Suppose an object, say a cannon ball, was shot horizontal to Earth’s surface at an extremely high speed.  Suppose that the cannon ball traveled so fast that if it fell, say one foot toward the ground, the Earth’s curvature would move away at the same rate.  In theory, the cannon ball would fall at the same rate the earth curved away and the ball would appear to stay the same height in the air while speeding around the Earth.  This idea is known as orbiting the earth and it was first accomplished by the Russians in October of 1957 with the launch of Sputnik, the world’s first satellite.

Since the early days of the Space Race between the United States and Russia, satellites have increased immensely in size and capability.  They support global communications systems, GPS, military intelligence systems, etc.  Even with all of this impressive technology, events beyond human control show that there is still room for improvement.  According to a Fox News article, a TV communications satellite has been disabled by a solar storm and is wandering into a US cable provider satellite’s path.  The two satellites will not collide but interfere with one another meaning the loss of several TV stations.  As of now, scientists don’t know what to do but they are working on the problem.

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Genre Hybrids?

May 5, 2010

Recently I came across a game review for Test Drive Unlimited 2 on gamespot.com.  Test Drive Unlimited 2 is a racing game in which players drive high end sports cars through the back roads and streets of a Mediterranean island and Hawaii.  The more races players win, the more cars they unlock.  The graphics are breathtaking to say the least.  Also, the new game features a passing of time feature so that racing in the day, night, or during sundown / sunup changes the way the landscape looks.  Another new aspect of the game that I found related to class is the attempt to emphasize online interaction between players (see video clip on link page above, start clip time at 1:45).

Besides making everything look amazing, the creators added a new feature in which each player customizes an avatar.  Players can meet other players online through their avatars by meeting in clubs or car dealerships.  This reminded me of the game Second Life which is nothing short of a full virtual world.  In Test Drive Unlimited 2, players are now encouraged to meet via avatar, and can do simple interactions such as wave or say “hello”.

This kind of online interaction surprised me.  I’ve heard of interacting through avatars, but not in a video game whose genre is racing.  I guess that leads to the question is a first person shooter on the same level as a virtual world with avatars?  After all, each player has their own body and not every body looks alike.  Also, you interact with teammates by calling out programmed commands, via Ventrilo, or through in-game chat for consoles.  Sure, covering a teammate’s back isn’t the same as waving to them and having an (avatar) face-to-face conversation, but the idea of friendship is there.

This being said, I think the answer to the question presented above is no, although avatar gaming and shooters share similar concepts.   The difference is that avatars have a customizable appearance and because interaction is the focus of the game, their appearance is very important.  Conversely, since a shooter game’s focus is on fighting, appearance only matters to determine what side a player is on. For instance, the importance of a gamer’s appearance in Call of Duty: World at War is to tell if he is German or American.  The looks don’t really matter past this.

This is what makes Test Drive Unlimited 2 such a unique game:  it combines the racing genre with avatar centered interaction between players.  I think it is interesting that two types of games that have always been thought of as separate, are not being integrated together to compliment each other and improve the game as a whole.

Based on a FOX News Article, the Chinese Government is strengthening a law that requires phone and internet companies to report customers that have “leaked state secrets” to local and federal authorities.  The issue of governmental censorship has grown from recent legislation by not only China, but other governments (such as in South Korea) as well.  The article mentions that such restrictions recently caused Google to move their Chinese HQ to Hong Cong, as there are less governmental restrictions there.  Later on, the article mentions that “after deadly ethnic riots broke out in … July, Beijing blocked Twitter and Facebook, unplugged the Internet entirely and slowed cell phone service to stifle reports about the violence”.  This control of communication is simply another way the government limits the rights of the people, and keeps most in the dark about current issues.

The problem with the new legislation is that “state secrets” are defined broadly, so as to include anything the government deems a secret at any moment in time.  This will restrict free speech and free expression of thought; if people know the government is watching, they will act differently just as people drive the speed limit when they see a police car.  The real scary thing is that companies similar to our AT&T, Comcast, and Verision are being forced to act as spies and report back to the government.  Although this is not the first piece of legislation of its kind, I don’t believe it will be the last.

Greenpeace is an international environmental group that uses photography to document human activities that damage the environment.  The organization uses the photos and videos that it collects to spread global awareness.  From illegal whale hunting to the impacts of an oil spill, Greenpeace petitions global leaders on a variety of issues to take action in favor of the environment.  Their action center has a list of current issues along with links labeled “Take Action”.  The links allow anyone to send a personalized message regarding a specific environmental issue to a political leader.   I believe this form of activism is useful, as it puts the average civilian in contact with someone that has the power to correct the issue.

Internet Activism is increasing in popularity because it is easy to participate in and also anonymous.  I think people are more likely to support a cause if they don’t have to proclaim their position.  In this way online activism provides more / better participation.  Also, being online, the activist can access more information about the group and learn about the issues before they participate.  For example, on Greenpeace’s website they post all of their pictures so one can understand the importance of joining their cause.  These tools are quickly accessed online.