Summer co-op job

Haven’t written since the winter semester finished, so here’s a quickie: I managed to snag a technical writing position at Sierra Wireless for the summer. Cool thing is the staff technical writer was a graduate of the Print Futures program from 10 years ago. It’s nice to meet someone who ‘made it’.

Anyways, hope to do more posts in the future. And now that it doesn’t have to be work-related, perhaps I can make things a little more interesting (i.e. more critical, controversial, ascerbic, etc. etc.).



Is This Law Going Too Far?

Some of you have probably heard or seen the recent reports about the passing of a new French law making it a crime for non-journalists to film a violent act and distribute the video on the Internet.

This article from ArsTechnica provides a succinct summary of the controversy surrounding this new law.

Personally, I recognize the intent of the law and I support it, but the fact is that it will be next to impossible to enforce. Sure, video-hosting sites can be compelled to remove these sorts of videos, but as we all know with the Internet, once something is posted, it’s there forever.

But what do y’all think about this? Is it right that the French government legislate who can and cannot record videos of events occurring in the public domain? What do you think of the logic behind the requirement that only journalists be allowed this right? What defines a journalist in today’s age of bloggers?

Alternative Fuels

I recently read an article about Nigeria’s oil situation in the February issue of Vanity Fair. This was a real eye-opener.

In brief, Nigeria is the fifth-largest oil producer in the world. Its economy depends largely on the sale of oil to foreign multinational corporations. But its corrupt government is illegally siphoning hundreds of millions of dollars a year from this industry. Communities in the Niger Delta, where most of the easy-to-access stores of oil are found, see none of the oil money since government officials are keeping it for themselves. These communities lack safe drinking water, electricity, and sustainable economies. Their people rely on a subsistence fishing economy to survive. Needless to say, they are very, very, unhappy. They have taken to committing various terrorist acts, such as kidnapping foreign oil workers and sabotaging oil pipelines, in order to make themselves heard.

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The Economics of Gold Farming

**DISCLAIMER: I have not played a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) before**

So what is gold farming you ask? To explain it, I’ll have to go back a little bit and describe the reality in which it happens.

I’ll use World of Warcraft (WoW), since it is by far the most popular MMORPG. In WoW, players from around the world meet in an online, virtual environment where they can slay monsters, earn gold, and buy special items. One of the objectives of WoW is to make your character more powerful. To do so usually requires special items that cost in-game gold. In order to acquire this gold, players must kill monsters. This can quickly become a tedious business because the most sought-after items cost a lot of gold, and each monster has a pretty slim wallet.

This is where the gold farmer comes in. A gold farmer will play WoW for 10-12 hours a day in order to earn gold. He or she will then sell you this gold for real cash. You, the player, can then use this gold to buy the item you want (and therefore the power), saving you the tedium of spending hours upon hours online.

As this web page says, tens of thousands of gold-farming operations have sprung up in China to serve the huge market in Korea.

I first heard about people exchanging real-world wealth for virtual gold when I played MUDs (multi-user dungeons), back in the days of the BBS. Back then, users who had spent hundreds of hours playing and developing their online characters would sell them to the highest bidder. But this was a relatively unknown practice, and was frowned upon when it did happen.

Now, the practice is much more pervasive, though the stigma still remains. But who is to say that it’s wrong to be a gold farmer, or to buy gold from a gold farmer? The farmers are only there to serve a growing global demand. Sad as it is, it’s the people in a developing country like China that are willing to do whatever it takes in order to get the cash that they need to move up in the world.

Hard-core gamers say that gold farming is a dishonest practice, that it detracts from the enjoyment of people who spend hundreds of hours online earning gold for themselves. But isn’t this all just business and freedom of choice? If I want to pay for my gold, rather than spend hours ‘earning’ it in the game, isn’t that my business? Many people simply find it more fun to explore the game than to spend many hours killing monsters for gold. Buying from a gold farmer allows them to do this more quickly than would normally be possible.

As long as MMORPGs are popular there will be gold farmers, because there are always people looking for shortcuts. Gold farming has spawned a niche sector of the job market that may be an option for people who love gaming and want to make a little cash doing it.

My, it’s quiet in here…

I’ve been asked to write this blog as part of my job as an online peer tutor here at Douglas College. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a pretty good deal. Basically, I’m getting paid to write my thoughts on just about anything and everything.

So what should my first post be about? Well, seeing as how I live in a consumeristic culture, I thought Apple’s new iPhone would be a fitting subject.

For those of you who haven’t heard yet (Oh my god, you haven’t heard? Where have you been for the past 3 days??), it’s a mobile phone that plays music, takes photos, plays videos, and oh yeah, can be used as a normal mobile phone. So what’s the big deal, you ask?

The big deal is that it’s an APPLE phone. Apple has made a name for itself as an innovator of creatively-designed products (iPod, iMac) that have managed to tap into niches that other companies didn’t know were even there. Apple is trying to do the same thing with its iPhone.

The problem with this is that Apple’s previous products have been more than just gimmicks. The iPod was backed by a clean, simple interface and software that was programmed intelligently with the user in mind. The iMac was a breakthrough in home computer design that saved space yet still looked cool. The iPhone on the other hand doesn’t really offer anything out of the ordinary, once you look past it’s nifty touch screen. It doesn’t offer any features that other phones don’t already have. Sure, it’s cool to look at but is it anything more than that?

Apple is entering a market segment that is fraught with peril. The average person changes his or her phone on a regular basis, with the interval between phones growing shorter and shorter. I’m sure the iPhone cost huge money for Apple to develop. Are they going to be able to recoup these costs when consumers are always looking for the next hottest thing? I think companies have learnt from the way masses of people gravitated towards the iPod in the early days. They’re going to be quick to jump on Apple’s multiple touch screen, making Apple’s iPhone stand out a whole lot less in a very crowded market.

Video Games and the Wii

I can’t really remember the first time I played video games, but it was in an arcade somewhere. (There aren’t many arcades anymore, since console games seem to have forced most out of business.) I do remember begging for quarters from my parents, and being repeatedly told no, until they relented with 2 or 4 bits, probably just to shut me up. Those few seconds I spent blowing up alien spacecraft, or gunning down evil terrorists, opened up a whole new world of imagination and possibilities to me. Here was something that I had total control over. Too bad it couldn’t last.

Since then, I’ve maintained an interest in the gaming world. From the Atari 2600, to my cousin’s 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (with light gun!), through the Sega Genesis, Super NES, and Playstation, all the way to the Sega Saturn, X Box, and today’s crop of Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii – I’ve always kept track of the latest and greatest technology out there, even if I can’t afford to own any of it. I’ve seen the industry grow as technology has improved, despite horrible Hollywood movies based on video games (remember Super Mario Brothers with Bob Hoskins as our favourite red-overalled plumber? Or how about Street Fighter, with the late, great, Raul Julia unfortunately miscast as M. Bison?).

Now, gamers have numerous consoles to choose from, and hundreds of titles to while away the hours. If you don’t have one already, which would you choose to own? X Box 360? Playstation 3? Nintendo Wii? I haven’t owned a system since the Super NES, but I tell you right now that the Wii is the only system worth owning. Sure, it’s not the most powerful, nor does it have a huge library of games (yet). But it is by far the most innovative console in the past 20 years.

Technology has finally reached the point where an interactive gaming experience which involves more than your fingers and thumbs is possible. With the Wii, people have the opportunity to try and learn real games (think Wii Sports) that they never before had the chance or inclination to play. I’ve heard people say that they actually get a workout while playing a game – that’s not something you can say with any other game system. People I know who would normally never play video games, now say that they love the Wii. To me, this harks the arrival of new opportunities for the design and future of gaming.