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An office app usability rant leading up to an iWork tip

A few days ago, I was listening to episode 36 of the MacBreak Weekly podcast. After a very good discussion of the usefulness of 256kbps audio encoding, the panel sunk its teeth into the pros and cons of Microsoft Office's new ribbon user interface. The idea behind the ribbon is that icons on the screen represent various actions, and as you click on the ribbon, more related icons/actions are revealed. So at any one time, only a subset of the possible actions is visible. This is supposed to be easier to work with than the standard menus and toolbars that we're used to. I'm highly skeptical, because I've always disliked the way that toolbars take up half the screen in Microsoft Office, especially under Windows, and I have no idea what most of the icons are supposed to mean anyway. HangZhou Night Net

But I'm reserving final judgment until I get the chance to work with the ribbon for a bit. I can't blame Microsoft for trying something new, though. When writing some text in the new NeoOffice, I was plagued by the little squiggly red lines under many words. Usually, I turn spellcheck-as-you-type off; after all, I am a Published Author and no computer—not even a Mac—is going to tell me how I can and can't spell words in the English language. That's what editors are for.

However, in this case, NeoOffice didn't just flag names and unusual words as spelled incorrectly, but also a lot of very common words. It's entirely possible that I don't spell as well as I think I do, but I'm pretty sure I know how to spell "and." Could it be that NeoOffice was using a different language than English to spell check my document? But where on Earth do I get to set the language for my text? It took me several minutes to find out that it's under the "character" menu. The logic behind this is probably that you may have a word or a sentence in a different language than the rest of a paragraph or the rest of the document, so it can't be a document or paragraph setting. But I'm pretty sure many people aren't going to look under the character menu when their spell checking is out of whack. Interestingly, in the old version of Word for Mac that resides on my system, this setting is easily found under the tools/language menu.

Apple's take, on the other hand, is slightly different: they use an inspector. For those of you unfamiliar with inspectors: they're little windows containing various settings that you can bring up and close as required. Inspectors are used in iWork, along with separate inspector-like windows for fonts and colors. After getting used to this system, I always found it to work well. The different inspector modes are accessible using icons—but only a few of them, so it's humanly possible to remember their function—there's no artificial difference between paragraph and character settings: everything is simply found under the big T for text.

There's just one little thing that always bugged me about the inspector: often, it's necessary to switch between different inspector modes frequently, which can get annoying. Turns out that as of Keynote version 1, which I've had since 2003, you can bring up multiple inspectors (under the "view" menu), so you can have immediate access to two or more different modes without the need to switch.

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Diplomats force IPCC to water down report on climate change

More climate-change politics this morning, I'm afraid. As you might be aware, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the multinational UN organization that is tasked with the problem of climate change, is in the process of releasing its fourth assessment report on the "global present state of knowledge on climate change." HangZhou Night Net

The IPCC has three working groups, that deal with "The Physical Science Basis," "Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability," and "Mitigation of Climate Change." These three groups can be summed up as "How is it happening," "What happens when it happens," and "How the hell do we stop it or deal with it?" Working Group I has already released its outline, and there are draft copies of their part of the report that have leaked onto the internet. Working Group III meets at the end of this month in Bangkok, and Working Group II, who have been meeting in Brussels, released their summary this morning. This summary is intended to distill the contents of the 1,500-page scientific report down to the point where it can be easily read and understood by policymakers.

But the release of that summary has not been without incident. Although the scientists behind the document were happy with their effort, they encountered fierce diplomatic pressure from a number of countries to tone down their language. The problem arises from the use of common language to describe scientific certainty. If one were speaking to another scientist, then they might describe certainty of outcome as a percentage; a 90 percent certainty, for example, or a 99 percent certainty. As the IPCC summaries are meant for politicians, very few of whom appear to have anything more than rudimentary scientific knowledge, these percentages are translated into plainer English.

The heart of the problem has been the successful efforts by delegates from China and Saudi Arabia to change language describing how many natural ecosystems around the world are already being affected. Originally, it was reported that there was "a very high confidence" that areas around the globe "are being affected by regional climate changes, particularly temperature increases." "A very high confidence" translates as a 90 percent certainty, but under political pressure, this was downgraded to "a high certainty," meaning only 80 percent. Other parts of the report were also watered down, causing outrage amongst the scientists who authored the report.

It would be naive of me to expect that such a thing would not or could not happen, but I can't get away from the feeling that this is more than a little shortsighted on the parts of those nations that are downplaying the problems we face. Editing a word or graph out of the report is not going to stop the Himalayan glaciers from melting, leaving China with a freshwater shortage. It's not going to stop the northward spread of tropical diseases into Europe, and it's not stopping the Gulf region of the US from being battered by tropical storms of increasing intensity. You can lie to yourself that your shoes are on fire all you like, but when the flames start licking at your navel, did it really matter?

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Bill may require call center employees to disclose location

"Hello, my name is John, and I'm speaking to you from Bangalore, India, today. How can I help you?" That's a phrase that we may start hearing when we make calls to customer service centers, if a recently-proposed bill by House Representative Jason Altmire (D-PA) goes into effect. The bill, HR 1776, is titled "Call Center Consumers Right to Know Act" and would require call center employees to state their physical location when a customer calls in. HangZhou Night Net

As the title indicates, the bill is designed to make customers aware of the widespread nature of call-center outsourcing. Once discovering that a large majority of their calls are being redirected overseas, customers would theoretically be more willing to take action and let companies know how they feel about the hot issue of call center outsourcing that is often blamed for a portion of lost jobs in the US.

The bill's introduction undoubtedly comes from good intentions, but seem like a roundabout way of addressing an issue that is clearly important to certain members of Congress. Many Americans are already painfully aware that their calls are being directed overseas, and such a requirement would only confirm this knowledge. However, the bill might encourage customer pressure on companies to change their outsourcing ways or risk losing business. But it's not clear how many Americans would actually use this knowledge to alter their own buying habits—how many consumers say they'd like to support American clothing businesses but completely ignore "Made in [Country]" tags when it comes down to saving money?

Similar bills were introduced by Senator John Kerry (D-MA) in 2003 and again in 2004 by Representative Ted Strickland (D-OH), but both stagnated in Congress. Altmire's bill is still in the very early stages of the process and has not yet been scheduled for debate in the House.

TJX consumer data theft largest in history

A data breach originally disclosed this January by the parent company of retailer T.J. Maxx could be the largest case of consumer information theft to occur to date. TJX Cos. disclosed in a regulatory filing this week that the company believes that data on at least 45.7 million credit and debit cards was stolen by hackers, and has reason to believe that the actual number could be much higher. The case that previously held the title of largest data breach was the 2005 disclosure from CardSystems, where 40 million cardholder accounts had been accessed by hackers. HangZhou Night Net

The breach happened in mid-2005 and on subsequent dates from mid-May 2006 to mid-January 2007. The 45.7 million cards stolen came from transactions that occurred at one of TJX's many retailers between January and November of 2003. More data was stolen from transactions that occurred between November of 2003 and June of 2004 as well as mid-May 2006 through December 2006, but the retail giant did not attempt to estimate the number stolen from that period of time because that consumer data had already been deleted from TJX's systems. It's unclear at this time why data before November of 2003 was not deleted, however.

TJX claims that at the time of the data theft, about three-quarters of the credit and debit cards stored in the system had expired and/or the corresponding PIN numbers were not stored in the system at the time. However, according to TJX's filing, 455,000 more customers had other personal information compromised, such as driver's license, military identification, and state identification numbers. This information was stored "together with related names and addresses, and in some of those cases, we believe those personal ID numbers were the same as the customers' social security numbers," reads the filing.

"Some banks and payment card companies have advised us that they have found what they consider to be preliminary evidence of possible fraudulent use of payment card information that may have been stolen from us," says the company. More detail comes from the Massachusetts Bankers Association, which says that fraud is now happening around the world. The MBA says that card activity from the breach has been reported so far in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Hong Kong, and Sweden, with more reports expected to come rolling in soon. The original hackers have yet to be identified.

The theft of such a massive amount of data occurred, unsurprisingly, due to glaring security holes in the computer systems that process and store payment information. TJX said in its filing that it believes that, during one of the many breaches, the hackers may have had access to decryption tools used by the retailer, allowing them to access credit card information as it was being transmitted for approval. However, the company also said that because they had deleted so much transaction data by the time they discovered the breach, there was no true way to know exactly how large the breach actually was. "We aren't able to specifically identify all of what we believe was stolen due to deletions of data in the ordinary course of business after the believed theft and prior to its discovery, the types of technology used by the intruder in the intrusion and the fact that we believe some data was stolen during the payment card approval process," reads TJX's FAQ page.

High schoolers turn in plagiarism screeners for copyright infringement

Four students from Arizona and Virginia have filed suit against plagiarism detection system Turnitin.com, arguing that the service engages in massive copyright infringement. The lawsuit, filed this week in a Virginia federal court, claims that the infringement is willful and that Turnitin's parent company iParadigms owes $150,000 for every violation. HangZhou Night Net

Turnitin gives school districts an automated tool to search for instances of plagiarism. Students are generally required to submit their work to the site before receiving a grade on it, and the service returns an "Originality Report" on each paper. At Virginia's McLean High School, which two of the plaintiffs attend, students have no choice: failure to submit a paper through Turnitin results in a 0.

Judging by their lawsuit, students don't think much of this system. "The Turnitin system is capable of detecting only the most ignorant or lazy attempts of plagiarism by students without significant monetary resources," says the court filing, "and is ineffective if a plagiarist does anything aside from virtually exactly copying another's work, or obtains his or her paper from a pay web site."

But what bothers them most is the fact that Turnitin archives submitted work in order to build up its database. These student papers are then used to look for plagiarism in future submissions. The students allege that this is copyright infringement. Turnitin has known for years that this would be a sensitive issue, and in 2002 commissioned an opinion (PDF) from law firm Foley & Lardner. The group concluded that the use of the papers constituted fair use, but admitted that "the archival of a submitted work is perhaps the most legally sensitive aspect of the TURNITIN system." The lawyers argue that because the text is not displayed or distributed to anyone, it can hardly be called "infringement."

The students disagree, of course, and allege that parent company iParadigms "may send a full and complete copy of a student's unpublished manuscript to an iParadigms client anywhere in the world upon request of the client, and without the student's permission."

After the McLean school adopted the system, a group of offended students banded together and hired a lawyer to send Turnitin a letter in September 2006. The letter generated a strong response: Turnitin filed for a "declaratory judgment" from a federal judge in California, looking for a ruling that its service was legal. In that case, filed in early December, the company claimed once again that it was protected by the fair use exemption, and that it was actually protecting student copyrights. "Rather than infringing intellectual property rights, iParadigms is trying to protect copyright interests by students and other authors by preventing plagiarism of the very student papers that Turnitin receives," the company wrote.

iParadigms abruptly pulled the case without explanation two weeks later; according to the new filing from the students, this only occurred after the company was contacted by a Washington Post reporter.

The case is now in the hands of another federal court on the other side of the country, and it will center on papers from the four students involved. That means that "DBQ1: Ancient Greek Contributions," "What Lies Beyond the Horizon," "Under a Pear Tree," and "Day is Weary"—student papers with little monetary value—could eventually cost iParadigms $600,000 should the company be found guilty. If the students prevail, the company's current business model would be substantially damaged, and a vigorous fair use defense is expected.

Bungie and Microsoft thank fans with new Halo 2 maps

Despite the presence of numerous current-gen titles running rampant on the Xbox Live "most played" lists every week, Halo 2 still remains at the top of the pack. The original Xbox smash hit has managed to stay in contention for three years and one console generation, and it shows no signs of stopping—well, until Halo 3 comes out. While hungry fans await the third and final installment of the series, though, they're going to have some brand new content for Halo 2 to chew through. HangZhou Night Net

As a thank you to fans and in answer to their outcries for more maps, Bungie and Microsoft Game Studios have announced a pair of map remakes for Halo 2 from the original Halo. The two maps have been selected based on their popularity and will be completely remade and tweaked ever-so-slightly. From the press release:

The king of "Halo" maps has returned at last. Hang 'Em High, arguably the most popular multiplayer map for the original title, has been reimagined for "Halo 2" as Tombstone, with all-new graphics, features and a few hidden surprises. Now fans will enjoy the dangerous catwalks and trenches that made this the most requested "Halo" multiplayer map ever, with a modernized "Halo 2" flavor.

The second map, Desolation, is a symmetrical, Deathmatch-oriented map and a beautiful remake of the original Derelict. With new graphics and effects and a massive gameplay overhaul, the old favorite is now faster-paced and more balanced than ever – perfect for intense "Halo 2" combat.

The maps will cost a modest $4 and are set to release on April 17. Judging by the 800 million hours spent by Halo 2 players since the game's launch, I take it that these maps will be quite the hit.

Mac Office 2008 goes beta

Publishing Layout View

David Flynn at APC reports the latest news on Mac Office 2008, and it is big news. HangZhou Night Net

"We're in private betas right now" confirmed Sheridan Jones, Lead Marketing Manager for Microsoft's Mac Business Unit (MacBU), during an exclusive interview with APC magazine.

Mac Office 2008 will be the last major application for the Mac to be released as a Universal Binary. With Adobe CS being released next month, Steve Jobs will be able to declare yet another transition as being "over" sometime in the second half of the year. Mac users, especially those on MacBooks with 512MB of RAM—minus what the crappy integrated graphics steals—can look forward to much improved performance without Rosetta. While an RTM date has not been set, it will be closer to July than December, at least that is what I took away from my interview with Geoff Price, MacBU Product Manager, at Macworld Expo this year.

What else can you expect from Mac Office 2008? As has been previously reported:

Word Publishing Layout View: smooth and functional desktop publishing in WordDocument Parts: easily access and use footers, headers, TOCs, as "parts" of a documentExcel Ledger Sheets: smart templates for the formula challenged Office Art 2.0: clip-art and effects like you expect from KeynoteMyDay: a widget-like application for Entourage that tracks your day, but not your e-mail

Besides that, Mac Office 2008 will see the UI evolve.

"Part of our mission with Office 2008 is to expose all the things that are already there and make the product easier to use" says Jones. "We wanted to make it more discoverable, to bubble up the features that people didn't always find. We also have an opportunity to have a simple UI and a more intuitive interface."

I would—and did—describe the UI changes a little differently.

While the biggest news is Mac Office being UB, get ready for the MacBU's answer to the "Ribbon" in Office 2007: the Elements Gallery, also known as tabs. A set of tabs under the toolbar expand when selected, temporarily devouring screen space and giving access to options like templates in Word's Publishing Layout View, also new this year.

The problem is that while the tabs do "expose" features that might have been missed, nothing was done to reduce the clutter and duplication that results from another UI element. The Mac Office UI now has menus, toolbars, tabs, and a palette, all competing for attention and screen space. What Mac Office desperately needs in a UI is deprecation of some means by which features are accessed in favor of others. This is what Apple does so well, but Microsoft is not Apple, not even at the MacBu.

Microsoft to “periodically” check Vista installs for piracy

There's little doubt Vista is the most secure version of Windows, even as new vulnerabilities surface. When we talk about security in Windows we usually mean what Microsoft is doing—or not doing—to keep us safe. But it's also true that Microsoft intends to vigorously safeguard its own interests. That means Vista will also be the hardest Windows to counterfeit. HangZhou Night Net

Microsoft is serious about piracy. It likes to refer to the Business Software Alliance—"the voice of the world's commercial software industry"—which maintains that "35% of the software installed on personal computers world-wide in 2006 was illegal." Windows Genuine Advantage, part of Microsoft's antipiracy program, has been in a kind of beta since 2004, but now appears to be ready for prime time:

"Technology built into Vista allows Microsoft to periodically evaluate the OS to make sure it is legitimate, rather than just having one opportunity, when the product key is first entered at activation."

Certainly Microsoft has a right and, its shareholders would say, a duty to protect its intellectual property. The key is going to be how well activation schemes work. How often is "periodically?" Will routine maintenance performed by corporate IT technicians trigger it and perhaps cause a failure? Glitches are sure to occur. Minimizing glitches will be the key to success. Microsoft says it validated 300 million copies of Windows since July, 2005, with a failure rate of "approximately one in five."

"Most failed validations, approximately 80%, are caused by a misused or stolen volume license key. The remaining 20% of the failures have a variety of causes, including tampering, hacking, and working around product activation. Across the more than 300 million validations, only a small percentage of validation failures were found to be in error."

When you start at 300 million and go up, even a small error rate means a lot of customers. The average Joe can tough it out and, perhaps, forget about it. But if the MCPs in the trenches can't figure out which activation key will work this time and CIOs start seeing the total cost of ownership start to creep up, you can expect Microsoft reps to get an earful over activation.

Earth receives an intelligent signal from the darkness

A potentially monumental moment in human history may be upon us. Last winter various radio telescopes around the world—over the span of about 3 days—picked up a repeating signal emanating from the region of space near Alioth (highlighted in the image), a star in the constellation Ursa Major, or the Big Bear. While this is nothing out of the ordinary for astronomers, some further details warranted a deeper investigation. Everything in the cosmos gives off some form of radiation; the trick is determining whether it is random noise, some natural repeating signal, or something we can't identify as a natural product, which might suggest an intelligent source. The signal in particular here was odd because of the frequency it was detected at, 5.0832 GHz. HangZhou Night Net

At first glance this is nothing extraordinary, but a student of mathematics might realize that this is the product of two of the most important numbers in the world: π and φ. Pi, of course, is recognized by everyone who has taken grade school mathematics as the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. It is a number that has been known throughout human history because of its intrinsic link with shapes and geometry. The other number is a bit more obscure, but holds similar importance to the foundations of mathematics. Phi is known as the golden ratio, approximately equal to 1.618. It was deemed to be the perfect ratio by Greek mathematicians and architects. It can be defined as follows: given two line segments a and b, it is the ratio of the lengths of a+b to a, and the ratio of a to b. It is also claimed to show up in natural forms, such as the ratio of area of mollusk shells, and in proportions seen in the human face, although variations in species and individuals make this statement tenuous.

The other intriguing fact about this signal is the pattern that the signal arrived with. The signal came in discrete pulses of radiation; from the beginning of the sequence, two single pulses were 'heard', then two pulses together, then three, then five, following this pattern until a sequence of 34 short bursts occurred. The series then repeated itself over and over for about three days. Again, aspiring mathematicians should pick up on this immediately as the first 10 Fibonacci numbers… (0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34). This ties back into the frequency it was broadcast on: the ratio of the (n+1)st Fibonacci number with the nth Fibonacci number as n gets very large is the golden ratio,φ, part of the frequency the signal was broadcast on.

What this means is the subject of heated debate. Alioth is only about 81 light years away from Earth and no one on Earth has produced a signal of sufficient strength that might have reached there in time to have been detected and triggered a reply. Given the distance, the signal recently detected had to have been sent over 81 years ago, but who or what sent it is not now, or may never be known. What it does suggest—emphasis on "suggest"—is that this is no naturally occurring phenomena. The frequency is composed of two irrational numbers that are universal, meaning they do not rely on any specific understanding of measurement or units. They are ratios found in naturally occurring shapes, and would suggest that the senders understood geometry similar to the way humanity's mathematical understanding evolved from natural forms to what we know today.

One final thought before I close what may be the biggest story ever… April Fools!

New York upset over new Grand Theft Auto, decides to look silly

With the release of the Grand Theft Auto IV trailer, many have noted that the game setting has a not-so-subtle resemblance to the real-life New York City. You can call it Liberty City all you want, but the trailer used many landmarks and well-known buildings to make its point: the game is going to have a New York flavor. HangZhou Night Net

This isn't sitting well with the real New York City, and of course that means it's time for the media to report poorly on Grand Theft Auto. It just never gets old.

In previous incarnations, players advanced through the game by killing cops, selling pornography to children and killing prostitutes. Details of the latest version have not been released.

"The mayor does not support any video game where you earn points for injuring or killing police officers," said Jason Post, a spokesman for Mayor Bloomberg.

I could be mistaken, but I have no recollection of any part a Grand Theft Auto where you had to kill police officers or prostitutes to advance the story. There are also no "points" to be gained in the game, so I'm not sure what Jason Post was trying to do, other than reveal that he has no idea what he's talking about.

I'm not trying to drag out the "movies and games" argument in terms of a difference in reaction, but why isn't there a public outcry every time a violent movie is set in New York? If you look at media as a whole, the things you see and do in the Grand Theft Auto games are actually pretty tame, but of course they make a good headline.

More public officials looking silly, and free publicity for Rockstar. The beat goes on.

New Civ IV expansion to be decidedly modern

Civ IV fans rejoice! 2K Games has announced a major expansion to Civ IV that sounds quite compelling, as far as expansion packs go. Dubbed "Beyond the Sword," the expansion pack will be available in July, and 2K says that it's the largest expansion pack in the history of the Civ franchise. Let's hope then that it's not a steaming pile… HangZhou Night Net

The title of the expansion hints at what it's about: the modern period and beyond. 2K says that the update is focused on later stages of the game, after the invention of gunpowder.

The key features, pared down from the announcement, with handy-dandy emphasis added:

Expanded
Epic Game: massive increase in new units, buildings, and technologies to the epic
game, with focus on the late-game
time periods.New
Game Scenarios: The expansion will deliver 12
new scenariosNew
Civilizations: Ten new civilizations, such as Portugal, Babylon and
Netherlands. More
Civilization Leaders: Sixteen new leaders Corporations: Create corporations and spread them throughout the world. Each corporation provides
benefits in exchange for certain resources. Espionage: available
earlier in the game, this expanded
feature offers players many new ways to spy on opponents, stir
unrest and defend secrets. Events: New random
events such as natural disasters, pleas for help, or demands from
their citizens will challenge players to overcome obstacles. New
Wonders: Five new wonders await discovery including the Statue of Zeus,
Cristo Redentor, Shwedagon Paya, the Mausoleum of Maussollos, and the Moai
Statues. Advanced
Starts: A major fan request, this new
feature will enable players to
"buy" components of a custom-tailored empire and begin play in
the later part of the gameEnhanced
AI: generally tougher to beat on the higher
difficulty levels.

One of the things I really liked about Call to Power was the fact that you could play into the future with sci-fi-inspired future tech. As it stands, Civ IV's tech tree ends with the likes of "Fusion" and "Genetics". Will Civ IV get something a little more imaginative, or will they focus on filling out the tree with more examples from history? More complexity between Gunpowder and the current end of the tech tree would be welcome, but I'm really hoping for some truly awesome Future Tech.

And I think we might get it. 2K has posted a few samples of the artwork, and if I'm not mistaken, this image shows a giant city under a glass dome. It's… it's… the future!

Sunday Showdown: Was the GTA IV trailer impressive?

HangZhou Night Net

The Saturday Sunday Showdown continues, a day later this week. Each week we'll pick a topic, flip a coin to see which OT writer gets which side to debate, and then we present it to you. This week? Whether or not the first official Grand Theft Auto IV trailer was impressive?

Frank: On Thursday, Rockstar released the first official GTA IV trailer. Video sites were hammered for hours as the masses stormed to get but the smallest of glimpses of the future platinum hit. After all the speculation, rumors and exclusivity claims, the titan software product finally saw the light of day. Alas, while Ben and many others around the Internet fell in love with the Source Engine-style graphics and their resulting incredible level of detail, I found myself less than thrilled with the first teaser trailer. We already knew the game was going to look good. The best minds at Rockstar have been working diligently to recreate the success of Grand Theft Auto 3, but that's going to take substantially more than just a visual upgrade. GTA3 grew to transcend mere gaming: it became a cultural icon. The jump to 3D created completely new game play opportunities, and the focus on story-telling created a great new level of appeal for the series. However, the trailer gives no such stunning impression, and I don't think that's just because it's early. If GTAIV is going to be nothing more than a superficial upgrade, I'm really not all that interested—I was already starting to get bored of the formulaic action by the time San Andreas rolled around. Nothing in the trailer—from the return of an old city to the new character's foreign background—has me even the least bit enticed. It looks good. So what? So does everything else "coming soon".

Ben: With video released this early you have to be careful about what you show. Rockstar had one job to do with this trailer, and that was to get people talking about the game. On that level, the trailer was a success. Many sites are even spending hours peeling it apart frame by frame to try to look for clues. A teaser released months months ahead of the game only has to prove to fans that the graphics are going to have a major leap in quality, and maybe show off one or two story points The GTA IV trailer certainly does this, and now that we have an idea of how good the game is going to look, we get to speculate on the actual game play. Say what you will about Rockstar, but they rarely fail to give us something interesting and new; this graphical leap can't simply be solely for the sake of "just another" GTA game. They've proven that the game is coming; it's real, and boy, does it look good. I wonder how many people would be willing to buy the game just based on the engine and graphics, but with standard GTA game play? We're looking down the barrel of a monster hit here, and that's even before we know if the game is going to have any new ideas in terms of play, which I think are definitely coming. This is a teaser more than anything else, and I feel appropriately teased.

Frank: As I said, I realize that this is an early trailer—but it's not that early. The game is shipping in October, so I'm sure they have a lot of it together and running. In fact, this is probably the latest an official trailer for a major release has ever surfaced; typically, we see videos (or at least stills) with over a year to go before the release. I want to be teased with something worth talking about. People are only talking about the game because it's pretty; it's the typical superficial conversation that always arises when something looks fancy. However, I know better. Need I bring the Killzone trailer into this? Sure, the GTAIV trailer is done with the in-game engine (at least, so we're led to believe), but it really doesn't showcase anything that would differentiate GTAIV from the others in the series. I'm also not saying that a superficial upgrade won't sell; we live in a shallow society, and a good looking game from a historically good series will sell well regardless. GTAIV is destined to become a platinum hit no matter how good or bad it is. However, I'm not willing to buy into the hype; I've spent enough time with the series to know that they're running out of ideas. From this trailer, there's nothing to be excited about yet, and that's why it fails as a teaser for anyone able to see past the glossy overcoat.

Ben: What they're doing is managing expectations, and the best way to do that while building the maximum amount of hype is to only show what you absolutely have to. Everyone ran to their computers to check out this trailer, and now they're endlessly discussing every little thing. If Rockstar releases another video in the next few weeks that shows off a little bit of game play they can expect the same reaction, and keep it going right until release. You can't get sustained buzz by showing your entire hand this early, you have to slowly reveal what you have planned. Not only that, but Rockstar tends to set trends, so any large announcement in game play would likely instantly be added to other upcoming games that might even see release before Grand Theft Auto IV. I don't blame them for being secretive, not yet. The big question is whether they have some good game play innovations to hide. If so, this was a good move. If we're going to be treated to "just another" Grand Theft Auto game however, I'm going to feel pretty cheated. The series has consistently delivered up until now, so I feel comfortable giving them the benefit of the doubt.

So what do you think? Did the first Grand Theft Auto IV trailer ignite your imagination? Or did it leave you saying "It's pretty, so what?"

New Bluetooth spec promises easier pairing, lower power consumption

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group has officially unveiled Bluetooth 2.1, the latest evolution of the Bluetooth spec. Its full name—Bluetooth Core Specification Version 2.1 + EDR—may be a mouthful, but the improvements over its predecessor are a couple of tasty bites. HangZhou Night Net

Fully backwards compatible with Bluetooth 2.0, version 2.1 offers lower power consumption and an improved device pairing experience. A new feature called "sniff subrating" optimizes battery life, which the Bluetooth SIG claims can result in a five-fold increase in battery life for peripherals including keyboards, mice, medical devices, and watches.

Device pairing should be much easier with Bluetooth 2.1. Mobile phone owners wanting to pair a wireless headset with their phone should have an easier go of it. In most cases, they should be able to turn on their phone and select "add headset" from the phone's menu. The phone and headset will then automatically pair with one another using an encrypted link. Security-conscious users can opt to use a six-digit passcode to verify the pairing.

Version 2.1 offers other ways of pairing as well. One such possibility is Near Field Communication, where users can hold two devices very close to one another to initiate the quick pairing process. Either way, it sounds like less of a hassle than the current system.

A few current devices should be upgradeable to the 2.1 spec via a firmware update; most others will not be due to the lack of an interface for updates and rewritable memory.

Next up for Bluetooth is integration with the WiMedia Alliance's Ultra-Wideband spec to incorporate that technology into the Bluetooth spec, leading to higher-speed data transfers.