Saturday, September 15, 2007

Video games: What Do Games Teach Kids?

Many parents question the ethics of video games. Many parents say that video games are the reason for kids knowing violence and using violence in the real world. However, I find this isn't the case in most situations involving video games, violence, and kids.

Some kids happen to play video games and are violent. This doesn't mean that the video taught them the violence, or convinced them that violence was ok in the real world. The majority of the time, these kids also see violence in television, movies, the neighborhood they grew up in, and even in their homes. Every child is exposed to violence, but must be taught how to react to it. This is where most parents have a problem. If the child isn't taught how to respond to violence, the parents leave it up to the child and his or her immature mind to make a decision on how to handle the violence they are experiencing.

Why do video games get blamed? Video games get blamed because the parents don't want to take a fault, or step up and admit that they didn't raise their child the best they possibly could. How can this be true? Everyone believes the parents, because in society, adults are looked at as people who can be trusted (usually). Another reason parents don't question the fact that other parents raised their kids poorly is because parents don't want to put themselves in a position where others can question the way they raise their kids. (A side note: Even if video games were the cause of the violence shown in kids, who bought the child the video game anyways) No matter what it goes back to the parents.

So what are the positive possibilities of video games? This is something a lot harder to see. Why is this so hard to see? Simply because anything positive learned from video games, isn't associated with video games. More specifically, this includes many historical facts, in games such as Civilization, Stronghold, and even Rome: Total War. This knowledge is so easily overlooked because it is also taught in a classroom. So, parents naturally just think their kid is actually learning something in school. Personally I have countless experiences of sitting in a history class, (completely bored as it may be) until the teacher asks a question. I know the answer. But why? This shouldn't be happening. This is school, and I didn't even read last nights assignment. Then I realize, no wait, a galley is the type of boat I built last night while playing civilization.

I am not saying that there isn't a kid somewhere, who no matter what, will experience violence, and express it in society. I am simply saying that parents can typically prevent children from expressing this violence. First of all, don't buy your kid the game that is rated M. It's for adults who are mature. (Maybe some adults shouldn't buy the game) But in no way should a 9 year old kid play a game that is rated M. They simply aren't mature enough to handle it, especially if a parent hasn't explained that movies and video games are FAKE. Secondly, take the time with your kid. Not two minutes every week, that's not a parents job. A parents job is twenty four seven, and if you can't handle it, then don't sign up for it.

Walking: A Thing of the Past?

Ever get tired of walking? Sometimes it can be exhausting.

Now, all your walking problems are solved. The Segway PT is the answer for everything. Segway created a personal, 2 wheeled, environmentally safe vehicle that is great for traveling around your city. Segway didn't stop with the personal Segway, they also made a Segway for businesses. This Segway has multiple compartments for storing all of your files. Segway took their designs one step further by creating a Segway for police officers, which can be detailed with police lights and spot lights. No matter which version you look at, it is pretty safe to say that there is a Segway for you, whether it is for getting to work, patrolling the streets, or even that quick round of golf on Sunday.

After looking around on the Segway website for a short period of time, I came to realize that Segway basically has 2 different models, the i2 and the x2. The i2 model is for flat surfaces, such as pavement or blacktop. The x2 model is designed for use on all terrain surfaces. Besides the basics, the Segways are extremely customizable, with features such as lights, hard cargo storage bins, police lights, and cargo platforms. Both the i2 and the x2 models are a great source of transportation, whether you are planning on going hiking on your Segway or just traveling around town, Segway has a Segway PT for you. You can get your Segway Pt for approximately four thousand to six thousand dollars. A little pricy you may say, but these Segways are environmentally safe and are on the edge of the start of a new era.

Are inventions like the Segway perhaps causing people to become more lazy? If you look underneath all of the specs on the Segway, wut is the purpose? The Segway travels approximately 24 miles per charge and has a max speed of 12.5 mph. What sets this apart from a bike, or even walking? You might be able to argue that bikes don't have as much cargo space, but if you think about it, you can carry a book bag on your back. The only purpose of the Segway is to create something, that would eliminate almost any if not all effort one has to put forth to get from one place to another. To me, it seems as if the Segway was something created to be advertised as something that looks futuristic, so upper class people would want to buy it to show off to their friends. The only truly good thing about the Segway is that it is environmentally safe. Other than that, it features the same idea of a bike, except without anyone putting forth any effort.

The Ethics of AI

My personal system of ethics as it applies to humans is quite simple and straightforward. Happiness is good. An action that makes happiness is good and an action that makes unhappiness is bad.

But how does this apply to The Sims 15? The characters in the game can pass the Turing test and no one could say that they're incapable of making intelligent decisions. But does that mean that burning their house down just to watch them panic is evil?

Well, for me at least, the answer to this question relies on whether they're actually feeling unhappy. I know some people that would say "Of course the computer doesn't actually feel unhappy. It just has an algorithm that determines whether it should react in a way that looks like it's happy or unhappy." The problem I have with that is that Descartes made the same argument against animals, and one can even make that argument against people. I know I can feel happiness and unhappiness, but I have no way of knowing if you do too, or if you're just reacting as if you were happy or unhappy.

This line of reasoning leads the thought that since we can't know what others feel, we should assume that if they show signs of suffering or pleasure, they are really feeling those things. But consider a computer program consists entirely of a smiley face and a button. When you push the button the smiley face frowns. Surely that's not actually unhappiness?

Personally, I think there is a line somewhere, where the complexities of the algorithms determining behaviors are such that the being can be said to be aware. Above that line, causing apparent unhappiness is bad. But below it, it doesn't matter. Where is the line? I have no idea.

Friday, September 14, 2007

8 To i

The evolving industry of music/multi-media players

Everyday I pass hundreds of college peers as I go from class to class, all of them going to their own destinations, keeping to their own schedules, doing what’s on their own agenda just like me. Everyone goes in all directions. I’m sure I have passed you on the street, just didn’t notice because it was so crowded. As you pass people, do you see what I see? For every 10 people I see, at least 5 of them, if not 7 – 8 have some kind of wiring devices coming out of their ears. Those of course, for anyone who lives under a rock or in the Amish country, are headphones that connect to some kind of musical apparatus. That’s right, I am talking about iPods or Microsoft music players. They seem to be everywhere. It is a must-have when going ANYWHERE anymore. Kids listen to them standing up, sitting down, coming into class, going out of class, running, walking, skateboarding, sleeping, etc, etc. Do you see a trend? I hope so. The handheld music players have become the hot new fad that has hit teenagers and young adults alike. I too have an iPod, and it is basically become a tumor that has formed on my body. I can’t seem to go anywhere without it. And I’m not alone in this statement, many love them. So where did this all start? I wondered what the music industry has done in the past to get us to where we are now.

It all starts back further than you would expect.

Start of Time

- Early AD: Jesus was the first to invent sound (just kidding)

- 1850 – 1900: Some of the first popular musical players besides instruments themselves were player piano rolls, Edison’s “Audio Theatre”, and the infamous classic jukebox. (None of which could be personally carried)

- 1900 – 1920’s: Some disc players were massed produced, and other gizmos such as RCA’s recorder models and Edison Co. players were invented. The radio station was first developed and perfected at this time.

- 1920’s – 1950’s: Not much happened here, just improvement of speed and length in the music/recording players. Radio and television peeked their way into society.

- 1950’s – 1970’s: As the TV’s got color and AT&T started their computer systems, the first compact discs were replacing 8 tracks on the market

- 1970’s – 2000’s: By the 80’s, the C.D. came out for sale to the general public for mass production. The stereos and personal players came thereafter.

- 2000’s - : The industry expanded and advanced most rapidly in the last few years, with the introduction of Microsoft MP3 players and Apple iPods and their respective internet music downloading websites like Napster, LimeWire, and iTunes.

So there is a little bit about the history of music technology and the way it hit the media. Music devices are great things, and they continue to get smaller and hold more memory. I mean 60 gigs…….That a whole lot of memory, definitely more than computers 10 years ago. But they are stylish, small, somewhat cheap, and versatile. I recommend that everyone should jump on the bandwagon, because ever since the 8 track transformed into the iPod, the field of music and technology grows and improves everyday.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Free Wi-Fi!

It seems like everyone has internet access. You can take your laptop to coffee shops, fast food restaurants and anyone else displaying the “Free Wi-Fi” sign in their window and check your email or whatever else you do.

As you may not know, some cities are planning on developing a city wide, public Wi-Fi so that residents can use the internet anywhere. It would also help the less fortunate of us use the internet to further their education. But some places are finding that this is a bit more difficult that they had originally thought.

It seems Earthlink, one of the major supporters of city wide Wi-Fi, is having trouble with how much it will cost. Thanks Public Radio! After a financially slow half a year, they can’t afford to foot the bill of city wide Wi-Fi on their own.

But don’t lose hope just yet. On Muniwireless, the self declared “Voice of Public Broadband,” there are reports that the cities that had their internet service provider pull out are not giving up.

I really think that this idea is awesome. It could change the lives of those less well off children who need internet to do school work. A while ago, a friend of mine did a study on grades and internet access at home. It was found that there was a small trend showing that internet access at home helped with grades. And those children could take all the help they can get.

Downfalls of this plan would probably be the over all cost to the internet service providers and the city. But if they are willing to foot it, I’m not too worried about it.

All in all, this plan has my seal of approval.

Thanks East Central Georgia Regional Library for the picture!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

What is "Next Gen"?

The term "Next Gen" is thrown around a lot these days when describing the newest video game consoles and the games made for those consoles. But what exactly is "Next Gen?" Is it something quantifiable or can it mean different things to different people and different hardware?

My opinion tends to shift towards the latter. Each of the new systems, (Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Wii) embody the term "Next Gen" in different ways.

First there is the Xbox 360. This console was the first of the 3 to be released and the system emphasizes much improved graphics over the original Xbox. On the less publicized side, the Xbox 360 includes many more options and features that make use of Xbox Live. In these ways graphics and extensive online features make the 360 "Next Gen."

Next is the Playstation 3 (PS3) , which is similar to the Xbox 360 in many ways. The PS3 puts a lot more emphasis on graphics (which it can pull of beautifully), but it also includes many online features to certain games. However unlike the Xbox 360, the PS3 features a "Six-Axis Controller" with motion sensing hardware built in. These motion controls are built into some games to add an extra element of gamer interaction, but in many ways the motion sensing in the PS3 controllers leaves much to be desired. So with all of this, the Six-Axis controller, and the immense graphics power behind the PS3 make the system "Next Gen."

The final system to look at is the Nintendo Wii. The Wii improves on the graphics of the Gamecube, but they didn't make that the biggest change. Instead the Wii sport the most sophisticated motion sensing of all the systems. Motion is detected in the Wii Remote, or Wii-mote as it has been called, using a sensor bar and hardware inside the Wii-mote. The motion sensing has the ability to to know where the Wii-mote is being pointed, how close or far it is from the screen, and even how you hold the Wii-mote, i.e. right side up or upside down. With this innovation on Nintendo's part, they are able to pull off games such as Wii Sports. The graphics in this game could be considered basic and hardly worthy of a "Next Gen" system. However, the interactiveness of the game gives it an experience that far overshadows the game's graphics. In addition, the downgraded graphics are actually a very clever strategy for the game. It not only shifts the focus to the experience rather than the looks, but it gives the game a childish and playful appeal.

But anyway, I ramble, and quite clearly demonstrate the bias I warned you about. In summation, the Wii uses its motion sensing technology to create interactive games that make the system worthy of the title "Next Gen."

So my point is that each system has proven itself to be Next Gen, but in its own way. For this reason I find it foolish to call one system superior over another. You can't say one combination of technology is right and another is wrong, you can really only say that one system may have a single aspect that surpasses that same aspect on another system. And with technology always moving forward I can hardly imagine what they will think of next.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Capturing CAPTCHAs

The inspiration for this post actually came from Monday's class. A reference was made to "you know, when you have to type in a word to show you're a human".

This is called a CAPTCHA - Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. I'm sure most of you are familiar with them, but for any of you for whom this is the first time on the internet, the most common form of CAPTCHA looks like this:
A human can easily read it, despite the distortion, and the extraneous lines, while a computer will have more difficulty.

Though, the use of CAPTCHAs to thwart computer mischief is kind of ironic, since it pits computer scientists against their own achievements. Advances are being made constantly in the field of artificial intelligence that can be used to decipher CAPTCHAs more reliably. In fact, of the three steps a computer goes through to read a cipher, only one is more easily accomplished by a human. The steps are distinguishing the text from the background, segmenting the text into individual letters and finally interpreting that letter. The second step is where computers usually fail.

Interestingly, CAPTCHAs are providing more than just protection against bots. The reCAPTCHA system also helps digitize books. It does this by using two words. One word is just a normal CAPTCHA. The other word comes from a scanned book that the computer wasn't able to make sense of. If the first word was correct, it's assumed the second one is too. In this way, books are digitized faster and more accurately.

Technology is moving to the corn fields

Last summer, I worked at the EPA where I got to know some farmers from the area where I'm from. It was interesting to see how they tended their farms. One man I met with was a firm believer of no-till farming. This means that when the farmers seed the fields, they don't tear up the ground to plant. Without tearing up the topsoil, its less likely to be washed away when it rains. We grow a lot of corn where I'm from and a nutrient rich topsoil is a necessity. Unfortunately, with no-till farming, applying fertilizer in the right spot can be a challenge because the planting rows are hidden underneath what farmers call residue, which is left over plant material from last season's crop.

To make this easier and raise crop yield, farmers started using GPS to track planting rows.

The Global Positioning Satellite network was originally created for the military so that all sorts of military vehicles could track where they were and where they were going. In 1990, the government made the technology open for civilian use. Now it is used in passenger cars, cell phones and even in dog collars to keep track of Fido. (Thanks Case IH!)

But I think the best use of it so far is for farmers. They can appropriately apply fertilizer to the right places. This allows them to use less chemicals and save money while raising crop yield. They can also use it to program their tractors to run on "autopilot." (Thanks DOM!)Another use is for tracking pest outbreaks. A worker can go out into the field, find the pest and put a point in a program that tells the farmer where to apply pesticides.

There is a downfall though. The systems that use GPS are expensive and farmers are not known for their extreme wealth. In spite of this small flaw, I give this use of technology a thumbs up.

Thanks also Mapwatch and Trimble!

Thanks Engineering Works for the picture!

Monday, September 10, 2007

College Foreign Language : Computer Programming

I thought I was done with all my foreign language learning after I tested out of German. Hooray!

But oh was I wrong..........

I came into college actually having to learn, not just one, but multiple computer programming languages. Did I like this? Well no, considering I can barely get passed Google's© homepage without running into a brick "firewall" or a error telling me, "Error: You are retarded Restart the computer and try again". Everyone of my classes have had multiple homepages and email accounts and homework pages, etc, etc. I can't keep track.

I miss the days back at home when the only things I would have to go into was
and solitaire and listen to iTunes. I am slowly getting used to it, but I am so naive to all of these networks and directories bigger than my own personal computer's hard drive. My father is good on the computers, being a experienced computer programmer and computer engineer. But I don't have him being 500 miles away from him. So now everytime I mess up something on the computer, I go into panic mode.

So what is the point to all my rambling you ask? Well as you can see, technology, and for this lovely blog specifically, computers, are very complex and more than just piles of metal pieced together to look like a shiny box. There is more to it then what you see. And with the use of the Internet now, people, ordinary Joe Smiths off the street, can access and create virtually anything they want, if they know what they are doing. This Joe here does not know, so he is not quite up to that level of god-like powers....Yet! Eventually I will get there. There are so many opportunities available with what seems like a simple device. They are user-friendly, helpful, efficient, and fun once you get the hang of it. So I recommend taking some courses of computer programming in high school or college, because it will help you in the real corporate world and even in the comfort of your own home. And if you don't think you able to do it, remember what your German teacher told you: "Ihr Gehirn ist kaputt!!!"

[Press Start]

I love video games. Games are meant to be fun. What sense is there in spending money and time on something you don't enjoy? I know what you're thinking, "I pay to go to school and I don't enjoy it," (if you didn't think that, I envy you). Yes, I'm sure that's true, but this blog is about video games, not school. And don't bring up video game reviewers, at least they're being paid to hate a game. But anyway, people will play a video game because its fun. So that's what I will talk about. The video games I love and the reasons I love them.

I won't limit myself just to video games though. I'll also touch upon the systems we play on, be they console or PC (or for some even a Mac). In addition, I'm always happy to go into more depth about any of the games I own and play regarding my own strategies, %completion, secret areas, cheats, etc.

However, I do have one little disclaimer. Most of my life has been spent with only Nintendo systems. Because of this I will probably sound biased towards Nintendo and the games I talk about will more than likely have been released on a Nintendo system. However, whenever possible I expose myself to games on the other systems and more recently to a few titles on the PC. With this said, I will try to include as much variety as I can when it comes to the games I discuss.

All in all, I want to have as much fun with this blog as I do playing the games I talk about.

NOTE: Nox isn't just something I made up. The name Nox means "night."