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Video games – ‘moral panic’? January 25, 2007

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This week’s Economist editorial (subscription required) is the subject of an article at “Communities Dominate Brands”, both putting the ‘popular media’ dislike of ‘violent’ video games in a proper historical context. For example…

They poison the mind and corrupt the morals of the young, who waste their time sitting on sofas immersed in dangerous fantasy worlds. That, at least was the charge levelled against novels during the 18th century by critics worried about the impact of a new medium on young people.

Steven Johnson covered this theme many times, in media discussions about his book “Everything Bad Is Good For You”. His open letter to Hillary Clinton (Jul-05) is no longer available at the L.A. Times site, but I referenced part of it in a strategy paper (Jan-06); and I think it reinforces the point.

Your current concern is over explicit sex in “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.” Yet there’s not much to investigate, is there? It should get rated appropriately, and that’s that. But there’s more to your proposed study: You want to examine how video games shape children’s values and cognitive development.

The great secret of today’s video games that has been lost in the moral panic over “Grand Theft Auto” is how difficult the games have become. That difficulty is not merely a question of hand-eye coordination; most of today’s games force kids to learn complex rule systems, master challenging new interfaces, follow dozens of shifting variables in real time and prioritize between multiple objectives. In short, precisely the sorts of skills that they’re going to need in the digital workplace of tomorrow.

Math SAT scores have never been higher; verbal scores have been climbing steadily for the last five years; nearly every indicator in the Department of Education study known as the Nation’s Report Card is higher now than when the study was implemented in 1971. The last 10 years have seen the most dramatic drop in violent crime in recent memory and the national carjacking rate has dropped substantially since “Grand Theft Auto” came out.

Phone thoughts January 9, 2007

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Desirable features for my next mobile handset (without wanting it to $satisfy all). Currently use a Palm Treo 650 (which doesn’t have 3G/ wifi/ gps/ multitasking OS), and not a landline. Grouped, but no particular order :

Things that I don’t really care about :

How I listen to Music January 1, 2007

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My server is working again (after 12 months) and I’ve started to use Last.fm, so here are a few notes on how I listen to music at the moment, in case anyone has interesting comments.

My CD’s [...most of them! : **] are ripped and compressed (to FLAC files) with EAC, and the freeDB tagging manually corrected with Mp3tag. Music is streamed between my server and hifi (using SlimServer and a wireless Squeezebox v1), and a SlimScrobbler plugin sends the track data to Last.fm. Playlists tend to be albums, random, or with MusicIP (previously Predixis) …but that’s not integrated with SlimServer yet.

I buy new music I hear on the radio (or Pandora/ PandoraFM), or recommended by Amazon and blog articles. I hear unsigned bands on podcasts (Odeo : an aggregator) and may visit their MySpace pages, but rarely go to concerts. I ’subscribe’ to some podcasts with Songbird (as I said), so that the files are saved to my server (and played with SlimServer), but don’t keep them. I don’t buy downloaded music, because at that price I don’t want lossy codecs at low data rates (vs. CD’s) …and DRM [**]! AllOfMP3.com is an exception, but I haven’t used it.

Songbird has a lot of potential as a player, but it won’t read tags from FLAC files yet. So, no point using it to rate FLAC tracks in my library, and I use MediaMonkey for that. And any FLAC tracks I play with it won’t get recognised by Last.fm (even though it has its own audioscrobbler …which works for MP3), so I don’t play any!

I don’t think that SlimServer or Songbird record the number of times I play a track, nor handle smart playlists (but I may be wrong), and it’s the main reason why I began using Last.fm. When I get an iPod (or other portable device), I’d like to be able to combine the metadata it records with my other sources.

Plenty of software (eg. Songbird) seems able to handle file transfer and syncing between a library and a device, so I don’t intend to use iTunes. If the iPod firmware remains unable to play FLAC, I’d consider loading Rockbox onto it.

I’d like to set up SSH tunnelling (with Softsqueeze as the client), to stream music from my home server to workplace, and that track data would also go to Last.fm. (FLAC files are typically 1000kbit/s, but upstream ADSL is only 250kbit/s; so I’d transcode on the fly to a format with a lower data rate – MP3 or Ogg. My ISP provides static IP addresses, but others could use a dynamic DNS service – eg. dynDNS). If I got a flat rate mobile data plan, I may try streaming to my phone, but doubt it’d normally be an enjoyable listening experience.

** : “Defective By Design” sounds a good description of DRM-enabled music, not just because DRM tries to prevent playback of ‘your’ music on devices that are technically capable, but because distortion is deliberately added to the music, so that good CD rippers ‘think’ that there is a fault (…and there is : by design).