Search This Blog

Saturday, March 22, 2008

2008 Gaming Preview

2007 is a year that most gamers aren’t going to forget anytime soon. The current generation of consoles is really packing a punch, as developers continue to step up their skills and begin to squeeze everything they can into a game. While Nintendo dominated hardware sales in 2007 with the Wii and DS, it was Microsoft who had the best software lineup and bombarded gamers with quality titles. 2007 is going to be a tough one to match.

But, there is still hope. PS3 owners may have felt punked by Sony, even with titles like Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and Unreal Tournament 3 making their way to quality starved consumers. Reports of poor multi-platform ports and lack of exclusives left a bitter taste in the mouths of the Sony faithful. 2008 must be an outstanding year for the PS3, and luckily it looks like Sony may be able to deliver. Two titles alone that can make PS3s fly off the shelf are making their current-generation debut this year. Both Gran Turismo 5 and Metal Gear Solid 4 are proven series that are shaping up to be a couple of the best games ever developed.

Konami’s Kojima Productions and Polyphony Digital, the studios behind MGS4 and GT5 respectively, have the proven track record and unyielding passion to revolutionize their genres. MGS4 is adding the ability to play the entire game in first-person view — which has never been done in the series — while GT5 is introducing another first: a cockpit view with fully rendered interiors for every car in the game.

Nipping at their heels is the PlayStation Home service, which could theoretically change the way users play and interact online. More and more movie studios are switching to Blu-Ray as their preferred High Definition movie format, and as long as developers can deliver multi-platform titles that actually run, Sony could see 2008 as their year for the taking.

Nintendo is going to be focused on finishing up Super Smash Bros. Brawl. The next installment of the über-popular fighter will have Wii owners battling online for countless late nights. SUDA 51, the minds behind the twisted and unique Killer 7, has got his next project, No More Heroes, as a Wii exclusive. It looks just as insane as Killer 7 (which isn’t for everyone), but I am more than curious as to what No More Heroes will have to offer.
Microsoft has its 2008 RPG hopes on Fable 2. Guarantees are being made that Fable 2 will address many of the issues that people had with the first title, and all eyes are anxious to see if Peter Molyneux and his Lionhead Studios can pull it off. Team Ninja is getting ready to quench the thirst of hardcore gamers with its blood soaked sequel, Ninja Gaiden 2. Once again, the Ninja Gaiden series will initially be exclusive only to Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and looks to be as challenging as it is violent.

While exclusive titles are slowly becoming history, many of 2008’s huge titles are going to be available for multiple systems. The frontrunner has got to be the 2007 delayed Grand Theft Auto IV. If the delay was truly a decision based on the need to fine-tune GTA IV and bring it up to the insanely high standards that Rockstar has for the series, then GTA IV should be the legit next installment in the violence-filled, prostitute-hiring, drug-smuggling, never-gets-old franchise. It’s already visually looking worthy of success; let’s just hope some new gameplay elements can be introduced to freshen up the classic GTA formula.

Continuing along the “year of sequels” theme of 2008 are Devil May Cry 4, Mercenaries 2, Burnout Paradise, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas 2 and Condemned 2: Bloodshot. While all of these titles are at the top of my list, I cannot wait to see what DMC4 and Condemned 2 have to offer. DMC is an action junkie’s dream game and looks to be pushing the envelope even more to give your hand-eye coordination a whole new meaning of pain. Condemned 2 is the sequel to one of the most frightening games I have played in recent memory, and looks like it may surpass its predecessor. Plus, how can you ever get tired of beating down junked-out bums with lead pipes?!

And finally, let’s not forget about Winning Eleven: Pro Evolution Soccer 2008. Sports fans still don’t know about how in-depth and sophisticated a game this is, even if you don’t like soccer. This game can be frustrating to pick up and play, but once you get used to the pace and feel of Winning Eleven, there is nothing else like it. Last year’s Xbox 360 attempt fell way short on the laundry list of features that this series is known for. Look for the 2008 version to be back on track and packed to the brim with soccer greatness.

Collider may show us what's inside an atom

Over in Europe, scientists are getting ready to turn on a huge machine. In fact, it is the biggest machine that human beings have ever built, and one of the most expensive. The machine is called the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, and scientists hope that it will help them unlock some of the deepest, darkest secrets of the universe.
What are some of these secrets? It turns out that there are all sorts of things that scientists don't know about the universe. For example, where does "mass" come from? We know that all things made of atoms have mass, but we don't actually know where mass comes from. And speaking of mass, why can't we see lots of it? When we try to measure the mass of the universe, it seems to be a lot heavier than it should be. There seems to be lots of matter in the universe that we can't see. What is this "dark matter", and where is it hiding? And what about black holes? Can we create tiny black holes, and if we can, how do they behave? What can we learn from them? We may be able to answer all of these questions and many more using the LHC.

What is the LHC, and how does it work? It is an incredibly complex machine. But if we start with the basics, we can understand the essence of the LHC.

We have all heard of atoms. We can make water, for example, by combining hydrogen atoms with oxygen atoms. That's easy enough. What is inside an atom? Using fairly simple experiments at the beginning of the twentieth century, scientists were able to discover electrons, protons and neutrons. By the way, protons and neutrons are known as hadrons.

The next question is obvious: What is inside a hadron? This is not so easy a question to answer. But, scientists discovered that they could bash two protons together to learn what's inside. The machine that does the bashing is called a particle accelerator, also known as an atom smasher.
The earliest particle accelerators were very simple and could fit in the palm of your hand. By building bigger and bigger particle accelerators, scientists could learn more and more. The basic idea behind a particle accelerator is simple. You take a particle like a proton, and you put a group of them in a sealed tube. You take all the air out of the tube using a vacuum pump, so the protons don't have anything to run into. Then, using microwave energy (a lot like the energy used in a microwave oven), you accelerate the protons.

Most particle accelerators are shaped like rings, and they contain magnets that steer the protons around the ring and keep the protons bunched together. As the protons accelerate, their speed gets closer and closer to the speed of light.

Protons are incredibly tiny, but at the speed of light they have a lot of energy. To understand this, think about a baseball. If a little kid throws a baseball at you, it probably won't even hurt. If a major league pitcher throws a 100 mph fastball at you, it will hurt a lot. If someone shoots a baseball out of a cannon at 500 mph and it hits you, it will kill you. A proton in a particle accelerator is going 186,000 mph, and it has a lot of energy despite its tiny size.

The Large Hadron Collider is the biggest particle accelerator ever built, and it will create the fastest protons human beings have ever created. Its ring is more than 5 miles in diameter and has a tube 17 miles long. And the LHC actually has two tubes, so that two groups of protons can accelerate in opposite directions. The scientists will then slam the two streams of protons together in the biggest head-on collision ever.

The collision will happen in an underground detector room that is as big as a warehouse. The detector is basically a gigantic, specialized movie camera that can sense all of the debris that flies out from the collision. The debris contains the particles that make up the protons -- things like quarks and leptons. The only reason that we know that quarks and leptons exist is because we have particle accelerators.

Because the collisions in the LHC will be so massive, scientists are hoping that they will see new particles that no one has ever seen before. For example, scientists think there's a particle inside atoms called the Higgs Boson, and that this particle is the thing that gives atoms mass. But scientists have never witnessed a Higgs Boson, so they don't know whether it exists. Scientists also hope that the LHC will have enough energy that they are able to create mini black holes, which will then immediately evaporate because they are so small. And maybe scientists will find new particles that no one has ever imagined before.

Because of these possibilities, scientists all over the planet are excited about the LHC, and thousands of scientists are working on the project. With luck, they can start accelerating their first protons sometime in 2008 and begin making new discoveries. We should learn many new things about how the universe works from the LHC.
Diffrent eye
The Large Hadron Collider and the Hunt for The God Particle
Its purpose is simple but ambitious: to crack the code of the physical world; to figure out what the universe is made of; in other words, to get to the very bottom of things. Starting sometime in the coming months, two beams of particles will race in opposite directions around the tunnel, which forms an underground ring 17 miles in circumference. The particles will be guided by more than a thousand cylindrical, supercooled magnets, linked like sausages. At four locations the beams will converge, sending the particles crashing into each other at nearly the speed of light. If all goes right, matter will be transformed by the violent collisions into wads of energy, which will in turn condense back into various intriguing types of particles, some of them never seen before. That’s the essence of experimental particle physics: You smash stuff together and see what other stuff comes out.

What scientists hope “comes out” is evidence of the Higgs Boson, the so-called God Particle:

Most physicists believe that there must be a Higgs field that pervades all space; the Higgs particle would be the carrier of the field and would interact with other particles, sort of the way a Jedi knight in Star Wars is the carrier of the “force.” The Higgs is a crucial part of the standard model of particle physics—but no one’s ever found it.

700-MHz Auction Draw and Mixed Reaction

Although disappointed that large incumbent carriers won the biggest prizes in the 700-MHz auction this week, some open-network advocates still say the auction could be a good first step.
Some open-network advocates say the federal government's 700-MHz auction could be a good first step toward giving American consumers access to a truly open wireless network.

Sascha Meinrath, the research director for the New America Foundation's Wireless Future Program, says the 700-MHz auction went "exactly as expected," with big carriers Verizon and AT&T scoring big wins on the so-called "C" and "B" blocks of spectrum, respectively. Now that the spectrum has been allotted to the victors, he says, the future of open mobile broadband networks in the United States now hinges upon how vigorously the FCC enforces the open-access regulations it placed on the C Block, the 22-MHz chunk of spectrum that Verizon bid more than US$4.5 billion for the rights to operate.

The C Block is a particularly valuable piece of spectrum because it provides the broadest range of coverage over any spectrum available in the auction, and could potentially hold the key to building out a nationwide open-access wireless network. The FCC placed open-access rules on the block last year that will prohibit Verizon from blocking or slowing Internet traffic from competing carriers using the network, or from discriminating against devices trying to connect to the network. The commission adopted the rules in response to heavy lobbying from Google and consumer-advocacy groups.

Meinrath says while the open-access rules have the right intent behind them, they are broadly written and can be open to different interpretations. Thus the future composition of the FCC, and whether its members are strongly committed to the principle of open networks, will determine just how open the C-Block spectrum really is.

Tim Karr, the campaign director for media advocacy group Free Press, says Verizon's past opposition to open networks means that the carrier should be trusted and that consumer groups will have to pressure the FCC to strictly enforce its own rules.

"I don't see Verizon doing anything in the wireless space to threaten their status quo of control over the broadband marketplace," he says. "We need to remain vigilant to ensure that Verizon honors the FCC conditions in a way that brings real consumer choice into a still-closed marketplace."

Karr also says the FCC should expand openness conditions to all wireless networks used by consumers, and not only the C Block. He thinks that unless the FCC is active in prodding Verizon and other carriers toward more openness, then Verizon's victory in the auction will leave "slim prospects for genuine Internet competition via a wireless 'third pipe.'"

Google, which did not win any actual spectrum in the auction, has so far expressed more optimism over the auction results than some of the consumer advocacy groups. In a post on Google's public policy blog, Google attorneys Richard Whitt and Joseph Farber called the auction "a major victory for consumers" and predicted that "consumers soon should begin enjoying new, Internet-like freedom to get the most out of their mobile phones and other wireless devices." Google also said that it couldn't comment in further detail on the auction results because it might violate the FCC's anti-collusion rules for the auction, but promised that it would have "more to say in the near future."

Talk back
So now that Verizon has officially won the precious C-block 700MHz spectrum, the question is, what happens now? Will they deliver a reasonably open network with this incredible new spectrum?

At Public Knowledge, naturally, they’re dubious. Susan Crawford, a visiting law prof at the U. of Mich., says there are basically two models of online access: the cellphone model (walled garden, gatekeeper) and the Internet model (neutral network, dominated by powerful players). Verizon being who it is:

Even though the incumbents (Verizon and AT&T) could have accepted this limitation, won the auction, and then priced wholesale access at a high level (thus discouraging anyone from using it), avoiding the precedent of wholesale access – and retaining the cellphone model of access – was their central goal. And they achieved that.

Hmmm, seems a little conspiratorial to me. Eric Schmidt is optimistic:

“The senior leadership of Verizon actually visited Google to talk to us about this and make sure they got it right,” Chief Executive Eric Schmidt said in a recent interview with Portfolio Magazine. “I think it’s great. I wish everybody else would open up their networks.”

The open network that Verizon announced in November comes with specs and a verification scheme, which lead some to say that the company will continue to assert control over what devices will be allowed. Even if it doesn’t control things as tightly as feared, its ability to subsidize partner devices will effectively mean there’s little change, Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Program at the New America Foundation said.

Personally, I want to believe that this auction will result in widespread, inexpensive wireless access everywhere. So I will until we see otherwise

X Prize Rolls Out $10M Prize for 100MPG Car for fuel efficiency

More than 60 teams from nine countries have lined up to chase a $10 million prize for making a green supercar that smashes records for fuel efficiency, organizers of the competition said on Thursday,

The initial list of teams signed on for the Automotive X Prize competition range from California-based electric car start-up Tesla Motors to Cornell University in New York.

"We're not talking about concept cars," said Peter Diamandis, chief executive of the X Prize Foundation, at the event to mark the launch of the competition at the New York auto show. "We're talking about real cars that can be brought to market."

The goal is to create a commercially viable car that gets at least 100 miles to the gallon. In late 2009, qualifiers will crisscross the United States in a stage race designed to test the vehicles on speed and the distance they can travel. The race will also test the vehicles in traffic and a range of terrain and weather conditions in determining a winner.
Yesterday, prize experts at the X Prize Foundation joined with title sponsor Progressive Insurance to announce the long anticipated $10M Automotive X Prize. Competition, saving the planet, sleek lines, 100 mpg and a cross country race -- what more do you need in the latest Foundation prize?

Cars competing in the "mainstream" category must be able to fit four passengers, luggage, have four wheels, air conditioning, play tunes, go from zero to 60 in 12 seconds, hit 100 mph and have a range of 200 miles. "Alternative" class vehicles (such as above) have less design constraints. It's all going according to plan over at X Prize...

The Foundation gave away the $10M Ansari X Prize to Burt Rutan for his private suborbital space flights in 2004, announced the launch of the Archon Genomics prize for rapid low cost sequencing of genomes in 2006, the $30M Google Lunar X Prize in 2007 and now the Progressive Automotive X Prize in 2008.

So what is next for the foundation that is seeking to cause radical breakthroughs for humanity through competition? Well, their five lines of interest are exploration, education, life-science, energy and the environment, and global development. X Prize CEO Dr. Peter H. Diamandis said to look out for that prizes that promote energy production, storage and transmission, deep sea exploration, longevity and cancer, and poverty and the needs of the developing world.

I would just be happy with the 100 mpg car. But hey, why not dream big.

From Halfway to the Beginning of the Universe

Gamma-Ray Burst Visible to Naked Eye
How far can you see with your own eyes on a clear night? Would you believe seven billion light years?

Scientists have detected an interstellar explosion so bright that it was briefly visible to the naked eye—from 7.5 billion light-years away.

Viewers looking at the right patch of night sky on Wednesday would have seen several afterglows from the massive gamma-ray burst, slightly brighter than the faintest visible stars.

NASA's Swift satellite captured the unprecedented spectacle using its X-Ray Telescope (left) and Optical/Ultraviolet Telescope (right). The burst was named GRB 080319B, because it was the second of four bursts detected that day—a first for Swift.

GRB 080319B, located more than halfway across the visible universe, crushes the previous record holder for most distant object visible without assistance by three orders of magnitude. That would be the galaxy M33, located just 2.9 million light-years from Earth.

"This burst was a whopper," Swift principal investigator Neil Gehrels, of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement. "It blows away every gamma-ray burst we've seen so far."

Gamma-ray bursts occur when massive stars run out of fuel and collapse, rapidly pouring out enormous amounts of high-energy radiation and particles. Acting like high-power cosmic blowtorches, the particle jets can also heat interstellar clouds to create bright afterglows, according to scientists.

The bursts are the most brilliant occurrences in the universe after the big bang. GRB 080319B's afterglows, for instance, shone 2.5 million times more intensely than the brightest supernova on record.

Researchers are still unsure why GRB 080319B was so bright. Some theories include an originating star with an unusual mass, spin, or magnetic field or an especially concentrated energy jet.

Early Wednesday morning, a spot of light just barely visible to the human eye (about fifth magnitude in astronomical parlance) appeared in the constellation Boötes. Astronomers say it was the toasted remains of one of the most titanic examples yet of the explosions known as gamma-ray bursts. News about the burst, in a galaxy seven billion light years away, began circulating by e-mail in the astronomical community when it was detected by NASA’s Swift satellite on March 19.

Gamma ray bursts are some of the most violent and enigmatic events in nature. Astronomers surmise that they might mark the implosion of a massive star into a black hole, or the collision of a pair of dense neutron stars.

The visible glow from this burst, said Neil Gehrels of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, was 10 million times as bright as a supernova at that same distance. The universe is some 14 billion years old, which means that the news of this cataclysm has been on its way to us for half the age of the universe. Whatever stars went to their grave then have been dead since before the Sun and Earth were born.

The burst, which has now been dubbed the “naked-eye burst” by astronomers, was one of four that day to be detected by Swift, which has been patrolling the heavens since 2004 for the invisible gamma rays streaming from these blasts and relaying information and precise coordinates to a worldwide network of observers and telescopes. Dr. Gehrels said it was the most intense burst that Swift had yet seen.

Alerted by Swift, a myriad of telescopes on the ground swung into action, some of them operating completely robotically, which as Dr. Gehrels noted, is convenient at an early morning hour. Among those recording and inspecting the burst was one of the giant eight-meter-diameter telescopes of the Very Large Telescope at the European Southern Observatory on Cerro Paranal, in Chile. Spectral measurements of the glow’s redshift (the spectral shift due to motion away from us in the expanding universe) allowed the astronomers to estimate its surprisingly large distance.

That seven billion light years, astronomers say, would have been far and away the record for long-distance sight by the naked eye, at least in the present sky — had anybody seen it. So far, according to Dr. Gehrels, there is no report that anybody did. Within an hour, the glow had faded below the range of human visibility.

“It was an amazing burst, and we are having a lot of fun with it,” said Dr. Gehrels, who said that he and a large group of collaborators are preparing a quick report to submit to Nature.

Find here

Home II Large Hadron Cillider News