Culture


Vista Flip 3D

Mac users have had Exposé for a while, but now that Vista has been released, Windows users can now enjoy fully the productivity-sapping habit of keeping many windows open, flipping through the open apps and documents with the jaw-dropping coolness of Flip 3D.

I have a rather set morning routine once I get to the office: open my computer, fire up Mail and check my work-related messages. Then iSiloX to start downloading newspapers and blogs for offline reading later on in the day. Then iTunes, to download the latest versions of my podcasts. Then Safari, to check my Gmail account, and my daily bookmarked sites. Then AdiumX, to get onto the local Jabber network. Then I open the first documents I need to work on for that day. And in the ten or fifteen minutes that I spend sleepwalking through that routine, I have, maybe, ten or fifteen windows open all at the same time.

The ironic thing is that I don’t believe in multitasking. I kind of subscribe to Merlin Mann’s proposition that we don’t really work on several things at the same time but instead spend little chunks of time focused on a task for a short period of time before proceeding to another one or returning to the previous one. I know it’s counterproductive, but it’s damn hard habit to break.

What’s your routine and how many windows do you have open on a regular basis?

As an editor, I’m a stickler for correct grammar and spelling. Even with my text messages – I make it a point to make my sentences whole and readable on the cell as much as possible, to the point of being obsessive about it. Today punctation, capitalization, spelling and grammar all seem arbitrary and subjective, sort of like tech esperanto. It’s a spaghetti mess, peppered with emoticons for taste. I’ve long been concerned about how this trend of electronic shorthand will eventually ruin the linguistic future of our youth.

This morning at my office we got some e-fanmail for one of our magazines, and I quite literally got nauseous trying to read it. Texting in this manner is fine, I suppose; we only have 160-character chunks to deal with most of the time, and it makes some amount of sense to maximize your one-peso SMS fee and cram as much info in there as you can. But jeez, it’s a letter! I shudder to think that this is second nature to kids nowadays.

Here is an excerpt, verbatim, from the email sent by someone who goes by the handle killerkiddiekid. Give it a try:

twagn m nlng aqng KID. meron akong dlwng issue d2 ( 5-6 ). syng d q nbili ung dting issue. ngaun q lng kc npg alamn ang mag n 2 nung ng window shopping lng aq s mall. ngaun pinangako q s srili q n b2lhn q bwt issue ng mag n 2 kc lam nu interested tlga aq kpg online games ang topic . online games lng nga nl2ro q ei. ang nl2ro q plng s ngaun ay ranonlie,o2jam at minsan audition. d q lm monthly allownce q ei bsta 20 per day lng. s issue 6 ung s free calendar ng levelup ang pnkngs2hn q sna my free calendar p s s2nd . sna my POGS event nmn d2 s davao. p2nta tlga aq! . bsta about online games topic OK n un skn. s net cafe lng aq ngl2ro. may pc nmn kmi pro old model tska ala rng net. sna nmn mg p promo nmn kau ng free PC d lng 4 POGS event ( mhal pmasahe ppnta dun ). p2lgyn q tlga ng net kpg n2lo aq. kh8 s anung praan pra mksli nmn ung iba n malayo s event. mnsn d q tlga m cntrl ung srili q n mglaro ei. tngkl nmn s ng2s2s q s pgl2ro nq d q rn alam. ang ms2bi q ala pa aqng n sasave na pera dhl sa pgl2ro . pro ok lng NJOY nmn ei!

It goes on, but I thought I’d save you the agony. Our web guy at the office, Kiven, didn’t have trouble with it at all, but my personal sense of grammatic propriety is outraged and offended. I hope I’m just not overreacting, but I am greatly disturbed. This sort of thing has far-reaching and immersive destructive properties that affect everything and will resonate throughout the person’s life – even if it is just grammar and spelling. Man.

Or maybe it’s just me – an old fart who’s becoming more uncool with age. Sigh.

The smoke is clearing. The furious standards war between new high-capacity media Blu-Ray DVD and HD-DVD is effectively over.

HD-DVD‘s practically won. Its secret weapon? Porn.

Sony tried to railroad the industry into using Blu-Ray by incorporating it into the much ballyhooed PlayStation 3, which didn’t work. Part of the game plan was to also give the public a cheap way to get an otherwise expensive standalone Blu-Ray player in the PS3 (Microsoft is now selling an optional HD-DVD drive for the Xbox 360 for US$199). But production, supply and distribution problems and big bucketfuls of bad PR quickly threw a spanner in the Blu-ray war machine.

They didn’t count on the pornography industry throwing its support behind HD-DVD. Despite Blu-ray being resolutionally superior, according to the the Porn People HD-DVD is cheaper and easier to produce, and that, as they say, seals the deal.

Besides, there is precedent – in the days of the Betamax vs. VHS Wars, the technologically better Betamax format bit the bullet because Porn embraced the easier-to-make VHS. And those of you who remember who made Betamax, please raise your hands.

The only industry complaint with the whole concept of high-definition porn is that actresses are running to their friendly neighborhood plastic surgeons once again: apparently hi-def, blu or not, isn’t a very forgiving format.

But it says a lot about an industry when porn can influence tech. Sigh.

I’m pretty jaded as a TV viewer. Takes a lot to get me hooked nowadays, after being an addict for most of my life. I have a handful I follow religiously: Battlestar Galactica, CSI, House, Dexter, Criminal Minds, Masters of Horror, Studio 60 and a few others I watch but can live without. Despite watching the first few episodes, I never got as sucked into Lost, Prison Break, Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy as most of the known universe, although I still collect them for family and friends.

Save for BSG, it’s been quite a while since I got so into a show that I felt the anticipation keenly and counted the days until the next week’s episode. TV had lost its appeal for me, because quality material (i.e. the kind I liked) was few and far between. Until now.

Enter Heroes.

I caught an early release of the first episode long before NBC began running the series, from a special promo of a theater chain in the US that gave away download details and passwords to get an early special 72-minute edit of the series pilot. I got hooked from the first scene.

If you’ve been living under a rock and don’t have any idea what Heroes is all about, it’s an alternative take on what is is to be a superhero, without dipping into the DC and Marvel universes and the whole comics scene in general, yet utilizing the best elements from all of them with the notable exception of spandex. It’s about ordinary folk who slowly discover they have powers, some of which weren’t necessarily good things, and folk who aren’t necessarily good ones.

The characters are all regular people, with regular human problems, who find themselves with superhuman powers: a beat policeman trying unsuccessfully to become a detective and save his failing marriage finds that he can read minds; an up-an-coming politician finds that he can fly; an internet stripper with a young son and jailed husband finds she has a literal alter-ego with super-strength and zero morals; said young son has uncanny ability to fix and alter any gadget; said jailed husband finds he can literally walk through walls – and thus leaves jail; a PYT cheerleader finds she can’t get hurt because she can spontaneously regenerate; a heroin-addicted painter and comic-book illustrator can paint the future; a Japanese computer programmer can teleport himself and travel through time; a girl can really do Jedi mind tricks; a homeless bum can render himself invisible; a couple of people who can steal or absorb other’s powers, and so on and so forth.

Some of these folk struggle to deal with their emerging powers amidst dealing with mundane everyday problems like adulterous spouses, vicious loan sharks and high school politics, as well as major ones like sinister consipiracies, organized crime and doomsday scenarios. All the various and disparate threads are tied together somehow, and viewers are kept on the edge of their seats by the comic-book-arc, cliffhanger abangan ang susunod na kabanata plot structure and writing.

It’s a character-driven show, which is its edge, I think. Heroes is a direct descendant of Lost and a host of other character-driven mystery/scifi/drama shows, and the attraction is that you or me could be any one of these characters. The CGI takes a backseat to the story and the people, at least for now.

The creators have a bit of admirable restraint as well, at least until the middle of the current batch of episodes. You don’t get to see any superhero anything until the last few seconds of the pilot, and then nothing overt until much later; it’s like they were just teasing the viewers with little hints here and there, episode after episode, and then all of a sudden there is a jaw-dropping moment of undeniable super-hero shtick where you see what these guys can actually do.

Despite being a show about superheroes, it’s not kiddie-friendly stuff. There are graphic scenes of a sort that might even put CSI to shame – like living heads being divested of brain matter and full-on autopsies. Plus stuff like adultery, murder, internet pornography, rape, drug addiction, terminal illnesses, crime, graft and corruption. On the other hand it’s got stuff like flying, invisibility, samurai swords, time travel and dinosaurs. Yes, dinosaurs. It’s got something for everyone!

On a more geek note (as if we could get any geekier), Heroes is also one of the shows that shamelessly uses brazen product placements that have no pretensions to subtlety (they can’t beat it into our heads enough that Hiro Nakamura drives a Nissan Versa), and uses digital and online tie-ins to the hilt, complete with narrative sub-plots that exist completely online through virtual comic books you can download, plus a too-busy and full-to-bursting website. But they sure know to make hay.

Despite the commercialism infused into the show, Heroes is still an amazing, fresh look at the genre that keeps people coming back for more. It’s a critical hit – it was nominated for Best Drama Show at the recent Golden Globes (it didn’t win – that honor went to Grey’s Anatomy, but at least the cast had a nice time as presentors for other awards.) The show’s 13th episode airs tomorrow in the US, and a local cable channel is planning to show the series soon. If you can get around the NBC website’s location detectors (US only, but there are PWiT readers who can easily get around this, no sweat), all the episodes are available online for free as streaming video, if you’ve got the bandwidth. And it’s also available on the iTunes Store, another (skirtable) US-only path. Of course there are other means, but let’s not open that can of worms, shall we?

Heroes is a true geek show. And the fact that it’s an unqualified hit means that the geek-world-domination-plan is finally catching hold.

It’s time to ask yourself the question: Are you on the list?

UPDATE: Heroes begins airing on Star World on Wednesday, Feb. 7 at 9PM.

You’ve heard of that 28-year old South Korean gamer in Taegu in 2005 who died after playing Starcraft online for 50 hours non-stop, right? Or this other 24-year-old South Korean three years before in a cybercafe in Kwangju after playing for 86 hours? Or his 27-year old countryman (what is it with South Koreans and games, anyway?) who died ten days previously, 32 hours until his final Game Over, foaming at the mouth in a cybercafe toilet? Or the Russian teenager two years ago from a stroke after playing for 12 hours straight? Or the young man from Milwaukee who committed suicide in 2002 because of an addition to Everquest? Or a couple of girls in Beijing who died two years ago from playing excessive World of Warcraft during an extended government holiday?

People do die from playing games. Ironic that our countrymen get killed fighting rebels down south, or hapless American GIs in Iraq get blown up to smithereens by suicide bombers while some folk deign to expire for much less.

We’re actually getting better at it. Now people can die even before they actually get to play the video game. They can die trying to get something to play with in the first place.

Take the strange case of 28-year-old Jennifer Strange from Sacramento, California. A mother of three kids, she wanted her children to have a Nintendo Wii, so she joined a different sort of game – an FM radio contest on KDND 107.9 to win one by drinking gallons of water but not peeing. The promo was called Hold Your Wee for a Wii.

Jennifer drank two gallons of water, but eventually gave up and went home. Later in the day she had a massive headache and was later found dead in her home. She died from water intoxication, wherein the sodium in her body was diluted by the held water to the point of being fatal. If she had peed, the chemical balance would have been corrected, but she had gone too long suffused with water, and died from swelling of the brain.

I used to be an FM radio station DJ and broadcasting executive, and in my day I thought of, and carried out, lots of silly and ridiculous radio contests that people joined, but thankfully never killed anyone. I’m reminded of WKRP’s free turkey Thanksgiving promo where they threw turkeys out of a helicopter over a mall parking lot, thinking they could fly down and people would catch them.

Jennifer’s kids, still Wii-less, are now also motherless. Ten radio station employees were fired and are now jobless. Who would’ve been able to predict that in the 21st century, people can end their lives over video games, or that, like the knights of the Crusades after the Holy Grail, game consoles like the Wii are worth dying for?

Another sign that these are the end times.

When I was in kiddy hell elementary school, we had prissy writing penmanship classes. I don’t know if you whippersnappers kids these days still have it, given how everyone got lazy uses computers and handwriting is now something only old fogeys cared for an atrophying art. But the guys with the cleanest handwritten works were considered wusses got the best grades.

Hard to imagine being messy when you’re using a computer. And yet here it is. More and more online blogs are using the annoying slash thing strikethrough, and it’s becoming a norm now, even for the bigtime writers.

First, the Open Source Development Lab lays off a third of its staff in December. Now it’s merging with the Free Software Standards Foundation Group in a deal that may have been brokered by IBM, HP and Intel. – Larry Dignan, “Linux Matures,” Between the Lines, ZDNet

So just when did being sloppy the strikethrough become legit for public consumption?

Tech writer Jason de Villa used the strikethrough at least once in a print column, a couple of years ago at MPH Magazine (now Mobile Magazine). I thought it was cute, although I assumed it was more a novelty than anything else. I’ve seen it a couple of other times as well, in print, and it was rare enough to be amusing rather than annoying. It was a fun way to subvert the politeness of the printed page and get the occasional uncharacteristically-sarcastic point across.

The dosage was fine back then. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before bloggers too began discovering the html strikethrough command, <strike>. Suddenly, the strikethough became a cool way to say what you really thought… without subjecting you to lawsuits. It become an institutionalization of the subtext as a means of expression. You no longer have to read what’s between the lines; you simply read what’s underneath that infernal line.

Now I probably wouldn’t mind if the strikethrough was an aesthetically pleasing format in the first place, like bold or italic. Unfortunately, it’s a STRIKEthrough. It was originally INTENDED to be ugly, to stand out from the page, like a sore thumb, so that editors can wipe the text out of existence. And yet we’re now actually institutionalizing it for mass consumption.

Case in point: in WordPress, the strikethrough button now occupies prime real estate, right next to –horror of horrors– the more socially acceptable bold and italic buttons! So it looks like I’ll have to get used to it.

Thus far the visual blight is confined to opinion pieces, thank goodness. But imagine how the world would be if your friendly neighborhood newspapers began using the strikethrough even on their headlines as a way of getting away with potentially libelous thoughts… sheesh. My old penmanship teacher would be having fits.