On the Value of Unfinished Works

I think it’s good that people leave certain projects unfinished, and I’m not just talking about dull projects or talentless people. Even some really promising projects need to left by the wayside in order for artists to move on to whatever else is next in their creative or professional development. On the face of it, this seems like kind of an obvious observation, but to a fan, this might seem like the greatest sin imaginable.

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Short Game Review: The New Super Mario Bros.

I’m 2 hours into the game and I feel like I’ve only played for 15 mintues. So far it is the game play of the original NES Mario Brothers but with a splash of Super MarioWorld and some snazzier graphics that update the experience without detracting from the classic gameplay. Clearly a lot of love and careful thinking went into the creation of this game. The fact that Nintendo has the guts to release a platform game in 2006 and the follow through to make sure it kicks ass shows me that there is hope for the future of gaming…

Don’t Look Away

Over the years, an unspoken social contract has developed. Consumers effectively tell advertisers, “Entertain me, and I will give you my attention. Respect my intelligence, and I’ll give you my interest. Do neither, and I’ll give you neither.” Those advertisers that respect the contract enjoy success. Those who don’t end up complaining advertising doesn’t work.

This Business Week article goes on to cite some examples, such as Target, Apple, and John Hancock. Target’s “spots are fun to watch, because they include product placements as part of the entertainment.” Apple went down in history for a commercial that featured a sci-fi snippet rather than the product. John Hancock shows a man getting choked up over a birthday card as part of a campaign that “generated a 17% sales increase.”

This immediately reminds me of the entirely Target-sponsored issue of the New Yorker. Some friends suggested to me that this was advertising at its most insidious, confusing commercialism with content. I wondered if that was such a bad thing — wouldn’t it be nice if ads weren’t such an eyesore? Is a magazine run by a corporation any less commercial? At least you could tell which items were the ads by the logos — in magazines like Wired and How, I seriously can’t tell the ads from the content a lot of the time, especially since so much of the content is cheering on widgets and gizmos that excite the staff (or paid product placement fees, for all I know).

I’m really curious, so please post comments: do you feel you’ve bought into this “contract” with advertisers? Are you happy to look at ads as long as they entertain a bit? Or do they get your attention by being entertaining, but only with some resentment on your part? I think that our default response as educated people and as consumers is often to just decry all attempts to market to us, but then again, certain media forms really couldn’t exist in our contemporary economic structure without advertising. Given that ads are a pretty much necessary aspect of our media consumption, what’s the best way to receive them, as far as you’re concerned?

Everyone Loves Bears

Miracle of science discovered, killed. Everyone seems happy, except the bear.

What Makes a Good Game

Joystiq reports that the new Nintendo console, the somewhat unfortunately named Wii, will be getting a different version of Spider-man 3 than the PS3 and Xbox 360. The implication here is that this is because developers need to work around the Wii’s inferior graphics capability. One blogger opines:

The ability to motion to a point on the screen with the Wii controller and fire off a web shot, for example, is certainly no consolation.

Well … isn’t it? The video game industry has certainly made great strides that have corresponded with increases in graphics capability. That doesn’t mean that the ultimate goal of the gaming experience should be immersion through realistic graphics.

As Tony and I were discussing last night, Nintendo’s the only major console manufacturer that has actually considered what else people might like out of gaming — namely, a social experience, or an experience that actually has you using your body to play games and not just your thumbs. They played with this idea a little with the microphone and the stylus on the DS; now they’re going all-out with the motion- and tilt-sensitive controller (also with a mic) on the Wii. And when you look at the break-out hits of the last year or so — at least, those who attract people other than the stereotypical male, hardcore gamer — you see games like Nintendogs (which involves petting and speaking commands to an on-screen dog) and Guitar Hero (which involves “playing” a guitar-shaped controller). I can guarantee you such games would not take off if you had to play them using a PlayStation or Xbox controller.

I like the standard genres as much as the next guy, but I like something new and interesting — not just a shinier sequel — even more. Here’s to hoping that game developers deliver on what could be a good thing.

The Joy of Science

A Blogger’s Life

So that “mysterious” project I alluded to at the end of a previous post is no longer shrouded in, um, mystery. To my stable of blogs, we now add Macworld’s Gadgetbox, covering all sorts of tech news not really related to Macs at all. But, you know, still interesting. My co-blogger and co-crazy-case-reviewer, Derik DeLong, joins me in my quest to rule the blogosphere. It’s going okay. Later, we’re going to have sandwiches.

A lot of people have asked what it’s like being a full-time blogger. I think there’s this nebulous view that we laze around in our pajamas, feet in fluffy bunny slippers, laptops by our side, leisurely tapping out a post when the mood hits us. And you’ll be glad to know that that’s exactly what it’s like, only not at all.

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Super Mario Wha..?

I find myself (and Tony, Kai, and others) explaining often enough that what we think of as Super Mario 2 was not Super Mario 2 in Japan that I figured it was worth it to explain it here for anybody still out of the loop. The Mario 2 Japan got was only featured here on the Super Mario All Stars cartridge on SNES; it looked like Mario 1, except that it was really frigging hard (like, with Warp Zones that sent you backwards in the game). The Mario 2 we got here was originally called Doki Doki Panic in Japan, but here it was a Mario game. Here’s the commercial. They only show that turban-wearing guy during actual game play in the commercial, but they show Mario and outside of that, so I’m unclear if you could actually play the game as Mario and the Princess or if they were just there for moral support.

Update: I guess Doki Doki Panic had four characters of its own.

Welcome to the Future

In the UK: Using laptops to steal cars. I vaguely remember something about John Connor using a Coleco or something to hack ATMs in Terminator 2, which seemed fanciful to me at the time. This also brings to mind the cinema masterpiece Hackers in which everything (including the school sprinkler system) was controlled through the Internet. Now maybe it won’t look so stupid in Hollywood action flicks whenever somebody “hacks the planet,” or whatever else they’ve got handy.

In Japan: Teddy-bear guns for weddings. Seriously, it’s a gun that shoots a teddy bear on a parachute. I could swear I saw this in some cracked-out sci-fi anime or something.

In the US: The “forever” postal stamp. After years of price increases on postal stamps and the relative ease of using email, the US Postal Service starts considering that maybe people would appreciate a stamp that will not require us to keep buying 1–3 cent upgrades every few months. I’m all for “retro” sci-fi visions of the future — heck, I did enjoy Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow — but this seems kinda funny to me. I know: why don’t we make pay phones just require dollar-coins so that we don’t have to use the change we’d otherwise use for laundry? Giant leaps, my friend.

Oh, and apparently, LaserDisc players are finally to be totally obsolete. Welcome to the future, indeed.

On Health and Politics

The New York Times has a pretty scathing story on the medical peer review process. The article notes that journals don’t actually review primary research, just the papers that authors submit:

In that respect, journal editors are like newspaper editors, who check the content of reporters’ copy for facts and internal inconsistencies but generally not their notes. Still, journal editors have refused to call peer review what many others say it is — a form of vetting or technical editing.

Was that a zing? That sounded like a zing.

This article may be somewhat of a wake-up call to those who think that science institutions are themselves “scientific.” Still, I find it unlikely that newspaper coverage of crucial events is any less politicized than the medical peer review process. Actually, I mostly found this article interesting because it’s not unlike the rest of the academic peer review system, but the Times‘s take is understandable — the stakes are arguably higher when people’s lives are directly at stake. I don’t think that people would be as shocked and appalled if it came out that some cultural studies scholar had been falsifying interview data with Star Trek fans.

On a pretty much unrelated note, the New Jersey indoor smoking ban is driving people to quit smoking. The Philadelphia Inquirer also notes: “After Helena, Mont., enacted a smoking ban in 2001, hospital heart attack admissions declined 40 percent — then rose again when the ban was suspended after a court fight…”

Philadelphia is also struggling with its own smoking ban, but businesses and politicians have yet to … wait, can we back up for a second? Forty percent? How is this even a debate anymore? Dammit, this city is stupid sometimes.