Ben's been doing all the talking on the Child's Play front as of late, but now it's my turn to say that you guys have been doing an amazing job when it comes to raising money for this great cause. The Opposable Thumbs Child's Play Drive has now passed the $5,000 mark and the donations are continuing to pour in at an awe-inspiring rate. We asked you to dig deep, and a lot of you have: there's going to be some happy kids this holiday season, that's for sure.
We've still got our big personal prize pack borne from our personal video game collections to come, so keep those donations coming in. Ben has hinted at it, but I'm willing to be more forthcoming: some of the stuff in the big pack you simply will not be able to find easily or cheaply—if at all. My out-of-pocket contribution, in all its white, pearly, non-Nintendo-related glory, has left a stinging hole where my heart used to be, but it's for a good cause that I'm willing to make just such a sacrifice. Expect the final unveiling soon.
For those who haven't been following the Child's Play Charity run this year outside of our drive here, the Penny Arcade guys have voiced extreme satisfaction with this year's turnout thus far. The total donations were up to $600,000 prior to last night's Child's Play Gala Event, which managed to raise an incredible $225,000 more. The night's auction starred some incredible impromptu acts of generosity, as Bungie sweetened its offerings with the Bungie employee-exclusive, in-game Recon Armor suit for Halo 3 and Valve dished out the desirable Portal-born Weighted Companion Cube as well as a tour of the office. "And the throng responded—fiscally," Tycho remarked.
It's been a great year for the charity, but that should come as no surprise. Tycho put it so: "That you can generate million dollars in just a couple months—on an annual basis—is now, to me, quite ordinary. You are incredible, and changing the world is easy for you. I should have understood that from the start."Keep the donations coming, everyone. Let's see if we can't make 2007 not only a memorable year for gaming, but an unforgettable year for giving.
I'll admit it. I'm kind of a sucker for end-of-the-year top 10 lists. They don't only have to be "best of" lists either; sometimes the "worst of" lists are even more enjoyable. That's why I was mildly excited to see Popular Mechanics' The Top 10 Worst Gadgets of 2007. If you are the sensitive Mac user, one to get angry about people saying negative things about your platform of choice, or one that follows the company with an enthusiasm that can only be described as zealot-esque, you should just stop reading now.
The list starts out innocently enough: number 10 is a vibrating exercise machine straight out of the 1960s, number eight is everyone's favorite brown portable media player (the Zune), and number six is some sort of talking WiFi rabbit. Number four is, of course, the ubiquitous, yet-to-be-released robotic dinosaur (the Pleo), and number two is none other than the Apple TV.
That's right, the darling of so many year-end top 10 lists, Apple Computer, has contributed to a worst of list. According to the article's blurb on the Apple TV, the high (or low, as the case may be) ranking doesn't stem from what is wrong with it, but instead that "there’s nothing overwhelmingly right about it, either." Popular Mechanics argues that in a crowded field of similar devices, it just doesn't shine. The magazine also argues that the content just isn't there. We would like to add the inability to purchase content from the device and no high-definition media to the reasons why the Apple TV is lacking.
We know that you're wondering what is the number one worst gadget of 2007, and we're glad you asked. It's none other than the Palm Foleo. "But the Palm Foleo never shipped!" you say. You are correct. That makes the Apple TV the worst own-able gadget of 2007. Now in Popular Mechanics' defense, it did put the iPhone on its Top 10 Most Brilliant Gadgets of 2007 list, and the magazine based its choices of worst gadgets on missed opportunities (and not overall terribleness). That may make it a little easier for some of you to swallow.
Google's $3.1 billion acquisition of DoubleClick has drawn a lot of scrutiny on both sides of the Atlantic it was announced last April, and continues to do so as the year draws to a close. Consumer groups have expressed their concerns over the privacy implications of such a deal, since both companies have harvested massive amounts of consumer data in order to build their advertising networks. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) believes the companies haven't been forthcoming about how they'll address those concerns, leading him to demand answers in a letter sent to Google CEO Eric Schmidt earlier in the week week.
In a copy of the letter seen by Ars, Barton reminds Schmidt that the CEO promised to help Barton and his staff better understand the company's search and targeted advertising practices. According to the letter, when Barton tried to send staff to Google's campus to discuss the matter, they were turned away. "Since then, all efforts to reach a mutually agreeable time have been rebuffed, and it begins to seem that no date for a visit is sufficiently convenient to Google," wrote Barton. "Your warm initial invitation followed by Google's chilly response to a proposed visit by Committee counsels is disconcerting." (Google disputes that Barton has been rebuffed—a spokesperson said that the chosen dates were merely inconvenient, that no alternatives were provided, and that Barton's committees could come at any time. )
Throughout the rest of the missive, Barton takes Google to task over its search practices and algorithms, data retention, data analysis, advertising programs, how the search giant anonymizes certain data, cookie use, and more. Overall, the 24-question letter asks Google to describe its practices in great detail, and requests a response as early as next week.
In the meantime, others have called into question the Federal Trade Commission's ability to investigate the merger impartially (the investigation began in May). The Electronic Privacy Information Center—one of the organizations that filed the initial complaint with the FTC—has asked (PDF) that FTC Chairman Deborah Majoras be recused from the investigation after discovering her husband's involvement with Jones Day, a law firm that has represented DoubleClick in the past. The husband, John Majoras, told the Mercury News that he was not involved in the deal between DoubleClick and Google, although the FTC is reportedly already discussing the issue with its ethics officer.
Update: Majoras and the FTC have decided that she will not recuse herself from the merger approval process.
Academic research can be a messy thing. In contrast to the carefully formatted and argued publications that result, the raw material is often a mass of annotated documents, hastily taken notes, and scattered references. The Center for History and New Media at George Mason University thinks that this raw material could be just as useful to the wider research community as the final publication. They've now secured a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to create a system for uploading it into a database at the Internet Archive. The catch? The academics have to be organizing that material using Zotero, a Firefox plug-in.
Zotero is actually an impressive piece of software. It integrates into Firefox, allowing researchers to save and organize the material they access through the Web. But its library can also contain references to files stored locally, as well as free-form notes. Users can annotate any of these documents or tag them for future searches. It also formats citations for publication and integrates reference management into Word via a plug-in. In this way, it acts much like commercial reference managers such as the cross-platform EndNote or Papers on OS X.
With the new grant, the Center for History and New Media will be getting half a million dollars to enable Zotero to send the notes and other material on to the Internet Archive. The Archive will be getting another $700,000 to handle the material as it comes in and make it accessible to the academic community via a searchable database.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, academics will be encouraged to share in part by the convenience of the system. If someone is already using Zotero, it will just take a few extra clicks to place their material online. A carrot will come in the form of OCR software at the Internet Archive; scans of handwritten notes and original material will be sent back to researchers as editable text.
There are a couple of serious practical issues with this plan. The first is that it's limited to academic users of Firefox that have decided that Zotero is a compelling solution—in short, a small subpopulation of the research community. The second is that some of the material that is uploaded will undoubtedly run into the same issues regarding copyright and fair use that plague any information sharing site.
Will the material that's uploaded be of any value? Based on my personal experience, the answer here will be mixed. I've taken notes and made annotations for everything from peer-reviewed publications to articles for Ars, but only a fraction of the ideas ever make it into the publication. Within the remainder, there are some genuine insights that don't make the cut due to a lack of direct relevance or space constraints. But there are also a lot of spur-of-the-moment thoughts that I later reject due to further reading or analysis. Unless all contributors are careful about what they upload, this effort may produce a storehouse of bad ideas.
When most people think of a high-end laptop chassis, they think of titanium, or possibly the brushed aluminum that's currently popular. If Asus' prototype attempts prove successful, however, the next high-end, must-have chassis material on a laptop could be bamboo. At first glance the idea sounds quite odd, but bamboo actually possesses a number of characteristics that could make it suitable for housing a computer.
Bamboo is naturally flexible, durable, and extremely strong; laminates can be applied to the material to shape or strengthen it further. It grows rapidly and abundantly, and could theoretically serve as an ecologically renewable resource for building laptop (and I suppose desktop) chassis. Asus has yet to define the specs on their Eco Book (as the product is called), but the evaluation is ongoing. At present, even if the Eco Book proves successful, it'll remain a high-end option aimed at executives who might otherwise be in the market for a leather-bound or alligator-skin notebook. With bamboo mice, keyboards, and monitor frames already on the market, it's not hard to see where a bamboo laptop might fit as well.
Bamboo-based products may be more eco-friendly and less likely to pollute the environment once the system has been disposed off, but I'd wager that even companies interested in deploying such products would want to conduct aggressive long-term durability tests, first. Consumers would have to be assured that a bamboo laptop wouldn't be more likely to chip, break, or crack than a metallic chassis under similar stress. That might be a tougher sell in Western markets, where bamboo isn't widely used as a building or scaffolding material, but it's certainly possible if manufacturers can create a plausible long-term chassis.