Friday, April 15, 2005

Industrializing Africa - Developing New World Economies

I have a vision for a positive future in Africa. A future where there is hope, prosperity and industry. My vision kicks off by harnessing US foreign aid dollars, force field technology and the peace corps (or some organization like the peace corps)... possibly solar panels as well ;)

Currently in northern parts of Africa there are tribes killing each other, not to mention lots of AIDs. I believe there are peaceful people among these tribes, and in many cases whole tribes which are non-violent and are being exterminated by "raiders" from other tribes. This sucks and in some ways the net suffering in these areas would be a lot less if everyone was just erased and things were started anew with some sort of structure. Since erasing people isn't legal and I don't want to go to hell I have thought up another way to bring freedom to Africa.

Ownership powers America, through personal ownership people are willing to invest their lives into creating societies and industry and art and peace. Ever heard of the tragedy of the commons? Basically the example uses an open field with three farmers bordering the field on adjacent sides. Since no one owns the field and everything in the field is presumed to be "free for all" each farmer takes more than they need in order to guarantee their own survival. This results in a ruined field and a tragedy from what could have been a boon to everyone. Basically if communism worked the field would be shared and each person would take only what they needed. We all know communism doesn't work very well on a global level so we employ ownership to divvy things up. In the ownership model, a fourth farmer owns the field in the middle and since he owns it he makes sure that it is not over harvested and ruined (as it was in the tragedy of the commons. In this model the field in maintained indefinitely and everyone benefits, plus we added an extra farmer to the model!

Okay, apply this to Africa. My idea is to employ force field technology (or guards with guns) in an effort to establish ownership and safety. Safety is basically ownership of one's self, the most precious ownership. When the value of life in a country is low, you can be assured no one is investing in "life" pleasure or the pursuit of happiness. Step one, find a group of people in Africa or any other suffering nation. Verify ownership of land for this group of people and then offer them protection in exchange for adherence to a set of laws and regulations. These laws would basically prohibit violence, guarantee ownership and allow for a community run government (kind of like in the USA only the community run government would evolve from the local culture). The only real restriction would be that the earlier stated "prohibition of violence" and "ownership" could not be overruled by the community government... ever. Once people agreed to this outline protection from outside forces would be guaranteed using force field technology or guards. Inside the new community peace corps volunteers would work as police officers and labor assistants. This provision would help stabilize the new community and support the new economy (because the community would be cut off from all outside contact by the force field and would need a bit of help getting started on their own).

Once this small community was launched, surrounding people would be invited to join. These new recruits would be offered the same protections and rights that the original community agreed on (safety, ownership, government). The new people would have to either enter the force field area or allow the force field boundary to be erected around their land. As new people joined they would have to give up their weapons and agree to the set guidelines of peace, only law enforcement would be allowed to use force inside the boundary. Once again, law enforcement would be made up of peace corps officers or foreign army forces who had no vested interest in the new African community.

As more and more people recognized the success of the "Peace Sphere" community, more and more people would join in. The land contained within the force field would grow and economies of scale would take their place. Less foreign aid would be required as the internal community became self sufficient. Violence would be nonexistent because anyone who violated the code would be banished from the community. There would be limited bias in the govenment and law enforcement could be trusted because it would consist of volunteers from outside nations. Criminals and killers, reluctant to join the sphere, would be forced farther and farther from the community as the boundaries grew. The outside criminals would be separated from their "food" source and be naturally forced to change their ways or die alone in the desert. In this model peace would spread instead of violence.

I someday hope to erect a Peace Sphere as described above. The largest problem at this point would be resistance from currently established government forces. Would the UN support a "new" country created throught the use of forcefields? Maybe the UN would approve but would the current local African governments attack the Peace Sphere deeming it a threat? probably... Mature healthy markets like the US and Europe are reproducing at a slower rate and globalization is opening up new markets. I want to live in a prosperous world and I believe business is the key to survival. However, if a change is not made in the way the world works and business expands to places like Africa, business people will be murdered and war will erupt. Think diamond mines, think oil in the Middle East... These lesser developed nations are tomorrows buyers and sellers. I was given The Fortune at The Bottom of the Pyramid by an international marketing professor this year in order to explore the phenomenon of developing markets. It can also be downloaded in PDF format from Amazon. This book explores the future I am describing from a business person's point of view. In order to benefit from a world economy we need to promote freedom of choice and I think the Peace Sphere is a reasonable solution. Please share your ideas and comments.

The sad truth in today's world is that there are more than enough resources, more than enough people willing to share thier own resources, and more than enough technology to make it all possible and still it cannot be accomplished. Government is the problem. Our world is full of governments that enforce inport tariffs on free donated condoms, even though they save lives and people want to use them. Governments that discourage their people from using donated viral treatment syndroms because they believe the US is trying to kill their people out of racial hate. Governments that are run on corruption, fueled by violence and economic slavery. Would the Peace Sphere work? Where should it begin?

posted by Court @ 3:55 PM | 0 Comments Links to this post

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Clay Timon - Retired Landor CEO - CU Marketing Presentation

Today in marketing class, Advertising and Promotion, Clay Timon (the retired CEO of Landor) visited as a guest speaker. Clay is an amazing individual to say the least! I was overwhelmed by the number and caliber of clients he had worked with during his time at Landor. Clay got his undergrad at the University of Colorado and it was great to have him back speaking to new students such as myself.

Okay, what is Landor? According to their website: "Landor Associates is the world's most accomplished and internationally recognized branding and design consultancy. Offering a multidisciplinary range of brand strategy, design, naming, interactive and research services, we help our clients worldwide create, renew and strengthen their brand power." Basically, they work with the CEO or director of a company to move towards a new public image and corporate philosophy. During the class presentation, Clay stressed the importance of what he called "the four critical building blocks of a brand" one of which was differentiation. He explained that you can tell when a brand is about to die because it is no longer differentiated. Landor is a company designed to help these "dying brands" get back on track, or help an already successful company change directions and achieve the vision and differentiation they need to stay competitive. Good examples of companies that lack this critical differentiation and are slowly disappearing include Greyhound, Oldsmobile and TWA. A few companies that are taking the initiative to reinvent themselves include FedEx, bp Beyond Petroleum and LG Life is Good.

The four critical building blocks of a brand
  1. differentiation - without this you will have no business or brand.
  2. relevance - how many people is this brand relevant for?
  3. esteem - emotional like for a brand, customers will describe themselves as "your customer" such as Coke drinkers or BMW drivers.
  4. knowledge - people feel so comfortable they begin to talk about why they chose you.
Speaking of Oldsmobile as an example of a brand that needs a change, the GM parent company was an example given to us as a brand that could also use some work. When asked by a Leeds CU student in class "if you could choose one company to develop an image for, who would it be?" Clay responded "the United States of America... Although that would be suicide, maybe GM" He went on to describe that the US image has been used and abused terribly over the years and that it would be "suicidal" and "a real challenge to get right." Most of the companies that Clay had been hired to work with before he retired from Landor approached him for help, nearly 85%, when dealing with the USA however he would be working with a CEO "the President" who doesn't understand the brand or where it needs to go and an approval hierarchy "Congress" that would reject the process and adapt slowly to change, if at all. I often wonder if a change like this is necessary for the image of the US? I suppose the idea would be to improve relations with the rest of the world so they would "buy" into our products and programs and see us in a better light. Many US citizens would welcome such a change but I can certainly relate to working with the government on business as being "suicidal" as Clay had implied. Back to GM, Since America would be nearly impossible GM was Clay's second choice. He suggested at one point that it may not be necessary for GM to exist at all saying, "what brand are they?" and following up his remarks with "I like a challenge." Clay is certainly ambitious and although I don't know exactly how old he is, he is in great physical shape and his mind is running at full capacity on fresh relevant issues.

While at Landor Clay traveled around the world working with different companies. At one point in 1979 he got to work directly with the Chinese government and ultimately assess their ability to do do business with the US. Upon returning to America he did an interview for an article in the Wall Street Journal saying that "NO" China is not ready for marketing, we should not market our products to them. The idea was that until there is more than one choice of pens or clothing to buy, there is no need for marketing. Well, over the decade that followed his Wall Street interview China exploded in terms of business and Clay was proven wrong. He thinks of that experience as "one of the few times" he has been wrong.

Moving from past to present time companies but keeping our focus near China, Clay spoke about his experiences working with the Korean company LG. I have been exposed to LG a lot recently with some of my friends doing group projects focusing on their products. I have also begun to seeing LG products making an appearance in Best Buy stores and through online retailers. The reality is, LG has always been around but until recently they have never sold their products under the LG name. LG started out in the 1800's as a family owned chemical business. Since that time it has expanded into many industries including electronics. The L and G originally stood for Lucky and Goldstar which were two branches of the parent company, each focusing on different products; chemicals and electronics. LG had traditionally focused their product design process on building high quality products at low prices. Eventually they their focus from just quality at low prices to include customer needs and desires. This all happened one day when the chairman got a company washing machine that chewed up his wife's clothes. He returned the machine, thinking it was defective, but the replacement had the same problems and it just didn't meet his needs. At this point the Chairman had spoken with the product manager but nothing had been done to fix the process so he approached the employees at the very bottom on the assembly lines to get their feedback. This sort of interaction is very rare in Chinese hierarchical society and it served as a starting point for a new way of driving a company. This new philosophy of every employee actually being a part of the overall brand is at the core of what Landor does to help companies. Today, with the help of Landor LG has been redefined to stand for "Life is Good." The new logo for LG is a tiny face which represents the importance of the people it now focuses on. With a new logo and image LG has gained the confidence it needs to identify as its own brand. LG logos are popping up everywhere! Airports have billboards and pushcarts with the logo. Cell phones are starting to display the logo, and new high end flat screen LCDs are also sporting the new brand identity. A complete overview of Landor's work with LG can be found on the official Landor website at:

I will be doing another post about Clay Timon's work with bp seperately from this article. As I stated before, there was a lot covered in class and it was quite inspiring to learn from a University of Colorado alumni who has done so many amazing things throughout his career. I am especially thankful for the insights and inspiration gained through today's lecture on business and marketing, both domestic and international.

Thanks Clay

posted by Court @ 5:06 PM | 0 Comments Links to this post

Clay Timon - Beyond Petroleum - CU Leeds School of Business Presentation

In my article titled Clay Timon - Retired Landor CEO - CU Marketing Presentation I discussed a company called Landor which helps other companies reposition their brand and ultimately keep from dying off as markets change. Clay Timon is a retired CEO from Landor who visited my Advertising and Promotion Marketing class at the Leeds School of Business at CU on April 14th. I wanted to do another article about Clay and one of the companies he worked with at Landor because I think a lot of people interact with this company. BPAmoco, which recently changed it's name to bp is one of the most widely recognized brands worldwide and the subject of this article.

Lets start off with a fun fact. There are more bp gas stations around the world than there are McDonalds outlets! Unfortunately, those dirty polluted gas stations represent what bp thinks of as "the old side" of the energy business. That's one of the main reasons bp has adopted a new tag line "beyond petroleum." Aside from just being dirty, one other problem has been waiting for bp (and other oil companies) for a long time and according to some estimates this problem may be realized within our lifetimes (I am 21...). Gasoline is running out, even Saudi Arabia, a country which continues to discover new oil resources and is believed to have one of the largest supplies of oil in the world estimates that it will run out within 65 years!

bp wants to continue supplying energy and if energy is changing then it will have to change too. Saudi Arabia, like bp, wants to continue being successful in terms of income. That means they are going to have to discover an alternative to oil. It is unknown how Saudi Arabia will continue its monetary success without oil but many countries who are in the same position are turning to tourism. This has begun to work in some situations, Dubai is one example of a city that wanted to become independent of oil and tourism has been their solution. In order for Saudi Arabia to attract tourists however, they will have to construct a lot more hotels, not just the ones reserved for "royals" that are currently in existence today. We will keep an eye on this situation, but for now, back to bp.

So if oil is running out and you are in the business of selling oil "energy" what should you do? bp has faced this question and decided to start moving towards alternatives. Sure they still sell oil at all those gas stations around the world but they have begun changing their image. They are positioning themselves as the "future of energy" and that's where Landor and Clay Timon come into the picture. Clay got to work with bp CEO John Browne to take the first steps in this transformation. Clay explained to my class that employees are one of the keys to success in shifting a brand identity. In the olden days companies didn't understand that employees are really a part of the brand, the employees interfaces directly with customers and it's sometimes easy for a CEO or COO to forget that. In order to begin the change, bp employees of all levels were asked three simple questions. What is it you do in your job that supports this new idea, what do you do that does not, and why not. Clay and John received a lot of "it's my boss's fault" responses, but the truth is it was their fault! The next step was to approach the "boss" and communicate the new vision. This program has been ongoing for sometime now and it includes more than just the employees but it is working. What really makes this successful at the employee level is the realization by workers that their concerns are being addressed, it really motivates them. Clay told our class that he believes nearly every employee at bp can describe at least part of the new "beyond petroleum" identity. They may not all have it perfect but the company is slowly turning in this new direction.

In order to further motivate employees of the changing image and service that bp is becoming physical changes are beginning to take shape all over the world at every bp petroleum outlet. These gas stations still serve as bp's primary income but when gas runs out bp needs to be prepared. New fuel types are the product solution and bp is working on that. Differentiation is the consumer solution to getting people to identify bp as the leader in energy. New bp gas stations feature a clean white look with a green "energy helio" logo (which looks a bit like a flower). These two upgrades give the company a new look and also support the idea of bp as being a successful company which can afford new technology. Digital pumps where you can pay at the pump are becoming more common, and bp certainly has these but what bp has that others don't is solar power. New bp stations cover their gas pump canopies (the roof over the gas pumps) with solar panels that actually provide enough energy to completely run the pump! The goal is to provide all the energy needed to run the entire station someday. To cap it all off BPAmoco has adopted the "beyond petroleum" tagline as discussed earlier and simplified or "purified" thier name to bp. The tagline really communicates that bp is committed "beyond" the current age of gasoline and into future cleaner sources of energy.

One of the biggest keys to bp's success has been working hands on with every level of employee. Group sessions are small and employee concerns are taken seriously. bp makes it all work because their new image is backed with actions like the solar pumps and investments into new technology. As an environment conscious gasoline user myself, I have noticed the bp campaign and it has had an affect on my consumer behaviors. bp has a great website that really communicates the movement towards simple, efficient, pure sources of future energy at:
One last note. Certainly bp isn't perfect, Greenpeace refers to them as "burning the planet" rathar than beyond petroleum but I am convinced that a positive effort by bp to move towards a cleaner tomorrow (even if it is mostly marketing at this point) is better than nothing. Sure they spent a lot on the new image, the logo, the branding etc. but you have to spend money to make money and it's hard to lead change in a distribution channel oriented industry unless you are a current leader in the industry to begin with.

I want to thank Clay Timon once again for his outstanding presentation at the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business and I look forward to the transformation that bp is striving for to provide energy beyond petroleum.

posted by Court @ 4:59 PM | 0 Comments Links to this post

Monday, April 11, 2005

Powertoys for Windows XP - Tweak UI - Change Location of My Music

Organizing and managing stored music on my computer has always been an important issue. I regularly reinstall Windows XP because I like to keep my computer running clean and I also upgrade hardware a lot. Reinstalling my operating system and formatting my hard drive help to keep things functioning correctly. At one point I purchased an external hard drive to back up my important files and store my music on. Relocating my my music to this seperate drive would save me time whenever I had to reinstall my operating system. I wouldn't have to burn it to a DVD or worry about reorganizing it.

At first it seemed like keeping my music stored on the external was a great idea. Once I got the drive I adjusted my Windows Media Player settings to identify my external music folder as my "main" music location. Unfortunately, every time I used Windows Media Player or any other software application to buy and download music it would default to my C drive and save the music under My Documents > My Music. I finally called Microsoft and asked how to fix this problem and they turned me onto Powertoys for Windows XP.

Powertoys is a set of official programs that are offered as extras built by developers in order to help advanced users customize and manage thier computer resources. The best part is that Powertoys are all free! In under five minutes I was able to download the Tweak UI utility from Power Tools and configure my operating system to identify my external D hard drive as the primary location for "My Music." Ever since using this simple program I have been able to harness the potential of my music software and other "defaulted" windows applications, using my external HD as if it were the original C drive.

This program has really helped streamline and simplify my computing and I wanted to share this knowledge with anyone looking to customize and organize their music files. You can download Tweak UI from the list of Windows Powertoys here:

Steps for using Tweak UI: Start > All Programs > Powertoys for Windows XP > Tweak UI expand "My Computer" then click "Special Folders" use the drop down box to hilight "My Music" then click Change Location. Specify the new location for storing music then hit OK.

Other Windows XP Powertoys include:
  • ClearType Tuner - This PowerToy lets you use ClearType technology to make it easier to read text on your screen, and installs in the Control Panel for easy access.
  • HTML Slide Show Wizard - This wizard helps you create an HTML slide show of your digital pictures, ready to place on your Web site.
  • Open Command Window Here - This PowerToy adds an "Open Command Window Here" context menu option on file system folders, giving you a quick way to open a command window (cmd.exe) pointing at the selected folder.
  • Alt-Tab Replacement - With this PowerToy, in addition to seeing the icon of the application window you are switching to, you will also see a preview of the page. This helps particularly when multiple sessions of an application are open.
  • Tweak UI - This PowerToy gives you access to system settings that are not exposed in the Windows XP default user interface, including mouse settings, Explorer ettings, taskbar settings, and more. Note: Version 2.10 requires Windows XP Service Pack 1 or Windows Server 2003.
  • Power Calculator - With this PowerToy you can graph and evaluate functions as well as perform many different types of conversions.
  • Image Resizer - This PowerToy enables you to resize one or many image files with a right-click.
  • CD Slide Show Generator - With this PowerToy you can view images burned to a CD as a slide show. The Generator works downlevel on Windows 9x machines as well.
    Virtual Desktop Manager - Manage up to four desktops from the Windows taskbar with this PowerToy.
  • Taskbar Magnifier - Use this PowerToy to magnify part of the screen from the taskbar.
  • Webcam Timershot - This PowerToy lets you take pictures at specified time intervals from a Webcam connected to your computer and save them to a location that you designate.

please note - all Powertoys names and descriptions were taken from the official Powertoys website.

posted by Court @ 5:09 PM | 0 Comments Links to this post

Thomas Hood - I remember, I remember

This is one of my favorite poems, shown to me by my loving grandfather. This poem was written by Thomas Hood. It is raw and true and it captures me in the moment every time I read it.

I remember, I remember,
The house where I was born,
The little window where the sun
Came peeping in at morn;
He never came a wink too soon,
Nor brought too long a day,
But now, I often wish the night
Had borne my breath away!

I remember, I remember,
The roses, red and white,
The vi'lets, and the lily-cups,
Those flowers made of light!
The lilacs where the robin built,
And where my brother set
The laburnum on his birthday,--
The tree is living yet!

I remember, I remember,
Where I was used to swing,
And thought the air must rush as fresh
To swallows on the wing;
My spirit flew in feathers then,
That is so heavy now,
And summer pools could hardly cool
The fever on my brow!
I remember, I remember,
The fir trees dark and high;
I used to think their slender tops
Were close against the sky:
It was a childish ignorance,
But now 'tis little joy
To know I'm farther off from heav'n
Than when I was a boy.

"Thomas Hood (1799-1845) was born in London, the son of a bookseller. His childhood was complicated by the death of his father in 1811 which forced him to leave school and take a position as a clerk; before becoming interested in engraving under the influence of his uncle. He became interested in writing from an early age, and following a brief stint as a professional engraver began to write for the London Magazine in 1821. This association was short lived though, but the seed had been sown for his career as a professional writer which would also see him as an early champion for Copyright reform."

posted by Court @ 4:09 PM | 0 Comments Links to this post

Don't Kiss Them Good-Bye, Allison Dubois - Book Review

Don't Kiss Them Good-Bye by Allison Dubois is a sort of autobiography about being a medium or "psychic." Allison Duboise is said to be the "Michael Jordan" of mediums and has worked on countless missing children's cases free of charge in her adult years. She also does group sessions and has helped everyone from law enforcement to random strangers. Allison promotes herself as a positive role model for young inexperienced mediums and their parents. She has two daughters who have been given "the gift" and a sizable portion of the book is spent describing ways to parent and support young mediums. She begins her story by explaining some of the events that have led her to working on missing person cases, including a near abduction she was exposed to when she was a child herself. Allison explains that writing Don't Kiss Them Good-Bye was one of 100 things she has set out to do before she dies. Her story is inspiring yet takes place through many simple events and stories that anyone can relate to. This book reminds us that it is often the little things in life that mean the most.

How does Allison make a living if she works for free? This autobiography is probably footing some of the bill for her recent humanitarian services as it has attracted a lot of attention! Allison's adventures as a psychic have not only attracted an audience for her book but have also become the inspiration for the hit TV show Medium. Allison's husband Joe is an aerospace engineer who actually authored a chapter of her book describing what it is like being married to a medium and he seems to deal with the fame pretty well. Although I agree with Allison's standards and values around being a psychic I wonder how someone who has her ability but lacks her credibility could possibly earn a living doing what she does without charging a fee, or marrying an aerospace engineer... I give Allison a lot of credit and have no intention of bashing her, I am simply challenging her high standards.

Parts of this book are humorous and lighthearted, as when Joe explains how Allison can remind him to take an extra buck to the store or use a different route on his way to work. Other parts of the book seem almost haunting. Nearly every question I had about death and the afterlife when I bought this book was answered throughout the storyline. I was very impressed with the level of thought and detail about ordinary situations that this book provided. The book is written in a stream of consciousness style that bounces around from important events in Allison's life. To be honest, some of the events that seemed important to Allison weren't especially entertaining to me but ultimately helped to create a down to earth trusting atmosphere that lent credibility to the more incredible stories. One interesting event is a visit to the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial where Allison communicated with a fallen soldier. This book is bold and sincere, yet it encompasses many fun emotions and silly events that enable the reader to relate their own life to the story being told.

This book may not convince a hardheaded skeptic to believe in ghosts, an afterlife, or even psychic abilities but it made a real difference to me. It reminds me of the times when things just seem to work, or I make a random discovery or insight one day only to use it out of necessity the next. We are all blessed. This book promotes a positive message about death and speaks to the wonderful gifts we have all been given in life.

I listened to Don't Kiss Them Good-Bye on audio CD. I chose this method because Allison actually reads the novel herself along with some help from Joe. I got my copy of Don't Kiss Them Good-Bye on Audio CD from Amazon and the printed edition of Don't Kiss Them Good-Bye can also be found there both new and used.

posted by Court @ 4:07 PM | 0 Comments Links to this post

Sunday, April 10, 2005

CU Boulder - 57th annual Conference on World Affairs

Every year CU hosts "The Conference on World Affairs" which is a week long summit with representatives from all over the world discussing a plethora of diverse issues. The conference is structured with each session being hosted by a panel of speakers (usually 4 or 5) who lead a discussion about the topic of interest. After a brief overview of the topic by each panel member, audience members are invited to pose questions to the speakers and provoke conversation. Panels are set to last an hour and a half and usually have to be cut off! The panels are also recorded and tapes & CD's are made available for purchase through the official website at:

This year was the 57th annual event and unfortunately I only had time to visit one forum entitled Nanobots: Who, What, Why, When, Where. Nanobots only featured three guest speakers but each one presented a unique viewpoint from a different industries or field of study. The speakers included Andy Ihnatko, Seth Shostak and Jim Smith. Much of the discussion was focused specifically on how robots could be created on a nano level and what tasks they might perform. How would they be powered? How do we make something so small? How can we control these things! It was all very interesting but most of the discussion was purely speculation because nanobots aren't actually being produced yet. One member of the audience however, shared news about how nanotechnology had been used to design stain proof pants: but aside from that, a short discussion on military aircraft technology and the US's resistance to the metric system none of the discussion focused on real nanobot objects. A few doomsday scenerios were tossed up during the discussion but a majority of the audience was more excited about the potential good of nanobots than the possibility of world domination as featured in Michael Crichton's novel Prey. We were told that the real possibilities of nanobots comes in their ability to work together and reproduce, like small insects that team up to build something or help pollinate crops. One panel member seemed to think that, just like bugs, nanobots will work in limited numbers and have a limited ability to assimilate on a global level (which has been the big sci-fi scare).

The best idea for nanobots that I have been able to come up with on my own is a process by which these tiny creatures could be used for landscaping purposes to cut grass, or even replace a jetty by transporting small sand grains over time to keep beach erosion down. The steps that need to be made for this sort of technology to become a reality are a means for fueling nanobots and a way for them to reproduce independently (so if you step on one or two, they can replace themselves). It's a bright future but people need to invest in this technology if we want to see it blossom. The panel harped on the dot com bust as being a primary contributor to the current lack of investment in nanotechnology. The general feeling of the speakers was that in the next 50 years nanotechnology and nanobots will take hold and replace some of our older less efficient technology. Until the day comes when we jump from sci-fi to reality you can check out Michael Crichton's book Prey or if you want to learn about why Prey might actually be hurting the image of nanotechnology check out this critiquing article from Nanoparticle News.

posted by Court @ 5:13 PM | 0 Comments Links to this post

Friday, April 8, 2005

Video Game Beta Testing Experiences

In the gaming industry beta testing is a process whereby a video game developer calls on a group of people to help stress test or bug test a near finished product. Often times beta testers are chosen from online forums or applications that are provided to select individuals.

Over the past few years (2000-2005) a lot has changed in the world of beta testing. It used to be harder to find out about beta tests. In recent years FilePlanet has helped companies expand the use of beta testing from simply a stress and bug testing tool to a promotional element for upcoming titles. FilePlanet offers it's paying members the opportunity to sign up for high profile beta tests like World of Warcraft or Everquest II through programs it arranges with developers. These days many games will even offer a beta tester account to anyone who pre-orders the game in store! The idea is that if you are willing to "invest" in the final product by pre-ordering it then by being a beta tester you will have some impact on how the game is actually being developed. The truth is that beta tests done in this manor are very large in scale and the tester is more like a number and less like an individual contributor. You add value by simply playing. Your character adds weight on the server which creates lag and helps the game designers polish how the game runs, not the game itself.

The picture below is of a final phase beta test for the PS2 version of Everquest, "Everquest Online Adventures." Being that this was a final phase test it was focused primarily on stress testing the servers and not tweaking the actual game. Sony offers some general guidelines on the blue sheet stating that "We want to take a few minutes to discuss beta testing in general. Being part of the beta test is a huge responsibility. Our development team is extremely busy finishing up the game and pulling it all together, and we will need all the help we can get tracking down bugs, testing various aspects of the game, and listening to suggestions from our testers on how to make the game better."

One of my favorite REAL beta tests was working with NOVALOGIC on Joint Operations. Many of the employees at the company are ex-military and they care a lot about the quality and realism of their finished product. All of the details and specs of the weapons in the games they develope, including the sounds for all of the guns, are recorded on location at military bases. I applied for the preliminary beta test for Joint Operations during a seven day window on NOVALOGIC's website during which a special form was available to community members only. I barely entered on time and I had to do it from a campus kiosk computer which ended up making me late to class... but it was worth it! Basically, you had to be an avid fan of NOVALOGIC and actually check the website weekly to have a chance to get in. It took nearly three months until I even heard back about the beta test! By then I had nearly forgotten all about having even signed up. Let me tell you though, it was awesome! I got to play with nearly all of the top developers and executives at NOVA including Joel Taubel the games producer. I spoke to Joel in the game through a chat system as well as through forums on the official NOVALOGIC website and really felt like my suggestions had an impact.
In another beta test for Sony Online Entertainment's Star Wars Galaxies, a member of the beta testing community died in a car accident. Everyone in the community felt so close to the member that an in game memorial was created! This was an amazing interaction between our community and the game developers. Everyone was touched and Sony and Lucas Arts really made an impact on all of us. To make things even better, at the end of the test SOE put out a press release for all the beta testers on the Star Wars Galaxies website thanking each SWG beta tester and listing the name of every single individual involved. You can use the find command and search for pocket to view my name.

Some beta testers specialize in catching bugs, some spend their time focused on the graphics or the gameplay, many beta testers are just there to have a good time. Whichever category you fall into, I highly recommend signing up for the next beta that catches your eye. Be sure to stop by FilePlanet as I mentioned earlier and discover how companies are changing their marketing strategies to focus on interactions instead of one way broadcasting of promotions.

posted by Court @ 5:16 PM | 0 Comments Links to this post

Thursday, April 7, 2005

Sony PlayStation Underground / Gamer Advisory Panel

I wanted to do a short post about the Sony PlayStation Underground. The Underground itself is a group of community members who are interested in PlayStation products. The Advisory Panel on the other hand is an exclusive group of hand chosen contributors who actually work with Sony game developers in a sort of think tank! Most people haven't heard of the Advisory Panel or don't know what it is and I applaud Sony for not using it as a marketing gimmick in this manner. Being a Sony fanboy I have always admired the honest personality of the Sony company. Even at this years E3 Sony threw down with a "real" presentation that focused on the technology and the gaming instead of the marketing BS (like Microsoft). Don't get me wrong, Sony had some crappy Power Point slides and the presentation was definitely boaring in terms of language and flow but they kept it real!

I haven't spent nearly enough time on the Underground forums leately but I have competed in a few contests, written a few stories and given feedback for existing products. Sony has been sending me one email a month consistently for years with regards to "the Underground." Most of the time it has to do with a servey or poll and there is usually a reward involved. One of the neatest parts has been the constant flow of PlayStation beta tester invites exclusive to the Gamer Advisory Panel. Before I got on to the Underground and the Panel I had to spend a lot of time applying for tests and often I felt left out, but being a member has put me in a position of having to decline beta tests or having to give my pass to a friend. I guess part of the reason I have had to skip out on a few tests is because of my rampant system swapping (I have owned and sold two PS2's two Xbox's and two GameCubes to date!).

I think almost anyone can become an Underground member but I'm not sure how it works if you want to get into the Advisory Panel. I was invited when I posted a large article about getting a PS2 online at college on the public PlayStation forums. I didn't even apply to the Advisory Panel! That made me feel 1337 to say the least... For those of you who read my blog you will know that I posted a similar, more up to date, version of the "getting your PS2 online" article right here at manufacturedfreedom recently. For those of you who are truly dedicated and honestly interested in helping Sony shape the future of gaming, consider applying for the Underground at Sony's website, I would post a link strait to it but I believe that would be a little bit too easy for you...

Now you know I've gotta list off what it says on this Advisory Panel certificate right? ahem... "Acknowledged as an expert gamer, the owner of this certificate is helping to shape the future of gaming."
"Greetings, Because of your expertise in gaming and your PlayStation Underground membership, you were invited to join the Gamer Advisory Panel - a group of gamers whose knowledge, insight and experience could help shape the future of gaming. Because you are a member, we've sent you this exclusive Gamer Advisory Panel case, filled with some bla bla members only etc. etc... okay that was a bit overboard, I don't want to brag my head off here!

posted by Court @ 5:19 PM | 0 Comments Links to this post

Sunday, April 3, 2005

Networking a PS2 or Xbox Online at College

I go to school at CU Boulder where we have awesome T1 internet access. The problem is that the IT (internet technology) department doesn't support video games and network system has to register a users MAC (Media Access Control) address before it will let them on to the network! For computers it is easy to get online because the first time you plug into the network a screen prompts you to enter your student ID and password. Once you enter your info the system registers your MAC, asks you to restart your computer and suddenly the internet just works! The problem with video game systems is that they don't have internet browsers built in! Therefore, when you plug your Sony PlayStation 2 or Microsoft Xbox in to the network, you are being sent the "register now" information page but your game system is not capable of displaying it to you. For this reason you cannot register your MAC when prompted. When I first encountered this problem two years ago I figured I could just call IT and feed them my MAC address over the phone, unfortunately, even though this would be the simplest solution IT just lectured me instead of helping...

The good news is that I have spent many hours figuring out a legal way around their unhelpfulness. Please note that at my school routers are strictly prohibited and switches are also frowned upon. This means that you could get your internet feed shut off for the entire year if you were caught!

Xbox - For the Xbox there are only two simple step. All you have to do is identify the MAC address of a computer (hypothetically the one you already have registered with the school as described above) and feed it into the Xbox.

  1. using Windows XP, go to start>run> then type "cmd"
  2. once the command window appears type "msconfig/all"
  3. look at the line called "Physical Address" and find a 12 character code such as (XX-XX-XX-XX-XX-XX) which will be comprised of both numbers and letters.
  4. enter this number into your Xbox by opening the disk drive to bring up the navigation menu. If you are using Xbox Live, navigate the menu all the way back to the starting screen by pressing the B button repeatedly
  5. At this screen you will see four choices. choose "Settings" then "Network Settings" then "Advanced" at the bottom of the advanced menu there is a field for "MAC ADDRESS" select this field and enter the address you just found on your registered computer.

PS2 - Getting the PS2 online is a bit more complicated because it does not allow you to "spoof" the MAC address. For this reason you are required to identify the MAC address of the PS2, then spoof your PC's MAC, then re-register your PC with the new MAC to make the PS2's address eligible for network access.

  1. navigate the PS2's menu system until you find the unit’s MAC address (this process is slightly different for the thin PS2 and the older PS2+Network adapter, it is easier with the thin version). You may need to use the PS2 network startup disk included with the network adapter or in the box with the thin PS2
  2. once you locate the MAC address for the PS2 write it down, the number is 12 units long and can be comprised of both numbers and letters in the form of (XX-XX-XX-XX-XX-XX).
  3. now use your computer to "spoof" the PS2's MAC address as follows
  4. using Windows XP navigate to start>control panel
  5. at the control panel choose either Network and Internet Connections>Network Connections or if you are in classic view simply choose Network Connections
  6. choose the NIC you want to use (there may be a few choices, usually it is labeled Local Area Connection)
  7. right click the NIC and choose Properties then navigate to the General tab and choose Configure (you will know you have the right NIC because it will have an Advanced tab when you hit Configure)
  8. navigate to the Advanced tab and highlight "Network Address" or "Locally Administered Address"
  9. enter the MAC address you wrote down for your PS2 into the blank field (without dashes) then choose OK
  10. in order to verify that the MAC of your computer has changed navigate to start>run then type "cmd"
  11. in the command prompt type "msconfig/all" and then look at the line called "Physical Address" if the physical address matches the MAC address you wrote down for your PS2 you can restart your machine.
  12. once the machine has been reset you will be prompted by the network when you try to use the internet at which point you will enter your identification information.
  13. now that you have used your computer to register your PS2's MAC your PS2 should easily connect to the internet using the PS2 startup disk!

if these instructions do not work for you, or you are a Macintosh owner who doesn't have a PC owning friend try these more complicated suggestions at or search the web!

posted by Court @ 5:22 PM | 0 Comments Links to this post

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