Tag Archives: Technology

New Consoles Launch Amid Poor Review Scores and Developer Pressure

By Alasdair Crews

Microsoft's Xbox One, which launched earlier this month.  Credit: Microsoft
Microsoft’s Xbox One, which launched earlier this month. Credit: Microsoft

The successful launch of the new Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles has been overshadowed by poor game review scores. Both consoles launched in the U.S. earlier this month with both console producers, Microsoft and Sony, proclaiming that thier machine have sold more than one million units in North America within 24 hours of going on sale.

Unfortunately, the successful sales for both machines have been dulled by a succession of poor review scores for their flagship games. PlayStation 4 exclusives “Killzone: Shadow Fall” and “Knack” and Xbox One-only offerings “Ryse: Son of Rome” and “Zoo Tycoon” have received mixed reviews across the gaming press.

The added pressure game developers are under when working with new hardware could have contributed to the poor review scores.  An assistant producer with Ninja Theory, Colin Chang,  said: “With development of those titles having lasted at least two years and working on theoretical hardware (that changed as time went on) at the beginning of the next-gen SKUs. [It’s a challenge], especially if you’re a launch title with such a constrained deadline.”

Having to develop parallel versions of games for the new consoles, as well as the consoles already being on sale, has also affected quality.  Chang said: “I can imagine this would have affected third party publishers and developers like Activision and EA the most as they would’ve shipped 4-5 SKUs of games such as Call of Duty Ghosts and Need For Speed Rivals.”

Alongside the middling review scores, technical issues have plagued both new machines. Faulty disc drives in the Xbox One have led to Microsoft offering affected customers a free game download; whilst Sony has had issues with a blue light on the PlayStation 4 causing the console to reset itself and cause other operational issues.

Both companies maintain that the issues affect less than one percent of the consoles sold so far. With both consoles expected to be top sellers this Christmas, Microsoft and Sony hope that these issues remain isolated.

Related Story: Retailers Braced For PlayStation 4 Launch

‘Japan: high tech image, low tech reality’

By Jen McClure

Still going strong in Japan… Courtesy of Sony pictures

Robots, high speed trains, electric cars, and cutting edge electronics; you know what country I’m talking about, right? Japan. But, move away from the bright, hi-tech lights of Tokyo, and you will find none of the above anywhere to be seen.  Shocked? This is Japan’s low tech reality.

Japan is very good at exporting its hi-tech image to the world.  The Japanese have crafted a very clever image for themselves in their electronic paradise.  It is true that Japan has contributed technological advancements to the world, but Japanese technology should come with a warning label, “For Export Only.” In reality, everyday Japan is far from cutting edge.  Image this scenario: a place where the ATMs close at 9pm, offices without computers, fax machines in wide use and most homes without central heating.  Hard to believe? Yes.  But, this scenario is all too real in modern day Japan.

Two years ago I left Scotland and went to teach English in Japan.  Stereotypical images of Japan were imbedded in my mind: hi-tech gadgets, heated toilet seats, vending machines and high speed trains.  This stereotype was not incorrect, but once you move away from Tokyo, reality starts to kick in and you begin to wondering if you have travelled back in time…

Everyday life

I moved into my apartment in August 2008.  My immediate observations were: there’s no oven, how can I cook without an oven?  The stove looked like it belonged on a camp site.  The apartment came with a VHS video-recorder. What was I ever going to do with that?  There was a Discman in one of the drawers.  I found cassette tapes.  There was no central heating, just kerosene heaters that give off toxic fumes.  This apartment was not even 10 years old, but already its contents were sadly out of date.

Everywhere I went there was some object or technology from the recent past still living a happy existence in Japan.  Walkmans, Minidisc players, fax machines, you name it, they still have it.  Trying to settle in, I was often overwhelmed by Japanese and frustrated with not being able to read or understand anything.  My next door neighbour, a fellow foreigner helped me out by taken me to our local DVD rental shop.  I thought DVD, music and video game rental was recent history –apparently not.  In the UK people no longer use such establishments.  You can order movies online instantaneously or buy cheap DVDs from Amazon.  DVD rental is big business in Japan.  I wonder if that is because DVDs, CDs and video games are expensive to buy in Japan and most people would rather rent them than buy?  I rarely used Amazon.co.jp but when I did I thought it was great as you could place your order online but pay for it at your local convenience store in cash.  The number of Japanese people I knew who used Amazon.  Zero.  Did I mention that Japan is a cash society?  You can pay for pretty much anything at a convenience store.  Airline tickets, concert tickets, your gas bill…and so on.  You can also do “cash on delivery” in Japan.  All this is very convenient but I missed not being able to use my flexible friend.

Bank cards in Japan do not even resemble their UK counterparts.  They are quite possibly the most ‘budget,’ ‘un’ hi-tech cards you have ever seen in your life.  Sure, your name is embossed on the card but that’s about it.  There is no magnet strip so I have no idea how the machine reads your card and you can rarely use the card in an ATM that doesn’t belong to your bank.  In my case, my ‘bank’ was a regional bank which only operates in the prefecture where I lived.  If I wanted to travel to Tokyo or anywhere else, I would have to bring with me all the money I needed for that trip.  And forget about paying for anything by card or easily using a foreign credit card.  Convenient?  I think not.  On the plus side, ATM’s in Japan accept coins and the cartoon characters on the screen bow at you before and after your transaction.  What they lack in convenience, they certainly make up for in politeness.

The world of (Keitai’s) mobile phones in Japan would leave some people baffled.  Your stereotypical view that all things must be miniature could not be further from the truth.  Mobile phones maybe larger, but they can do so much more than your average UK phone.  Japan has had a 3G network for years which puts us to shame.  The amazing thing about mobiles in Japan is that you can send long emails directly from your phone.  Any basic phone can do this, not just your flashy iPhone or Blackberry.  You have your own personal email address for your phone, e.g. jenmcclure@softbank.ne.jp  and you can send an email to any address including other people’s computers anywhere in the world from you phone.  Text messages are so limiting in the UK and quite frankly seem rather primitive in light of this technology.  Another amazing thing about Keitai’s is the ability to pay electronically for just about anything.  Infra-red sensors on your phone are placed over a pad at cash points in convenience stores so there’s no need for a cash transaction.  Smart, but why not just use chip n’ pin bank cards?  Brendan Jenkins an English teacher in Japan commented about internet use on mobile phones in Japan: “This is one aspect of Japan that is interesting; I would say that a lot of the younger generation are more comfortable using the internet on their keitai than on a computer.”  I think this statement is very true.  And finally, in the interest of safety, Japanese phones send a message warning of an imminent earthquake just a few seconds before they hit –clever.

At the Office

The high school that I taught at was paying homage to everything “old school.”  Blackboards with chalk, wooden desks, no technology in the classroom –there was barely any electricity.  In the average classroom there was no chance to use a laptop as there was no overhead projector.  The amount of technology I could use in a classroom amounted to a CD player.  There was no central heating and in the winter, students sat at their desks with blankets around their laps.  I lived in Northern Japan and it gets extremely cold and snowy there.  And my school was not the worst, in fact, it was pretty much the norm.

Paper and chalk is the tradition at Japanese schools which means that IT skills are at a bare minimum.  There doesn’t seem to be the same focus on learning basic IT skills in Japan compared to the UK, which may explain why people are so resistant to embracing new technology.  Forgot about pupils for a second, teachers were poorly trained in IT skills, many of whom could not perform simple tasks, such as making a graph or adding a picture to a document.  The computers at my school were old and slow and in need of an upgrade.

The internet is barely used at school even by teachers.  This is a quick anecdote from a recent survey of foreign residents in Japan.  Here’s what one foreigner wrote: “When I ask a question to a colleague in the workplace and they can’t answer it, they ask others in the office, then it goes as far as family members, neighbours and friends.  In America we would just say, lets Google it.”  Google, Gmail, Wikipedia, Facebook and YouTube are not widely known or used in Japan.

Interesting, a fellow English teacher, Andrea McGovern was asked this question by a Japanese friend: “Do you think Japanese students are way behind western countries in using computers and technology?” and she said in a word, “Yes.”  Her friend said that he never used a computer until university.  And he’s not ancient, he’s 27.  This discussion about technology circulated around other foreign English teachers and they shared their views about the school they worked at.

Here are some of the revelations:

“The library has only 2 working computers and I have yet to find a computer room. Recently my 2nd years were asked to research an aspect of Japanese culture in order to teach a foreigner about it on their school trip. The students turned to books, some older than I am for information.”  Anonymous

“My Junior high school students seem to barely interact with any technology other than their TV’s and DS consoles.”  Andrea McGovern, NZ

“When I first arrived here 7 years ago I was amazed at how old and out-of-date the junior high schools seemed to be.  Only 1 out of 4 junior high schools that I go to even now has a western toilet, all have paraffin heaters in the classrooms which cause massive amounts of condensation, but none have air-con in the classrooms despite the heat and humidity in summer -only wall-mounted fans.”  Edmund Fec, UK

Schools in Japan are definitely lacking technology but slowly they are receiving more money for IT.  Japan spends a very small proportion of its GDP on education compared to other Organisation for Economic and Co-operation for Development (OECD) countries.  Until recently there was very little co-ordination of IT policy at schools even at a municipal level.  But not every school is stuck in a time warp, newer elementary schools that I went to have fantastic computer rooms and other good facilities.  Recently, every elementary and junior high school in Japan got a new large (over 40 inch) TV per classroom.  Ironically, a lot of them aren’t being used because they are too big to fit into the rooms.  My guess is that the schools had no say as to what size of screen they wanted.  Sounds like the Japanese government just bulk ordered TVs from China.

In the UK you’ll find “Wi-Fi” almost everywhere but in Japan there is virtually no “Wi-Fi” connection.  Internet at home is mostly connected from the modem by ethernet cable.  How backwards and limiting is that? In researching this story, so many people have reiterated this expectation of Japan: “I always thought of Japan as an amazing tech savvy country and found it quite the opposite living there.” Alexandra Robilliard, Australia. Alexandra also commented: “My senior high students were so fascinated when I told them that I keep in contact via Skype. I was a little surprised that none of them had ever heard of Skype whereas kids that age in Australia knew all about it.”

According to http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats3.htm Japan has a high percentage of internet users, a massive 78.2% but I think I can quickly tell you that most of that internet usage takes place on a mobile phone not a computer.  One interesting quirk about Japan is how anti- Apple they are.  Apple computers are scarce in Japan.  I was surprised to hear that Apple has not managed to infiltrate the market in Japan.  Back in 1996, Apple was keen to put their computers into Japanese schools but the answer from the Japanese Education Minister was a curt “No, Thank you.”  For some unexplained reason the Japanese are anti-Apple.  I knew people who had constant problems with their Macs in Japan.  Edmund Fec commented about his employer’s reaction to his Mac: “In Sakata city, I’m not even allowed to connect my Mac to the school LAN because Macs aren’t supported by the computer service company.”  When it came to setting up the internet in your apartment and you had a Mac, you were in for a long wait.  Alexandra Robilliard commented about the Internet Service Provider’s visit to her apartment: “They all arrived, see the Mac and there is the horrible intake of breath/sucking of teeth that makes me realise it will be a mission.”  Japanese people just can’t deal with Macs.

A quarter of Japan’s population are over 65 years old and they are not very IT-literate.  In the work place, superiors of an older generation haven’t come to grips with the technological advancements of the last 20 years.  Japanese offices are usually oversubscribed in manpower as this is seen as the traditional way to run a business.  You’ll find many people in jobs that have been obsolete in the UK for years.  There are people who still happily work calculations out on paper and store data in paper files rather than on a computer.  The offices I went to in Japan were all wall-to-wall jam packed with files and documents from the past couple of decades.

This bureaucratic nightmare became all too evident in July 2010 when an astonishing story hit the headlines in Japan.  The police found the mummified body of a man believed to be one Japan’s oldest at 111, but that’s not the alarming part.  The man’s 81 year old daughter had been collecting his pension for over 30 years.  She left his body in a room of their house and didn’t notify the authorities of his death.  This shocking revelation sent local authorities all over Japan checking up on their elderly.  The results were not favourable.  To date, Japanese authorities have not been able to find more than 280 citizens who were listed as being over 100 years old.  Once this story came out, many more followed; a Tokyo woman of 113 who had been last seen in the 1980’s,  a woman believed to be one of Japan’s oldest at 125 is also missing.  Authorities tried to find her at her last known address but when they got there, they discovered that the site had been turned into a park in 1981.  The New York Times wrote about the questions on everyone’s lips: “Is the country witnessing the results of pension fraud on a large scale, or, as most officials maintain, was most of the problem a result of sloppy record keeping? Or was the whole sordid affair, as the gloomiest commentators here are saying, a reflection of disintegrating family ties, as an indifferent younger generation lets its elders drift away into obscurity?” From my experience of the Japanese workplace, sloppy record keeping and non computerised records are the main culprit in this instance.

Japan was an advanced, tech hungry country 20 years ago but with its aging population and economic decline it seems that Japan has lost its sparkle.  Indeed, it still has many things that would blow your mind: a visit to Tokyo’s electric town or a trip on a bullet train, but your average visitor doesn’t see the real Japan behind its glowing neon lights.  They don’t see the bare classrooms, the old computers, the out of date technology clinging on for dear life, which has been long dead in the rest of the world.  But, the amazing thing about Japan is that it really has refined and polished so many wonderful everyday items.  Toilets, appliances, cars, navigation systems, TVs, trains, karaoke machines, vending machines, interactive restaurant menus, robotics.  None of these items were invented in Japan, but they glow with the aura of Japan; functionality and practicality.  All Japanese people should be proud of that.

Medical advances realise the Avatar dream

By Orla Ni Sheaghdha

James Cameron’s film Avatar may fall into the science fiction category but the idea of virtual bodies existing for people may not be as unrealistic as some might think. Technological advances in the medical world have brought forward the idea of “medical avatars” being used in the treatment of patients in the future. In 2006, the Virtual Physiological Human (VPH) initiative was set up across Europe to investigate the use of ICT in the development of treatment of patients. The project will span over ten years and is currently costing the European Commission about 350 million euro to fund. There are over 20 active VPH projects across Europe, each improving on the recent innovations in the research of biotechnology and medical advances.

The aim of the project is to make diagnosis of varying diseases more all-encompassing. Rather than seeing the human body as a collection of individual organs, the virtual body would allow it to be seen as a single multi-organ system. This “medical avatar” would contain both medical data of the person in question and detailed knowledge about how their bodily systems work. This combining of information would make it easier to diagnose current symptoms, to anticipate any future illness, and to predict the side- effects of any drugs used for treatment. The response of the virtual body to any treatment drugs could be tested before any prescriptions given to the actual patient. This is being researched in the preDICT programme, one of several projects being run by the VPH initiative. The advantages of this particular aspect of the project include a reduced need for animal experimentation when testing new drugs. It also allows for the elimination of any drug-related allergies without incurring risk to the patient themselves.

The Avatar is soon to become a reality

Other perceived benefits of the VPH initiative include the preventative approach it takes to the treatment of diseases, particularly various forms of cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease. NeoMARK is a project for an ICT enabled prediction of cancer reoccurrence. IMMPACT looks at the use of images in Ablation cancer treatment. PredictAD aims to use patient data to make healthcare in Alzheimer’s Disease more personalised. These are just a few of the innovations being put forward by the VPH initiative and it is yet to be seen what the results will yield.

For now, the pseudo-bodies are still in the test stages but it may not be too long before members of the public will have their own avatar. Scientists and medical experts working on the project are satisfied with the progress of the initiative and it could only be a matter of years before the real world merges with the virtual. One director’s dream is close to realisation.

Call of Duty: Black Ops is released with high expectations

Sales figures are expected to reach an all time high for the latest Call of Duty release

By Michael Mckeand

Computer games fans have been queuing in wintry conditions to get their hands on the latest Call of Duty release. Call of Duty: Black Ops went on sale at midnight last night and hundreds of stores across the country saw queues stretching out of the doors as fans waited for their copy.

Retailer HMV, opened over 100 of their stores across the UK and Ireland at midnight including branches in London’s Oxford Street, Manchester, Birmingham, Dublin and Edinburgh in order to cater for the demand. Store managers say that some queues formed over 12 hours earlier.

HMV’s head of games, Tim Ellis, said “Call of Duty: Black Ops is all set to challenge last year’s phenomenon Modern Warfare 2 to become the fastest and biggest-selling title in games history.”

Already, it is expected to sell over a million copies in its first week of release. With the approach of Christmas as well, expectations for this latest release from Activision are at an all time high. Ellis added “with more people now owning a console than ever before, we expect it to go on to become not just the most popular game ever, but an iconic release that will take gaming on to a new level.”

The 18 rated commando style game, where players take the role of special agents forces in places like Russia and Vietnam during the Cold War, has a lot to live up to though. Its predecessor, Modern Warfare 2, generated more than £620 million and smashed the record for most copies sold in its first day with an estimated 1.23 million units sold, grossing £47 million according to industry body UKIE. With pre-order sales for Black Ops higher than those of Modern Warfare 2 though, it would seem that the latest addition to the Call of Duty series is well on its way to becoming the best-selling video game of all time.

As a series, the Call of Duty franchise has generated approximately £5 billion, the highest of any other video game series. Black Ops is just the latest high-profile release from Activision. In September the video game giants also released Halo: Reach, the most recent instalment of the best-selling Halo series.

Sales figures for Blacks Ops will be released over the next week.

3D cinema is here to stay

by Andrew Moir

3D Glasses
3D Glasses

Dreamworks animated movie Monsters Vs Aliens topped the UK box office this week taking just over £4million. The success of the film both in the UK and internationally may be down to the influence of new 3D technology.

For an extra charge, cinemagoers can immerse themselves in a fictional world with the aid of special glasses. In the 1950s 3D films were made by studios afraid of losing audiences to television. They wanted to provide spectacle only the big screen could provide. Films such as House of Wax(1953) and Dial M for Murder(1954) proved to be a great success. The appeal was fleeting and despite occasional comebacks two dimensions remained enough for film lovers. Dreamworks Studio head of animation Jeffrey Katzenberg told Empire magazine that 3D revolution is akin to the introduction of Technicolor.

“People thought it was a gimmick, a distraction, but five years later all movies were made in colour.” According to the mogul cinema is just the beginning and 3D will be a part of everyday life. “It’ll be on your cellphone, on your laptop and on your television set.”

While this future may be distant Hollywood continuing to embrace the potential with many upcoming projects. These include the next Pixar film, Up; Steven Spielberg is producing a Tin Tin trilogy and James Cameron’s Avatar will be his first film since Titanic.

While the idea is to make 3D the norm customers are being charged far above that. One major cinema chain charges £2.25 extra for 3D screenings. As the revolution gathers pace it is film lovers who pay the price.

It’s Journalism Jim, but not as we know it

By Margaret Kearns

Breaking News: Journalism is evolving.

Did you know the Oxford English Dictionary, that stalwart of the English language, turns eighty this year? Like many an eighty year-old, hair dryer in hand to assist in candle blowing activities, it would seem it is no longer ‘with it’, no longer keeping up with the times. Why so? Well, for no reason other than this, our wordy friend defines the ‘journalist’ as:

 “a person who writes for newspapers or magazines or prepares news or features to be broadcast on radio or television

 And those of us engaged in the learning of journalistic skill know nothing, if not that journalism, as we know it, is in the middle of a revamp. A journalist must now be the definitive jack-of-all-trades. Get the story, photograph the subject, snatch a bit of exclusive video on your phone, print, post and email it, blog about it, create a text poll of readers opinions, provide a forum, an RSS feed, analyse trends, post the YouTube video, link it, tag it, send it into space. Multimedia is king.

However, this evolution cannot be attributed solely to the advent of the worldwide web. Mobile Internet, broadband and mobile technology have forever revolutionized how the media gets it’s news but even more importantly, how news is assimilated by the world. The media has been in an evolutionary metamorphosis for a few years now but it’s only now, in the midst of an economic crisis that it has it come full cycle and do we get to see just how the face of global media has changed. Gone are the days when you digested the goings on of the world over your cornflakes and once more at dinnertime. Welcome to the days of news on the go. Gone are the days when commuter heads were obscured behind the headlines, now it’s eyes down on the Blackberry, iPhone, mini laptop, N95 and more. 

 As newspapers decline and the Internet powers on, more and more editors are screaming for their online content. Tellingly, Guardian.co.uk will be hosting a summit in March entitled “Survive or thrive, change your digital strategies” the salient motto of which is ‘do not get left behind’. What has become blindingly evident in recent years is that those who don’t embrace the changes do get left behind. Back in November Scotsman.com lost half their online traffic as a result of a controversial redesign of the site and it’s no surprise that whilst the Express’ online resource is regarded by some as, “one of the worst in the UK” (step forward Roy Greenslade, Guardian media commentator), 2008 saw a steady decline in their circulation and a contentious mass redundancy. The same year saw drastically different fortunes for the likes of The New York times who opted not to boost sales of the paper and went with it’s website to break the story of Senator Eliot Spitzer’s resignation after a prostitute scandal. Which meant, that for almost an entire news cycle, they had exclusivity on one of the biggest U.S. stories of the year and scooped the Online News Association award as a result. The presence of these online awards is in itself an indicator of the importance magazines and newspapers now have to place on an online ‘presence’.

It has to be said then that the reporter on the ground is no longer the biggest cog in the media machine. Papers and magazines now have to consider the psychologies of the surfer, amass the hits that will get the advertising revenue rolling in. Black and white print on tomorrows chip paper will no longer suffice as a market strategy. Search engines and their ‘hit lists’ become the as relevant as as the “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” cries of the 20th century.  Online traffic has become more and more important as has web design and ‘the online presence’, along with video feeds and juxtaposed links. The reader now has a viable input with text polls now a popular feature of Sky News broadcasts. Radio stations are also following suit, making shows more interactive than ever, utilising email and web facilities to create content. Heck, even the traffic reports now come from the poor souls trapped in jams around the UK frantically texting and emailing to save others from their frustrated fate. Never before has an industry been so dramatically forced to change it’s fortunes by embracing the technologies threatening to make it defunct.

 But let’s not forget that whilst the next generation of journalist may have to perform more of a balancing act than their predecessors, their jobs are made significantly easier when the world and all of its knowledge is just the touch of a button away. I fear the World Encyclopedia may just be the next casualty in the technological revolution.