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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Xbox 360 and PS3 Equal in Power, Says Developer

Not that this will calm the fanboy discussions in the slightest

With the constant bickering between fanboy camps about which console's daddy can beat up the other console's daddy, a game developer steps up to the plate to offer his two cents.

Denis Dyack is the president of Canadian-based developer Silicon Knights. The developer previously had close ties with Nintendo, developing Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem and Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes for the GameCube, before going with Microsoft's platform to develop its Too Human trilogy.

"The 360 and the PS 3 are equal in power in my eyes. Maybe the PS 3 has more processing power. The 360 has more available memory. It's pretty much a net, net," Dyack said in an interview with The Mercury News. "The public perception of the PS 3 was that it was much more powerful. To developers, they look even."

Dyack did say that there could be more potential in the PlayStation 3 architecture, but timing it so that all the cell processors work together efficiently is the greatest challenge.

On the topic of high-definition gaming, Dyack adds, "It is questionable if there is a difference between 1080P and 720P. All of our games are likely to be 720P because of the faster refresh rates. There are all kinds of trade-offs. It takes a lot more RAM to do 1080P. You'll reserve RAM for the textures. 720P is just less pixels. There is definitely a huge difference from 720P and analog."

His statement about 720p leaves Nintendo's console out of the running for Silicon Knights, as the developer isn't even exploring the Wii at the present time.

For Dyack's company, the question is down to Microsoft vs. Sony.

"It's a tough one. Microsoft is looking really good. Everyone is looking pretty good. At the beginning, everyone thought Sony would walk away with it. We won't know for sure for two years.

Microsoft enhances online local maps with 3D

The feature raises the stakes in online search services
Microsoft Corp. plans to up the ante in local search by adding 3D models of 15 U.S. cities to the maps of its Live Local service.

The 3D models will allow users to zoom into these metro areas and "fly" over and into them using their Web browser, a Microsoft official said. Microsoft expects to offer 3D models of more than 100 cities by next year's third quarter, said Bobby Figueroa, director of product management for Live Local Search.

Microsoft, Google Inc., Yahoo Inc. and other search engine providers have been busy improving their local search services because they have become very popular with users and advertisers.

Unlike searches conducted on a general Web search engine, which can stem from a variety of intents, those performed on local search sites tend to be motivated by a desire to shop, which is attractive for advertisers.

Meanwhile, users have found that these local search engines act like phone directories on steroids, providing not only basic information like phones and addresses, but also customer reviews, driving directions and maps.

Microsoft will integrate ads into these 3D models in a way it considers organic, by displaying them on virtual billboards the users will encounter as they zip around the cities, Figueroa said.

Microsoft announced the new feature, called Virtual Earth 3D, on Monday at a press conference in San Francisco, where the company will also change the service's name from Live Local to Live Search Maps, as well as the Web address for it to this one.

The richer mapping functionality will enhance the local search experience by giving users a more immersive, realistic and concrete way of exploring a geographic area than has been possible until now in Live Local, Figueroa said. Live Local has had satellite and aerial images, including detailed "bird's eye" ones, but the new functionality will take the experience to another level, he said.

Like other local search sites, Live Search lets users find business listings, places them on maps, offers driving directions and displays real-time traffic information.

Google's Google Earth offers a similar experience, but it isn't browser-based. Instead, Google Earth is an application that has to be downloaded to a PC and that has its own user interface. Google's local search service also offers maps but it doesn't replicate the immersive and interactive experience offered by Google Earth.

"This level of graphical richness in the browser window doesn't exist in other online mapping services," said analyst Greg Sterling, of Sterling Market Intelligence. "This will raise the stakes in online mapping for everybody."

By delivering this via a browser instead of desktop application, Microsoft will make this immersive, 3D mapping experience widely available to many more people, Sterling said.

This eye-popping experience may seem like a novelty right now, because currently most uses of online maps are tied to displaying driving routes along with directions, Sterling said.

However, very soon, people will use online maps as starting points for discovering information, and then graphical richness and interactivity will go from being simply cool to being useful and mainstream, Sterling said.

All sorts of information overlays can be built on top of online maps, providing myriad opportunities for e-commerce, advertising and research, Sterling said.

Lord of the Rings Online Overview

Turbine's upcoming Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar will usher gamers into a massively multiplayer online version of Tolkien's fantasy universe. I got to play some of the still-beta game at a recent media event; the title's setting and story will be its main selling point, otherwise it resembles other MMOs -- not to say that's a bad thing.

It takes a little work to learn an MMO, and Turbine said the company isn't trying to change Lord of the Rings just to be different. Instead, game controls and quest system felt like other titles, and I was killing defenseless forest creatures right away. Lord of the Rings also looked like other MMOs; what I saw didn't set any new standards, but it matched competitors. I was told that game art and other assets were still being updated for the Spring, 2007 launch.

Lord of the Rings Online's story-driven approach and setting should be unique. The game is based on the original three books and The Hobbit, not the recent movie properties. So while the game looks similar to the movies -- hobbit houses have round doors and passages, and Gandalf looks like Ian McKellen -- Turbine says that's because the game matches the original, detailed prose.

When we met at the event, Jeff Anderson, CEO of Turbine was excited about the connection to Middle-earth. He said, "We want to be there at the cool moments ... and want people to feel that the world is alive." He described how the books chart Frodo's goal to destroy the ring and how his quest is assisted by other events; Anderson said that the game's story will put players in the position of clearing the way for Frodo, "inferring that you, the player are helping on the side."

Every new player will begin the story at the original starting time and then will follow the in-game quests tangential to the complete ring story. So in a year, a high-level player will have progressed further through the narrative than someone just joining the game. An old player will, however, be able take a new player on a more advanced quest.

Turbine is developing the game to match the story in even more ways than plot; if you get too close to profoundly bad objects or characters, they say your screen perspective will gradually tighten into tunnel vision, matching the dread and powerlessness conveyed in the books. Because of these kinds of techniques, I have high hopes that Lord of the Rings Online will be a strong reflection of the Tolkien world, but it might also be a creative MMO underneath that wrapper. I didn't have time to do much more than kill some giant spiders and run a few errand quests, but I left the event looking forward to playing more.

EJ - The only JavaScript library you’ll ever need

At http://www.robertnyman.com/ this article have been posted :

The web is littered with full-blown JavaScript libraries who say they will save your day and make your web development life much easier. You get encouraged to include these “mere 80 KB” libraries that is supposed to be the solution to all your needs, and practically make the web site work by itself. Needless to say, I’m not a big follower of JavaScript libraries,, especially since they almost always include lots of superfluous code, so I thought I’d put together a tiny library with only essential JavaScript functions. [more]

A Word of advice for downloaders

Anti-virus experts at security firm MicroWorld are advising home and office users to excercise caution before opening Word documents downloaded from untrustworthy websites or received from unknown senders, as these might be infected with the MSWord.Lafool.v trojan.

According to the firm, this trojan is essentially a macro that uses Microsoft Word’s own programming language to advance its infection routine.

Macro trojans do not generally prevent programs from functioning, instead they target documents and templates. However, MSWord.Lafool.v acts differently, by working as a ‘trojan dropper’ that deposits an information-stealing trojan named PSW.LdPinch.bbg. According to MicroWorld, this trojan steals confidential information such as FTP usernames and passwords, networking information and e-mail login info and settings.

“In the hands of an intruder who targets confidential information of a home user or an organisation, this type of malware can be a highly effective tool for penetration and espionage,” stated Govind Rammurthy, CEO of MicroWorld Technologies.

“Knowledge is money, figuratively and literally. For a victim whose credit card information is stolen, it’s as good as his loaded wallet being stolen in broad day light. For an organisation that loses its knowledge base and intellectual property, the damage could be well beyond some zeros vanishing from its bottom line,” Rammurthy added.

MicroWord is urging all users to update their anti-virus software and to scan all Word documents that have been downloaded from the web or received via e-mail before opening them.

What is Optimus keyboard?

The Optimus Keyboard is a concept for a prototype computer keyboard from the Art. Lebedev Studio, headed by Artemy Lebedev. On each of its keys is a display which can dynamically change to adapt to the keyboard layout in use or to show the function of the key.

On October 16, 2006, the company announced that one of their full-sized keyboard (a.k.a. Optimus-113) will not use OLED screens for the keyboard as previously advertised.

Overview

The design featured on the studio's website received attention on the web when it was featured on Slashdot on 14 July 2005, and afterwards for a few weeks on other technology websites.

Even though the pictures on its product page are computer graphics renderings, the designers stated that they intend for the keyboard to be a real product. The studio is currently looking for a manufacturer in China or Korea. According to the official newsletter, the Art. Lebedev Studio expects to receive actual samples of the keyboard by the end of 2006. The keyboard is supposed to be in production next year, but the studio is planning on creating another model after the release of the Optimus mini three.

The Optimus would allow for greater user interaction, by dynamically displaying the current function of the keys. For example, when the user presses the shift key, the pictures would change to upper-case versions. It would also make switching between different keyboard layouts (such as English and Cyrillic) rapid, and could make the switch to Dvorak easier for people who only have a QWERTY keyboard with no possibility of rearranging the keys. To demonstrate this concept, the computer renderings show example layouts for Quake III Arena and Adobe Photoshop.

The intended primary audience of the keyboard is typographers and translators; the secondary audience includes graphics professionals and gamers.

Optimus mini three

Optimus has released a smaller, three key version, of their keyboard named Optimus mini three . Each of the keys is larger than a standard key. The mini three can be adjusted, through the configuration software, to either a horizontal or vertical orientation.Initial reviews have been mixed. The keyboard functions as advertised, but it has been criticized for inordinately high CPU usage, slow response time, and buggy configuration software.

IBM Announces System Cluster 1350

New supercomputer platform

IBM today announced its new System Cluster 1350. The new System Cluster 1350 is fully scalable up to 1,024 nodes. IBM is marketing the System Cluster 1350 as the ideal choice for building a supercomputer. Target markets of the System Cluster 1350 include financial services, industrial, petroleum, life sciences and research.

IBM touts the System Cluster 1350 as: “The IBM System Cluster 1350 provides clients with an arsenal of technologies to tackle the challenges of high performance computing environments, while reducing the complexity and risk of configuring, deploying and managing Linux clusters,” said Wendy McGee, director, IBM Cluster Solutions. “We’ve collaborated with leading-edge processor, accelerator and networking companies to provide clients unprecedented levels of speed, choice and flexibility with this offering.”

As the System Cluster 1350 includes clustering technologies, it’s fully compatible with various IBM products. On the server side of things, IBM multi-core rack mount server’s model x3550, x3650, x3455, x3655, x3755 Intel and AMD based servers. Power 5 servers models p5-505/505Q, p5-510/510Q, p5-550/550Q are compatible too. In addition to traditional rack mount servers the System Cluster 1350 supports IBM Blade Servers models HS21, JS21, LS21, LS41 and QS20 as well.

Since clusters require a high-speed interconnect the IBM System Cluster 1350 supports the latest networking technologies including 10 Gigabit, Gigabit and 10/100 Ethernet protocols. Infiniband 1x and 4x protocols are also supported for up to 10-20 Gigabit data transfer rates. Myrinet is also supported with the System Cluster 1350.

Additionally the System Cluster 1350 is also the first cluster to support QLogic’s HTx adapter powered by PathScale’s InfiniPath HyperMessaging architecture for greater performance improvements. ClearSpeed Advance PCI-X based accelerators are also available in System Cluster 1350 compatible servers. Multiple ClearSpeed Advance PCI-X cards can be installed for linear performance improvements.

IBM’s first customer for its System Cluster 1350 is the University of Indiana. Once home to the world’s 23rd fastest supercomputer named Big Red, the University of Indiana has replaced Big Red with a System Cluster 1350 cluster. Computing power of the new System Cluster 1350 based cluster is 20.4 trillion numerical operations a second—up from Big Red’s 20 billion.

The IBM System Cluster 1350 is available immediately. Pricing highly varies depending on the configuration.

Dynamic CSS Changes

When changing the appearance of a site through the use of
JavaScript, we usually see developers either switch the stylesheet of
the page or change the class of an element. And then, on occasion, we
see the practice of changing appearance right in the JavaScript with
the style property. On their own, these methods are all
fairly reliable, but they don’t play too nicely together.


CSS Priorities

It’s important to look at the different priorities placed on
each type of CSS
implementation
when considering how to dynamically change the
appearance of a site, . In addition to the 3 mentioned in that link,
you can also set CSS
with JavaScript
.



  • External styles are on another
    page, and are included.


  • Embedded styles override external
    styles.


  • Inline styles override both
    embedded and external styles.


  • Styles modified with JavaScript override all other styles.



Making Them Work Together


Given these different approaches, the goal is to make it so they
work together regardless of when they occur or are implemented. As it
stands, if you were to implement a JavaScript style and then
afterwards change the external stylesheet on the fly, the changes
found in the new stylesheet will not stick because the original
JavaScript change overrides everything. Basically, we have to find a
way to undo the changes we make with JavaScript.


While there is still no ideal solution, it turns out you can erase
both JavaScript modified and inline styles, which will then cause the
rules found in embedded and external stylesheets to hold. Let’s go
through an example of the problem.


Load the page with a stylesheet that has a blue background:


<link rel="stylesheet" href="/test/blue.css" type="text/css" id="ss" />


Page background is now blue. Next, we will change it with JavaScript.


el = document.getElementById('pageBody');
el.style.backgroundColor = 'red';


Page background is now red. Lastly, we’ll switch stylesheets to one
with a green background.


document.getElementById('ss').href = '/test/green.css';


The background is still red, and has not turned to green. This is
because the JavaScript setting in step 2 still overrides the external
stylesheet. Also note that if you switch styles with this
method
, the same result occurs. If we want the background to turn
to green, we have to erase what we set in JavaScript. To do this in
Firefox and IE, use the code below before applying the new sheet:


el = document.getElementById('pageBody');  
el.removeAttribute('style');


And in Safari:


el = document.getElementById('pageBody');
el.style.backgroundColor = null;


This will cause the new changes to hold. Keep in mind that the
IE/Firefox version will erase everything you have set with
JavaScript, not just the background color. Even though this is not a
sexy approach, it does provide a work around that opens up some more
options for web sites.




Windows voting countdown begins...

Readers of the region's best-selling monthly computer magazine, Windows Middle East, have just two days left to register their votes.

Windows readers who visit www.itp.net/windowsawards06 can have their say on who wins nine categories - ranging from best photo printer through to best customer support and best retailer.

Best of all, every voter will be entered into the huge Windows Awards competition, which features a Sky Electronics GameStation PC main prize, along with more great Creative, Jabra and HP kit.

Voting closes this weekend so hurry across to our voting site here to have your say or miss out!

Elite Beat Agents Review

You won't find a stranger and more addictive rhythm game on a handheld system than Elite Beat Agents.
The Good: Top-notch rhythmic gameplay that requires a good deal of practice to master; completely outlandish cutscenes and stage scenarios; plenty of off-the-wall licensed music that's fun to play with; four difficulty levels and a multiplayer mode.
The Bad: A few of the more recent songs feel woefully out of place; difficulty can occasionally be a bit too much.

Some of the diehard Nintendo DS owners out there might remember a little game called Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! that was released last year. A ridiculously addictive and completely bizarre rhythm game that had a group of superhero cheerleaders solving the world's problems through dance, it featured some of the tightest and most challenging gameplay you could find on the DS. Trouble is, it never came out in America. But fret not, because a reenvisioning in the form of Elite Beat Agents has now arrived. This isn't the same Japanese game translated into English. Elite Beat Agents is pretty much an all-new game that Americanizes the formula a bit, adding in covers of American pop songs from a wide variety of eras in lieu of the indecipherably Japanese soundtrack of old. Otherwise though, this is an incredibly faithful follow-up to the original game, and the awesome rhythm-based gameplay and spastic presentation are fully intact.

The titular Elite Beat Agents are a group of black-suit-wearing secret agents that apparently work for an old military general and travel around the world solving people's problems. How do they accomplish these feats of heroism, you might ask? These guys get together and do some of the most tightly choreographed dance numbers this side of an '80s-era Michael Jackson video, and through the power of dance, cure the world's ills. Their routines are set to a weird variety of major pop tunes that often fit strangely well to the situation at hand. Think of the whole experience as a cross between Charlie's Angels, Saturday morning anime, and Mama Mia!-esque musical theater. In short, it's completely mind blowing.

A big part of the appeal comes from the presentation and cutscenes that set up each of the game's stages. All these are told through excellent-looking manga-styled sequences that set up each situation with the most extreme imagery possible. People are either incredibly happy or incredibly freaked out at all times. The problems you'll be solving are, of course, not quite what you might expect. You'll be helping babysitters fend off whiny children while they try to ask their jock boyfriends to go steady, 15th-century artists woo would-be models, and auto executives with mild ninjitsu skills take back stolen car designs from a rival company. The scenes are excellently drawn, and it's hard not to laugh at the ridiculousness of what's going on.

All the hyperactive cutscenes are a good setup for the gameplay, which is incredibly fast-paced and challenging. This is a rhythm game through and through. The whole game is controlled via the touch screen. As a stage begins and the music plays, small circles will appear onscreen with numbers on them. These indicate the beats that you must tap in time with the music. A larger circle surrounds each of these numbers, and it quickly caves in. When the outer circle meets up with the numbered circle, that's when you must tap. As complicated as it sounds, the gameplay is really just about finding the groove of the music. If you're not gifted with a good sense of timing, the precision with which you must make your hits might be a little off-putting.

You'll have to do more than just tap, too. Other mechanics include a ball that must be dragged from one end of the screen to another, in time with the music. Sometimes that ball goes back and forth a few times. Often you'll have to alternate taps with drags back and forth in a seriously frantic fashion. There's also a spinning-wheel mechanic that pops up randomly and forces you to spin your stylus around the touch screen so furiously that you might start fearing for your touch screen's safety. The context for all of this is that your taps and movements correspond to the movements of the 3D models of the agents that appear on the touch screen behind all these numbered balls. It can be tough to pay much attention to what the agents are doing while you're playing, but the game smartly includes a replay save option, so you can go back and watch the frenetic dance moves in action, as well as all the crazy manga sequences that play on the top screen, afterward.

If the game sounds challenging, that's because it is--extremely so. Even on the default difficulty, some of the game's stages will likely take a lot of practice to get through. You basically have to learn the individual rhythms of each part of a song, and the game's margin for error isn't very high. As you play, a meter at the top of the touch screen depicts how well you're doing, and a couple of missed hits will drop you into the red quickly. You get varying point scores depending on how exact your taps and movements are to the beat, but a string of imperfect scores also has a tendency to drop your meter down a good bit. However, as tough as the game can be, it's rarely frustrating. A few of the last stages can get vexing after your umpteenth failure, but even still, you'll want to keep going back over and over to finally best them. It's the right balance of difficulty for the most part--at least until you unlock the two harder difficulty levels. The hard mode is noticeably tougher, though once you've beaten the toughest stages on medium, you'll be well prepared for what hard puts in front of you. The hardest level, on the other hand, is just crazy.

Apart from unlocking multiple difficulty modes, you'll also unlock a few bonus stages as you play through the single-player mode. There are 19 stages in all, and it'll likely take you at least a couple of hours with each difficulty level to complete them. Once you're done with single-player, there's a multiplayer mode for both competitive and co-op play for up to four players. Co-op splits songs up amongst two teams of agents, with each taking about half of the beats. In competitive mode, the two teams compete by playing all the same beats and trying to fill their "elite-o-meter" higher than the other team. The game has both multicart and download play, though the download play offers only a limited number of songs. The multiplayer works pretty well, though it also seemed a bit laggy in spots. Download play matches also tend to take an exceedingly long time to load up.

One of the strangest things about Elite Beat Agents is its soundtrack. The grouping of songs that Nintendo has assembled here is equivalent to someone taking the individual music libraries of a teeny-bopper kid and his or her parents, tossing it all into a jar, shaking vigorously, and then scooping out a random handful of songs. '70s classics like the Village People's "YMCA" and Earth, Wind and Fire's "September" are joined by modern pop rock songs like Avril Lavigne's "Sk8er Boi" and Ashlee Simpson's "La La." What's good is that most of these songs line right up with the situations featured in the game. Madonna's "Material Girl" plays while you rescue a pair of ditzy blondes (with rather striking resemblances to Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie) from being stranded on a desert island, while the Stray Cats' "Rock This Town" takes place during a casino robbery in Las Vegas. The only real flaw with the soundtrack is that a few of the more recent tracks feel seriously tacked on. "Sk8er Boi" plays while a taxi driver races to get a pregnant woman to a hospital, for example. What? Wouldn't just about any other song in the world have made more sense than that one? It seems like these few out-of-place tracks are there to provide something familiar to those who weren't alive to experience the joys of the Village People or David Bowie back in the day. Still, that makes them stick out like no less of a sore thumb.

Though there isn't much competition, Elite Beat Agents is easily the best rhythm game available for the Nintendo DS, and for that matter, it's easily one of the most randomly addictive experiences on the platform. The idea of just tapping circles in time with music while dudes in suits dance doesn't sound like much on paper, but the insane presentational components and enjoyable challenge the game puts forth do a lot to bring the whole experience together into something extremely playable. Those without a penchant for the unabashedly bizarre might find Elite Beat Agents to be a bit too much, but just about anyone else with a DS would do well to try this one out.

Simple Wikipedia Explains Web 2.0

You gotta love Simple English Wikipedia, that official Wikipedia.org site aiming to use plain English only for a global audience (like “Google ... is a very big and popular search engine on the World Wide Web. They also do things apart from searching.”). But wait until you read their entry on “Web 2.0”...

Web 2.0 is the second phase of the internet, brought into the light of existence by the glory of the Wikipedia, the neverending acquisitions of Google and a whle heap of buggy open-source software. It is essentially the wet dream of Wikipedophiles, Furries and other assorted nerds.

Second Life is a clear indication of the failure of the second web – it has already degenerated into an orgy of porn, debauchery and pseudo-homosexual activity. The Wikipedia is not far behind – the idea of an Encyclopedia that Anyone Can Edit has created a place where the mob can rule, where ignorance can reign supreme so long as it is powered by one or more fat, basement-dwelling nerds with an unlimited supply of Doritos with a twitchy finger on the “revert” button.

Half that page is flagged with pastel-colored Wikipedia warning messages, from “Someone thinks that this page or section does not use Simple English” to “Someone does not think this article is neutral.” Duh.