Human spaceflight is, to be blunt, an unnecessarily complicated affair. Us humans require a whole host of things to make sure we can survive the trip through the harsh conditions of space, much more than our robotic companions require. Of course whilst robotic missions may be far more efficient at performing the missions we set them out on that doesn’t further our desire to become a multi-planetary species and thus the quest to find better ways to preserve our fragile bodies in the harsh realms of space continues. One of the biggest issues we face when travelling to other worlds is how we’ll build our homes there as traditional means will simply not work anywhere else that we currently know of. This is when novel techniques, such as 3D printing come into play.
Much of the construction we engage in today relies on numerous supporting industries in order to function. Transplanting these to other worlds is simply not feasible and taking prefabricated buildings along requires a bigger (or numerous smaller) launch vehicles in order to get the required payload into orbit. If we were able to build habitats in situ however then we could cut out the need for re-establishing the supporting infrastructure or bringing prefabricated buildings along with us, something which would go a long way to making an off-world colony sustainable. To that end NASA has started the 3D Printed Habitat Challenge with $2.25 million in prizes to jump start innovation in this area.
The first stage of the competition is for architects and design students to design habitats that maximise the benefits that 3D printing can provide. These will then likely be used to fuel further designs of habitats that could be constructed off-world. The second part of the competition, broken into 2 stages, is centered on the technology that will be used to create those kinds of structures. The first focuses on technology required to use materials available at site as a feed material for 3D printing, something which is currently only achieved with very specific feedstock. The second, and ultimately the most exciting, challenge is to actually build a device capable of using onsite materials (as well as recyclables) to create a habitable structure with a cool $1.1 million to those who satisfy the challenge. Doing that would be no easy feat of course but the technology created along the way will prove invaluable to future manned missions in our solar system.
We’re still likely many years away from having robots on the moon that can print us endless 3D habitats but the fact that NASA wants to spur innovation in this area means that they’re serious about pursuing a sustainable human presence offworld. There’s likely numerous engineering challenges that we’ll need to overcome, especially between different planets, but it’s far easier to adapt a current technology than it is to build one from scratch. I’m very keen to see the entries to this competition as they could very well end up visiting other planets to build us homes there.
Roll back the clock a decade or so and the competition for what kind of processor ended up in your PC was at a fever pitch with industry heavyweights Intel and AMD going blow for blow. The choice of CPU, at least for me and my enthusiast brethren, almost always came down to what was fastest but the lines were often blurry enough that brand loyalty was worth more than a few FPS here or there. For the longest time I was an AMD fan, sticking stalwartly to their CPUs which provided me with the same amount of grunt as their Intel brethren for a fraction of the cost. However over time the gap between what an AMD CPU could provide and what Intel offered was too wide to ignore, and it’s only been getting wider since then.
The rift is seen in adoption rates across all products that make use of modern CPUs with Intel dominating nearly any sector that you find them in. When Intel first retook the crown all those years ago the reasons were clear, Intel just performed well enough to justify the cost, however as time went on it seemed like AMD was willing to let that gap continue to grow. Indeed if you look at them from a pure technology basis they’re stuck about 2 generations behind where Intel is today with the vast majority of their products being produced on a 28nm process, with Intel’s latest release coming out on 14nm. Whilst they pulled a major coup in winning over all of the 3 major consoles that success has had much onflow to the rest of the business. Indeed since they’ll be producing the exact same chips for the next 5+ years for those consoles they can’t really do much with them anyway and I doubt they’d invest in a new foundry process unless Microsoft or Sony asked them nicely.
What this has translated into is a monopoly by default, one where Intel maintains it’s massive market share without having to worry about any upstarts rocking their boat. Thankfully the demands of the industry are pressure enough to keep them innovating at the rapid pace they set way back when AMD was still biting at their heels but there’s a dangerously real chance that they could just end up doing the opposite. It’s a little unfair to put the burden on AMD to keep Intel honest however it’s hard to think of another company who has the required pedigree and experience to be the major competition to their platform.
The industry is looking towards ARM as being the big competition for Intel’s x86 platform although, honestly, they’re really not in the same market. Sure nearly every phone under the sun is now powered by some variant of the ARM architecture however when it comes to consumer or enterprise compute you’d be struggling to find anything that runs on it. There is going to have to be an extremely compelling reason for everyone to want to translate to that platform and, as it stands right now, mobile and low power are the only places where it really fits. For ARM to really start eating Intel’s lunch it’d need to make some serious inroads into those spaces, something which I don’t see happening for decades at least.
There is some light in the form of Kaveri however it’s less than stellar performance when compared to Intel’s less tightly coupled solution does leave a lot to be desired. At a high level the architecture does feel like the future of all computing, well excluding radical paradigm shifts like HP’s The Machine (which is still vaporware at this point), but until it equals the performance of discreet components it’s not going anywhere fast. I get the feeling that if AMD had kept up with Intel’s die shrinks Kaveri would be looking a lot more attractive than it is currently, but who knows what it might have cost them to get to that stage.
In any other industry you’d see this kind of situation as one that was ripe for disruption however the capital intensive nature, plus an industry leader who isn’t resting on their laurels, means that there are few who can hold a candle to Intel. The net positive out of all of this is that we as consumers aren’t suffering however we’ve all seen what happens when a company remains at the top for far too long. Hopefully the numerous different sectors which Intel is currently competing in will be enough to offset their monopolistic nature in the CPU market but that doesn’t mean more competition in that space isn’t welcome.
If you’ve been here a little while you’ll know that last year I won a competition to go up to Brisbane to cover TechEd Australia 2013 for LifeHacker Australia. During my time up there I wrote three posts covering everything from PowerShell, the evolution of the term “private cloud” and why Windows Server 201 would succeed. Evidently the LifeHacker writers and readers loved what I wrote and I ended up winning the mini-competition with the 2 other guest bloggers. At the time I was told that this would lead onto another series of posts for Microsoft themselves however that never eventuated but I did end up with a shiny new HP MicroServer that’s become the mainstay of my home network.
I thought that would be the end of it but a couple months ago Angus Kidman, the man behind much of LifeHacker Australia’s tech coverage, contacted me with an offer: come with him to the USA and participate in covering TechEd North America as part of their World of Servers initiative.
Of course I said yes.
It will be much the same as it was last year, I’ll be attending TechEd in New Orleans every day and writing up a post that sums up the lessons learned that I take away each day. The primary focus will still be on Server 2012 although with Microsoft’s increasing focus on cloud integration you can rest assured that I’ll be weaseling my way into as many Azure sessions as I possibly can. It’s going to be interesting to compare and contrast the two as I’m sure TechEd North America is going to be huge by comparison and hopefully that means we’ll get some juicy insights into some of Microsoft’s upcoming products.
But this post isn’t just for me to humble brag to you guys. I’m here to tell you that LifeHacker Australia is offering this very same opportunity to 2 lucky IT professionals! To enter all you have to do is fill out this entry form and answer a few questions about your IT chops. Once you’ve done that you’re in the running to win a fully paid trip to New Orleans to cover TechEd North America and you’ll get to hang out with me for the duration of the trip (most people would consider that a perk…most people ;)).
If you’re a budding blogger hoping to get a foot in the door or just a tech head who loves everything Microsoft then there really isn’t a better opportunity than the one LifeHacker is offering here. You’ve only got until May 1st to get your entries in (that’s 2 weeks people!) so I’d encourage you to get it in sooner rather than later. I’m incredibly excited to be going along for the ride on this one and if my previous experience was anything to go by it’ll be a blast and it’d be amazing if I could bring one my readers along for the ride.
Hope to see you there! 😀
Before I dive into the meat of today’s article I think a little disclosure is in order so you know where my biases lie. I’m undeniably an eSports fan, watching it grow from the tenuous beginnings to the burgeoning industry that it has become today. I’m also slightly invested in the whole idea myself, even though at my current skill level I’m still a worlds away from competing seriously. Still despite my biases my inner sceptic won’t stay quiet when there’s an argument to be had that seems to be rife with emotion and misinformation, which is what has pushed me to write about this today.
So since I’ve been elbow deep in writing about other issues this week I missed a massive Internet argument over whether eSports can be classified as a sport. The origin appears to be this article on Destructoid which, like previous articles to the same effect did, sparked a debate online which inevitably turned south as both sides duked it out. The latest instalment, and the one that caught my eye, was this post from Jim Sterling which focused primarily on the community’s reaction to the post and how such a reaction showed that eSports can never be considered a real sport because of it. After reading through it all and doing some digging on the matters at hand I’ve come to a couple conclusions and believe that both sides could learn a lot from each other.
The first, and I know this is probably pointless on the Internet, is that a level of courtesy would never go astray when you’re arguing with people online. It’s really, really easy to devolve into name calling and baiting when you’re arguing with a faceless wall of text but it does nothing to help your cause when you do so. It’s for that exact reason that I tend to shy away from writing any kind of emotionally charged piece here simply because it usually removes the meaning. The problem is exacerbated when you have to confine your words to the 140 character count of Twitter, leading to sound bites like this one which can be so easily construed as meaning one thing or another.
However I also know that reasoned pieces (like this one in response to the earlier Kotaku article I linked) tend to fall by the wayside, drowned out by the vitriol and hyperbole. This is because such articles tend to attract the most page views and discussion, generating a self sustaining organism of hate that proceeds to trample around the Internet. Such behaviour gives the false impression that one side is wholly represented by this vocal minority.
But that doesn’t mean some of the grievances raised don’t have some factual basis.
The crux of the entire matter appears to centre around the idea of whether or not eSports can be counted as sports. There are good arguments on both sides so let’s have a quick look at them, starting with the supporters. For them eSports counts as a sport because on the surface they share many similar aspects with the major difference being the lack of physicality. However the IOC (which Elsa mentions in her article) includes several non-physical sports in their definition of what constitutes a sport, lending credence to the idea that not all sports need to have the physical element. This is where Elsa’s article falls down for many eSports supporters as she writes that off in favour of her own opinion instead.
However Elsa is not alone in thinking this, in fact putting this idea to my close (relatively nerdy) social circle showed that most of them supported the idea that sports require a physical element. Indeed taking it further the straight up definition of the term “sport” usually gives something like this:
A human activity capable of achieving a result requiring physical exertion and/or physical skill, which, by its nature and organisation, is competitive and is generally accepted as being a sport.
Going from this it’s easy then to make the assumption that the general public would require the physicality aspect for something to be classified as a sport. This leaves us with quite the conundrum as both sides have a solid, valid claim to their arguments even if the expression of such hasn’t been done in the most respectful way.
As we all know just because the majority believes something does not necessarily make it correct. The general idea that a sport requires some physical aspect dates back to a time before we had the capability to compete in mediums like video games and thus I would argue that the definition of sports, as it current stands, needs to be reworked for modern times. eSports tick all the boxes of the generally accept definition if you take dexterity as satisfying the “physical skill” part of it. The term sport then becomes a much broader term and realistically covers a lot of things that we don’t necessarily consider sports today.
To use a space analogy it’s much like the definition of what constitutes a planet. For the longest time it was pretty much just the large heavenly bodies we had discovered in our own solar system. However as time went by and we discovered more planetary like bodies we had to start questioning what the definition of a planet really was, formalizing the idea. The definition of sports can then be thought of in the same light as we now have new entities that call it into question.
Sports then should be seen as a larger umbrella for skill based competition. The delineation then comes from the monikers that we then apply to the various sports in order to differentiate them from each other, although I can see many still using the generic term sports to refer to the heavily physical based variety. In reality this is just semantics that gives people an easy identifier to relate with others and should has little bearing on the larger argument.
Jim Sterling makes the point that he can’t take eSports seriously until there’s some actual debate about the topic as opposed to trolling and flame baiting. I was going to attempt to take him down on this one, saying there was a whole lot of reasonable debate to be had if he looked in the right places. Unfortunately it seems that there isn’t too much to be had out there, especially if you look at the comments on the articles in question and the various musing around on Twitter. We then seem to be at the mercy of the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory where all of eSports most rabid fans are hiding behind the veil of anonymity where they can spout their vitriol to a large audience. This, I agree, does the case for eSports no good at all.
However it also does those on the opposite side of the argument no good to write something off completely because of the most vocal parts of the fan group. It is of course hard not to judge when all the evidence you have points towards the other side being full of childish twats, so hopefully this post can be the beach head into the realm of constructive discussion. I may be one small voice in the deafening choir that is the Internet but it only takes one to pave the way to a more rational debate.
These kinds of questions (are games art? can they be sport?) are a sign that games, both as an industry and a medium, are now as much a part of our society as print, movies et. al. have been before them. It’s unfortunate that such times are marred by the vocal few who so fervently support them leave their better manners at the door but that does not mean their ideas do not have merit, nor warrant further investigation. Even this rather long post barely scratches the surface of the questions that have been raised in my investigation of the topic and I’m very much looking forward to debating them openly, courteously and rationally with any who would take up the challenge, so long as they extend to me the same.
I may not yet own an Android phone but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been keeping up to speed with the latest offerings from those who are using Google’s mobile OS. For the most part though the phones that I’ve been interested in are unfortunately incapable of being used in Australia thanks to our lack of CDMA and 4G services. Still there are quite a few nice handset options available for us Australians most of which come from the handset giant HTC. However after asking my far more Android savvy friend about which handset I should go for (after giving up on getting anything more than a HTC Desire) he said that I should check out the Samsung Galaxy S as it’s been a very popular handset of late. What I found surprised me.
The handset itself is quite impressive with specifications easily rivalling that of all its competitors. The 1GHz CPU and 512MB RAM are what we’ve come to expect in almost any high end smart phone. However the use of a Super AMOLED screen and a dedicated graphics chip (the same as the one found in the Apple’s A4 processor that powers both the iPad and iPhone 4) is what sets this handset apart from it’s pack. Considering this handset can be picked up for just under $700 unlocked it’s really quite competitive when compared to other handsets. It’s no wonder that Samsung has managed to move over a million of these to date.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Samsung wasn’t capable of delivering such a quality piece of hardware; I thought the same thing too. Whilst they have a reputation for making quite beautiful TVs and monitors they haven’t exactly been seen as being synonymous with quality when they’ve branched out into other areas. Still I can’t say that I’ve had a bad experience when it comes to Samsung’s products, in fact most have performed quite adequately. The stigma then is most likely because people have seen them as one of the cheaper brands for consumer electronics, unfortunately tagging them as lower quality as well (however valid or invalid that might be).
Still they’ve managed to prove that they can build and deliver high end consumer devices that not only work, but can also be counted amongst the best of breed in their class. You can then imagine everyone’s excitement when they announced the upcoming Galaxy Tab, building on the success of the Galaxy handset line:
London, UK, September 2, 2010 – Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd, a global leader in mobile technology, today announced the launch of the Samsung GALAXY Tab (GT-P1000). Powered by the Android Operating System 2.2, the GALAXY Tab is the first of the company’s tablet devices, representing a new category of mobile products for Samsung.
The Samsung GALAXY Tab brings together all of Samsung’s leading innovations to provide users with more capabilities while on the move. Consumers are able to experience PC-like web-browsing and enjoy all forms of multimedia content on the perfectly sized 7-inch display, wherever they go. Moreover, users can continuously communicate via e-mail, voice and video call, SMS/MMS or social network with the optimised user interface.
The specs on this little beasty are really quite impressive. In fact if you go down the list pretty much every gripe that anyone has ever had about the iPad has been addressed as it comes in a smaller size, packs a higher resolution screen and has both front and back facing cameras. Couple that with expandable storage and it looks like Samsung might be onto a winner here, especially if the rumours of it being aimed somewhere between US$200 and $400 turn out to have some truth to them. The question then remains: will this device sell?
Well 1 million Galaxy owners can’t be wrong and you can bet that many of them who’ve favoured Samsung in the past would definitely give such a device heavy consideration. It’s definitely aimed at the anti-iPad crowd what with its cherry picked features and Android OS, leading me to believe that this might become the flagship tablet for the Android platform. Whether it will sell or not is heavily dependent on how the market sees it. The iPad did well thanks mostly to its brand name, something which Samsung just can’t leverage the way Apple did. Still the Android crowd has proven to be just as loyal and cashed up as their Cupertino counterparts so Samsung is definitely in with a shot here.
What’s the most interesting thing about the announcement of this tablet is Samsung’s recent mindshift that has spurred them to innovate in the mobile sector. Just on a year ago if you bought a Samsung phone you probably weren’t buying an Android device and no one predicted that they would bring out something that would capture such a large market. The introduction of a tablet means that they’re looking to square up with Apple and hopefully take a piece of their deliciously profitable hardware sector pie. They’re definitely a force to be reckoned with as they have a net income of over $10 billion a year and enough sway with a whole lot of manufacturers to really give Apple (and all other companies producing tablets) a run for their money.
I consider myself to be pretty lucky to be living in a time when technical advancements are happening so rapidly that the world as we knew it 10 years ago seems so distant as to almost be a dream. Today I carry in my pocket as much computing power as what used to be held in high end desktops and if I so desire I can tap into untold pools of resources from cloud based companies for a fraction of what the same ability would’ve cost me even a couple years ago. With technology moving forward at such a fever pace it is not surprising that we manage to come up with an almost infinite number of ways in which to utilize it. Within this continuum of possibilities there are trends towards certain aspects which resonate with a need or want that certain audiences have, thereby driving demand for a product centered around them. As such we’ve seen the development of many devices that are toted as being the next revolution in technology with many being touted as the future of technology.
Two such ideas spring to mind when I consider recent advances in computing technology and both of them, on the surface, appear to be at odds with each other.
The first is the netbook. I can remember clearly the day that they first started making the rounds in the tech news circles I frequent with the community sentiment clearly divided over this new form of computing. In essence a netbook is a rethink of traditional computing ideals in that the latest and greatest computer is no longer required to do the vast majority of tasks that users require. It took me back to my years as a retail salesman as I can remember even back then telling over 90% of my customers that any computer they bought from us would satisfy their needs since all they were doing was web browsing, emailing and documents. The netbook then was the embodiment of the majority of users requirements with the added benefit of being portable and most importantly cheap. The market exploded as the low barrier to entry brought portable computing to the masses who before netbooks never saw a use for a portable computer.
The second is tablets. These kinds of devices aren’t particularly new although I’ll forgive you if your first ever experience with such a device was the iPad. I remember when I was starting out at university I looked into getting a tablet as an alternative to carrying around notepads everywhere and was unfortunately disappointed at the offerings. Back then the tablet idea was more of a laptop that got a swivel touchscreen added to it. Couple that with the fact that in order to keep costs down they were woefully underpowered you had devices that, whilst they had their niche, didn’t have widespread adoption. The introduction of a more appliance focused device in the form of the iPad arguably got the other manufacturers developing devices for consumption rather than general computing. Now the tablet market has exploded with a flurry of competing devices, all looking to capture this next computing revolution.
Both of these types of devices have been touted as the future of computing at one point or another and both have been pushed as being in direct competition with each other. In fact the latest industry numbers and predictionswould have you believe that the tablet market has caused a crash in the number of netbook sales. The danger in drawing such conclusions is that you’re comparing what amounts to an emerging market to an established maturing industry. Slowing growth might sound like a death knell to an industry but that’s actually more to do with the fact that as a market matures there are more people not buying the devices because they already have one, I.E. the market is reaching saturation point. Additionally the percentages give the wrong idea since you’re ignoring the market size. In 2010 alone there have already been 20 million netbooks sold, over 6 times that of the iPad and similar devices. Realistically these devices aren’t even in competition with each other.
So why did I choose the rather grandiose title for this post rather than say “Tablets vs Netbooks, Facts and Figures”? The answer, strangely enough, lies within spaghetti sauce:
(I wholeheartedly encourage you to watch that entire video, it’s quite fantastic)
The talk focuses on the work of Howard Moskowitzwho is famous for reinventing the canned spaghetti sauce industry. Companies approached him to find out what the perfect product would be for their target markets. After following tradition scientific methods he found that his data bore no correlation to the variables that he had to play with until he realised that there could be no perfect product, there had to be perfect products. The paradigm shift he brought on in the food industry can be seen in almost all products they produce today with specific sets of offerings that cater to the various clumps of consumers that desire their products.
How the heck does this relate to tablets and netbooks? Simple, neither one of these types of products is the perfect solution to end user computing and neither were any of the products that came before it. Over time we’ve discovered trends that seem to work well in worldwide markets and we’ve latched onto those. Then companies attempt to find the perfect solution to their users needs by trying to aggregate all possible options. However no one product could attempt to satisfy everyone and thus we have a diverse range of devices that fit our various needs. To make the three types of sauces analogy there are those who like their computing focused on consumption (tablets, MIDs, consoles), creation (desktops, laptops, netbooks) and integration (smartphones). These are of course wholly unresearched categories, but they seem to ring true from my anecdotal experience with friends and their varying approaches towards computing.
So whilst we may have revolutions and paradigm shifts in the computing world no one of them will end up being the perfect solution to all our needs. As time goes by we will begin to notice the trends and clumps of users that share certain requirements and develop solutions for them so the offerings from companies will become increasingly focused on these key areas. For the companies it means more work as they play catch up as each of these revolutions happens and for us it means a greater computing experience than we’ve ever had before, and that’s something that never fails to excite me.