Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Price of Pushing Internet Freedom

This kind of tech drama doesn't happen too often folks. Ever since several accounts at Google got hacked by someone in China earlier in December 2009, Google has taken the gloves off and announced that they were no longer censoring search results. Of course, the Chinese government simply flipped some switches on the Great Firewall of China, and started blocking various Google services. The response from within China has been somewhat varied, ranging from cautious support to nationalistic outrage.

So what happens now?

The obvious answer is that Google loses, big time. China's 384 million plus internet users will probably turn to the domestic search engine Baidu, and Google will no longer have a foothold in the world's fastest growing tech market. Of course, Sergey Brin expected this, and this was a decision based on personal rather than business ideals.

But the more disturbing answer is that US tech companies working with China will face this sort of treatment for the indefinite future. Google hasn't been the only high-profile company that has had trouble recently working with the Chinese government. Activision-Blizzard also has experienced its fair share of troubles in its efforts to renew the World of Warcraft license with the Chinese government, even though it has done exactly the opposite of what Google has chosen to do.

With an increasingly nationalistic and inward-focused China protests about intellectual property violations, hacking attacks, and censorship will fall on mostly deaf ears. As Western tech services and firms are handicapped by the Chinese government, Chinese copycats will continue to flourish. The digital divide between China and the rest of the world is growing day by day, it's clear that the digital landscapes on both sides of this divide will be very different.

Update: Oh, and it was confirmed that Yahoo had several email accounts hacked very recently. Starting to see a trend here?

Image courtesy AFP

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Review: Nodame Cantablie Finale

The saga finally ends, and one of the most entertaining and charming animes in recent years draws to a close. The final season has been intriguing and unpredictable, even if events did unfold rather slowly. Nodame Cantablie Finale hasn't been a wild roller coaster ride like what we experienced with the first season, but it still manages to throw some unexpected hooks and turns in the overall story that will satisfy many fans. The final season hasn't been quite as epic as I had foresaw, but even so this is one final act that undoubtedly fits with the mood of the series.

They've put a lot of money and time into this, and as a result Nodame Cantablie Finale looks and sounds great. There's plenty of grand and sweeping musical scenes, lots of slow-motion effects, great CG, and plenty of detailed animation. However, what we really care about is the character development, and there is plenty of that. Not only do we finally get to become acquainted with the side characters and their relationships, but even Nodame and Chiaki's relationship develops, albeit in a rather subtle manner.

In my preview I mentioned that the relationship between Nodame and Chiaki was a known quantity, and I was wrong. I won't spoil anything, but roles have been reversed, and it's been interesting to see the normally confident Chiaki becoming increasingly befuddled. While the comedy is still plentiful, it's obvious that the tone has become a bit more serious as the characters come to terms with each other and themselves. The tone of the series is by no means brooding, just a bit more contemplative than usual.

The very last episode might disappoint those expecting something concrete, but if you've been expecting some very serious closure you really have to look at what the series is about. That said, the last few minutes of the last episode has been one the most graceful closures that I have seen. Overall, Nodame Cantablie Finale is a solid ending to a much-beloved series. Even if it doesn't offer a exciting roller coaster ride of drama, the final season is still an outstanding emotional sendoff.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Review: Toradora!

I'm not a fan of the art. There's just something about how soulless their eyes seem that creeps me out. Also, what is up with Japan's fetish for small girls that look like they're in elementary school? I also don't like how it takes about 12 episodes for the writers to realize that Toradora! is actually much better at being a dramatic and emotional high school romance than it is at being a slice-of-life comedy.

And I can't believe that I missed this little gem when it came out over a year ago.

Sure, some of the characters are stereotypical for this genre, and the eventual love triangle is predictable. But I'll be damned if I let anybody think Toradora! is another generic romance anime. Things start off slowly, but eventually even the annoying stereotypes eventually get explained as the characters start to define themselves. The male lead isn't a total write-off for once, and the female lead is similarly strong-willed, so the chemistry between the two easily makes this one of the most satisfying romances that I've watched in a while.

Don't think it's all drama and no fun. The character cast are all light-hearted, innocent, and determined in ways that really can make anybody nostalgic for their high-school days. The surprisingly consistent writing also means that you'll be hooked on the slow-but-powerful blossoming of emotions from episode to episode. I still think that the first 12 episodes didn't need to be so meandering, but in hindsight I guess it does reflect the uncertainties of youthful love. Either way though, the pacing in the first couple of episodes isn't too bad, and I can easily name many other animes whose entire plots were much less exciting.

When it decides to get started with the emotional fireworks, Toradora! is a emotional ride that doesn't stop until literally the last seconds of the last episode. I'm a picky one, but Toradora! was able to get me completely addicted. Toradora! is the clam chowder of romance anime; warm, inviting, and rich in flavor. It's the soup that warms the romantic soul.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

March Playlist: J-pop galore

I promised myself that I wouldn't be listening to any more Japanese music, since y'know, I don't know any Japanese. But goddamn, the Japanese make some pretty catchy pop-ballads, so I couldn't resist this month. First up is Supercell's new single "Sayanora Memories" (embedded above). It's similar to Supercell's other popular single that was used as the ED for Bakemonogatari, which means it hits all the high marks, literally. Another plus is that the music video for "Sayanora Memories" is also pretty charming and well produced, so by all means check it out. 

Next up is "Pink Monsoon" by May'n, her latest single for the Macross Frontier movie. It's not as epic as her older hit "Diamond Crevasse", but it's a very slick song that's so well produced it will be stuck in your head for days. Also from the Macross Frontier movie soundtrack is May'n's "Eternity", which doesn't have as much layered synth effects, but is still a solid song. Last of all, we have "Kaze to Oka no Ballad" by Real Paradis, which is the ED song for Nodame Cantablie Finale. It isn't a spectacular song (and not a very good music video either...), but it definitely encapsulates the mood of the anime well with its lyrical hooks and relaxed tones. 

Hopefully next month I'll have a playlist that isn't filled with songs in a language I don't understand.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Moving nowhere with the PlayStation Move

There's quite a number of differences between the Wii and the new PS3 motion control add-on the PlayStation Move, but it's not a huge exaggeration to call it Sony's 'Wiimote-HD', since both controllers are used in similar fashions when playing games. The most important distinction is the Move's accuracy; it's far better at tracking where the controller is, so it can do a lot more than even the upgraded Wii Motion Plus can hope to do.

So will the Move be Sony's gaming holy grail? Sadly, no.

Unique controls do not always produce unique gameplay. The Wii has proved this with years of simplistic-but-mediocre games best suited for very young kids. Aside from the Nintendo-developed Wii Sports Resort, there hasn't been a Wii game that has delivered on the Wii's original promise. And does Sony really expect the sell the PlayStation Move to the mainstream 'non-gamers' if it's an additional $100 (let's be honest here, it won't be much less than $100) cost on top of the $300 PS3?

Once you consider the launch games for the Move being very similar to current games being offered on the Wii right now, all of what has been announced so far has been rather underwhelming. With the Move, Sony simply isn't making a compelling argument for gamers or mainstream non-gamers to purchase it. These same problems also affect Microsoft's Natal motion controller, so these are problems that aren't necessarily limited to Sony.

I'm tempted to call the PlayStation Move another knee-jerk attempt by Sony to bandwagon on technology trends. But unlike my opinion on the PSP Go, I actually have some hope for Sony in this case. There's some promise in what the Sony can offer through the Move because the technology behind it is rather versatile, but it remains to be seen if they can capitalize on it with some great games after it's launched.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Short Story About HTML 5

Since the announcement of the iPad and it's lack of Flash support, some Internet geeks have been championing HTML 5 like it's the next coming of Christ. I'll be frank here. HTML 5 isn't something you should be worrying about right now. For the ordinary users, HTML 5 is a new web coding standard that not only promises to make web browsers more powerful, but also promises to have a plugin-free and web-based future. This means no more annoying Flash updates and more powerful web browsers that offer a lot more functionality.

And it also makes websites look prettier, which is a pretty nice bonus.

The real miracles behind HTML 5 though will only be noticed by web developers. But even if you don't know the difference between Javascript and CSS, HTML 5 still something to be excited for, since it has the potential to make browsing the web much faster and easier. And by that, I mean you can procrastinate on YouTube much more easily with HTML 5, since it gets rid of processor-draining web plugins like Flash. So if it's that good, why should we not be excited about it right now?

Point one; It's not done yet. The Wizards Behind The Internet (as I like to call the fine folks working on it right now) have been working on it for over six years, and there's still a few years before it's going to be officially 'completed'. Parts of the HTML 5 code are being rolled out right now, but those bits of new coding have only moderately changed the way websites are built.

Point two; Even when it's finished, it's not going to be entirely widespread because Microsoft hasn't really been involved in it's development. The godforsaken hunk-of-Internet-junk Internet Explorer is still commanding the majority of the browser market, and web developers don't like using a code that won't be fully compatible with the most popular browser on the Internet.

So if you've noticed all the noise about HTML 5, ignore it. It's much too early to be talking so glibly about it; it has a long way to go before it will be relevant news to the average consumer.

Image source: Webitcet, Gizmodo

Friday, March 5, 2010

While We're Talking About Webcomics

Check out Dresden Codak's webcomics. Actually, I would hesitate to label it as a webcomic, they're more works of art. His works are somewhat comparable to the webcomics over at XKCD, since both share a pretentious-intellectual-bordering-on-sarcastic-genius tone, but otherwise Dresden Codak's recent works are simply amazing in their beautifully created fantasy grandeur and the sheer length of each 'comic'. Be warned though, there's a fair amount of historical snarky-ness that will have you running back and forth between the comics and Wikipedia. Dresden evidently has a love for re-casting notable historical figures in unique situations.

While we're wasting time on the Internet, you also should check out Tim Rodger's description of why living in Japan sucks. His amusingly titled 'Japan: It's Not Funny Anymore' up on Kotaku is a VERY long read (I've written that much, but only for research papers), but it's a captivating piece that highlights the very weird things about Japanese culture that makes it almost impossible for foreigners to live and work there. He uncovers the not-so-glamorous side of Japanese life and business culture after years of living and working there, so it's an eye-opener. By all means check it out. I'll put some choice quotes below;
  • "It's not just comedy. Japan is land of the abundant "Famous For Being Famous" class of entertainers. If Paris Hilton were Japanese, they'd literally have her anchoring the fucking national news."
  • "Japanese television is a way of programming the mannerisms of tomorrow's society and/or/by propagating the mannerisms of yesterday. It scared the shit out of me." 
  • "It's hard to find a garbage can in Tokyo. That's why the city is so clean — the people carry their garbage everywhere. In addition to being a metaphor for the en-masse bottling-up of passive aggression in Tokyo, it's also the truth."

Source of first image: Dresden Codak

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Oh Geek Culture, How I Sometimes Don't Understand You

This webcomic by Caldwell Tanner is probably the best example of geek culture right now; full of constant in-references built upon years of re-translating elements of pop culture. I can count no less than four references in this comic, which is pretty amazing for a webcomic. Browsing through Caldwell Tanner's webcomic/blog looking at his other works for web-famous College Humor, there is a amazing diversity of comics about stuff I've heard about, and other stuff that's left me slightly confused.

Of course, College Humor has it's misses and hits in terms of genuinely funny things, but it doesn't change the fact that geek culture has grown so much in the past decade that now it's referencing itself. Internet memes are probably the best and most memorable example of this. Thinking (or in my case reading about) geek culture back in the 90's, it was pretty much the realm of Star Wars nerds, Star Trek nerds, and Dungeon and Dragon nerds. Geek culture today is such a monstrosity that it defies any attempts at definition sometimes. Trying to keep track of the countless memes and Internet in-jokes is a full time job, which some people have made a living off of.

At any rate, one thing is for sure; one day geeks will take over pop culture. It's only a matter of time, and as the influences of the Greatest Generation wanes, the eccentricities of the Geekiest Generation shall reign. I for one, welcome our geek overlords.

Source: loldwell.com