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    Thursday, November 26, 2009

    I Now Pronounce You Man and Video Game



    Over the weekend what some say is a very important event in geek fandom took place: a Japanese man married a video game character. The man, going by the online handle "Sal9000" married the character Nene Anegasaki from the video game Love Plus. Many watching the video of the event commented it represented the "end of Japan", and while I think it is a sad expression of one human beings need for companionship, I wouldn't say it's the "end of Japan" and there are certainly other factors to take into consideration when examining the broken down psychology of relationships in Japan.

    First of all, it's not the "end of Japan". Obsessive otaku have existed for at least the past 35 years, and have found slightly disturbing outlets in everything from naked, mid-coitus anime character statues, to full length body-pillows with popular, scantily clad anime characters illustrated on them. In addition, what both Boingboing blogger Lisa Katayama's video erroneously states and the related Kotaku article fail to mention (even though it is plainly stated in a previous Kotaku article) is that although this was a Japanese man, the ceremony took place in Guam at a church that agreed to hold the ceremony. No goverment agency was involved in recognizing this "marriage" as a legal union in any way, particularly not the Japanese government. This is far from a permanent shift in Japanese society. Lisa Katayama goes so far as to suggest that rather than a "real marriage" the Japanese man just wanted to express "he's hooked on this game and that he's really into the character who lives inside of it". On that point I differ, and while I don't believe this is the "end of Japan" I do think it's one more symptom of a confused, stressed-out society.

    The decline in relationships and dating in Japan is a serious issue. The Japanese population is expected to decrease by 30 million over the next 40 years, and 50% of that population will be 65 years old or older. Japanese citizens are having fewer children, and part of the issue is that they are forming relationships more and more rarely. In my opinion, it stems from a culture that emphasizes incredibly exhausting work schedules, the clash of traditional and modern views of relationships, and the culture that surrounds Japan's unique brand of escapist entertainment.

    Ever since Japan's rapid industrialization in the late 1800s Japan has had an incredibly strong work ethic. At that time the government drove the country to "catch up" to the West in an effort to avoid colonization. This effort was effective, and transformed Japan into a colonial power itself at the beginning of the 20th century. In the aftermath of WWII, this same spirit created the "salaryman" culture that saw Japan rise from a post-war country with a ruined infrastructure to a premiere economic power in the 1980s. The salaryman was expected to work 15 hour shifts, move wherever his company needed him most, and by and large sacrifice his family time and leisure for the good of the company and by extension the country. DThe fiuring that time Japanese men may have been willing to accept this grueling lifestyle as they had either seen first-hand or were not far removed from the destruction and poverty of war, and they were buoyed by Japan's fantastic rise to eminence on the world stage. Once the economic bubble burst in the early 90s however, a generation raised in wealth entered the workforce at a time when the country was facing an economic recession some say has never ended. These young men were expected to work the same endlessly tiring schedules as their fathers; expected to step into harsh and thankless roles after leaving a relatively easy childhood. This pressure may have drove them to seek escape from the reality of Japanese business culture.

    Due to Japan's rapid industrialization many tradition aspects of Japanese society have clashed with their foriegn-influenced modern counterparts. Traditional Japanese society practiced arranged marriage. The Western feeling of passionate "true love" was one that was acknowledged but acknowledged as problematic and not a feeling to be indulged. Instead the traditional Japanese ideal of love was very innocent. Like the "first love" during adolescence, this ideal emphasizes shy, tentative expressions of affection as opposed to the passionate outpourings of Western "love" (and by extension was something expected to be shed when the demands of "adulthood" arose). This has remained the ideal for Japanese men, while buoyed by their growing economic power Japanese women have embraced the imported concept of the empowered woman. This is a positive development as traditionally women have had very submissive roles in Japanese society. The conflict lies in that Japanese women have come to expect confident men who have their lives organized, while the driving economic pressure and obsession with innocent, stress-free relationships has left more and more Japanese men checking out of relationships.

    Just as Japan was known worldwide for its economic prowess in the 1980s, Japanese pop culture began a rise to international renown in the mid 1990s. Driving this rise inside Japan were a growing fanbase of "otaku", men in their twenties and beyond with a childlike obsession with video games and anime. Series aimed towards young girls, featuring young female protagonists and innocent "first love" stories, were particularly popular with this demographic. As the animation/video game industry saw this they began to produce products that catered to these desires for innocent, stress-free relationships. One of which is the very videogame, Love Plus, which features Sal9000's "bride". In a society where men are under a large amount of stress to work tirelessly and the major form of escapist entertainment offers them their ideal romantic relationship, many choose to tune out the changing realities of modern relationships in Japan.

    A Japanese man marrying a video game character is by no means the "end of Japan" or even a symptom of the sole cause in the Japanese population decline. There are still men and women who manage to have realistic relationships in Japan, but may decline to start a family because of the pressures of their jobs. However, this event is a symptom of a society in crisis. A society that on its current path is looking at the prospect of extinction.

    Sunday, November 8, 2009

    Assassin's Creed

    Having just gotten into Assassin's Creed on the PC, I am already psyched for the sequel. Nevermind that Ubisoft crafted an amazing game with rich gameplay, a detailed, authentic world, and fascinating story and characters. The marketing blitz for Assassin's Creed 2 has been mindblowing, largely due to a short film series being produced about the game's characters. The films are rendered in digital environments but feature real, quality actors, period costumes, and quite well written dialogue and story. I would watch all of these strung together and put into a movie theater.

    I'm also reminded of my social marketing experience and the idea of using apps to market an upcoming product. Many see the success of games like Mafia Wars on Facebook and Spymaster on Twitter then want to create something as interactive and viral. The idea of simply "skinning" a game like Mafia Wars, turning the mobsters into say vampires and assassinations into feedings, is often brought up. I would play a Mafia Wars skinning of Assassin's Creed to no end. Playing through the first game I already see parallels, like assassinations, rescuing innocents from brutal guards, and completing missions with fellow informants to gain information, parallels that could easily be skinned for Assassin's Creed. This is a game I want to tell my friends about and get them interested in as well, and what better way to direct that desire than through a game app. I know people get tired of the constant spam updates on Facebook from others' games but I think Assassin's Creed holds more weight as an established franchise than something about generic mobsters, vampires, or farm animals.

    Just a thought, Ubisoft.

    Monday, October 26, 2009

    Mind Hole Balls

    Via the Nefariously Magnificent Nicopolitan:



    Nicopolitan: it's gonna blow your mindhole
    Nicopolitan: well, maybe not, but still neat

    redFred: Hehe
    redFred: I will prepare my mindhole
    redFred: Pack it all stuffed with all kinds of cotton balls
    redFred: Don't wanna lose too much

    Nicopolitan: i hear you can get a great deal on mindhole cottonballs at Costco
    redFred: Hmm, but it's gonna be a bitch to carry that huge box home
    redFred: I'd rather just get the individual packs at Rite Aid

    Nicopolitan: individually wrapped mindhole balls
    Nicopolitan: like, the ones you get on the airplane

    redFred: Sealed for your protection
    Nicopolitan: do not open if safety seal has been broken
    redFred: Apply to mindhole only with the advice of a trained professional
    Nicopolitan: consult a physician to ask if mindholeballs are right for you
    redFred: Stop using mindholeballs immediately if you see adverse symptoms such as bleeding, leakage, or grey matter absorption
    Nicopolitan: ok, ok ok ok, now we need a slogan
    redFred: Mind Hole Balls: A Better Life through Balls ?
    Nicopolitan: wow. okay, i just snotted on my keyboard
    redFred: Hahaha
    Nicopolitan: there is no way i'm not Photoshopping a logo for this

    Sunday, October 18, 2009

    Portrait: Koban

    From Japan

    Koban, or police boxes, are small neighborhood outposts for the Japanese police. They're often only one or two rooms, and house two to ten police officers. Koban are good meeting places as they're often close to major stations and well marked on area maps. Many are built with a cute facade, like this owl-shaped koban in Chiba city.

    Thursday, October 15, 2009

    Oktoberfest

    Here are photos of the Yokohama Oktoberfest 2009. Giant mugs of beer, sausage and pretzels, and polka bands. I'm half sorry I didn't get a photo of the guy emptying the entirety of his digested Oktoberfest meal on the ground next to our table. By far the highlight was the Japanese crowd getting all riled up and dancing to the polka music after getting some liquid courage in them.






    Wednesday, October 7, 2009

    GMT +9

    It's been a while since I've made a post on life in Japan.

    The weather has been incredibly strange lately. It was nice and pleasantly cool all the way up through the end of September. Long-sleeved shirt weather, but nothing heavier. Then we've had a week and a half of rain and wind with a huge typhoon coming in, and the temperature has plummeted. I was walking to work in just my suit one day and the next I had to take a sweater and jacket. Today the typhoon winds are so strong they've closed down most of the train lines.

    This week and a half I've also been working non-stop. I decided to work overtime this weekend and so I've been going, going, going since last Sunday. It made me a little sick at the end of last week but with some good medication I've pulled through.

    This coming weekend is the Yokohama Oktoberfest and I'm planning to go again this year. They really spare no expense in making it authentic, even hiring a real German polka band to play music under the big dining hall tent. There are all kinds of great German beer, good stouts and weizens, and all the sausages you could possibly eat. It's usually packed which is fun because the festival atmosphere spreads throughout the crowd.

    Tuesday, September 29, 2009

    Fans

    A new study says 99% of US Online Retailers are planning to have Facebook Fan Pages, and 91% are planning to have Twitter accounts. Theoretically this is to both build a fan base and keep in touch with their customers about upcoming products and sales.

    I've always seen the attempt to build "fans" around a retail outlet rather disingenuous. Consumers generally shop at one retailer or another because of low prices and convenience. I imagine there is generally no one who are actual fans of retailers, outside of Sharper Image/Brookstone gadget enthusiasts. I'm sure this massive move to online representation will separate retailers along those two lines: those who see this as a real opportunity to give their customers the information they need, and those who use this to attempt building an imaginary retailer fan base.

    Sunday, September 27, 2009

    Twitter Widgets

    I'd like to update my Twitter feed, and find a nice clean way to post it on various sites. Right now my feed sits at the top of this blog, as a plain RSS feed. I've tried using the official Twitter widget but it becomes misshapen and weird when I try to place it in the sidebar on this page. There's also an interesting looking batch of widgets I found on a site called Wish-a-Friend, but it's much busier than my page:


    Twitter Widgets - Twitter Backgrounds

    What Twitter widgets do you use? Have you seen any nice, clean ones? How does my plain RSS Twitter feed look? Do I even need to change it?

    Thursday, September 24, 2009

    Facebook, Twitter, Internet Gossip

    I've been thinking a lot lately about slander, and particularly the pettiness to which it sinks in the political and entertainment arenas. We're barraged by "breaking news" about divorces, infidelity, drug use, slip-ups, or even just a bad photo. Minutiae that are blown up to operatic proportions and evidence of why we can no longer put our trust in this or that person.

    At the same time, we are a generation living through changes in the definition of privacy. Most of us are aware that our Tweets and Facebook posts are publicly available, and most of what we do online can be found one way or another. There are the stories of people losing jobs over Facebook and blog content, and reports that organizations now thoroughly research prospective employees' online presence.

    I wonder what's going to happen in ten to fifteen years when the majority of our celebrities and politicians have been raised in this culture. I'd like to think we will become desensitized to this brand of "news", but I'm not sure. How will it change our definitions of privacy and our expectations of behavior when the people we look up to and choose to lead us have every past mistake documented for our scrutiny? How will the news media adapt to such a readily available source of gossip? Will we become more forgiving as a culture?

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009

    Google Captchas

    Google has been on another round of purchases lately. They've snapped up the popular identity verification service reCAPTCHA, and there are rumors that they're looking to acquire the Brightcove video service as well.

    Both are interesting moves. Google's reason for their acquisition of reCAPTCHA was not neccessarily as a security service, but apparently the software uses advanced scanning to take those words from old newspapers and books and make them readable to the services' computers. This is an effort to increase the viability of their Google Books project. Acquiring Brightcove is an interesting parallel to their acquisition of YouTube in 2006. The video service is popular among major news sites and this could shore up Google's dominance of online video.

    There's a lot of promise here for these companies to expand their business. Google's proven record of acquiring companies and letting them continue to do what they do best has paid off. I'm excited to see these services helping Google's own projects as well.

    Wednesday, September 9, 2009

    Where Do We Go From Here?

    I think Twitter has just about reached the market saturation where first adopters will start looking for something new. It's considered a legitimate news source and most social networking users are hip to it, if not our parents yet. With Twitter becoming mainstream what could be next?

    Posterous,Tumblr, and similar services have been slowly gaining popularity for a while. Situated somewhere between Twitter and a blog, these are ideal places to upload brief clips of text, day-to-day snapped photos, and the occasional short video. While they're a brilliant amalgamation of current web communication they seem to be a bit too involved for the average webizen.

    Robo.to is a service between Posterous and Twitter. It's in my opinion a simple step above Twitter, adding Facebook and blog integration and a short, 30-sec looping video of yourself. While enjoyable I think the reason it hasn't taken off has been the webcam feature. Yes it's incredibly fun and an innovative integration but as curious tech users have found since the debut of webcams we aren't always looking our best when surfing the web. As much as I love Robo.to I rarely update it because most days I'm sitting in front of the computer in frumpy pajamas and with wild, unruly bedhair.

    What these services and most speculation don't take into account however is that the next "hot" webapp is bound to be something we can't quite imagine just yet. As much as Facebook is going after Twitter because they believe them to be competition, they really aren't. True, the service is taking FB's place in the internet spotlight, but it's proven itself more of a news service than a social networking platform. The next big thing may bear some passing resemblance to the two giants, or may take one of their features and expand upon it to the point of a worthwhile, brilliant service in its own right, but it will be an unlikely service we did not instantly recognize for its similar potential.

    Taking that into account, what are the basic characteristics of both Facebook and Twitter that it may have? Both services let users share simple, small content broadly and include a networking component. While we may not recognize it's form, it's a good bet the next web service hit will fit these basic criteria.

    Wednesday, September 2, 2009

    Chrome +1

    Google Chrome is one year old today. It's been a year of the fastest, slickest browser around which apparently hasn't gained the Google-like popularity the search engine enjoys.

    I use both Firefox and Chrome myself. Firefox is the traditional, loyal browser that I prefer for it's enormously varied plugins and addons. I like being able to tweak my web browsing experience and finding new addons that do things I didn't even know I needed. Chrome, on the other hand, I use for quick simple tasks like checking out a YouTube video link or checking my Gmail. I enjoy it's lightweight nature and the separate-processes-per-tab. It's set as the default browser on my system, even though it's not my main browser, so I can use it to quickly view links. Even though I enjoy features of both, they occupy separate needs on my system.

    I don't think Google Chrome will become my main browser in the near feature, but that could change. I'd like to see them open up the plugin API to the public. I'm sure if they did the diligent, and Google-loyal, programming community would produce some very awesome plugins for the browser. I'd like to see them support themes as well, which I understand is coming in the next version of Chrome. While the default look is clean when I'm browsing late at night I like something a bit easier on the eyes.

    While the 2.84% market share Chrome currently enjoys in no way reflects Google's dominance in other web-related arenas there's still hope for the browser. Google has proven time after time that they have the innovation and the strength to completely change the way we view the web. I have confidence they'll make something revolutionary out of Chrome yet.

    Wednesday, August 26, 2009

    Tweet Sale?

    An excellent, though short, piece on Mashable today about the pros and cons of putting Twitter up for sale.

    I am impressed at the lengths Facebook has gone to in their bid to clone/outmaneuver Twitter's features and appeal. FB has made it clear they see a rival in Twitter, and they're interested in being the top dog in Social Networking conversations once again.

    I like the suggestion that Twitter sell to a company such as Google or Apple. If they did end up selling to Facebook there's a very good chance their unique service would be buried under the multitude of communication features on Facebook. I enjoy having different conversations on the two networks and worry that Twitter would disappear in such a move. If they were bought by a company that is known for making various, unique web platforms and fostering real development (as is Google) they would gain both the support to become a top social networking service and the security to keep them from being absorbed along the way. It would be nice to see them continue on their own, but the climate is beginning to feel like Facebook is in for the kill and Twitter needs some protection.

    Wednesday, August 19, 2009

    Audio Wars

    MySpace announced it has acquired music sharing service iLike, which allows users to share songs and playlists over social networks and via a Last.fm-like iTunes plugin. This consolidates MySpace's emphasis on music and bands in their network but interestingly it's also a move to block Facebook invading this territory.

    According to the article above, iLike has a music sharing application on Facebook that boasts 10 million users. This chunk of the userbase theoretically will lose access to the application and need a replacement. Seeing as how these users potentially have accounts they've made on iLike that can be ported over to whatever iLike-based application that MySpace creates there's a chance they may take an interest in the network again.

    It's a very smart move by MySpace. The few people I know who still prefer the network over Facebook primarily cite its music support. Based on what we've seen so far FB may be content to let their rival keep that userbase but this is clearly a move they need to address as it affects their own service.

    Wednesday, July 29, 2009

    MicroHoo!

    Microsoft and Yahoo have officially joined forces to work as a single search engine to challenge Google. Yahoo will now use Microsoft's bing search for all of its sites.

    Many news outlets are calling this a huge game changer and a bold move by Microsoft to disrupt Google's success. While I am surprised at Microsoft's recent changes in their company attitude, the coming Microsoft stores and PC commercials challenging Apple, I just don't see this as a real threat to Google.

    Google hasn't gotten to the top of the hill and just rested, they're constantly innovating and producing amazing new services. With years of that innovation, all of which has been free to the public, they've built an immense, loyal following. Ultimately people will use the superior product and bing has incorporated some interesting features, such as their in-search video, but at best I think this will simply be a challenge to Google to innovate at a faster pace. They'll need to produce either similar features or better, and given Google's track record I can't see them letting us down.

    Wednesday, July 22, 2009

    Digital Selves

    There are a number of services online that make an "e-penis" list of the things I've listened to, read, played, or watched. I religiously update both my Shelfari and MyAnimeList accounts, and Last.fm takes care of itself as does Steam. I'm trying to find a comparable site to keep my movie reviews and ratings, and I was using Flixster on Facebook until I logged into the application with my actual Flixster account and it deleted the year and a half of ratings and reviews I had made while not technically "logged in." Great feature. IMDb is likely the place to go, and Mashable put out a list of 10 top social networking sites for movie lovers.

    I'm both curious and squeamish about exploring what makes these kinds of sites so addictive. Squeamish because I'm afraid all I can point to is they help me feel like I've done something "productive" with activities that might not otherwise be considered "productive". Sure, I just logged two hours in Team Fortress 2 and grabbed a handful of achievements, or I finished three more episodes of Nodame Cantabile, but I could have been spending that time studying Japanese. I can't help but come to this conclusion because I also tend not to be very social on these sites. Sure I've got real life friends on Shelfari and Steam, and I keep an eye on their updates, but I'm mostly content to see myself chip away at the massive list of films I haven't seen or books I haven't read.

    Is there inherent value in having these lists? Beyond justifying how I spend my time and sometimes not being able to remember all the media I've consumed.

    Thursday, July 16, 2009

    I'd Like to Buy the World a Twitter

    Rumors are flying that Facebook is developing a Twitter app, another one of those boxes on your wall, that would, well, let you use Twitter within Facebook. This would keep Facebook users on the site and let the less tech-savvy explore Twitter while not having to leave their familiar Facebook home. I have a feeling this large portion of the Facebook demographic would be interested in Twitter if they tried it but likely can't be bothered to go figure out how it works or jump into a new service where there's no one they know. It may not bring over the long-time power users of Twitter however, as it remains to be seen how feature rich the app is or even what it looks like. Without the features of desktop clients such as Seesmic Desktop to parse my Twitter information, I wouldn't be terribly interested in switching over to this app.

    As much as I abhor Facebook's misguided contortions in its attempt to block the rise of Twitter, I have to admit this is a smart move to co-opt the service's users and it would be a win-win situation for both services. It would keep Facebook users on Facebook and improve the ability of the service to keep users in touch with their friends, its core value. At the same time it would bring Twitter to the attention of Facebook's 250 million users.

    Wednesday, July 8, 2009

    Facebook for Better or Worse

    Facebook has made two changes to its service recently that reflect the two directions it could go in: the ability to send status updates to the entire Facebook network, and the placing of the Event feature directly in the "What's On Your Mind?" box.

    The first change, the ability to send your status updates to "Everyone" on Facebook, allows you to broadcast your updates to everyone on the Facebook network. It reflects the company's desire to be everything to everyone. It's a move clearly designed to target Twitter and co-opt their design into Facebook.

    The second change, the placing of the Event feature directly in the Status Update box, makes it easier to send a quick event to your network/friends, such as getting together for a drink after work that night. It's a useful enhancement of Facebook's core features, and it makes the service more useful in communicating with your friends.

    The status update change has gotten more press because it's an attack on a company that Facebook sees as a competitor. It's the wrong move. Facebook is a useful collection of tools to keep in touch with your friends and organize your social life around. It's become as big as it has because it streamlined the social networking concept. (Remember how you had to go through four different pages to post a comment to your friend's wall on MySpace? Not to mention all the bugs.) Twitter is a service best used for getting news and updates from and about important people and events. Sure, many people have their friends on Twitter but I know my friends' Tweets get lost in the deluge of other stories from the celebrities and news outlets I follow. On Facebook I can get, and want, just updates from my friends about their lives.

    By trying to be all the hot things on the Internet at once and attack Twitter, Facebook is losing what made it popular. Allowing me to send my status updates to everyone on Facebook does not enhance my ability to stay in touch with my friends. As Mashable points out in the above article, this change will at best be wasted man hours in programming and at worst will erode Facebook users' confidence that the network is a place for them.

    Wednesday, July 1, 2009

    Fascinating Developments in Freedom

    Two major stories broke today: China has indefinitely postponed their Green Dam Censorship Software initiative, and coverage of the Iran Election on Twitter has exceeded 2 million Tweets.

    It's cliche to say that current technology is changing the way we interact at a basic level but this is evidence that it really is. These are political movements in traditionally repressive countries that were fueled by technology. In the case of Green Dam, traditionally apathetic youth were galvanized to protest when their technology was being tampered with. Without the massive coverage on Twitter we would have very little knowledge of the size and extent of protests in Iran, and no knowledge of the protests from the average people involved.

    We've seen for years how technology evolves too quickly to be squashed by the powers that be (the U.S. music industry), and we're seeing that same power applied to the political sphere. It's exciting to see technology improving lives in such positive ways and becoming a tool for political change in the world.

    Wednesday, June 24, 2009

    Say Goodbye to Cash

    There have been a number of organizations looking at the concept of a cashless society recently. Here in Japan the Suica card, which started as merely an electronic railpass, has expanded to use at convenience stores, vending machines, restaurants, parking garages, and practically any business which chooses to use their card readers as a payment option. The ability to use mobile phones as Suica cards/accounts has been introduced as well. Now the GSM Association, responsible for the most widely accepted mobile phone standard in the world, is looking at bringing banking-like services, such as money transfers, bill payments, and savings to mobile phones.

    This would apparently be most beneficial to a large number of the world's poor who live without banking services but do have a mobile phone. People in this financial bracket spend an inordinate amount of time organizing these services, and making order of this chaos by tying everything easily to their mobile phone and its account would bring some much needed stability to their lives.

    I'm tentatively optimistic about the idea of a cashless society. Of course I see the benefit described above and believe this is a great step to improve the standard of living in third-world countries. I imagine it would take a huge financial burden off most countries by removing the major services and industries required to keep a cash-based society going. Financial crises could be averted or lessened as governments could minutely adjust their currencies. I'd also love to be able to stop carrying around a massive bag of change in my pocket.

    On the other hand, my inner luddite can't help but feel scared of letting go of such a central concept to modern life. My head is filled with nightmarish visions of the new kinds of financial crime and corporate abuse possible when our livelihood is converted to just 1s and 0s.

    But that may be part of its value. Converting this fetishized object of modern life to a digital number may aleviate some of the societal obsession with money and it's attainment. When all the money you have and the money you use in your daily life is simply a number instead of a physical bunch of things you can hold, carry, and hoard, accumulating those things is likely to weigh less on your mind. I'd certainly like to see our values change to shift away from assigning so much self-worth to how much money we make. Maybe a cashless society would be just the medicine we need for our collective psychosis.

    Saturday, June 6, 2009

    Arrr! Ripe for the Plundering!


    I ate, slept and breathed Lucasarts games throughout my childhood. Staying up until the early morning on school nights playing Day of the Tentacle or Full Throttle. The lack of point and click adventures is a big gaping hole in current gaming culture as far as I'm concerned (as well as the deplorable lack of space combat sims).

    Monkey Island was the series that got me into those games, the first one being one of my very first computer games. So with glee I read the E3 announcement of not only Lucasarts releasing a graphically updated version of the original game, but a monthly installment series from the company responsible for the Sam & Max restart.

    However the E3 trailer for Tales of Monkey Island exposes the same failing that the new Sam & Max series had: the humor. The old, irreverent, clever wit you found in these original games is gone, replaced with "wacky" phrases and lame situational humor. ("Sword of Hot Monkey Vengeance" and Threepwood's "What just happened?" after his possession, etc.) What really made these games great were the writers behind them. Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer wrote with a clever, sharp wit (any gamer who lived through that period is familiar with "You fight like a dairy farmer.") and filled their games with unique characters that were riffs on pirate story stereotypes, like the vegetarian cannibal headhunters or used galleon salesman "Stan".

    I'm often against continuations of old intellectual properties both because of the careless manner in which they're often handled and because the stories told in the originals often are complete unto themselves. I don't mind seeing more games based upon Monkey Island or Sam & Max, because those games were more about the characters than a self-contained plot. However a quick slap-dash of Monkey Island graphics over a generic comedy script destroys everything that makes it Monkey Island.

    Wednesday, May 20, 2009

    Manga Notes: Spicing up your office life since 2009



    What a fantastic product idea. To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Shonen Sunday comic magazine the company is releasing a huge line of manga post-it notes. They look exactly like the classic manga series they're meant to represent, only all text is removed and each page can be pulled off like a post-it note. This lets you write notes for yourself, friends, and coworkers in the speech bubbles. The notes written on the Kininaru episode where I saw this were hilarious; including a muscle-bound, tragic Fist of the North Star scene with the text, "Tomo, would you like to get lunch today?" I hope this becomes a permanent product rather than just an anniversary one.

    Sunday, April 26, 2009

    Goodbye, Internet of My Youth

    It's a day a younger me would never have thought would come: Geocities has closed. As I stop and think about it, it's mind boggling.

    My first real foray into the Internet and online social interaction was roleplaying in chatrooms on AOL, circa 1996. I was a real geeky kid (no surprise) and my love of tabletop roleplaying, anime, and console RPGs found chatroom roleplaying a potent drug. I created several characters whose lives were just as real to me as my own, who I lived through, and events in their lives I'll always remember.

    Every character on AOL had their own profile within their account, but some had a separate character profile on AOL Hometown or Geocities. This was back when HTML was incredibly impressive and the people with these custom created webpages were the dedicated gamers. A couple of cribbed pictures of vampires, drawings of castles, and white text on a black HTML background was the coolest thing around. I eventually got on the bandwagon and created my own, complete with my character sheet, a layout for my character's house, and a list of my adventures. It was unfortunately deleted after I stopped logging in years ago but if I close my eyes I can still remember the layout and the red-on-black text.

    These primitive webpages are a vivid part of my teenage memories, and so it is with heavy heart that I pour one out for my homey, Geocities.

    Yahoo Quietly Pulls The Plug On Geocities

    RIP GeoCities, You Will Be Missed

    Thursday, April 23, 2009

    Photo Odyssey

    I'd like to take a moment to highlight the Japan side of things going on. I admit I don't take as many pictures as I should, particularly when friends ask what I've been up to. It's a combination of typically not carrying around a camera on me and unique things becoming normal the longer I'm here.

    There are however a number of great photo blogs about Japan online and my particular favorite is Tokyo Times.

    The blogger/photographer behind Tokyo Times, Lee Chapman, has a tendency to take pictures uncommon even for us expats. Sure, there's the occasional fun Engrish shot (most recently this great find) but by and large his photos highlight the unseen, underappreciated sights of life in Japan. He takes candid shots of Tokyo inhabitants going about their daily lives that are my personal favorites, and explores ruined places for a glimpse at a Japan recently passed.

    If you're interested to see what day-to-day life is like in this country, I highly recommend going to Tokyo Times.

    Wednesday, April 22, 2009

    Battle of the Twitterers

    Recently while logging into Twitter to add a friend I noticed a small advertisement for TweetDeck, what I assume is Twitter's in-house desktop interface. Being a long-time user of Twhirl I decided to check out its features and see if it might be worth making the switch.

    Positives:

    • Separation of Tweets, replies, and direct messages into separate columns is a nice improvement over the occasionally confusing one-column view Twhirl uses.

    • Mimics Twhirl's retweet/actions mouseover on friends' icons which is a great idea. I always like it when originators humbly integrate a competitor's superior features/improvements, such as IE's adoption of Firefox-like tabs.

    • The ability to make groups of friends and separate accordingly may be useful for those users with a huge number of friends.

    • You can add your facebook status updates (apparently Twhirl can do this through FriendFeed, but I'm having some trouble setting up my Facebook updates in friendfeed) TweetDeck does allow you to update to Facebook as well.


    Negatives:

    • It's almost too big. With all the numerous columns and the larger size of Tweets, compared to Twhirl, I feel like I need to be using TweetDeck maximized on my external 24" monitor.

    • The close dialog for columns is downright frightening, asking if you really want to "delete" the column, and telling you "this action cannot be undone - choose wisely". All its doing is closing the column and you can reopen it by the corresponding button at the top.

    • Facebook support is great and a good addition considering the current popularity of the service. However I prefer my FriendFeed window in Twhirl which, while certainly less widely adopted, is a much more robust addition.


    In the end I'll stick with Twhirl for now. It's a more compact application, in terms of screen real estate, and I prefer its features. The one thing that could possibly make me switch is the grouping feature on TweetDeck but I currently don't have a glut of friends on Twitter to justify using it.

    Do you have a preference for either program? Or another Twitter desktop interface? Leave a comment and let me know.

    Thursday, April 16, 2009

    A Step in the Right Direction?

    YouTube recently announced that it's made a deal with Sony Pictures, CBS, MGM, Lionsgate, Starz, and the BBC to show full-length films and tv shows on YouTube. They'll be supported initially with advertising, as everything else on YouTube is, with the possibility of micropayments in the future.

    I want to believe this is a mature step by the television and film industry, recognizing that the game has changed and they'll need to change if they want to remain competitive. However it's probably too early to call this a sign of a change in behavior. It's more likely a tentative exploration of ways to co-opt the popular video service as an advertising tool rather than jump fully into the future of content delivery.

    (CNET via PSFK)

    Monday, April 13, 2009

    AmazonFail

    By now those of you with Twitter have probably seen at least a tweet or two on AmazonFail. Basically Amazon employees delisted a bunch of books from their main search with homosexual content or characters by labeling them "Adult". The story was rapidly spread through Twitter by tweets tagged with the #AmazonFail tag.

    There's a very rational account of the phenomenon from author Neil Gaiman, whose retweeting of the story certainly helped to boost its awareness. Notably he opines that it's really not clear whether this was an evil or simply stupid move on the part of Amazon/Amazon employees. It's such a huge company that it really could have been either one.

    The power of Twitter and social networking is what's amazing about this story. Shortly after the resultant noise Amazon claimed the delisting was not deliberate but a "glitch" and took steps to list those books on their search again. Social networking was able to bring the outrage, the voice of these people, to the ears of such a huge corporation and effect change in an unpopular change. I think those looking for meaning and to define what Twitter and its purpose is have seen its a tool for political as well as commercial awareness.

    Wednesday, April 8, 2009

    All Aboard the Twitter Train...

    ...But where is it going?

    An article on Rotorblog today points out exponential growth in Twitter's ComScore web traffic ranking and that the social communication tool has become the third most popular social networking destination aside from Facebook and MySpace. This is interesting because most articles I see about Twitter nowadays point out the celebrity rush to jump on the bandwagon, how many corporations and celebrities jump on it in the hopes of driving traffic back to their site, it's ghastly "replacement" of regular blogging (which people have been conjecturing and complaining about since it popped up on the Social Media radar), and the other long-standing gripe about how meaningful is a 140 character form of communication?

    These two opposites seem to suggest to me that Twitter's not going away anytime soon and the grumbling is really just anxiety about where it will go next. Which is a good question: what's the next logical step from here? As social communication becomes more truncated I think Twitter fills a desire to say something terse but meaningful. No Tweet can be longer than 140 characters so there's little room for a spectrum of worth. When I Tweet about the turkey sandwich I ate for lunch and Neil Gaiman Tweets about his book winning a Newberry Award, they're limited to the same amount of information, are both easily digestible. I would argue this is a function filled by Facebook's Status too.

    So if short social messaging fills such a cozy niche, what could people possibly want more?