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Sunday Wii madness: Two reports from the field It's Sunday, which means at this stage you've either gotten your Wii from your retailer of choice or you're still bitter about how hard they are to come by. I was kind of skeptical about how much of a demand there could still be for the fast-moving system, but it appears as if this morning saw lines and disappointed consumers again. Let's take a look at two very different experiences from our forums. First, the happy news from Ars Staff Writer Matt Woodward: I showed up at my local Target at 7:10am this morning (they open at 8am) and saw a few people walking up to the front door to talk to two employees in red shirts. So I went up to the front door and they were handing out tickets. These tickets would only hold you a Wii until 8:30am. After that time, they would sell whatever they had left on a "first come, first serve" basis. I think I managed to get ticket #22 (out of 24?) — lucky me. I decided to wait around anyway. At around 7:35 – 7:40, people started showing up in droves and lining up at the door. So at around 7:45, I got out of my nice, warm car and into the bitter freezing (14F) cold and walked up to the line and asked "So are we lining up by ticket number?" And got a lot of puzzled looks. Doh! Guess they didn't know about the ticket system. By the time 8am rolled around, there were probably 50 to 60 people lined up for Nintendo Wiis. Then a red-shirted Target employee popped his head out and said that everyone could come in, but only people with tickets would be allowed to purchase them. Despite having ticket #22, I think I was the first person to actually purchase a Wii from them that morning. It was pretty cool to saunter up to the front of the line, buy my Wii, extra Nunchuk (didn't have any extra Wiimotes), and Zelda game and waltz right out in front of all these people who didn't have tickets. The upshot of this all is that the Nintendo Wii still appears to be in short supply. And then we have the not-so-happy endings: So they promised (in person) 20 two days ago, when in reality they had 4. Had I known that I wouldn't have even bothered attempting. Anyway, as I'm leaving one of the kids who got a ticket knocks on the window of my car and says, "If you still want one, I'll sell you my ticket for $50." I told him no thanks and drove off. I refuse to support the scalpers, and if I had any intention of doing so I'd have bought one from ebay or elsewhere several weeks back. I'd sworn off attempting for a Wii after my last experience missing by 1, but was lured in again by the promise of 20 in stock without having to camp out for 8 hours. This time though, I'm truly done. Unless it's there in the case or my hand, I'm not going to even consider buying one, and even then, I'm no longer sure. I'm sick of the petty lies and the stupid "Nintendo forces us to hold them" bullshit. I'm sure I'll have one eventually, but at this point I could basically take it or leave it. Yikes. Nintendo is in a tough spot right now. They can get more factories moving cranking out the systems to meet demand, but then once things level off they will be stuck with expensive manufacturing facilities they don't need. On the other hand people are getting tired of waiting, and after this many bad experiences in lines or with shady retail folks they may just spend their money elsewhere. How did you do this morning? I just found out that yet another Ars staffer, Jeff Smykil, was able to find a system. From now on inter-journal arguments will be settled with games of Wii Bowling.

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What is it like to work at Nintendo? Here are some hints I've known a few people who have worked for Nintendo, and most of the stories they share are funny, unlike what you hear from most of the other grunts in the game industry. Nintendo seems to do a great job of keeping their employees happy, involved, and loyal. A forum user over at SomethingAwful claims to have worked for Nintendo for a year and a half, and shares many stories from his experience. One of the posts talks about the day everyone found out what the final name of Nintendo's new system would be. Do you remember where you were when they decided to call it the Wii? And it was all over the place. Wii. Wii. Wii. Wii. WHOOOOOOA. I spent most of the rest of the day trying to deduce why Nintendo had done this. The name made no sense, and it meant "urine" and "penis" to boot! I explained this fact to one of my Japanese colleagues, who had previously had no problem with the name but had now changed his mind a bit. We thought that maybe it was still a late April Fool's joke or something. But I soon realized that this wasn't going to change. I got mad. I wrote an angry post on Slashdot Japan explaining to them what "Wii" means phonetically in English, and why it's already receiving a large backlash in America. (I was marked "informative!") No desks were overturned and no devkits were set alight in effigy, though there was a lot of general grumbling. One translator ran up and down the aisles yelling "Wiiiiiiiiiiiiii!" It was a bit more chaotic than most days, and not very productive at all; half of the company was on internet forums for most of the day. There aren't any huge surprises or news-y type things going on in the thread, as it's more of a look at what the day-in day-out feel is at Nintendo. Still, I found itinteresting, and I think it's worth your time if you've ever wondered what it would be like to work for Nintendo. Me? I'd just want a discount at the company store. *drool*

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Embargoes, journalism, and good coverage of science Science has published a book review that doubles as an editorial about embargoed information and science journalism. Its appearance is timely, as the topic touches on issues similar to those raised by a recent controversy regarding tech journalism: what compromises have to be made in return for access to information? It also comes as the writers at Ars’ science section, Nobel Intent, have begun the process of getting press access to many of the major scientific journals. The journals have asked for some minimal indications that the Ars science staff is engaged in reporting on science. Once accepted, we typically receive access to press releases and research papers several days in advance of their general release, provided we make no mention of their contents prior to specific dates provided by the journals. This allows us to do what we’ve always done—read the primary literature and describe the logic and experimental approaches used—with the added benefit of getting the stories out at the same time as the popular press does. This hopefully makes Nobel Intent a better primary news source. The embargo process seems to work well enough from our perspective, but both the book and its reviewer don’t seem to agree. The reviewer (Richard Horton) in particular has a distinct perspective on the matter, having overseen an especially notable case where several major newspapers failed their end of the bargain. Horton is the editor of The Lancet, which ran an article in which the authors estimated the total civilian casualties in Iraq. It was an article with clear political implications, and the standards of political reporting won out: the embargo was widely ignored, reporters rushed for the scoop, and The Lancet was forced to pull embargoed access from The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. The piece makes a number of arguments regarding why the existing system is bad. As the Iraq casualties story illustrates, it imposes an unusual constraint on the standard practice of journalism, in which competition for coverage of stories plays a key role. More disturbingly, it turns the editors of scientific journals into gatekeepers, who not only choose who gets to be considered a journalist, but then point those who are approved to a subset of the work their journals publish. The author of the book in question, Vincent Kiernan, suggests that these cutting-edge results won’t necessarily be the best science and may not hold up in light of future work. It is argued that the combined weight of these factors removes the impetus for reporters to perform their primary mission: critically analyzing the information published in scientific journals. It doesn’t appear, however, that either Horton or Kiernan suggest an alternative system. This is unfortunate because, for all its flaws, the embargo system does provide some obvious benefits. It goes a long way towards ensuring that scientific work isn’t reported to the public until after it has gone through the peer-review process, and that science reporters at least have the option of reading the actual literature (as opposed to press releases) when preparing their reports. In the absence of the embargo system, reporters would presumably still rely on the press releases from these same editors but, in their rush for timely coverage, would have little incentive to spend the time reading the actual scientific publication, much less subjecting it to a critical analysis. In other words, it seems that ending the current system could leave the editors in place as gatekeepers (via their role in formulating the press releases) while dumbing down the coverage by eliminating its reliance on the actual science. Other potential issues of an embargo-free system include having journalists pester researchers for access to data that hasn’t been peer-reviewed and the chaotic release of information that may have major financial and policy implications. The alternative, of course, is to have major media outlets cut back on their coverage of science, an alternative that Kiernan appears to consider a positive development. I personally view that as a poor solution and suspect that there is enough public interest to keep it from being a viable option. To an extent, the embargo system seems to be a bit like the cliché about democracy: it’s the worst system, except for all the alternatives. The scientific journals seem to be pretty reasonable about whom they consider journalists, and providing access to the actual publications goes a long way towards allowing competent science reporters to make sure that what they’re covering is solid science. Providing science writers with embargoed information also does nothing to discourage us from covering stories beyond the ones that have been highlighted by the editors or waiting until after a journal issue is generally available to find science that the editors have chosen not to emphasize. It remains possible, however, that my positive views of the embargo system are influenced by having been accepted into it.

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AmigaOS 4 An exercise in computing, not nostalgia The Amiga computer has long been the subject of intense nostalgia in the hearts of anyone who owned one. Released in 1985, only a year after the original Macintosh, the Amiga featured vivid color graphics, 4-channel stereo sampled sound, and a graphical, preemptive multitasking operating system that seemed to come from years in the future. Yet the Amiga languished in obscurity, meriting barely a footnote in most books on the history of the personal computer. In the story that arose of the battle between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs for domination of the computing universe, there was seemingly no room for a third protagonist. Despite this neglect from the popular press, the Amiga prospered. Its excellent graphics and sound made it the best platform for gaming in the late 80s. Later, when improved, expandable versions of the Amiga were released (such as the redoubtable 3000), the platform found a niche in the burgeoning field of digital video. NewTek's Video Toaster replaced hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of custom video editing equipment with a $5,000 box and opened up the field to a new generation of professionals, much as the Macintosh did with desktop publishing. However, the platform was owned by one of the most dysfunctional and poorly-managed companies the world had ever seen. Commodore International's upper management, put in place after a power struggle that wrested control of the company away from its original founder, Jack Tramiel, were ridiculously (and some would say maliciously) incompetent. The new management cancelled popular products, replaced them with inferior ones, axed the research and development budget, and basically ran the company into the ground. Commodore declared bankruptcy in 1994. What followed was a saga of twists and turns too complex to relate here. Many companies made attempts to revive the Amiga, and for a while there was a significant market for processor upgrades and other enhancements for existing Amiga computers. However, there were no companies—not even Gateway, the final and current owner of Commodore's old assets—that managed to come out with a new Amiga computer and operating system. This finally changed in 2002, with the release of the AmigaOne PowerPC-based motherboards from a UK company called Eyetech. The AmigaOne motherboards were ready, but the operating system wasn't, so they came bundled with Linux instead. By the time a second batch of motherboards were ready (the Micro AmigaOnes, in a 15cm square MiniITX form factor) the OS had been delivered in beta form, and I wrote a review for Ars on the combination of AmigaOne hardware and OS4 Prerelease Update 1. My Micro AmigaOne, in its compact MiniITX case. Now, Hyperion Entertainment, Inc., developers of the new AmigaOS 4 operating system, have announced that the final release version is available for download from their web site. The operating system is a free upgrade for registered users of any of the prerelease versions of OS4, which were bundled with every AmigaOne motherboard and assembled computer sold. Download the PDF(This feature for Premier subscribers only.)

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HDCP: beta testing DRM on the public? When the supposedly uncrackable copy protection used on DVD was indeed cracked back in 1999, two very different messages were received. Hackers and most tech enthusiasts took the crack as yet another sign that these encryption schemes will all, ultimately, fall to the efforts of hackers. The titans of the entertainment industry received another message—a challenge, as it were, to build an even more "robust" content protection system. To do this, the powers that be knew that their content protection systems were going to have to get increasingly complex and increasingly pervasive. Attention has increasingly shifted to end-to-end protection schemes which reach all the way to output devices such as monitors and even speakers. One technology stepped to the forefront of the output protection scheme, but its existence and myriad problems would remain largely unknown for years. Meet HDCP, the so-called High Definition (Digital) Content Protection technology developed by Intel and licensed to electronics manufacturers by Digital Content Protection, LLC, an Intel subsidiary. Going ahead with bad tech In 2004, the FCC accepted the HDCP specification as a "Digital Output Protection Technology," much to the disappointment of opponents of the technology. While many opponents stood against HDCP on principle, others derided the technology as failed, flawed, and weak. A 2001 paper by Scott Crosby et alia described a "fundamental flaw" with the system which seemed to render it nothing more than an inconvenience to end users. And in an increasingly common phenomenon, Crosby noted in a later preface to the paper that while his discovery was an accident, he would not look into HDCP any further, for fear of retaliation via the DMCA. This is but a small sampling of the trail of problems and frustrations associated with HDCP. Another sad tale relates to the revelation that PCs without end-to-end support for HDCP might not be able to playback protected high-definition content. We’ve talked about that in depth and won’t repeat it here, except to say that it is ridiculous that the content industry would even consider blocking HD displays from displaying HD content when they lack HDCP interfaces—interfaces that are just now becoming standard in high-end monitors. Of the four LCD displays scattered throughout my house, all are less than 3 years old, all are higher-than-HD resolution capable, and none of them came with HDCP. Joe Consumer, the beta tester Fast forward to today. On occasion we hear reports of HDCP snafus, primarily from readers who are upset with HDCP/HDMI implementation on their cable boxes. As it turns out, this stuff doesn’t work reliably for even the basic stuff like showing video flawlessly, let alone securing outputs. I even have a HDCP/HDMI issue with my TiVo, which decides that my TV is no longer secure about once a month, requiring a reboot. Stranger reports have arisen from PlayStation 3 owners who are experiencing blinking displays when connected to some HDTV sets. When playing games, occasionally the sound cuts out and the entire display would blink on and off. As it turns out, the HDCP technology in the PS3 would freak out and sputter if a connected TV could not consistently and quickly indicate it was copy-protection ready. No one knew that this was the case until the guys at Popular Mechanics pinned the tail on the donkey. When Popular Mechanics ran into this problem with their own test units, they put in calls to Sony, Westinghouse, and organizations involved with HDMI licensing. It was soon determined that the problem lay with the television set’s "interpretation" of the HDCP standards that are built into the PS3’s HDMI output. "The PS3 expects a response that the TV is copy-protection ready in a certain amount of time," Westinghouse monitor product manager Klaus Liborr explained to Popular Mechanics. "And the response wasn’t coming quickly enough." The fix? Upgrade the television set’s firmware, a process that requires an in-house visit by a Westinghouse technician. Sets sold in 2007 will apparently come with a feature that will allow the user to upgrade the set’s firmware themselves via a USB thumb drive, but one worries about the possibility of bricking a very expensive television set by botching the firmware upgrade. The problem isn’t isolated to Westinghouse and the PS3, either. Other people have reported that Sony’s first-gen stand-alone Blu-ray players and Sharp televisions suffer from similar problems. The new status quo? Of course, the overwhelming majority of HDCP users out there seem to be getting by just fine, including everyone partaking of HD goodness here at the Ars HQ except for me. Still, the idea that the general public is now enrolled unwittingly in DRM beta testing is unsettling, especially when the technology in question has been known to be flawed for quite some time. I dare say that the general public may in fact start to care about this DRM madness once the joys of needing to do firmware updates on consumer electronics becomes more pervasive. "Honey, I need to reboot the TV so I can re-authenticate with the sound system so I can patch the audio protection scheme so we can hear music again." Sound ridiculous? Tell me, if someone told in you 2000 that you might need to upgrade your TV’s firmware to be able to play video games, would you have believed them? At the very least, if the consumer electronics industry is going to go down the DRM path, they need to find a way to do it that doesn’t turn consumers in poor saps buying DRM-age Edsels and signing up for abuse from an industry whose primary purpose in implementing DRM is wringing every last dime out of you, crappy experience or not. Jeremy Reimer contributed to this report.

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