17 December 2008

Why I’d like a smaller Apple laptop

In New York this summer, I bought an ASUS Eee 901 “netbook”, and chose the Linux version, congratulating myself on sticking it to The Man while gaining an extra 8Gb of drive space. A week later, I was sighing with relief after having deleted Linux and installed Windows XP instead. ((Luckily, I had an XP disc around lying around from the days when I had to have a PC for reviewing videogames. That era taught me at least one thing: nearly all PC games can be described with the single word “pointy”.)) What went wrong?

The default Xandros operating system looked okay at first: certainly, the computer booted very quickly (in roughly 15 seconds), after which I had Firefox, OpenOffice and a bunch of other little apps which pretty much replicated the bare-bones functionality of an OS X or Windows system. The wireless seemed a little flaky, but I assumed there would be driver updates. But then I made a huge mistake! I tried to install a new application. Continued →

30 May 2008

From: Microsoft Propaganda Honcho
To: Microsoft Propaganda Minion
Subject: “Five Misunderstood Features in Windows Vista”

Propaganda Minion,

You remember that a fortnight ago, on my orders, we pulled our propaganda document, “Five Misunderstood Features in Windows Vista”, ((Original version [pdf]; new version.)) from the internet only hours after tech bloggers around the world had laughed themselves hoarse over it, and I ordered you to rewrite some of the more misunderstood sections. I have now evaluated your changes in the new version. Continued →

22 April 2008

Blogs vs books, from a writer’s point of view

Who needs books, anyway? One interesting kind of response to my previous post about the “experiment” of giving away my book Trigger Happy for free was to point to the financial success of many bloggers, and to say that this was the way forward. Writers should, essentially, forget about the “outdated” model of writing a whole “book” and then figuring out how to sell it. Instant web publishing is what people want: it’s groovy and immediate, edgy, now. In that case, though, what happens to the quality of writing overall?

Any facile comparison of “quality” across different media is asking for a kicking. But I’m going to do it anyway. It seems to me that blogs are the perfect medium for discussing highly topical matters in, say, technology or politics. There are many blogs that I admire and read regularly, and they often provide brilliant demolitions of official narratives, or superior analysis to that offered by complacent and/or flat-out dishonest “professionals” in the corporate media, or just better jokes. That said, I would take everything I read in the blogosphere last year, load it onto a cheap thumbdrive, and happily swap it, in an instant, for a single copy of Denis Johnson’s mind-bendingly magnificent Tree of Smoke. For me, there’s just no contest.

Why should this be so? Is there any reason why some future Denis Johnson couldn’t publish a masterpiece serially on the internet? I think, actually, there might be. Continued →

18 April 2008

On writers, ‘digital rights management’, and the internet

(Update: Why write books at all when blogging is the thing? See this new post.)

No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money — Samuel Johnson

At the end of last year, I decided to give away my book, Trigger Happy, in DRM-free .pdf format. I called it “a kind of experiment”. Thirty thousand downloads later and counting, it’s time to collate the lab results.

Internet distribution is awesome, but you knew that already. More people got Trigger Happy from this website than ever bought a copy of the printed book. The interest shown in an eight-year-old book about videogames by people as far afield (from my point of view) as Brazil and Russia has been immensely gratifying. My book was converted to be readable on the Nintendo DS; and the Nebraska Library Commission made a spiral-bound printed copy for their collection. Links to the download attracted a lot of attention to this site, and in December there was even an article about the book published in the French newspaper Libération.

All of which is to say, it was a pretty good publicity stunt. It might have sold a few more hard copies; more importantly, it gives my future books a better chance of at least being picked up in a bookstore by people who downloaded this one.

Although I didn’t do it for the money, I was also, of course, interested in testing the idea of giving stuff away and allowing people freely to express their appreciation. So I put a PayPal button below the download. Is this, as some people say, an exciting new internet-age business model for writers and other creative types? Continued →

10 April 2008

A figure walks through a dungeon. He is nothing but a pink head with stumpy limbs: his black bowler hat, symbol of the capitalist yoke under which he labours, is his one distinguishing feature. There is only one path ahead through the dungeon, so he walks it. What else is he going to do? As he walks, he is assailed by dictatorial messages from the system, which represents our contemporary porno-military-entertainment complex. These messages pretend a sort of kindness, a desire to help, but really they are telling him what he can and cannot do, what he can and cannot dream. He notices he has weapons, and throws a few, but the system assures him they are useless, brainwashing him into docility. There is an awful reckoning ahead, but the system tells him not to worry. All he has to do is to burn the rope. He walks on, as in a dream.

What rope? Why should he burn it? Why is he here at all? You may as well ask: Why is any of us here, hurrying toward a rope that must be burned, for reasons we cannot understand? Continued →

7 February 2008

Why beauty is truth

When the downloadable version of Radiohead’s In Rainbows came out, some people were complaining vocally about the mp3 encoding. Tinny and distorted, they said, what a dreadful conversion to mp3, it’s not even worth the zero dollars I paid for it. Actually, it sounds okay to me. Not CD quality, but perfectly fine for the bitrate. ((I stop being able to hear the difference between 44.1Khz 16-bit AIFF and compressed codecs when the encoding hits around 320kbps (for AAC; somewhat higher for mp3).)) What evident distortion I can hear seems evidently to be the result of production/mastering decisions, not a technical fault. This story might be a good illustration of the fact that, the less you pay for something, the less value you are likely to assign to it. Or maybe those people were unconsciously ill at ease owing to Radiohead’s crazy time signatures. ((“Fifteen Step” is in 5/4, naturally.)) Or maybe they were just using really bad headphones.

That’s what occurred to me as I was walking through Paris the other day, listening to my downloaded copy of In Rainbows on my iPod through my new pair of AKG K324P earphones. Continued →

31 January 2008

The BBC documentary on games that I presented in 2004, Trigger Happy: The Invincible Rise of the Video Game, is now online. The image shows your reporter in the universe of ICO. Click to go to Google Video:

29 November 2007

On videogames ‘versus’ reading

As George W. Bush nearly asked: “Is our children reading?” The answer appears to be no, according to the 2006 report of the International Literacy Study. As the Guardian summarises its findings:

England has plummeted from third to 19th in an international league table of children’s literacy levels as pupils replace books with computer games.

Imagine the headline 100 years ago: “Children Spending Too Much Time Playing Outdoors with Hoops and Sticks, Says Minister; Should be Forcibly Enclosed to Read Improving Literature.” There’s always some apparently pointless youth activity to scapegoat.

As has always been the case, though, the adult paranoia expressed here about the supposedly harmful influence of videogames depends on a sublime ignorance of the form. In fact, you’re not going to get far in most modern videogames if you can’t read. And some of them make you read an awful lot. Continued →