There is no doubt that this holiday season, one of the hottest gifts is the Nintendo Wii. Nintendo of America's president, Reggie Fils-Aime, warned gamers months ago that supplies would be short and tried to alleviate the problem with a voucher program through GameStop. It's clear this won't be enough to meet demand, causing Nintendo to strongly urge retailers not to force consumers to buy bundles of software and accessories in order to take advantage of the shortage. At Opposable Thumbs, we ran a post about how to deal with these bundles and asked readers to contact us with their horror stories. One worker followed up quickly with his own twist on holiday price gouging: instead of selling the systems with bundles, a chain of Illinois/Missouri gaming stores called Slackers is simply dumping its stock onto eBay for the Buy It Now price of $399.99, an almost $150 markup.
"In the past year, none of the 12 [Slackers locations] have sold any Wiis except for a one-time promotional deal, where we did force customers to buy a game with it," the employee told Ars Technica. "The real crime is that we get Wii shipments regularly. In fact, right now we haveabout 20, but none of them make it to the store front. They all get put on the store's eBay site at a minimum $499.99 buying price."
Our source then told us that the price has since been lowered to $399.99, (they weren't moving at $499) and sure enough, there are three Wiis available through Slackers' eBay storefront at $399.99. Looking back in the store's history, one can find other Wii sales in its feedback, with the auction advertising "NEW WITH GAME." The game of course being the bundled Wii Sports.
Ars Technica contacted the St. Louis Slackers location for confirmation of the practice. When asked if the allegations were true, there was a long silence. "That is something you'll have to speak with the owner about," we were told. We have since attempted to contact Slackers' ownermultiple times, but have been unsuccessful. Nintendo has also not responded to our requests for comment on this story.
There are a couple of reasons Nintendo—and every other console manufacturer—is so strict on keeping one price point. Raising the price in this way hurts Nintendo's ability to position the Wii as the low-cost system, and it also cuts Nintendo out of ashare in the higher profits. At the same time, Nintendo keeps retailers from offering the systems as low-priced loss leaders, dropping the console below the suggested retail price to get customers into the store. Nintendo wants to be sure it controls the pricing, and Fils-Aime has talked in the past about the power of the Wii's low price.
While dropping systems on eBay mightseem like a quick and easy way for retailers like Slackers to make money, raising the price on Nintendo's system forone's own profit is a surefire way to get cut off from future shipments of games, systems, and accessories. "We don't have to remind retailers of the strength we have right now," Fils-Aime said in a recent interview with Reuters. "We are simply making an observation and that reinforces our point quite nicely with retailers."
Nintendo does indeed have the strength right now, and our source also told us he has reported his employer's practices toNintendo. Unfortunately, it's unlikely that Slackers' customers hungry for the system are aware that Wiis are apparently being stockpiled in the store room for eBayers willing to pay $400 instead of on store shelves at Nintendo's MSRP of $249.
The holidays: they can be stressful for everyone, even local TV news producers who need to fill that two-minute gap between the waterskiing squirrel story and the house fire in the next state that injured no one. You could assign "reporters" to dig up some local "news" of actual community value, but that takes time and money, and frankly, who wants to watch anything that might make them think at 10 PM? Much easier just to let industrysend the news in premade packets. This Christmas season, the RIAA has a present for local news divisions: a video news release about music piracy, complete with exhortations to buy iTunes gift cards and cell phone ringtones.
An anonymous reader, who claims to work for the company that distributed the video package, has posted the alleged video news release online. The video is shockingly bad—the narrator talks too slowly, the pacing is poor, and the "fly-in" bullet points look like they were produced in Windows Movie Maker.
Still, for the first half of the clip, it's generally accurate information about recent busts at duplication facilities. And then come the bullet points. "Watch for compilation CDs that could only exist in the dreams of a music fan," viewers are warned, a statement that only serves to highlight the fact that pirates do a better job of providing what music lovers want than the industry does. Whoops.
Beware the bullets
Then there's this gem: "Audio quality on pirated CDs is usually atrocious." Someone alert the RIAA to how digital copying actually works, please.
From there,the clip moves into straight-ahead advertising. "Make sure the music you buy is legitimate," says the narrator. How? Simple! Just use the "cool, innovative ways to get your favorite music" that the industry offers. The video then shows iTunes digital album gift cardsand a cell phone, for which you can buy Christmas-themed ring tones.
The production values of the video initially led us to suspect it of being a fake, but the leaker has provided Ars with a copy of an alleged press advisory that went out promoting the clip. It's directed to "news assignment desk/consumer reporters," who are more likely to use the footage and basic "storyline" themselves than to simply run the unedited report. The RIAA has not yet responded to our request for authentication of the video.
Lending credence to the video,though, is the fact that it follows a recent RIAA press release almost exactly. Though that release says nothing about a video news feed, it does mention that the RIAA is launching a "holiday anti-piracy campaign" that "offers shoppers innovative gift ideas and tips for avoiding pirate product." The campaign is set to focus on 15 cities with "exceptionally high piracy rates" (every major US city, apparently).
For an industry already the target of so much consumer suspicion, feeding misleading claims and self-serving footage to ostensibly objective "news" outlets just doesn't seem like a great idea. Yes, piracy is bad; yes, we should shut down illegal commercial stamping operations. But trying to turn the news into such an explicit commercial? Unhelpful.
There are so many major, seismic shifts in the computing industry happening at the 32nm process node that it's hard for me to get my mind around it all. I've been covering the story of x86's journey into the ultramobile and embedded space, a journey that starts at 45nm and really gets interesting at 32nm, but that tale is only one thread in a much larger epic that's emerging bit by bit in one press release and news story after another.
For instance, take this week's announcement that Toshiba is now joining the parade of semiconductor companies who've looked at the $4 billion or higher cost of a 32nm fab and decided against going it alone. The Japanese semiconductor giant will be joining IBM's fab alliance at the 32nm node, bumping the number of alliance members (excluding IBM) up to six. IBM and Toshiba had previously been cooperating (along with Sony) on research for the 32nm node, so the pair's newly announced agreement to join forces on 32nm bulk CMOS fabrication is really just an extension of their previous research partnership. Nonetheless, it's an agreement that takes one more major party out of the running at 32nm.
For the real scoop on this IBM-Toshiba announcement and what it means for the semiconductor industry, there's no way that I can top Dave Manners's blog entry on the topic, so I won't even try. I do, however, want to zoom in on one fascinating part of the post, which explains quite a bit of what's driving Intel and others into commercial competition with the OLPC Project.
Finally, for everyone with a 32nm fab there's going to be a new problem. If 450mm wafers are adopted, and the companies which buy most of the world's manufacturing equipment are pushing hard for 450mm manufacturing equipment to be developed, then there's the problem that only seven fabs will be needed to make the world's total demand for transistors.
Manners develops this point in terms of its implications for fab equipment buyers, but I want to take it in a different direction and dwell for a moment on what it means for an Intel or an IBM if only seven fabs can meet the world's (presumably current) demand for transistors. (I'm not sure where Manners got this number, but it sounds feasible and I trust that it's legit.)
If the combination of a 32nm feature size and a 450mm wafer size increases fab output to the point that only seven fabs are needed to meet the total world demand for transistors, there's only one way for the semi industry to see growth in such a scenario: increase demand. This is why Intel would like to see every school-age child, farmer, factory worker, day laborer, and so on from San Francisco to Siberia suddenly discover a pressing need for lots and lots of transistors.
The vast bulk of the history of computing up until the present day has been about moving semiconductors from the server room to the business desktop, then from the business desktop to the first class cabin, and then from first class into coach. At this point, everyone who can afford a cheap plane ticket or a pair of Nikes is already wired to the gills with transistors, and the major bottlenecks in getting those folks to buy even more of them are mostly out of Intel's control (i.e., screen size/quality, battery life, connectivity, usability).
To see real growth in the coming decades, Intel, AMD, and the rest of the semi industry must focus on markets where an iPhone would cost a month's income, and then on markets where it would cost a year's income. This is the reality behind Intel's and AMD's interest in the device category that OLPC represents. It's the reason why Intel has teams of anthropologists running around rural China, and why AMD launched its 50×15 plan.
So when you're trying to imagine how the computing industry will look in ten to fifteen years, you have to forget about the BlackBerry set almost entirely. The bulk of the market will shift from those people, who will remain a very profitable niche, to consist of people who aren't currently all that wired.
Or, to put it another way, when I was out in rural San Salvador two years ago, every cinderblock home had a transistor radio and a color TV. If I make that trip again in 10 years, I'll find that that color TV has been replaced by a device that has at least the horsepower, connectivity, and functionality of the MacBook Pro from which I'm filing this report. And depending on how "green" that ubiquitous, post-32nm computer is, we're either headed for a networked Nirvana or an ecological nightmare. Hence the focus from semi companies on "green technology," a focus that goes hand in hand with selling transistors to the great, unwired masses.
Valve, feeling Team Fortress 2 just wasn't good enough, has decided to push out an update for The Orange Box's multiplayer title. This is likely the patch we heard about a week ago.
As the patch contains a total of 34 bullet point fixes, the full details arefar too long to reproduce here, but the major fixes include:
Sudden Death mode is now a server option (a convar) and defaults to OFFThe Medic's Medigun now charges at an increased rate during Setup time, to remove the need for self-damage grindingFixed exploit where the Medigun UberCharge wouldn't drain if you switched weaponsAdded effects to players when they earn an achievement, visible to other players nearbyOn Dustbowl, Fixed gaps in stage gates that allowed snipers to kill defenders during setupOn Dustbowl, Prevented Demomen being able to launch grenades into the stage three alleys while standing at the final cap point
After trolling the ArsClan message boards last night to take the temperature of one segment of the Team Fortress 2 community, it would seem that Sudden Death defaulting to off is making a lot of people unhappy, whilea minority of gamers are quite pleased with it. The Medigun charge buff seems to rank #2 on the community's list, though I predict that nobody will miss the obnoxious self-exploding during setup.
The Dustbowl exploits won't be missed, and I have to give it to Valve for getting those fixed so quickly.
I haven't seengraphics forsomeone else earning an achievement, but I imagine "gratz" and "woot" are going to become a part of the Team Fortress 2 lexicon very soon, if they aren't already.
The Protocol Freedom Information Foundation (PFIF), a nonprofit organization that is affiliated with the Software Freedom Law Center, inked an agreement with Microsoft to obtain protocol documentation under the terms established by the European Union's 2004 antitrust ruling. The documentation will benefit projects like Samba that seek to implement support for Microsoft's protocols in order to bring Windows interoperability to open source operating systems.
Microsoft finally achieved full compliance with the antitrust ruling earlier this year after a court rejected the company's appeal. In addition to significant fines, the ruling required Microsoft to make protocol documentation available to competitors.
The terms of the protocol documentation availability and the quality of the documentation were contentious issues. After much bickering and discussion, Microsoft eventually proposed terms that were deemed acceptable by the EC. Developers can obtain the full documentation by paying a one-time licensing fee of €10,000.
The PFIF has paid the fee to Microsoft, ensuring that the Samba developers will have access to the protocol specifications. The developers will have to sign nondisclosure agreements in order to gain access to the documentation.
Although Microsoft will also supply a complete list of patents held by the company which pertain to the protocol, the company will not provide licenses for those patents. Under the terms of the agreement, Microsoft is barred from asserting patents that aren't on the list against any implementation that is based on the purchased documentation. The availability of the patent list will enable the developers to create an implementation that does not infringe on Microsoft's intellectual property. The end result is that Samba source code will be unencumbered and entirely suitable for downstream distribution. This differs significantly from the agreement established between Microsoft and Novell, which only provided patent protection to a select group of downstream entities.
"We are very pleased to be able to get access to the technical information necessary to continue to develop Samba as a Free Software project," said Samba creator Andrew Tridgell in a statement. "Although we were disappointed the decision did not address the issue of patent claims over the protocols, it was a great achievement for the European Commission and for enforcement of antitrust laws in Europe. The agreement allows us to keep Samba up to date with recent changes in Microsoft Windows, and also helps other Free Software projects that need to interoperate with Windows".
The only aspect of the deal which could potentially incite controversy is the use of NDAs. Although NDAs are not unknown for certain kinds of open-source software development (particularly hardware driver programming) a small handful of vocal extremists vehemently condemn developers for signing such agreements. The deal will also likely receive some criticism from factions that categorically oppose creating open source implementations of Microsoft technologies.
Despite the minor concerns that some will likely express about the NDAs, this deal between the PFIF and Microsoft is of significant value to the Samba community and will lead to tangible improvements in network interoperability between Windows and open source operating systems. The agreements also indicates that at least one of the antitrust remedies imposed on Microsoft by the EC has the intended result.
While Aussies may be proud to be among the first to ring in the New Year, more than a few aren't happy about the impending enforcement of new age verification rules online by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). The rules are meant to protect children from online content, but what the Communications Legislation Amendment (Content Services) Act of 2007 actually does is put a serious burden on adults to self-police while making it much harder for online publishers to freely share their work. Worse yet, it's another misguided attempt to make the Internet into a playground for children where they won't need supervision.
Beginning January 20, anyone who publishes commercial content online or for mobile phones in Australia will be required to make sure that adult-oriented content isn't seen by minors. This isn't just porn we're talking about, either: the new rules essentially port Australia's movie ratings over to online content.
Once the new rules are enforced, content producers in Australia as well as Australian web surfers will have to live by these categories:
explicit content is prohibited (X18+, and Refused Classification content);
this was already the case. R18+
content (non-sexually-explicit, but restricted) must be hidden behind a
verification service that checks for ages 18 and up. So-called
"mature audience" (MA15+) content must also be hidden behind a
verification service that checks for ages 15 and up. The ACMA will use "take down," "service cessation" and "link deletion" notices to force publishers to remove content or access to content that is the
subject of a complaint.
One reader who contacted Ars lamented the fact that adults will have to give up a little privacy to be in compliance, too. Users will prove their age by supplying their full names and either a credit card or digital signature approved for online use. Content publishers are even required by law to keep records of who accessed R18+ content and with what credentials for a period of two years. Of course, such systems are also susceptible to gaming. Little Jimmy only needs to find a willing adult, or barring that, momma's credit card to get online. Identity fraud with a credit card isn't exactly rocket science.
While the law targets commercial content providers, the rules also apply to "live content" services, also known as IRC services and chatrooms. It's also not clear what counts as commercial content: bloggers who turn a buck would seem to qualify. According to documents from the ACMA, the rules apply to "hosting service providers, live content service providers, links service providers and commercial content service providers who provide a content service that has an Australian connection."
One wonders if the rules aren't a complete waste of time, however. Australia cannot enforce the rules in other countries, which in the long run seems to only give Australians an incentive to hosting their businesses somewhere other than downundah.
Sun's cryptic accountACMA
I'll probably be out shopping for a lot of this weekend, and I imagine many of you will be as well. But at some point, you're going to have to come home, drink eggnog, and rest. While you're home, you might need something to do, so why not check out my Christmas present to all of you: some Friday links, of course.
The Leopard firewall took some flak for initially being, well, crap, but the 10.5.1 update made some changes to the firewall. Issues were fixed and behaviors were changed, making the OS X firewall a more attractive proposition. And if you're still not using the firewall, Macworld has written a handy guide that should help you get started.The conventional wisdom is that OS X is more secure than Windows, but one set of vulnerability numbers shows quite the opposite. OS X averaged over 20 vulnerabilities per month according to ZDNet, and a total of 234 "highly critical" vulnerabilities for the year. I suspect the numbers represent differences in the way Apple and Microsoft report vulnerabilities, but at least Apple didn't have any extremely critical problems. This whole post has generated quite some buzz, so take everything with a grain of salt. A new Consumer Reports study has placed the iPhone ahead of the BlackBerry Curve in the magazine's rankings, citing better battery life, a better email client, and better media features. In other news, I wasn't aware that anyone still read Consumer Reports, but there you go.If low resolution previews in Quick Look are getting you down, a new hint has the answer to your woes. By simply deleting the file's icon/preview (that may have been created by another application), Leopard will generate a new high-resolution preview. It's a neat trick, and it even works for multiple files at once, so get to it.If you're sick of dealing with software-based iPhone unlocks, a number of new SIM-based unlocking tools have apparently been released. Both SonicSIM and StealthSIM are small cards that work alongside your existing SIM to trick the iPhone into working on any network. The manufacturers claim they work with the hard-to-unlock 1.1.2, but the downside is that both will cost you money. Still, if you're desperate for a reliable, roaming iPhone, they might be worth a look.Among the list of patents published on Tuesday were two patents granted to Apple that are related to the Nike+iPod system. The first patent is for the design of the sensor itself, whereas the second patent is more technical and deals with the way the signals from the sensor are transmitted, received, and turned into usable information.I don't know why this is the case, but everybody seems to be bashing Leopard security this week. CIO is running a piece about the security changes in Leopard and possible future attack vectors, and also includes a few handy tips for IT departments with Macs.Ambrosia Software has been doing a whole lot of updating, and has released new versions of iToner, pop-pop, EasyEnvelopes, iSeek, WireTap Studio. I'm not sure what the occasion is, but if you're an Ambrosia lover, have fun downloading all those updates.
Alright, that's a whole lot of link loving, so I think I'm done. We'll be writing for most of next week, so there should be material to read if you need to escape your drunken uncle or wait for your eggnog hangover to wear off. Have a great weekend, don't shop too much, and have a very merry Christmas (if you're into that sort of thing) as well!
Communication based on the quantum state of light and/or matter has received a lot of attention in recent years. The promise is that successful communication also guarantees secure communication—which is something that makes people lift their heads from the desk, massage theirforeheads, and listen to us boring physicists. Unfortunately, information sent in this way is also encoded rather delicately—often on single photons—and communications channels always lose some photons, meaning that lots of closely spaced repeaters are necessary. The heart of the problem is that the whole system is critically dependent on a bunch of mostly unknown parameters, which means that every link has to be fine-tuned. However, a new way of looking at the system has led to an insight which may eliminate the critical dependence on some of those parameters.
Two researchers from Nanjing University looked at the behavior of a particular type of link where information is first encoded on a quantum dot, a small lump of material that acts like a single atom. This quantum dot sitsbetween two mirrors, so when it radiatesits information, the photon is "caught" by the mirrors and deposited into a fiber optic cable. The fiber optic cable transmits the photon to a second quantum dot that also happens to be sitting between two mirrors. In this case, the mirrors "catch" the photon and bounce it off the quantum dot until it finally absorbs it. At this point, information transfer has occurred.
The key to the system is something called the Rabi frequency. This frequency is determined by the interaction between the quantum dot and the mirrors that it sits between. Basically, an excited quantum dot will, after a certain amount of time and with a certain probability, emit a photon that will be reflected back and forth between the mirrors. Later, the quantum dot will, with a certain probability, reabsorb the photon and the process will repeat.
If you perform this experiment repeatedly, you will find a characteristic rate at which the photon cycles between being in the cavity or existing as an electron excitation in the quantum dot. This is important because the duration of a light pulse needs to be the correct multiple of that characteristic time, otherwise the photon will not be absorbed. Unfortunately, everything that happens to the pulse as it traverses a fiber optic system changes the pulse duration, making it much harder to transmit information between the two quantum dots.
The innovation that the researchers present is the idea of modifying the shape of the pulses that control the quantum dots. This will then counteract some of the errors induced by the fiber network between the two dots. The team'scalculations indicate that some pulse shapes result in very robust entanglement between the two quantum dots, providing a secure, long distance link.
Unfortunately, I can't help thinking that different sources of distortion require different pulse shapes, and it would be a very rare network that had only one type of distortion. Furthermore, the researchers need to put down their pencils and get into the lab to put this to the test. In the end, I think pulse shaping will play a role in making communication links based on quantum entanglement more robust, but it willplay a small part in solving a hugely complicated problem.
Physical Review A, 2007, DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevA.76.052302
The current state of software, security, and virus protection is a mixed bag. Amidst questions of Vista's security prowess over Windows XP, a new report set to be released by German computer magazine c't next month says the accuracy of antivirus software is waning. Particularly when it comes to detecting new, unfamiliar attacks, the 17 software packages tested dropped in average effectiveness by nearly 50 percent in 2007.
In the study, c't threw more than a million known viruses from the past six months into the mix. Avira Antivir and Gdata Antivirus 2008 topped the list by identifying over 99 percent of these viruses by their signatures, and Avast, AVG Anti Malware and BitDefender also achieved "very good results."
Yet many of these packages dropped the ball in an area increasingly regarded as more important: detecting and preventing new, never-before-seen viruses and malware. In early 2007, the packages averaged about 40-50 percent accuracy. In c't's most recent test at the end of the year, the average dropped to 20-30. At the positive end of that scale though, NOD32 and BitDefender are at the top of the new list with 68 and 41 percent accuracy, respectively.
Two reported sources for this decline in accuracy are the increasing professionalization of virus writers, as well as more sophisticated methods these writers are using to evade virus software. As Channel Register notes, online virus services that allow users to submit files for testing through 32 antivirus packages might actually be causing more harm than good to the practice. Virus writers utilize these services to test their creation's chances, and some services like AvCheck.ru promise not to send the scanned files to antivirus software companies, helping to maintain the temporary potency of viruses.
All that said, many details of c't's report have yet to be revealed, including the full lineup of software packages tested and the various methodologies used in the tests. Still, a report like this can only help the industry, as antivirus software manufacturers have finally decided to agree on new standards and testing guidelines. The c't report should help these companies identify more bottlenecks and areas of poor performance, which is the first step towards improving antivirus solutions and getting a new leg up in the cat-and-mouse game of stopping malware.
Though the full report won't be available for a few weeks, Heise Security has a summary.
The PlayStation Store saw a robust update yesterday, full of new games and content. We decided to download the two new PlayStation Eye "games," Trials of Topoq and Mesmerize. We wanted to see if the peripheral was going to have some serious support or if we were strictly in gimmick territory.
Insert video of player looking silly
Trials of Topoq is a $4.99 download, and the premise is simple: you have to get the ball to the goal while navigating around danger and sometimes doing some light collecting. The interesting bit is that each level takes place on a series of towers, and each flat surface features a video feed from the camera; you control the ball by moving. When the camera senses movement, it raises that part of the floor, causing the ball to roll the opposite way. It sounds a little odd, and it is, but it gets easier to understand after watching a video of the game in action.
The control of the ball using your movement is very accurate and feels natural; there is a strong sense of you actually interacting with the game. There is none of the fuzziness of movement and frustration that you got with certain Eye Toy games back in the days of the PlayStation 2. As the levels get more fanciful, things can get a tad hectic, but the austere graphics and low-key music and sound effects create a very calming mood.
In fact, the game works best with moderate-speed, sweeping motions. I found myself almost changing moods; my breathing got a little slower, I started to move in smooth motions—it almost feels like a very light Tai Chi workout in places. It helps that the game itself is good fun.
Mesmerize, on the other hand, is a $1.99 demo that shows a few special effects and visual toys to play with. Wave your hands to grow grass on the screen, play with a little ribbon, get a pincushion effect—that sort of thing. It's not very fun, and while the "gee whiz that's neat" factor would have been there as a free download, there are much better ways to spend your $2.
So there you go. One honest-to-goodness excellent PlayStation Eye game, and one gimmicky waste of money. Considering that you get the PlayStation Eye with the immensely fun Eye of Judgment, I'd say the peripheral is starting to look attractive. Keep it up, Sony!