Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Science and Technology Descend Upon the City of Brotherly Love

Well my friends, spring is here in Philadelphia and that means other things aside from those pesky April showers.  That’s right kids, as it was this time last year, Philly Tech Week is upon us.  Kicking off with startup weekend and the Philly Women in Tech Symposium this past weekend, the city of brotherly love is in full swing with technology events through this Saturday.  Most of these events are free, and give anyone in the area from tech experts and professionals to even the mildly tech inclined a number of cool and educational things to do around the city.

So what is Philly Tech Week?  It’s a celebration of technology and innovation in our fair city, with the goal of making Philadelphia better through technology.  Organized by the fine folks over at Technically Philly, the events span multiple topics related to technology.  Regardless of your interests, you’ll probably be able to find something for you.  Folks with a business lean can check out the entrepreneurial events.  Artists and tinkerers?  There are art galleries and other creative works being shown.  Even if your area of interest is Philadelphia government, there are events for you.  There are “tracks” set up for those topics, including entrepreneurship/investments, media/transparency, design/development, art/creative and access/policy.  You can follow along on one of these tracks, or if you’re like me, check stuff out a la carte when your work schedule allows it.  And don’t forget about the social aspect of these events either – you’re sure to meet some new people at the happy hours spread throughout the week and the signature event on Friday.

But what if instead of chips and code you’re more of a chemistry or bio person?  Well Philly Tech Week isn’t all that April brings in the city.  Running parallel to Philly Tech Week is the Philadelphia Science Festival that packs a whole other roster of events in Philly through April 29th.  Providing opportunities for all Philadelphians to positively engage with and build a community around STEM disciplines, the Science Festival showcases the role they play in our area.  Peppered in with open labs, neighborhood science and science caf├ęs are events at Franklin Institute and a science film festival.  From the science of us to the science of food (not to mention the science of beer) there are also family events for you and your little ones.

This is a great time in the city for not only science and tech people to nerd out on their topics of expertise, but for people in the Philadelphia are that have maybe not had a great deal of exposure to science and tech throughout their life and academic career to get that exposure, learn, an understand why science and tech is not only important to Philadelphia, but the world at large.

Check out Philly Tech Week and the Philadelphia Science Festival’s schedules with the links below to see what events might be up your alley, and make sure to follow @PhillyTechWeek and @PHLScienceFest on Twitter for updates throughout the week.

Philly Tech Week Schedule: http://www.phillytechweek.com/events
Philadelphia Science Festival Schedule: http://www.philasciencefestival.org/calendar

Monday, April 23, 2012

Capcom Producer Admonishes Street Fighter x Tekken Players for Hacking On-Disc DLC

I remember that there once existed a time when gamers had to accomplish a feat to unlock additional content for a game.  This was especially true in fighters, where you had to either win with a certain character or some other set condition to unlock more characters, stages, and sometimes character costumes.  It added another type of fun factor to the game, long before Xbox Live achievements and PSN trophies came along.  It was a very simple formula: player + win = content reward.

In current-gen gaming that formula has been augmented a bit, given the number of games that can be played online and consoles that come with built-in network access for communication and downloads.  Sure there’s still unlockable content that you can get by achieving certain win conditions, but some of that has been separated from the game, giving a worthless achievement for feats of skill and publishing the reward as downloadable content – what gamers affectionately (or not) refer to as DLC.  Instead of getting new content through play time or accomplishments, you download them from the publisher.  And no, it’s usually not free.  On top of the sometimes $60+ you could spend on the game itself and additional fees for online subscriptions, you’ll be forced to spend even more on certain downloadable goodies.

This is nothing new – on consoles it’s been going on since the release of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.  It’s another revenue stream that publishers can squeeze out of us, but we pay anyway (me included) because having certain downloadable vanity items is kind of fun.  But the reason I bring this up now is that a specific game has run into some DLC controversy recently, not over simple vanity items but characters – the Capcom / Namco joint-property crossover Street Fighter x Tekken.  Their plans for the game was that it would start with a limited number of characters, with 12 additional characters being available through DLC – for an additional $20 (at the current rate 1600 Microsoft points on Xbox Live).  But they managed it in a very interesting way.  The 12 DLC characters already physically come on the on the disc for anyone that purchased it.  The DLC is more of an unlock code that allows you to access that data.

So of course many enterprising folks went ahead and made some modifications that allowed them access to those characters without paying the $20 for the DLC unlock.  And I really don’t blame them one bit.  They paid for the disc, the disc has the characters on it, so in my opinion they already paid for the characters.  Of course this gets into a whole other discussion on software ownership and licensing that I’m sure I’ll get into at some point in the near future.

 Now the twist – Tomoaki Ayano, the SFxT producer recently talked about the on-disc DLC issue and expressed his great disappointment at players hacking the game to play the characters in an interview with GameSpot.  “Personally, I was really surprised when I heard the news that the characters had been hacked, basically.   So I was pretty disappointed by that. I was really surprised at how skillful the hackers were, basically. But I was really kind of disappointed that it created this kind of environment where a bunch of players were playing the characters but a bunch were unable to play with them.”

What strikes me as interesting, and to be honest relieved, is that Tekken series producer Katsuhiro Harada doesn’t agree with that philosophy.  “Tekken has never had DLC before and charged for it,” he told Edge during Namco Bandai’s Global Gamer Day event.  “This isn’t really directed at Capcom, I have always said this, but I see the characters and their move sets as chess pieces - they are essential items necessary in the game and we would never sell any of those individually.”  As Capcom’s running the show on this one, he fell in line with Capcom in his official sentiment.  He explained that every player needs to have all the characters on-disc so people who don’t buy the DLC can play against people who did without eating up hard drive space.  But it still looks to me that while he’s supporting Capcom in the decision, he’s simultaneously distancing the Tekken series from this issue.  And I sure don’t blame him with Tekken Tag Tournament 2 just around the corner for North America, which will give access to pretty much every character in Tekken history.

While I can understand Capcom’s logic in adding the DLC content on the source disc, it still seems wrong on some level to charge people to use what they’ve technically already purchased.  Especially when that content is 12 distinct characters including Sakura, Guy, Christie, and Lei Wulong.  Sakura and Lei, more so than others with their franchise history, should never be paid DLC.  With this one I’m definitely with Harada.

And to Ayano, after we hear you simultaneously admonish and praise those who hacked the disc, I pose a fundamental question – how did you not see this coming?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Instagram Saga Part II: Facebook Buys Instagram for $1 Billion, More Users Revert to Grade School Shenanigans

[Article first published as Facebook Buys Instagram for $1 Billion, More Users Re-live Grade School on Blogcritics.]

What a week in social media!  Just last week we took a look at Instagram, who had just recently released an app for the Android platform, waking up the sleeping iPhone fanboys and fangirls in the twitterverse to cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.  Venom was spit, the flames had somewhat subsided, and we all kind of thought that that was that.  Well kids, we were all wrong.  I mean just as far from correct as humanly possible.

On the heels of the Android release of Instagram, we were treated to another news bomb this morning brought to us by Kara Swisher at All Things D.  You see, not one to be left out when anything happens in the world of social media, Facebook today announced that they would be acquiring Instagram and adding it to their suite of online offerings.  So how much does a mobile photo app that doesn't charge for downloads go for these days?  $1.1 billion.  That's right, I said one billion.  Enough money to last you almost 3 years if you spent $1,000 a day, every day.  Instagram actually went through a round of venture capital funding for $50 million, bringing their valuation to $500 million just last week.  As for other $500 million Facebook added on top?  The only reasoning I can come up with is the pure value Facebook believes the photo sharing service will add to their portfolio, as Instagram doesn't have advertisments, and charges their customers nothing for use.  13 employees, zero revenue, and an astronomical valuation through a CEO-to-CEO deal.

In today's press release, Facebook stated - "We've focused on building the best experience for sharing photos with your friends and family. Now, we’ll be able to work even more closely with the Instagram team to also offer the best experiences for sharing beautiful mobile photos with people based on your interests."  And that makes sense really.  What's more interesting is that Facebook won't be completely integrating it into their existing UI - they'll be actively working on building the Instagram brand and working with their team (yep, all 13 of them) to develop the service and corresponding apps independently.

Talk about an impressive story.  You look at any startup shilling for shekels from venture capitalists and you have to imagine that a common unspoken exit strategy in their business plans has to be "We want to be bought by _____" (Enter Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Apple, Google, etc. as applicable). And while I downloaded the app just for test purposes, I really think that there's definitely some value and potential there.  

But what about user reactions?  As mentioned before, the iPhone community exploded at the release of Instagram for Android.  So how do they feel about their coveted little club being exposed further?  The sentiment again seems to primarily expressed through the twitterverse, with users sharing methods for exporting their photos off of  Instagram's services to outright deleting their Facebook accounts rather than dealing with the heartache and watching their frail little lives crumble.  TechCrunch has a good compilation of some of these tweets, which illustrate a portrait of a community that is no doubt dominated by whiny children.

My message to the iPhone blind irate is this:  You spoiled little jackasses.  Are you kidding me?  Does this mean this much to you?  You should be sending the Instagram folks in San Francisco a heartfelt thank you note for giving the free program, free community sites, running servers on their own dime without so much as forcing you to look at a single advertisement or going for monetization.  Heaven forbid that they make some money and try to improve their game.  What a wonderful bunch of never-content ingrates.  In addition to making me question the sanity of the masses even more than usual, reading these tweets makes me hope someone makes an Instagram for grammar, adding a filter to your tweets telling you which version of "know / no" to use.  I won't name the user who posted that she would "know doubt have to delete" her app for her own good.

The TechCrunch article mentions some big names making an exodus from Facebook as well, like Boing Boing's Xeni Jardin.  But she's quitting because she has legitimate concerns with Facebook security and their constant gaffes, not because she feels the country club's being invaded.  Totally fair.  As I always say, I have no issues with people making these decisions with logic and reasoning.  It's the blind rage quits that makes me cringe.

This has been a fortnight of overreaction from the hipster mavens of social media, and you know what?  Their tantrums are almost as entertaining as they are infuriating.

But that's ok.  I still sleep fine.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Mobile Tech. Fanaticism. Instagram. Reality.

[Article first published as Mobile Tech, Fanaticism, Instagram, Reality. on Blogcritics]

Given all the tech I’ve played with over the years, I’d be comfortable calling myself a Windows/Android guy with some earthy tones of Linux and the occasional smooth draws of Mac.  I like to keep up to date and current on what’s going on in commercial tech platforms for two (and a half) reasons. The first is personal – i’m a tech geek, and being more informed and knowing different platforms makes my purchasing decisions more well informed and in line with what I need. The second is professional – my career is primarily one of being the IT and technology alpha nerd, and I’d call geeking out part of my job description. That last “and a half?”  The more platforms, operating systems and “sides” I know, the more credibility I have talking tech, and the less I have to deal with folks associating my opinions with being a pure fanboy of any given platform.

Because fanboyism and fangirlism irk me.  Ohhh kids it irks me something improper. I like what I like because I’ve tested a lot of things, and through that testing formulated my own opinion based on a wide array of experiences.  I like PCs running Windows 7.  I prefer Android-powered devices.  It’s just how I roll.  That doesn’t mean I hate all things Apple – on the contrary I feel the vast majority of their products are really a solid set of devices.  And they back that up with sales, as well as a fiercely loyal fan base that in my opinion has supported the "Cult of Mac" moniker that it has come to be known as over the last decade, rivaling the following of some organized religions.  But when the iPhone was still pretty much on its own in the touchscreen smartphone game, it was all about “cool.”  With the rise of Android, the sentiment of “cool” was somehow converted into one of elitism.

You see kids, the iPhone isn’t iAlone anymore (see what I did there?).  It has competition now.  What the rise of Android has done is one very major thing sociologically, namely the creation of two completely polarized groups of users:  the "I won't touch anything non-Apple" camp and the "Apple is for the computer illiterate, sheep and hipsters locked in groupthink" faction.  Adding competition naturally drove the poles of these groups to consider each other the enemy, instead of just two kinds of tech that accomplish similar goals.  Hell I’ve never seen anything this heated in consumer tech before, including Intel vs. AMD.  That fierce brand loyalty Apple has built does come off as elitist fanaticism sometimes, but at the same time Android side is no less guilty of elitism.

Don’t get me wrong.  Like I said, I’m not a fanboy, and acknowledge the guilt of both “sides” when it comes to this sort of fanaticism.  My problem is with users.  Multiple people I'm friends with and work with run all Mac at their homes, and brag about how their new iPhones are "10x times better" than Android devices – in every iteration of course –  3, 3gs, 4 4s, because they've bought them all.  The problem is, they've never touched, much less used an Android device.  So how could they possibly know?  "But why is it better?" I ask.  No joke, most answers dance around "because Apple/Steve Jobs would never make a bad product."

Ok, that may support why it's a good product, but not why it's "100 times better." How was that purchase fueled by anything other than blind brand loyalty?  I know people on the other end of the spectrum too, who have purchased top-of-the-line Android smartphones and touted their superiority over iAnything while at the same time having never even held any sort of iPhone in their hands.  I have no respect for these kinds of opinions on either side, because they're not based in any kind of logic or fact.  And while I see this on both platforms, I do get it more from Apple users than Android users.  There is still the minority of users that have actually played with both and have a logical preference one way or the other.  THAT I can get on board with.  I've used both and I prefer Android.  Other colleagues have used both and prefer Apple.  Some are warming up to WIndows phones.  Fair enough.  I can't argue that because they’ve done the research to actually know.

With this so called battle raging on for years, why do I decide to bring this up now?  One word, kids: Instagram.  That’s right, the photo app loved and adored by scores of iPhone users is no longer Apple exclusive, and as of yesterday was free to download for Android users.  Now I never truly realized the wonder of this product – in my eyes it was a photo editing app that allowed a user to put a limited number of effects on a picture, providing one-click sharing to social media.  And after I downloaded it myself, my opinion didn’t really change.  It’s still nothing more than a handful of post-processing options that allows me to share to social media from within the app.  As such my personal reaction, and the reaction of most Android users I know, wasn’t too much more than a collective “Meh” for the day.  I just don’t feel the need to make my pictures look like they came from 1977, like one of the named filters the app can do.  And I’m perfectly capable of instantly sharing pictures from my phone to Twitter, Facebook and Google+ with the touch of a button.  So even having Instagram now, the chances of me regularly using it are fairly slim.

Now for the Apple side.  iPhone Instagram fans flooded Twitter upon release of Instagram for Android to not only express their surprise, but their disdain and outright disgust at the mere thought of sharing their precious app with filthy Android users.  Go ahead and look up the #instagram hashtag.  While some Android users are displaying their pleasure and joy at having this app, and the rest of us really don’t care, tweets from iPhoners are overwhelmingly negative.  Check the compilations of hate tweets put together by Android Community and BuzzFeed.  Responses ranged from do not follow requests to Android users to feelings of “eww” and “gross” and “fail” to suggestions to perform lewd acts upon and/or kill ourselves.   Reading these and actually going through the hashtag search actually made me angry.  Not angry because I’m an Android user, but at the pure venom that poured forth from the iPhone community.  Apparently android users are “ghetto” and my access to Instagram now makes it “the projects.” Really? We pay $300-$400 for our devices with 2 year contracts, so I hardly see how we’re the poorhouse alternative to the Apple country club. After the anger came jealousy – because this is clearly the most important thing these people have to address all day.  Following the jealousy however, was a complete 180 into intense laughter.  Why?  Because all I had to do to ruin the lives of a million elitist jerks was download a free app to my Droid Razr Maxx that I'll probably never use.  So on some level, thanks guys, you made me feel all iPowerful today, and sad for you that this is really all it takes for your world to crumble.  I understand it's not ALL iPhone users, but man does that community come off like a bunch of whiny children.

But still, why the hate people?  It's not that earth shattering of an app.  And I really hate to break it to you folks, but Android didn’t crash your party, we were invited.  Instead of being happy that the number of users and photos being available now increasing my a few million and the ability to follow and be followed by Android using friends, hell even instead of being indifferent, iPhone users are clearly filling the stereotypical role of the hipster, complaining that their exclusive underground club’s gone mainstream.  It's like the sound of a million fixed gear bicycles grinding to a halt.

Deal with it.  This has, if any at all, a marginal effect on your lives.  And technology is for everyone.  My apologies on behalf of the entirety of the Android community that you’re no longer the only ones that can add simple-minded single-touch “retro” post-processing to camera phone pictures in an exclusive community.  On behalf of the OG’s of nerd culture on the other hand, I have demands, not apologies.  Give us back cloud computing that made your iCloud possible.  Touchscreen tech in general.  Video games.  Advanced web tools.  The stuff my guys had to manually code that you do with a finger tap.  Alllll the stuff we nerds had exclusively before they went mainstream to the masses only so you could complain about trivial garbage now.

The bottom line is that everyone wants to be one of the cool kids.  Everyone wants to belong to some exclusive club that they can lord over others, as trivial as it may be, when the real truth is that Android devices and iProducts do the SAME. DAMN. STUFF.  When someone says "I love Apple and Android is for the dirty" or "Android is awesome, Apple is the evil empire," 95% of the time what they're REALLY saying is "I love mobile technology, and haven't the first damn clue what the real differences between the tech and platforms are."

Because to the 5% of those of us that know - those of us who actually care to know about and understand this tech that rules our very lives instead of form over function, it’s mathematically impossible for us to care less.