Amazing Grace
end March 26 Column


by Craig Reynolds

Apple, good/evil:based on sales per square foot, not to mention excellent design and customer service, Fortune magazine picks Apple: America's best retailer ("The high-tech wundercompany has landed - not only on our street corners and in our malls, but also for the first time, on the top 10 of Fortune's Most Admired Companies.") While in Europe Apple continues to be cast as the miscreant for the locked down anti-interoperability DRM that creates the iTunes walled garden monopoly: EU takes aim at Apple over iTunes. ("Do you think it's fine that a CD plays in all CD players but that an iTunes song only plays in an iPod? I don't. Something has to change" -- EU Consumer Protection Commissioner Kuneva.)

Innovative games: in games, as in other creative industries, innovation and predictable profits often lie in different directions. Big commercial games, like big commercial films, need to turn big profits to offset their big production costs. Remaking past winners is the safest bet. While low budget indie games, like films at Sundance, can be more experimental and quirky, going for a smaller audience niche.  Like a stand-out indie film getting a big time Hollywood distribution deal, the game flOw (from Jenova Chen et al. at USC, now at thatgamecompany) has gotten a lot of attention recently because it is being distributed through the Sony PS3 online store. See also this article Calling all rebels! Video game market opens wide and this recent GDC session Classroom to Console: The Autobiography of flOw. You can play flOw in this Flash-based in-browser version. In all digital media, the low costs of online distribution allow a lot of specialized content to be sold to a lot of narrow audiences, which add up to a huge market in total. This is known as the long tail. Another title from academia, The Restaurant Game is part of a project to develop better game AI by observing human players. Its the PhD work of Jeff Orkin who I've know for several years. Please download the game and play to contribute to Jeff's research. And speaking of games in support of academic research, last week Sony officially rolled out its Folding@Home client for PS3 as a free download, use your idle PS3 to help research on protein folding: Know when to fold 'em. In the Chronicle's PlayStation 3 taking a role in Alzheimer's fight, the son of an Alzheimer's victim considers buying a PS3 in honor of his mother: his grandkids can use it to play games if they run Folding@Home when it is idle. Two other game items: More video games, fewer books at schools? and Memory workouts beat other computer games in study.

Astronomy news: the NASA spacecraft STEREO-B caught this fantastic images of a solar eclipse (at this range it is called a lunar transit of the sun) be sure to view the movie on that page. Saturn's moon Titan was once thought to be covered by a layer of liquid ethane and methane. Then the Huygens probe landed and found a solid surface. Turns out the surface is neither uniformly wet nor dry, but a much more interesting mixture of land and sea: Cassini Reveals “Seas” of Methane and Ethane on Titan and Probe reveals seas on Saturn moon. Speaking of the Saturnian system, more information about the source of Enceladus' geysers: Saturn's Icy Moon May Have Been Hot Enough for Life, Study Finds. Meanwhile, on Mars: there is an ocean's worth of frozen water on the south pole: Polar water 'would blanket Mars'. Other Martian news: 'Cave entrances' spotted on Mars, Movies provide new view of Mars and (ok not news) Plant life of Mars (1957 Disney animation)

Technobits: Web 2.0 meets the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and Open Call From the Patent Office --- Big Brother State -- GENIUS animation about surveillance society --- Google Will Start Removing Identifying Data From Search Logs --- Forbes on Vista: "at best, mildly annoying" --- Should Microsoft start paying for vulnerabilities? --- Bright, White Future for "Green" LEDs, Scientist Says --- From a Rapt Audience, a Call to Cool the Hype about "An Inconvenient Truth" ---Salamander robot uses 'spinal cord' to move --- Cool Robot, new icebreaker to gather polar data --- One Number That Will Ring All Your Phones GrandCentral: "One number for life" --- Uncrewed space plane passes first key test --- Full-colour glow-in-the-dark materials unveiled --- twirl a squirrel a new twist on keeping squirrels out of your bird feeder, this item ignited a flood of squirrelly videos in the blogosphere, of which I will only pass along Drunk Squirrel.