Thursday, June 26, 2008

At Anthrocon - and other notes

Thanks to a donation from Tapewolf, I managed to scrape enough together for Anthrocon, and am there now. I brought one of the computers I have for sale with me, although given the crowd here, I dunno if it will move.

Anyways, I wanted to address one of the common reactions that people get when they hear the term furry
. I call myself a furry because my avatar is a blue cat. In city of heroes almost all my characters are cats, and I come up with stuff like meowello and Welcome to a Mew level on a regular basis. I can't exactly say I'm not a furry.

However, one of the common reactions to the term furry
is that the community consists largely of homosexuals, perverts, and all-around freaks. Such a perception is hard to argue, with sites like Fur Affinity pushing content ranging from benign Bugs Bunny tributes, to stuff that makes various triple-x sites seem tame. Then there is the perception handled by broadcast and newspaper media, with the freaks of the group singled out as representing the entire community.

Well, let me put this in perspective with three names. Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker : David Koresh

Jim and Tammy Faye were well known tele-evangelists who claimed to be Christians. However, they were little better than fraudsters. They certainly didn't act in private like Christians, and have effectively been cast out out most Christian communities.

David Koresh of course was the cult leader in Texas, who also claimed to be a Christian. The actions of David Koresh led to what can best be described as a Tragedy in Waco Texas.

Most people are intelligent enough to not base their perceptions of Christians, in general, on the behaviors and actions of people like the Bakkers or David Koresh. However, many opponents of Christian communities are dead set on placing all
Christians in the same group with such... people.

In the same way, millions of furries are perfectly normal people. They are fans of Bugs Bunny, read Garfield daily, have a couple of pets, and so on and so forth. The broadcast and print media's fascination with only focusing on the negative side of news, however, makes it difficult for such normal
people to put themselves in such a classification as furry.

The catch is... furry
only has one requirement... that somebody like Anthropomorphic animals. Walt Kelly, famed syndicated newspaper comic artist, the genius being Pogo... was a furry. Jim Davis, another famed syndicated newspaper comic artist, is a furry because he draws Garfield.

Now... let me pose a simple question. Do you think that Walt Kelly, his daughter Carolyn Kelly whose taken on the continuation of Pogo, or Jim Davis are vile perverts? Of course not. Every day millions of people welcome Garfield productions into the homes in the forms of books, calenders, tv shows, videos, stuffed animals and so on.

Consider sports mascots. How many people see a mascot and send their kid scampering over for a quick photo-shoot? Did ever occur to anybody that many mascots are wearing fur-suits?

So, why did furry
come to have such a bad connotation. Why does the immediate mention of the word furry cause such an immediate and complete revulsion?

Simply put, bad news travels fast. The worst aspects of any community are the ones that are shined upon and brought to the fore-front.

One of the advantages to the furry
communities is that there is no political, religious, socio-economic movement. The furry communities, as a whole, accept anybody and everybody, without regard. The sad part is, such an advantage carries a relative disadvantage, as an attitude towards acceptance puts the furry communities in a relatively bad position. Various activist groups are able to hijack the neutral furry for their own purposes, by adding the furry label.

From my point of view, the homosexual activists are able to safely label themselves as furry, since they know that the furry community won't actually do anything to throw them out. To the furry
community, such distinctions are a moot point, and not up for discussion. Such distinctions simply don't matter.

Considering that such activists are already known for pressing various agenda's forth in political and socio-economic environment's, it should come as little surprise that such activist elements are what people will see the most of.

The final question then... is there a fix, or a method of reclaiming furry
as a neutral term, and removing overtones of activist groups? Yes. The answer is more people calling themselves furry, who are normal. Who are not in the homosexual movements, or into death metal, and so on. It will take people saying that being perverted is not a subset of furry. It will take creations of counter-parts to the likes of Fur Affinity that focus on providing a place for clean art.

It will also take more conventions like AnthroCon
where elements like pornography are not allowed at all, in any context.

Otherwise, social hijackers will continue to make the claim that I am a furry
... even harder to say.


Edit notes : apologies for the spelling condition of the first draft. Tigerden's computers provided at the convention were not spelling checking the document as I was writing. I'll go into TigerDen's systems in another post. Anyways, some notes on this as I was going over the editing with a friend.

First : why pick on homosexuals? The simple answer is I've gone over what I view as the homosexual agenda and motives before in this blog, stating that in my view the entire movement is about money. With such an existing background already established, the example should be easier to follow for regular readers of this blog.

Second : why pick on Fur affinity. There are multiple other sites out there that host similar content, such as Deviant Art, the various -Chans, sheezy art and so on. Well, Fur Affinity is just a furry site, and one of the most well known. For the purposes of the original arguments, it made more sense to look at than other examples.


yet another edit. Last year I wrote about the antics of a rather horrible comedian who seemed to be wanting to place himself in the company of Howard Stern. This year I went to Uncle Kage's story hour... and spent most of the time laughing my butt off repeatedly. During his time Uncle Kage made what seemed to be a good point about the Furry Communities. Most people within the furry communities tend to be what back in high school where seen as the social rejects. Exampling the likes of the chess club, av club, and glee club. Yes, that is a Weird Al reference. Anyways, there were certain types of people who didn't get along with the jocks or the cheerleaders. For many of the outcasts one of the things they had in common was the Saturday morning cartoon. The likes of Bugs Bunny didn't just welcome the social misfit, they got their kicks out of taking down the elite cliques for fun. Loony Toons were the great equalizers... as the high and mighty never won.

For many of those outcasts the cartoons that helped them deal with the world. For many, the friendly cartoon face is one that reminds them that they weren't the only ones like themselves. Jerry could beat Tom. The blowhard Foghorn types were wrong.

Yes, I am speaking in 3rd person, but it really should be in first person. Cartoons weren't always just a source of mindless entertainment. Seriously, go out and find copies of the 1940's and 1950's Bugs Bunnies. Cartoons were social commentary, an they became a bond that some psychologist studios suggest help people mentally. Children who go in for surgeries are comforted by the crazy antics of various cartoons, and most adults have no problems letting Bob the Builder or Paddington Bear keep their kids occupied for hours.

Furries... well. We are people whom when we grew up... we didn't forget who our friends were. For many, it helps us express ourselves, our feelings, our attitudes, and everything else, in ways that most languages... or most lifestyles... simply don't account for.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Need some help for Anthrocon...

I didn't really want to do this... but I'm in the position of needing some financial help to pull off a trip to Anthrocon. As I mentioned last year, Anthrocon is pretty much my vacation. I had been planning to use my state tax refund to fund the trip, but for some odd reason, Georgia's tax department has lagged far behind the IRS in getting the refund back. Far behind is defined as the Federal check came back over a month ago and was used for truck repairs. This is pretty much the opposite of the last 5 or 6 years in which the IRS is normally late June, early July, in getting refunds back.

Anyways, in order to raise money to go I have three systems ready to go, well, right now. I'm also adding yet another new tab to the left hand side bar with a quick over-view of how what the product is, and how much I want for it.

I've already completed the hardware report for the first system, it's an Athlon64 2800 with a Geforce 6600 GT. I'm wanting $400~$450 for the system, which depending on where it is shipped to, has an expected total cost of $500.

The two other systems I have are around $300 each, a laptop and a desktop. As I complete their hardware reports I'll edit the post with the information.

For these, email me at je dot saist at gmail dot com.

The best KVM switch... ever?

It's not often that I come across a product that seems to be exactly what I've been looking for in computer peripherals. Thing is, I work with keyboard, video, and mouse switches pretty much everyday. Such devices, called KVM's for short, hook my Dreamcast and my liquid cooled system up to the same display. My Playstation 2, Gamecube, and another computer were on another daisy chain with just video switches. My Playstation 3 and Wii currently share a component switch, and a composite switch currently shares my Saturn, N64, Gamecube, and PS2. On to of that I keep another KVM switch handy on own test system used to write Mepisguides, so that when a computer comes in for repair, I don't have to move systems around to have a free display with mouse and keyboard.

Exhausting list isn't it? Well, of the video switches I have right now, they all lack a certain feature. No surround sound audio support. Every single switch I had was limited to only 2 channel sound. That sort of counts as a problem when Via Envy's are your stock sound chip, and you've got more spent on speakers than most people spend on graphics cards. For the type of person who went out of their way to get a hold of a motherboard with Aopen's TubeSound technology, and then picked up Zalman's 5.1 channel headset, only having two channels of audio is generally considered a problem.

Well, I use the term had, because Aten was gracious enough to send something over for a review, their new CS1782 KVM switch. Pardon the poor telephone shots, E3's have a tendency to lighten my luggage by removing cameras, and I haven't bothered to get a new camera since last E3.

Yep, that is a DVI switch with 7.1 audio sound. Aten also paid attention to something a lot of USB switches don't pay attention too, not everybody will have keyboards and mice that are based on USB, so there is a USB to PS/2 converter cable.

Now there are some slight caveats to the 7.1 audio support. It is based on 3.5mm TRS jacks only, and there is no Optical or Coaxial audio pass-through. The good news is that Aten does include the extra cables for supporting the extra headphone jacks.

There also is another caveat to device support. While the DVI ports are Dual Link capable, and contain the pin-outs for a VGA signal, the device itself was not able to pass along a signal to a CRT monitor on a DVI to VGA plug. On the flip side, if you are buying one of these, VGA support probably isn't exactly a selling feature.

I'll go over this device more once I have some time to work with it, and I am interested to see if a component to dvi adapter will pass along signals from the PS3 and Wii consoles. Sadly, Sony does not support using an HDMI to DVI cable, and Nintendo hasn't made a DVI or VGA cable for the Wii. However, the Component signal is the same signal used in DVI and HDMI, so there is a chance that a component to DVI adapter could work.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Qt cannot be closed : Stop throwing the F.U.D.

Nokia Corporation's Dr Ari Jaaksi made a big misstep at the Handsets World conference in Berlin. According to some people it was possibly a misstep just large enough to require his immediate removal of employment from Nokia. This is what he had to say:
We want to educate open-source developers. There are certain business rules [developers] need to obey, such as DRM, IPR [intellectual property rights], SIM locks and subsidised business models.
Almost immediately after the reports went live on Dr. Ari's speeches a number of F.U.D. Throwers started declaring that the Qt tool kit was going to be taken closed sourced. Ergo there should be a massive stampede to GTK and Gnome, and the numerous Qt projects should just up and die. KDE4 is dead, and everybody is pleased with GTK.

Lets get back to reality for a second. The presumption that Qt would go closed source to begin with requires taking Dr. Ari's comments completely out of context, and attributing words and context that were not present. In other words, somebody with an axe to grind applied their own warped reality to Dr. Ari's speech. Now, Dr. Ari has issued a formal response, and it is on Blogger.

Before dealing with how I read the reports from Dr. Ari's speech I do need to put the kibosh on the idea that Qt can even go closed source. In fact, I can put the kibosh on that idea with just two's link, and one quote.

The first link is here :

The second is here:

This is the quote from KDE's page:
To fulfil the purpose of the Foundation, an agreement between Trolltech and the Foundation was made. This gives the Foundation the right to release Qt under a BSD-style license in case Trolltech doesn't continue the development of the Qt Free Edition for any reason including, but not limited to, a buy-out of Trolltech, a merger or bankruptcy.
In other words, the possibility of a corporate entity buying out TrollTech and attempting to close up the source code was a possibility that was considered literally over a decade ago.

Okay, so if Dr. Ari did not suggest that Qt was being taken closed source, what did he say? Well, he said something Bruce Peren's has been saying. Many business's are still on legacy business models, and in the world of mobile phones, items like Digital Rights reMoval, Intellectual Property Rights, SIM locks, and subsidized business models are everyday occurrences. Dr. Ari has a point that Open Source developers do need to learn how to work with people stuck in proprietary models. That's one of the reasons why Mepis and Novell have become tops in their respective fields, the controllers have figured out how to work with existing infrastructure.

That doesn't mean that the open-source communities have to like certain agreements or practices. I, personally, loathe any attempts at Digital Rights reMoval. However, it was not until started selling music without the DRM there was little retail evidence to prove that bands and recording companies could be profitable with unlocked reasonably priced Music. Now that there is hard retail proof, Apple has been scrambling to cut deals authorizing DRM-free music tracks in order to keep out of the number #1 music supplier slot.

With the upcoming Android platform the cell phone market might be in a position to record similar proof that companies can still be profitable without things like SIM locks or DRM.

IPR though, is a different matter. The Open-Source communities are one of the strongest supporters of intellectual property rights there are. The most famous Open-Source License is the GNU Public License, or GPL. The GPL offers protections to the original author that some people view as draconian or viral. Nokia, and other handset makers, might be better served asking the Free Software Foundation and Richard Stallman on how to properly license and protect IPR. It would seem that history indicates that Mr. Stallman has a far better grasp on IPR than most large corporations.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

DS2 : theories?

Given that I talked about the age of the Nintendo DS in the first take on the Forbes claim that Apple would cut into Nintendo's mobile marketshare, I was asked what did I think Nintendo was going to do for the follow-up?

My gut reaction is the standard I don't know. I don't work for Nintendo, I generally don't talk with Nintendo, and I've been pretty much wrong about everything but how well the Wii was going to succeed. I do have a few factoids in mind about what the possibilities could be. I am aware that the DS was not intended to be a primary platform for Nintendo. I am aware that various comments and information from ATi revealed that ATi was contracted to work on a successor to the Gameboy Advance in providing both the graphics and the system LSI. As I understand the history Nintendo wasn't expecting the DS to be a sales phenomenon. Rather, what I've seen indicates that Nintendo probably didn't even expect to clear one million units worldwide, and that Gameboy Advance compatibility was only introduced as a potential selling point so that Gameboy Advance Development could stay in the market as the Gameboy Advance 2 was completed and brought to market.

Instead, Nintendo had a run away hit on their hands. The DS took off as the primary platform for Nintendo, and the Gameboy Advance 2 faded away.

Given the success of the DS I highly doubt that Nintendo would go back to a traditional handheld without touch input. I'd also be very doubtful of Nintendo not following up with another dual screen system.

Rather, I think the DS2, but it probably won't be called that, will probably be a slight bit bigger than the DS Lite. I'm guessing it will probably have larger screens, and I'm willing to bet that both screens will be touch sensitive.

So when's it coming out? Well, let me put it this way. Even Microsoft is getting behind the DS platform... so I honestly don't expect Nintendo to update the DS platform until late 2009... and I really wouldn't be surprised if there isn't a follow-up until 2010.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

No, the Apple Iphone 3G won't take the DS down either

Going back to the subject of the Apple Iphone. The new version has been officially announced, and the result is some people who are claiming that the lower price and faster speeds will pose a threat to the Nintendo DS and Sony Playstation Portable. Well, what where the major tenets that I went over before? Well, lets list them.

A: Hardware Design : how the unit feels to use
B: Price : how much the unit costs
C: Price : how much software costs
D: Obtaining the software
E: Exclusivity : modifying or using the device
F: Software portability : can you use software on one device that you purchased for another?
G: Actual development support

On each of these points with the current, or previous if you will, Iphone, Apple comes up short. So how does the new Iphone 3G stack up?

A: The hardware design for the Iphone has indeed been tweaked. However, it still looks like the same high class piece of equipment that will break if you drop it. If it's anything like the first gen Iphone I was given some time to play with, it's going to continue to be a unit that will make you feel self conscious about using. The playstation portable has the same problem. There is always a sense when using the PSP out on a train, or in an airport, or down at Taco Bell, that you are somehow going to mess it up.

B: The price is actually pretty attractive at $199 for the 8gig version, and $299 with the 16gig version. Let me ruin that pricing with just five simple words: With Two Year Service Contract. If you want an Iphone you will have a purchase minimum of a two year contract with the phone vendor. Apple is subsidizing the sale of the Iphones, which is a common tactic used by Sony and Microsoft in the console market. Ergo if you want just a basic Iphone without a service contract, forget it. Apple will not sell you one. Okay, what about simply buying an Iphone with the service contract, then canceling the service contract? I wouldn't count on that method working either. Most phone service providers have steep penalties for canceling multi-year contracts. While specifics are not yet available about the punishment for canceling a phone service contract with an Iphone, you can probably bet that one of two terms will be included in the fine print. The first possible term is that the Iphone will have to go back to the phone vendor. The second possible term is that the buyer will have to pay the full price of the Iphone in addition to a service fee for cancelling.

In other words, buying an Iphone then getting out of the 2 year contract could wind up hurting the wallet more than simply living with paying a 2 year contract.

C: The exact software costs are still up in the air, but some of the mechanics are not. According to Dailytech it will cost developers $99 to post content to sell. Apple will also take 30% off each sale through their hosted store. That leads into how users will be able to obtain the software to begin with.

D: There will be two ways to get software onto the Iphone. The first is through the cellular connection, and as predicted, it will only be available through the official phone service provider. Iphone owners will be able to download applications directly to the Iphone as long as applications are under 10mbs in size. Applications over 10mbs will need to be downloaded through the Apple Itunes Application Store. That's actually a big problem because the fastest growing business computer market today isn't from Microsoft, and isn't from Apple. It's Linux, and Itunes is still not available on the Linux platform. For the business user examining an Iphone then, it doesn't support the platform a business man is likely to be carrying. That's a problem Apple will need to address for the Iphone to be successful in the business market, much less the gaming markets.

Apple also has the very real problem of promoting particular applications. There appear to be no plans for a retail presence, which fits in with my own predictions. The lack of a retail presence means having to rely on online advertising for various products, and that is not the most viable method of getting information out. As I see it the Applications available to the Iphone will only be visible to those who already own an Iphone. 3rd party Application support does not appear to be in a position to make or break the Iphone itself.

E: As already touched on in the price segment Iphone owners will need to pick up a minimum 2 year service contract with a phone provider. In the US that is a very real problem to deal with as AT&T is widely regarded as having the worst cellular network in the US, bar none. One of the reasons the hacking scene became popular on the first generation Iphone is that business users and tech-savvy buyers wanted the Iphone, but they didn't want the lousy phone service that came with it. With application purchases seemingly bound to the phone provider, and a potential lock-in to a particular vendor the Iphone is a hardsell. So, Apple's continued reliance on exclusive partners is perhaps a matter of concern.

F: Just as this is point F, Apple receives a failing grade here. I've scoured the official press release and rumor sites and I can't get a straight answer on whether or not Iphone Software is portable between Iphones. As far as I can tell, if you buy Sega's Super Monkey Ball on one Iphone, you can forget playing it on a friend's iphone.

G: Application support is again a failing grade. Apple is not a game developer and does not have the resources to support any true gaming attempts for their platform.

Okay, so this is a rather harsh look down on the Iphone. I think actually put it better. The author's conclusion after going over the features of the Iphone itself, then the up and coming competitors from the likes of Samsung, HTC, and Blackberry, was this one sentence.
It’s going to take much more than 3G data speeds to keep the hearts and minds of the people who drove in to hear the keynote in an 1998 Toyota Camry. ®
The Iphone simply isn't in the same market as it's competitors, and it certainly isn't a competitor to anything Nintendo or Sony have on the market for handheld gaming. Yes, the Iphone looks nice, but personally? I'd rather have one of those Blackberry Thunders.

Hate Hail Storms / update on ITF

Apparently it's the season for hail as the weather channel shows. The east coast currently has a cloudy storm-front that along with a heat wave... brought quarter sized hail punching through sections of the CSRA. Thankfully I haven't been hit directly, although I will admit that my internet service has gone bonkers as storms move through, so it's been interesting. I also just glanced at the Wii's weather channel and there's another storm moving through Athens now.. and it looks like it could hit. Oh joy.

Anyways, the other point is that I've been adding to the ITF completion guide. Been working with a friend in CoH (Red Scout) to try and cover more scenarios that offer higher completion rates to teams running the task force. Example being in the third mission of the task force there are two archvillains on basically a 4 story platform with a 5th story out of the mountain behind the archvillains. At the bottom of the structure the archvillains are on there is a group of robots that are activated by destroying a console. Destroying the console and the robots is one of the mission objections.

Red Scout likes pulling the two arch-villains to geographic platforms above and behind the archvillain's starting point, going from the 4th story to the 5th story, then finishing off the robot group last. I favor taking down the robot group first, then pulling the AV's down to the bottom of the structures for the fight.

I base my strategy on the size of the team. The cliff behind the archvillains does not consist of a large space. For teams with multiple pets, such as controllers with fire imps, illusionists, and masterminds, fighting on the cliff can make it difficult to bring all of the pets damage onto a single target. The lack of moving space also makes it difficult for some buffs to help players, example in mind is speed boost.

On the other paw, Red Scout takes the viewpoint that fighting on the ground floor results in having to pull more than just the archvillains. There are also high probabilities of ambushes as patrols wander by. This can be a difficult problem when having a team with slow damage rates. Red Scout also prefers fighting the robots last because more than likely somebody will die in the robot fight. Why not just cut the rez, reload time short? if somebody dies during the robot fight, but the mission completes, just hosp. No having to run back and forth from hospital, or dealing with potential massive lag problems.

Yeah, both strategies have their plus and minus's, and it largely comes down to the team in play. Slow damaging teams are probably better off on the cliffs. High damaging teams with speed buffs or large pet groups are probably better off taking the approach from the bottom.

A second point of contention among strategies is found on the 4th mission, against the archvillain group that I've been diagramming how to fight. The contention is actually how to get to the archvillains. One of the mission objectives is killing 300 soldiers. Some people like to go to the archvillain first, and others like to clear through the 300 soldiers first.

I make the call based on the makeup of the team. When running with straight 50's, there's no practical benefit to clearing the 300 soldiers first. When running with multiple players who are not 50, that are sidekicked up though, it's probably best to go ahead and complete the hunt objective first. Completing the hunt portion could give lower level players another level, which translates into powers or slots that can affect the final battle.

I was also shown a trick to completing the hunt, and I'm not sure who credit goes to, but in the 4th mission there are a couple of towers about halfway through the map. The very top of these towers are filled with enemy soldiers. The catch is that killing enemies on top of the tower does not create ambush's. Killing enemies on the paths to the archvillains does cause multiple ambush's. Another catch is that soldiers on the ground can be healed and revived by a surgeon enemy class. There are no surgeons atop the towers, which again lessens the complications of fighting.

I'll try to diagram these out as I can, but I'll probably need one very patient team to wait as I map the mission out.


Another point came up on an ITF I had to crash out of due to ISP problems. Whether or not to clear the 5th column around the archvillain group. I've already covered part of this in the new additions to the diagrams on the Completed ITF post. Most of the teams I've been on have always cleared out the courtyard completely before fighting the AV's. The simple reason is Aggravation Control. If everything goes right, all players should have to do is simply clear the soldiers on the raised platform in the middle, then take on the archvillain group. There shouldn't be a need to clear the courtyard.

So, let me pose one question: How often do things go right?

The point of clearing the courtyard in ITF, or really any task force or mission where the main target has nearby minions is to make sure that when things go wrong the team isn't put into a bad or unmanageable position. It's nice when it works, but it's tacky to say something along the lines of we never had to do that before. Just because you didn't have to do it before doesn't mean you don't have to do it now, and does not mean that it's not a good idea.

It's also rather tacky to argue with somebody that game developers themselves have linked to and referenced for help on playing their games. Trust me, if I'm wrong, I'll probably hear about it from the people who wrote the original material, either because I go out of my way to ask, exampling John Bridgham and AMD VIVO support, or because I know they read what I post (although I don't know if Critters or Cupa still read this since I stopped posting about Tabula Rasa... and I don't have the guts to email them and ask).

Friday, June 06, 2008

Kung Fu Panda - it's a good flick

Alright, now onto the bit I was writing when I decided to go ahead and go after Forbes. Jack Black's Kung Fu Panda. New movie, in theaters, opened today... and it was worth the mid-day price point. Surprisingly, nobody else stayed through the credits, though there is a closing scene that is, well, quite worth the stay.

I don't want to spoil too much about the movie, but the trailer is similar to the recent Indiana Jones. Some of the ending sequences were used in the trailer, and many of the plot points are lit up far in advance. That being said, like most of Dreamworks Animation movies, it was funny, and unlike other movies, quite memorable afterwards. Maybe that's just because Angelina as a Tiger and Lucy Liu as a Snake just seemed to be the right casting for them.

Apple won't kill DS

Not the post I was writing, but I figure somebody needs to smack Forbes in the head with some common sense.

No, the Apple Iphone will not kill the Nintendo DS. This is not just looking at the problem from a historical point of view as Apple is not the first hardware vendor to go after Nintendo's mind-share and market-share in the mobile market. The most famous attempt so far has been Nokia with the N-Gage. Well, we all know how that turned out. The N-Gage flopped not only due to it's high price, but the first model was patently ludicrous to use as a gaming system. While Nokia eventually fixed the design issues with the N-Gage system, such as making it a proper phone, and actually giving it a real cart location, the product was already dead in the retail market. In recent events Nokia has been positioning the N-Gage branding as a platform for mobile games, not just a singular phone.

The Iphone faces much more difficult obstacles than simply getting hardware design right, although there are a few technical design flaws with the Iphone that make it a poor gaming platform. One of the problems the Iphone shares with the PSP is that it feels flimsy. There's always a sense that one drop on the concrete and the unit is bricked for good. That may not be true, but when was the last time you saw somebody handling an Iphone like a cheap Motorola? Never.

Another problem the Iphone faces is price. The Iphone starts at $400, while the DS finishes at $130. These products aren't even in the same price sector to begin with never minding anything else. The PSP's $169 base price tag hasn't done anything to catch up to the DS, although it is beating out the Wii in markets where Nintendo just flat doesn't have supplies in stock. One of the arguments between the DS and the PSP on their launches is that Sony was targeting a much different market than the DS. According to Ubisoft, Sony isn't targeting any market, and the PSP platform is described as directionless.

Then there is the price of the gaming software. The most expensive new DS game to buy is the new Guitar Hero On Tour at $50. Granted the game comes with an add-on attachment for the guitar itself. Actually, the price parity has fallen now that I look ofter the current release lists for the PSP and DS, which isn't helped by the relatively few new PSP titles available. It used to be that the average PSP game price point was ~$40 and the DS's was ~$30, but a quick look over the newly released columns for both on Gamestop is around ~$20~$30 on average. How much is the proprietary Iphone software going to cost? Is it going to match up against the impulse price points of DS and PSP software today?

Next question, if the prices do match up, how will customers actually GET the software anyways. According to Apple's official Iphone page, it's not like the Iphone has any sort of cart adapter or UMD disc drive. That means that software will have to be purchased online, and then downloaded / stored on the Iphone itself. Sure, that means saving bundles on retail promotions, but come on now, the average DS buyer isn't sitting online at thinking what looks good. DS and PSP games are impulse buys. Somebody walks by the Display in Wal-Mart, thinks I've got some spare cash and that looks cool, then they buy the product. One of the very real problems Nintendo has with WiiWare and Virtual Console is getting the message out about what content is newly available. So there have been minor changes to the Wii's existing channel interface to use the Virtual Console icon to promote games that are available. There has also been an aggressive push using the message board system to inform Wii owners that the VC and WiiWare services are available.

Apple will have to overcome a very similar marketing problem in order to push retail software for the Iphone platform. There, of course, is the option of establishing a retail Apple presence and having CD-installers in stores, but given the overhead costs, Apple's not likely to pursue that method, nor many 3rd party developers or publishers.

The promotions question leads into the next very real problem Apple has. Apple loves to be exclusive, a trend that has continued throughout their history. Consider that Apple only has one official partner that Iphone owners can use phone services on, which is AT&T. Apple can, and has, enforced the one provider only method by willingly bricking out (rendering useless by software updates) other Iphones that have been hacked or converted to non AT&T networks.

Unless Apple suddenly decides to be open about allowing people to download and purchase Iphone software from any provider, whose going to be Apple's exclusive retail provider? Who wants to bet that all retail Apple Software will need to be downloaded through the AT&T network.

What about moving the software around? One of the big advantages to the Wii, Xbox 360, PSP, DS, GB, GBA, PS3, PS2, GCN, PSX, Sega Saturn, and N64 gaming platforms is that you can take your saves with you. You can take your games with you. Whenever I go over to a friends house to play a game he doesn't have, I can just copy my existing PS3 saves to an SD / Compaq Flash / USB memory card / Memory Stick and put it in. Presto, I have my saves. With a GBA or a DS game, just put it in an go. Even Xbox saves could be a copied to an external memory card. Granted, you probably needed a 3rd party tool to copy memory from a Sega Saturn, but with an Action-Replay, big deal.

So how is Apple going to handle making it easy for customers to swap content? To swap game saves? To swap games? One of the big hindrances to mobile phones now is that games downloaded for each phone are strictly for that phone only. No wonder the format hasn't taken off.

That leads to the next question. How are the games going to be developed anyways? From what I hear from people actually developing Iphone software, there are a lot of limitations that have to taken into account to use the SDK. A popular complaint is that only one application can be run at one time on the Iphone. That in itself isn't a big a deal for a gaming platform, where one application is all that is going to be run. However, many developers have said that the Iphone SDK isn't focused for specific application development.

Nintendo and Sony have many specially built tools and SDK's, as well as HDK's (hardware development kits) to allow DS and PSP programmers to build games only. Nintendo and Sony can both provide quality guidance and gaming expertise to licensed 3rd parties that Apple cannot, and will never be in a position to do so.

The idea then, that Apple will somehow kill the DS is ludicrous. There are multiple real world obstacles to turning the Iphone into a gaming system that Apple will either have to deal with, or simply ignore. That's even presuming that Apple decides to compete in the same marketspace as the DS. That's also completely ignoring that the DS launched on November 21, 2004. The Gameboy Advance launched on March 21, 2001. The Gameboy Color launched on October 21, 1998. The Gameboy pocket was released in 1996, succeeding the original Gameboy's 1989 launch. See where this pattern is going? Nintendo averages 5 years between development cycles on their consoles.

The DS is coming up on it's 4th year of being out, which means that Nintendo's probably already has prototypes for the next handheld platform.

The forbes article also ignores crucial DS history. Nintendo never intended for the platform to be more than a gimmick. Nintendo never counted on the sky-rocketing sales curve. The DS was not the Gameboy Advance 2. So, what happened to the GBA2? Has Nintendo's designers been sitting on their duffs doing nothing on hardware research?

The obvious answer is no, Nintendo has not. Forbes isn't comparing Apples to Apples. Forbes is comparing an Apple to a Cantaloupe. That's not just irresponsible journalism, it's outright stupidity.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Why do Open-Licensed drivers matter?

One of the more common questions to be found in open-licensed software today is why do open drivers matter? As one person asked on MepisLovers once:
I have a different question. If NVidia provide updated proprietary linux drivers free of charge in a timely manner, why is it important from a purely practical sense whether or not they provide open source ones? - Joany 02-02-08
Many of the quick shot answers that are used to position Open-Licensed software simply do not matter to the vast majority of computer users. As I explained to a friend, literally just a few days ago when talking about Vista, when I started using Linux it wasn't because I cared about user freedoms. It wasn't because I was against Microsoft. It wasn't because I cared about being able to access the source code or modify programs as I saw fit. It wasn't for the lack of a price tag on most distributions. I started using Linux because I was bored in the back of a Burger King.

The theological and emotional factors of Open-Licensed software that drive many of the concerns today are simply lost on the average computer user who has been with Microsoft Windows for as long as they can remember. There need to be tangible benefits to having Open-Licensed drivers that go beyond the limited scope of the Free Software Foundation.


The first example that I brought up to the defend Open-Licensed drivers back when Joany asked the question concerned 3DFX. 3DFX used to be the dominant graphics powerhouse for personal computers, and was largely undone by massive corporate arrogance and mis-steps, such as declaring that gamers only wanted 16bit color, or that raw frame-rate mattered more than visual effects. For many elder High-End computers the Voodoo Graphics cards are almost the standard. These computers are fully functional with nothing wrong to be found, other than almost non-existent device driver support for the Voodoo Graphics cards. Projects to map OpenGL calls to the MiniGL or Glide API systems are largely dead, and the only display choice for many a Voodoo Owner today is a basic Vesa display mode.

What would have happened though if 3DFX had opened up the register specification and the tools to make the drivers for the Voodoo Graphics cards? It would be possible for driver developers today to build effective 3D drivers for Voodoo Graphics cards. Projects like Compiz-Fusion and the 3D interfaces on KDE4 could easily fit into the limited Glide API, and the Voodoo Card design would be perfect for those wanting to have a low-power, low-impact, 3D desktop. Given the cost of creating a Voodoo Chipset today, mini-computers like the Asus EEEPC could offer limited 3D support for only five or six dollars.

The first point then to having Open-Licensed drivers is hardware security. Even if a vendor is put in a position where they have to file for bankruptcy, or find themselves on a buyout with intention to terminate the product line, customers won't be locked out of the hardware.

Radeon 8500

The second example given in response covered the ATi R200 family of graphics processors, better known as the Radeon 8500 series. The Radeon 8500 was one of ATi's longest lived products lines with multiple integrated and discrete cards. Even after the launch of the Radeon 9700 series, the Radeon 8500 architecture lived on in the lower set of the 9x00 series, specifically the Radeon 9000, Radeon 9100, and Radeon 9200 families. In fact, even when Radeon x1x00 cards were entering the market, the Radeon 8500 remix's were still selling on the low end.

In 2006 AMD/ATi dropped support for these cards from their official Linux driver. The primary reason was that the Radeon 8500 family was a Pixel Shader 1.4 graphics card. The Radeon 9500 series onwards were all Pixel Shader 2.0 graphics cards. In order to clean-up the Fglrx driver and unify support, the older Radeon cards had to be dropped. A variety of other factors impacted the choice, such as what driver developers should focus their time and effort on.

The result is that the finalized 8.28 Fglrx release will eventually find a point where it is completely incompatible with changes made to the X11 implementation, as well as changes made to the Linux Kernel Itself. Years before the cut-off date ATi had released programming documentation on the Radeon 8500, enabling to create a working 3D driver. Recent versions of the ATi driver have seen performance come within 90% of the original Fglrx drivers performance output. The driver offers some features the Fglrx driver did not provide, such as TV input on All-in-Wonder cards.

As the source code to the ATi driver is freely available, that driver can be compiled against any new kernel, and any new release of As long as Linux and support the AGP and PCI hardware interfaces, 3D support will be available for Radeon 8500 class cards, even if no further changes to the driver are implemented.

The second point then is similar to the first. Older functional hardware that the vendor no longer can support either due to time or resources, can find communities willing to make sure that support continues.

Intel and Tile Base

One of the next points to be raised covered the Intel GPU's. From a performance standpoint the Intel GPU's are perhaps some of the worst graphics processing units ever made. In many cases the Intel GPU are merely graphics accelerators, and not graphics processing units.

Most of the Intel's GPU designs released under their Open-Licensed drops utilize a tile-based architecture :

While Tile-based rendering is rather rare for the PC market, the architecture was also used in many GPU's from PowerVR, such as the Kyro line-up and the Sega Dreamcast. Theoretically then, Intel's GPU documentation may shed light or help attempts to reverse engineer other GPU solutions that do not have proper driver support.

The third practical point for Open-Licensed drivers is that there can be tangible benefits can be had when trying to support similar products. This doesn't mean that the Intel documentation will lead to functional Kyro support, or the possibility of running a Compiz-Fusion desktop on a Deamcast, but writing a driver to support tile-based rendering for other platforms might be easier with examples already in hand.

RadeonHD Video

All of the points so far deal with older hardware, after a vendor has left the market, after a product has left the market, and when a current vendor could shed light on a previous vendor's product. What about right now? What are the benefits of an Open-Licensed driver today? One good example goes back to the Radeon 8500. The driver for the Radeon 8500 offers support for TV input, a feature not in the Fgrlx driver.

Skip forward to the current RadeonHD 2x00 and 3x00 cards R7xx cards. These graphic cards can accelerate video alleviating the amount of work required by the Central processor. The very tangible benefit to the accelerated video is that lower-class processors can display video content without any slow down. The disadvantage to the RadeonHD 2x00 and 3x00 R7xx family is that the video acceleration hardware is locked in with Digital Rights reMoval hardware. This particular design choice was brought on a Mepislovers forum post :

Support for Hardware accelerated video on the RadeonHD 2x00, 3x00, and upcoming 4x00 R7xx and possibly R8xx series of cards will require reverse-engineering as the Radeon 8500 Video-Input required. Knowing the programming structure of the graphics cards, however, should dramatically cut down the amount of time needed to figure out which portions of the card's register interfaces are used to provide the video acceleration.

AMD's John Bridgman had a correction to make on the support for Video Acceleration, noting that the separate hardware did carry through the R6xx series, prompting the strike-outs and clarifications.
Bridgman> One minor point though; the IDCT hardware actually carries
Bridgman> through the entire R6xx line as well so I'm pretty sure we can open that up
Bridgman> for 6xx parts as well. It's only the 7xx parts (including 780) where the separate
Bridgman> IDCT hardware goes away. MC, which is the most time consuming part of video
Bridgman> decode, is done on the 3d engine anyways; we just have special rounding modes
Bridgman> for video vs 3d

I'm getting a crash course in accelerated video as Mr. Bridgman goes over this article. Oh well, when in doubt, ask the source, and so yet here's more clarification:
bridgman2> Saist; now your article is probably a bit *too* nice about us ;)
bridgman2> basically we expect to be able to open at least as much video decoding hardware
bridgman2> in 6xx as we did in the previous chips; the issue is that some of the 6xx chips
bridgman2> have additional video decoding hardware (UVD) which performs more of
bridgman2> the decoding task and that's the part we're not sure we can open up yet
bridgman2> Saist: roughly we should be able to accelerate maybe 60% or 70% of the video
bridgman2> processing workload; the big stink is because we may not be able to open up
bridgman2> the remaining portions
The fourth practical point then is that feature support for video cards can be added where the original vendor might be affected by existing patents or licensed technology.

Video Optimization

A fifth point was brought up on the Freenode channels for Radeon Driver development. One of the channel visitors complained that the hardware cycle for graphics cards was moving too quickly. Vendors were unable to optimize their drivers for new graphics cards, which results in over all lower performance. There is a glaring problem that with the rapid growth of the GPU market, the standard 18month product development time is not leaving much room to optimize existing drivers to make the best use possible of various graphics cards. That is the hardware market though. If new products are not being put on the retail shelf by one company, a competitor will simply run off ahead with a better product. Radeon 9700 and Geforce 6600 GT come to mind as examples of when such events occurred.

Open-Licensed drivers offer a tangible benefit then to hardware and software vendors. This was the point I started to talk about on Blender.
but the possibility is available for existing Open-licensed software to be optimized for RadeonHD and ATi drivers. Imagine what would happen if Blender was optimized to use GPU powered rendering through the Open-Licensed drivers? What would that mean for the movie industry which is always looking to slice costs? What would that mean for the gaming industry which is also looking to slice development costs?
Linux, as an Operating System, has come to dominate in the entertainment production market, examples being the popular Dreamworks 3D animated movies made entirely on Linux powered boxes, as well as the BBC using Linux heavily behind the scenes to cut, edit, produce, and store their shows. The Halo movie planned by Microsoft was killed when Microsoft found out that the production team wasn't using Microsoft products for rendering, instead using Linux powered boxes.

The reasons for the domination are almost self-evident. On identical hardware a Linux Operating System is generally faster than a Microsoft Operating system per feature level. However, there is no scaling back on Operating Systems from Microsoft. With Linux, vendors are free to offer boxes that are stripped of non-essential programs and applications, and most of the heavy rendering systems in use today barely contain more than the linux kernel, the appropriate drivers for the hardware, the one or two programs the rendering box is designed for, and that's it.

So, what would happen if entertainment productions were able to take that current mixture another step forward? What if an entertainment production company hired a couple of hardware engineers whose only job was to optimize the RadeonHD driver specifically for a single program with a single graphics chipset?

What would happen if gaming companies started having their software engineers hang around the #radeonhd channels and actively committing patches to the driver? What would happen if the gaming industry had a say in how the drivers were optimized? What if they had the freedom to play around with their own optimizations?

That's the picture of where an open-licensed driver can lead to. Graphic production companies could shave off costs of upgrading to newer hardware as well as decreasing production time by optimizing the drivers. Being able to modify the drivers themselves, the OS kernel itself, the underlying kernel system, and the application code could result in noticeable performance increases. Gaming companies won't have to wait for a vendor to fix a graphics glitch or a bug in the driver, they can simply log into the source repository and submit their own patch.

The vendors themselves benefit as well. Under licenses like the GPLv2, any and all such changes have to be submitted back to the original vendor.

The very fifth reason open-licensed drivers matter, and a very current one, is that supporting an Open-Licensed driver can create jobs that weren't there, save money for companies, help optimize drivers outside of the original vendors aggressive product schedule, and allow customers and clients who rely on functional drivers to actually have a say in what goes on with the drivers.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Nvidia drops Gelato Pro

This just seems to be a day to talk about subjects I don't like. Next up is the topic of Nvidia. Previous readers of this blog know that I'm a little less than thrilled with Nvidia's behavior. I've commented before that I don't think that Nvidia actually has an open-license software strategy behind something like hey, lets produce a binary blob that's absolute junk!. I've also commented I do not understand why or how people think that Nvidia's driver support for Open-Licensed operating systems qualifies as good.

So, with that in mind, I think Nvidia has demonstrated again that the company really doesn't seem to understand the Open-Licensed market. That demonstration is the release of Gelato Pro for no-cost. Gelato Pro was Nvidia's proprietary rendering software capable of tapping into the Graphics Processor Unit for rendering operations. The final release is versions 2.2, and the software that used to cost over $1500 to license, has no financial cost attached. The catch to the now gratis-software from Nvidia is that there will be no further updates or work done on the product.

So, why did Nvidia not open up the source code? Why not use the event of the final version of Gelato to turn up the pressure on other rendering applications like Blender? Why not drive an Open-Licensed hammer blow to AMD / ATi, whose own rendering software known as Rendermonkey still doesn't have a Linux version. Why not set a better standard for Open-Licensed Software?

This is why I don't think Nvidia has a strategy for Open-Licensed software. AMD's John Bridgman and Alex Deucher have been parsing and pushing out documentation for AMD hardware for several months now, and many of the tools used to create the drivers, such as Atom Bios and T-core, are being opened up. This does not mean that Rendermonkey is on it's way to a Linux platform, or that it will be released with an Open-License, but the possibility is available for existing Open-licensed software to be optimized for RadeonHD and ATi drivers. Imagine what would happen if Blender was optimized to use GPU powered rendering through the Open-Licensed drivers? What would that mean for the movie industry which is always looking to slice costs? What would that mean for the gaming industry which is also looking to slice development costs?

Good questions. Maybe an answer will be forthcoming.

Cryptic Studios : driving the nail in.

For those who caught the reposts of comments from WTH's forums probably get the idea that I'm not really fond of Cryptic Studios anymore. It's my opinion that the best developers left to go be with NCSoft, and that Jack Emmert is an idiot.

Not that I mind being handed proof of this on a silver platter, but proof if the latter part has been produced on a silver platter. Cryptic Studios has hired John Needham as CEO. There is just one slight problem with the hiring of John Needham for Cryptic. He was Sony Online Entertainment's Vice President of Business Development and Operations. Just think about SOE's current reputation.

In the fantasy mmo realm there used to be only one game that got everything right, Everquest. It was hands down the largest paid subscription online role playing game, and one of the most famous online role playing games. It's sequel, Everquest 2, was one of the hottest properties to enter the MMO market for years. In fact, SOE was so confident on Everquest 2's release that they pulled a Crysis with the game. While Everquest 2 was quite playable even on low-end computers thanks to massive scaling in the SOE engine, even the fastest most heavily overclocked game systems on sale or in use struggled to run Everquest 2's higher graphic settings. SOE was so confident in the success of the game that they went overboard on all the visual effects and detail levels so that gamers 4 or 5 years down the road who were upgrading would still find themselves looking at what appeared to be a brand new game.

Just one problem... when was the last time you heard Everquest being talked about in a discussion on MMO games? Not recently, the darling of the day is World of Warcraft, which has taken the market by storm.

I'm not going to say that SOE is going under, but the Everquest series simply doesn't have the market power it did before. The continued falling subscription numbers and lack of visible response to new entries like Warhammer Online, occurred on John Needham's watch.

Then there is the case of Star Wars: Galaxies. Do I really need to say anything more than New Game Enhancement? The SWG developers outright stated that the NGE release was to pull players from World of Warcraft. It didn't work. Financially SWG flopped and a vast majority of the original player base has rather rude things to say about SOE over how the Star Wars Franchise was handled.

Other games in SOE's stable include Planetside. Now I love Planetside. I think the current development team has finally gotten a grip on how to build on the mass warfare of Planetside. However, the game recently merged US servers once again because so few people were playing.

So, Everquest and Everquest 2 subscription numbers way down, Planetside and SWG numbers down to the points where other MMO developers have thrown in the towel (looking at NCSoft's Auto Assault on that one). What about Pirates of the Burning Sea? Well, pun intended, that game really hasn't made waves since it launched. Even mere weeks ago listening into global channels on City of Heroes revealed many players who didn't even know the game was out.

Okay, what about other SOE properties? What other properties? That's about it right there.

The point is, SOE has a bad reputation in the video game market from critics and several of their current and former players. SOE is great about coming up with new ideas for games. They did take a chance on an MMO built from the ground up for Multiplayer combat. At the same time, everytime there is has been a bad lag sequence in any other MMO I've played, be it World of Warcraft (yes, I have actually played this), Phantasy Star Online, Phantasy Star Universe, City of Heroes, and Tabula Rasa for specific examples, the standard joke is When did SOE start hosting the servers? When patches break games, like the recent Issue 12 of City of Heroes which has a laundry list of gameplay issues, the near standard joke among players is Why did they let SOE handle the release?

Granted, John Needham was only a Vice President. However, he was the VP of Business Development and Operations, a section of SOE that has widely been criticized by just about everybody whose ever played any SOE game. Given the complete collapse of many SOE properties, somebody with a position of authority in any Operations or any kind of business development is the dead last person I'd want in authority position in any company I ran.

Yet, Cryptic Studios went out and hired one of the guys whom the fall of SOE is in a position of legitimate blame. Then to think that Cryptic Studios wants this guy to be their Chief Executive Officer? A position of even higher authority?

As I said at the start, I consider Jack Emmert an idiot. He's a lot like John Romero to me. Brilliant once, and that's all that was required. City of Heroes is a fantastic concept realized into a playable game. However, John Romero is known for several really bad business decisions and design choices surrounding Diakatana. While Romero's former partner, John Carmack, continues to succeed at ID Software, Romero pretty much languishes in a small mobile game developer. In the same manner, Jack Emmert's design choices for City Of Heroes ranged from the brilliant, to those that resulted in significant amounts of existing players to leave the game in outright anger. Right off hand, the quick shot of pulling anybody from SOE to handle CEO duties? Is a business choice as bad, if not worse, than any Romero ever made. The picture of a parallel is completed by Matt Miller, the person behind Positron, whom despite being on watch on the launch of the bug filled Issue 12, is looking a lot more like the calm and collected John Carmack ever day.