Don Imus and Blogger Conduct, ‘Halo 3’ and ‘Shadowrun,’ More Gifts for Dads and Grads

Last week was painful to watch. Don Imus made a statement that is common — but inappropriate coming from an old white man — and got shot for it, repeatedly, and is now off the air. This dovetailed with a now broad effort to create a code of conduct for the Web somewhat similar to what the broadcasters did decades ago. While it probably will fail, it shouldn’t be allowed to, because the alternative may be far worse.

On a lighter note, Microsoft started showcasing “Halo 3.” If its strategy plays out as expected, “Halo 3” — along with “Shadowrun,” another game it has coming — could transform console gaming and put Sony years behind the curve. However, there are risks for Microsoft as well.

Finally, as the end of the school year approaches, I have three more gift suggestions for dads and grads for those who have bigger budgets.

Imus and the Blogger Code of Conduct

Last week, I watched Don Imus, one of the most powerful voices in radio (yes, techies, some people do still listen to the radio) get pounded for saying a few words that probably would have had him laughed out of most blogs.

I couldn’t help but wonder if any of the people shooting at him had ever been on the Web, listened to modern music, or watched a current-generation comedy routine. Personally, I believe that when done right, comedy takes the power out of words like the ones Imus used rather than giving them power — but then, that’s my opinion and clearly not one shared by many.

What happened with Imus was that his industry attempted to regulate the behavior. Given that the guy is nearly 67 and has been doing similar things for a long time, I did wonder why it hadn’t put in place stronger protections — such as voice delay — that could have prevented the offense, or at least prompted a more timely apology. I also wondered if this might have been a creative way to get him off the air. Unfortunately, corporate politics can work like this.

However, Imus isn’t the problem — he is just a symptom. Rather than firing him, I think the networks should have required him to use his platform to actually help solve the problem his behavior contributed to — much like other celebrities have done with issues like drugs.

In this way, Imus could have helped both his industry and ours. Yet before the week was over, he was gone. I’ll bet his replacement won’t focus on fixing the core problem but will instead try to keep from making the same mistake. Still, there is a sharp contrast between what happens on the air on the Internet.

The broadcasting industry established a set ofhard rules to avoid regulation, and — at least, so far — the rules have worked. Here in the United States, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) has been looking atregulating the Web for some time, and I believe it is just waiting for the right trigger event to do that.

Certainly, other countries have already moved strongly in this direction and restrict subjects they disagree with, including criticism of government. This last suggests what could happen if Homeland Security rather than the FCC took the lead in regulating the Web, which, while currently unlikely, would certainly be possible under the right set of circumstances.

With the Imus debacle, there may be the foundation for a regulatory event. Compare what Imus said towhat Kathy Sierra was subjected to, and you can get a sense of the outrage that could result if the right person or persons were attacked as Sierra was attacked. If you haven’t been following this, she was threatened with death and rape — and no one took either as part of a joke.

This has resulted in a number of people, led by Tim O’Reilly, calling for aBlogger Code of Conduct, which is currently undergoing a wiki review.

While the intent is good, the problem is this: The result will lack the teeth that the National Association of Broadcasters put in its code. Because this isn’t being driven by the Internet Service Providers, and because the Internet is multinational, I’m not convinced it can get the teeth it needs.

This suggests that regulation is inevitable. However, if we all agreed to abide by this code of conduct and held to our agreement, then we might be able to delay regulation for a few years and use that time to come up with something better.

This is where folks like Imus could help. If celebrities actively speak out against the behavior, there is a reasonable chance we can reduce it across all venues without moving to hard rules and censorship, with their related monetary penalties, potential criminal charges, and loss of freedoms.

I don’t know about you, but having a bunch of politically motivated bureaucrats enforcing a list of things I can’t write on the Web is a scary prospect. Just askGeorge Carlin. The goal isn’t to censor, but to prevent people from abusing others; the words aren’t the issue — it’s how they are used.

‘Halo 3’ and ‘Shadowrun’: Microsoft’s Future, Sony’s Problem

After the HP discussion last week, I’ve been thinking a lot about how gaming is likely to change over the next decade. An early indicator is what Microsoft is going to be bringing out shortly on the Xbox 360. Two games stand out as breaking the current constraints surrounding the console: “Halo 3,” which moves consoles into the massive multiplayer space, and “Shadowrun,” which connects PC gamers and console gamers, bridging a gap that Sony could have bridged years ago but didn’t.

While “Halo” defined the original Xbox, there really hasn’t been a defining game for the Xbox 360. There have been good games, certainly, and some really great ones — but not one that caused you to step back and look at the system differently, as we initially did when we saw the performance of “Halo.”

Both “Shadowrun” and “Halo 3” have the potential to do this, with broad implications for both the future of gaming and the future of Microsoft.

“Halo 3” is amassive multiplayer game and for the Xbox 360 only. This allows the Xbox to do what only PCs have been able to do before, and link large numbers of people of people together into the same gaming environment.

This takes the Xbox 360 solidly into the PC gaming segment, and it is in this segment that the strongest margins exist. This could push companies like Dell into increasingly thinking of Microsoft as a competitor, and further accelerate their efforts to use Linux, license the Mac OS, or find another alternative.

“Shadowrun,” on the other hand, brings PCs into the Xbox universe because it is both a PC and an Xbox game.

This could increase the competitiveness of gaming PCs and actually make them attractive to a wider audience — something the PC OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) would like.

Both games look stunning in early beta form. “Shadowrun,” in particular, advances the art of game design significantly with regard to in-game training. Sony has nothing I’m aware of that comes close to driving the future of console gaming and, for old segment leader, this is a problem — particularly when you take into account the major changes in controller design Nintendo is driving with the Wii.

The Playstation 3 is currentlyunderselling both the Xbox and the Nintendo Wii in most categories, which both showcases the bad Blu-ray decision and the volatility of this market.

It is once again interesting to note that “Shadowrun” will work better with Sony PCs than anything from the PS3. I wonder how long it will be before Sony finally realizes that this is a bad thing and starts demanding that its units cooperate better with each other.

Dads and Grads Gift Ideas 4

I am going to go a little more expensive this time and point to some things in the nosebleed section.

Distinctive Laptop: There is only one laptop in history designed jointly between Toshiba and Microsoft for Windows Vista, and it is theToshiba R400. At US$3,400, it’s expensive, but it has a unique lightweight screen, external display on the leading edge, can go six hours with the extended battery, and is the only machine currently being sold with wireless docking capability.

This is my own most common carry box. This is actually a piece of history, as this is the only time this decade that Microsoft has codesigned a laptop computer with anyone.

Monitor: The newDell 27-inch monitor is nearly a piece of art. With design elements that take it from gloss black to brushed stainless steel in color, this is as nice a monitor to use as to look at.

It has a scalar built into it, so you don’t need a high-end PC to drive it, which allows it to work with laptops as well as desktop PCs. At around $1,300, it’s less expensive and more practical than the 30-inch products on the market. That’s still not cheap, but it is very distinctive.

Storage: There is something about Ferrari Red that captures my heart and imagination. TheSimpleTech Pininfarina 160 GB high-speed USB Portable Hard Drive is great for backing up your system. It looks cool, will fit in a jacket pocket, and it’s bus-powered, so you don’t have to carry a power supply.

It will hold around 40K songs or 140 hours of video, and it comes with backup software. It sells for around $160, and it is very nice-looking.

Next week, I’ll suggest some more-affordable items.

Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.

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