the last ten years. Back in the late 90’s it looked like Gates was finally putting the nails in Jobs’ coffin as Apple continued losing ground fast to companies like Dell and Gateway. But they were saved by an invention initially dismissed as bulky, over-priced, ugly, pointless and stupid. At the release of the first generation iPod back in late 2001 it was generally given reviews something to the effect of: who the hell would need this fat piece of shit? But a few generations later, the iPod was the toy everyone wanted for Christmas.The iPod put the spotlight back on Apple, allowed them to produce buzz around their other products which shared the iPod’s sleakness and simplicity. This allowed them to continue to take advantage of Microsoft’s squirming.

Nowadays you can’t walk around a college library without hundreds of glowing Apple logos staring back at you. Apple has been enormously successful among college students and young people in general. I think the younger market is very important in technology because they decide whats cool, define the trends, and dictate which product will be successful. They also decide which computer they want for graduation, and which computer should replace the one Mom spilled coffee on.

I think simplicity also has a lot to do with Apple’s success. Their product line is simple and concise, in other words shopping for an Apple product is easy. If you want a laptop, you can get an Air, Macbook, or Macbook Pro. But if you look at a competitor like Dell or HP, you have multiple product lines, within those product lines you have multiple models, and each model has multiple configurations. All this choice mostly serves to confuse the hell out of the general public. Also, looking at Mac OS X, simplicity is evident in the design and functionality, especially when looking at it side by side with the disaster that is Vista. Everything Apple does has a very clean shine to it.

Its difficult to place what else makes Apple so capable of generating buzz. I almost want to say its Steve Jobs, but I find it hard to believe anyone actually likes someone who is such an asshole; seriously look at this guy. I guess Apple has a reputation somewhat akin to Google: the company that does no wrong and is super-duper awesome.

Its pretty clear now that Apple will continue to piss off Microsoft for many years to come, they will continue to gain market share in computers and sell tons of iPods. They will continue to keep the market on its toes with gobs of innovation. And they will continue to generate stupid rumors that make it to the front page of Digg, Gizmodo, and every other stupid blog including this one.

Also on an unrelated note, if you haven’t started watching HBO’s miniseries Generation Kill, get your shit together, its awesome. If you don’t have HBO, steal it off the internet like everyone else.

Why PC Gaming is dying by Kevin
July 21, 2008, 12:57 am
Filed under: Technology, Written by Kevin | Tags: , ,

I used to swear that the PC was the only real gaming platform. Throughout high school I didn’t understand why I would spend money on something that only played games, my computer could do everything I wanted it to do. There really isn’t any reason PC gaming should be dying the way it is, considering theres a capable PC in almost every American home, a better install rate than any of the consoles can even come close to. The technology for PC gaming is also improving at an incredible rate, allowing for absolutely stunning graphics as seen in games like Crysis. So why are developers moving over to consoles in droves?

Piracy is definitely one of the most significant problems the developers face. I enjoyed playing video games on my PC, but I never enjoyed paying anything for anything. Piracy was pretty easy a couple years ago, but its even easier now. With the growing popularity of Bittorrent, the developers are fighting a formidable foe. As much as they try using DRM and copy protection, this mostly just frusterates the hell out of the paying consumers.  This is another story of an industry failing to adapt to a new environment. Combating piracy can be observed by looking at a few developers that are still very successful in the PC market. World of Warcraft is by far the most financially successful game of all time in my opinion. I don’t really understand why, but its hard to argue with 10 million paying subscribers still playing after almost four years. Also one can look at games from Valve having been very successful. I always thought Steam was a little annoying but it never stopped me from buying and playing its games. Steam represents a simple unobtrusive solution to the piracy problem. I don’t have any ideas on how to solve the piracy problem, but thats not my job.

I converted to Xbox 360 my senior year of high school and have since spent hundreds of dollars on additional games and accessories, more than I ever spent on PC gaming. This is mostly the result of paying for games on a regular basis. But I had very little problem dropping sixty bucks for a game that would give me twenty plus hours of entertainment. PC gaming has lost the excitement it used to have, with a few exceptions, there aren’t any exciting games on the PC that aren’t on the consoles. There aren’t any upcoming games that have produced the hype and excitement of games like Halo 3 or GTA IV (maybe with the exception of WoW expansions).

Console gaming also provides a seamless experience the PC has yet to perfect. All the games have the same box, and all of them will run flawlessly on my system without worry. While Microsoft tried this with the Games for Windows platform, standardizing box design, etc. I don’t think its worked the way they hoped it would. Games are still plagued with being very unstable at release, which is one reason I began to be turned off by PC gaming. Its hard to blame developers for this, developing for one console is relatively easily compared to developing for thousands of combinations of hardware configurations. I think this issue falls mostly on hardware manufacturers lacking standards that would make things easier for developers.

But its difficult to imagine that PC gaming has a bright future, as consoles begin to replace computers for music, movies, and the internet. With the growth of Xbox Live as a content delivery system, iTunes should be worried, especially with their new partnership with Netflix. I can’t imagine PC’s existing in the way they do now 10-15 years down the line, with powerful devices such as the iPhone and similar devices bringing the internet to people in a whole new way, and consoles bringing new forms of media delivery to the living room.

Its clear to me PC game developers have a long battle to fight, I wish them luck, but for now I’m gonna go pwn some noobs at Halo.

Dimensionally Dim-witted by Tony
July 19, 2008, 5:17 pm
Filed under: Technology, Written by Tony | Tags: , , , ,

So Dreamworks wants to make us start watching all of its animated movies in 3D. And I really can’t think of a worse idea. For decades movie studios have been trying to get audiences to embrace this “new” dimension of movie reality, and it’s never caught on. It’s not because people don’t like seeing things in 3D, but rather the fact that we already do.

Think back to the last time you saw a movie in 3D. It could have been an IMAX film or the Honey I Shrunk the Audience attraction at DisneyWorld. Stuff jumped out at you, maybe convinced you giant snakes were slithering off of the screen. But remember how fuzzy the images were? How funny it felt to walk around afterward, after your eyes had adjusted to the abnormal and dizzying focus?

3D is a bit like virtual reality (which, like the flying car, is lying in the future’s never-to-be bin) in that it is a better idea in prototype than it is in production.

We’re ok seeing images on a two-dimensional screen. Dreamworks ought to be reminded that our brains are well-equipped to interpret perspective. We know that the larger an object is, the closer we are to it. If they really want to put asses in seats, maybe Dreamworks ought to focus on creating the kind of quality cinema their adversaries over at Pixar are putting out.

The notion of having to wear special glasses through the next Shrek installment (if its official title is Shrek 3D, I’ll kill a newborn) isn’t something that will convince me to line up early and see it on opening weekend. But the promise of a film with fantastical detail and an immersive story line (praise: WALL-E) is something that would.