Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Is it your fault or 'theirs'?

I have just read in disbelief about a clown booked to perform in Leeds for Tesco. He has recently been prevented from getting insurance unless he stops using a bubble machine in case it drips soap on the ground and someone slips. Now he has been banned from using any balloons because 'some children may be allergic to latex'. Have you ever heard of a latex allergy from a distant balloon? Why has an allergy affecting about 2 people taking precendence over the remaing 99.99% of kids enjoying a show containing balloons? Maybe someone is allergic to the clown's face paint. I'll bet a few people have died or injured themselves laughing. Should this mean all entertainment must stop?

This post isn't about saving a clown. It is a wider issue. If people get drunk and cause trouble it is the fault of the pub for selling alcohol! There is regularly uproar about violent computer games, and more specifically recently about the setting of such violence in Manchester Cathedral. The authors claim it is just a fantasy and is not real - so its OK. Problem is now graphics and consoles are improving games are starting to look and feel much more realistic. To pass levels on games you have to keep trying, and honing your gut reactions to beat your opponents and win. After a day playing Ridge Racer I actually find myself thinking about taking corners much faster in my real car. I have decided to stop playing the game because it could put me in danger. Most other people would probably not be so sensible, and would practice in the real car so they could improve on the game. But because of this should the game be banned from the public? Is it the game author's fault for encourauging dangerous driving in a game where there are not the same consequences?

Additionally the Lords committee has recently published a good report into the future of personal safety on the internet. I like it because one of the key points they attack is current software 'license' agreements. For some reason the person who created the software is not responsible for all the flaws in the software. It is my fault for running the software! Also they suggest holding Internet Service Providers responsible for viruses etc sent from their network. I actually don't agree with this - the person responsible in my view is the one who created the virus. Any changes to make net users reliably traceable in the real world would let us nail em up!

When I buy a car do I have to sign a license? If, for example, there is a fault with all BMWs that a wheel falls off at 80mph and kills the driver would such an agreement exempt the designers from responsibility for the fault? I think the charge would be corporate manslaughter earning someone a jail term.

These issues I have mentioned are all very different issues that may seem unrelated, but my point is about who is responsible for how much? Where does a supplier's responsibility end and a consumer's responsibility start?

Can someone sell me software that exposes my credit card details to the world without me being aware and it not be their fault? Can someone sell me a program to hone my reactions to make me a more dangerous driver and claim it is my fault for using it and applying it to my real life? Can an unusual allergic reaction in one person be enough to ban all balloons from the country? Or should that person expect a clown to have balloons and avoid his show?

You know now this is composed I realise I have already written a post about this same issue. I called it Religion and racism about the racism row with Shilpa Shetty on Celeb Big Brother.

Someone in government needs to take this issue on board and establish some uniform guidance that can be applied across the board. Exactly where does a supplier's or consumer's responsibility begin and end?

Shockingly I can't begin to answer that off the top of my head. Information Technology rules are definitely too soft on supplier's. The Lords report hit that nail on the head! I also feel broadcasting rules are too hard on their supplier's. Might come back to this one.

Perhaps the answer is nowhere - both are responsible. But we need to keep the compensation lawyers on a leash! Maybe compensation laws are partly responsible for this problem?!


Friday, August 10, 2007

Playstation 3 revealed

I reviewed the PSP in a post on here in November 2006 and concluded it was wrongly marketed as a games machine. Sky told me unofficially then they wanted to embrace the PSP and the deal with Sony has been confirmed in the last week.

No surprise then that I would be investigating the Playstation 3. I am not one of these who pays through the nose for brand new technology the day it is available. I like to wait for a few updates to add vital features and the first round of price cuts. Hence when I found a cheap deal in Argos for a PS3 with 2 controllers and 2 games I went out and put my birthday money towards one :)

Why given that I am not a fan of games? Most only entertain me for a couple of days as I have mentioned elsewhere when complaining about the pricing. It is a blu-ray disk player. One of the cheapest and best you can get. It has an internal disk on which to store downloaded games, photos, video and music. And it talks to the PSP. On the game front it is the most powerful and the only one with proper full hi-def 1080p support. The Xbox 360 can only do 1080i and has no HDMI socket.

So what have I found out that the Sony marketing department have not shouted from the rooftops? Soooo much.

Firstly, all the sales figures for the next-gen games consoles are putting the Wii up front because people like the new way to play with a motion sensitive controller. No-one seems to know the PS3 wireless six-axis controllers are motion sensitive in 3 planes!!

Second, blu-ray. What a silly name for a format. I told my mum I was going out to buy a blu-ray disk and she looked at me thinking I was about to buy an X-rated blue movie. So the HD-DVD versus blu-ray format war.... Everyone except Universal are releasing on blu-ray (90% of movies). Two studios will be releasing on both formats giving the HD-DVD camp about 50% of movie availability. Universal players are starting to hit the market that can play either format, so chances are eventually the consumer won't need to know what format the movie is on. The Sony Playstation 2 was one of the driving factors in takeup of the DVD so it makes sense the PS3 could help drive blu-ray, as Blockbuster in America have found. It's looking quite good for blu-ray - except as one salesman told me Sony have a bad track record with formats backing Betamax, Minidisk and UMD.

The PSP interactivity allows the PSP to access the PS3 via your wi-fi or any internet hot spot. At present you cannot access the games, a DVD or a blu-ray movie. You can play videos, music and photos that can be accessed by the PS3.

The PS3 can access multimedia stored on other computers on your home network running the DLNA protocol (Eg Windows XP or Vista). This massively enhances the available storage. It also supports USB hard disks and incorporates a memory card reader.

The biggest plus for me is the online Playstation Store. Were you aware that you could connect to a Sony store via your broadband connection? This allows access to lots of free movie trailers, game demos and chargeable games. These chargeable games are downloaded from the net to the PS3 hard drive - no CD is available - and they cost from £3 upwards. Chris is happy - some good and cheap games (Eg Lemmings and Gran Tourismo HD)!!

The last point is online gaming. Did you know that if you wish to play other people over the Internet on a Microsoft Xbox you have to pay £10 a month subscription for ever? With the Playstation these features are available for free.

For the techies it is officially supported by Sony to plug in any USB keyboard and mouse, partition the hard disk then dual-boot a guest operating system. I have installed Ubuntu Linux and can use the console as a normal PC that can run OpenOffice or any other open source or home written programs. It can't run Microsoft Windows properly yet. The processor is a new design called the Cell/BE. It has a dual-core 'normal' processor and 8 extra specialist processors or 'SPUs' that are managed and controlled by the main processor. In some cases the SPUs can each perform 2 operations at a time. This gives it far more number crunching power (18 simultaneous instructions) than any current PC processor.

So the PS3 is the most fully featured, powerful and cheapest next-gen games machine to own in the long run. It is capable of playing latest generation DVDs and has the best quality video and sound outputs. Not bad for £400. You won't get a gaming PC with blu-ray drive for anything like that - but the games console can be a PC or a DVD player as well!

My only concern is that the motion sensitive controllers and the new processor design have not yet been understood and used to their full ability by developers. I hope it isn't because the designers have made things too complicated or that they do not actually work in practice. There are not yet many specific games, but all the PS2 back catalogue will work and can be upscaled to hi-definition. Watch this space...