Weekend news roundup

11 Apr 2011

Our review of some of the technology stories in the weekend’s newspapers, including Ryan Tubridy’s trial by Twitter, an early preview of Portal 2 and the disturbing geek chic trend of headphones becoming bigger and brighter.

Portal to a new gaming experience

The Guardian had an exclusive early preview on the forthcoming sequel to the eponymous Portal video game. Originally released as part of the Orange Box, Portal was – and still is – an immaculately constructed FPS puzzler, ingenious in its design and underpinned by a darkly humorous yarn. The only complaint you could level at it concerned its brevity, but even that didn’t seem to bother many people. Short, smart and perfectly formed, Portal was the complete package. So what need did it have for a sequel?

And yet, in the next couple of weeks, Portal 2 ships and players will likely return to the Aperture Science Computer-Aided Enrichment Center – the human behaviour research facility from the first game – in droves. Or rather, what’s left of it. As the game opens, it’s revealed that Aperture is a mess. The smooth, sanitised surfaces have been shattered. Rooms are filled with smashed debris and jungle overgrowth. The place looks like it’s been hit by an earthquake. According to Portal 2‘s writer, Chet Faliszek, Aperture’s facelift is Valve’s way of establishing the game’s story from the off.

Tubridy’s trial by Twitter

RTÉ presenter Ryan Tubridy is being subjected to a ‘Trial by Twitter’, according to The Irish Independent, which carried two pieces on the presenter’s grasp of the social medium. One piece focused on the salivating hordes who keep one beady eye on the box and the other on their smartphones as their Friday nights wouldn’t be complete without their take on every real or imagined faux pas. Another piece analysed how the presenter initially shunned Twitter but has learned how to master the medium.

Hey you, with the big, bright headphones

The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis expressed how perplexed he has become by the latest geek fashion – bigger and bigger headphones. He said they’re getting bigger and brighter, not to mention a hell of a lot more expensive. But what does a pair of over-ear cans say about you?

The aesthetic point of headphones you’d wear in the street used to be discretion. The idea was that other people didn’t really notice them, the wisdom of which idea was underlined when the iPod arrived with its attention-grabbing white earbuds, which muggers took as visual shorthand for, “I have about my person an expensive piece of new technology. Please relieve me of it at knife point.” And yet, recently, the aesthetic point of headphones you’d wear in the street seems to have changed: people (men, mostly) are wearing increasingly immense and colourful over-ear cans in public.

Tesla versus Top Gear battle continues

USA Today reported that Tesla, which filed a lawsuit last week against the world’s most popular TV show about cars, BBC’s Top Gear, is coming out blazing again in defence of its US$109,000 all-electric roadster.

In a new blog post on the Tesla website, the California electric-car maker points to the latest admissions by Top Gear‘s producers as proving its case of falsehoods and libel. Tesla filed the lawsuit last week to dispute a segment on the show from 2008.

The automaker disputed the TV show’s claims that its roadster gave out after little more than 50 miles of hard driving even though its claimed electric range is more than 200 miles. It also disputed a claim about a brake defect.

The history and future of information

The Observer’s John Naughton carried an interview with the acclaimed science writer James Gleick, who talked about data, meaning and knowledge – and his new book, The Information.

Here’s a paradox: we live in an “information age” and yet information is a maddeningly elusive concept. We habitually confuse it with data, on the one hand, and with knowledge on the other. And yet it’s neither. There’s an arcane mathematical discipline called “information theory” that underpins all digital communications nowadays and yet resolutely disdains to make any connection between information and meaning. It would take a brave author to pursue such an elusive quarry. Or a foolhardy one.

Gleick is an accomplished stalker of mysterious ideas. His first book, Chaos (1987), provided a compelling introduction to a new science of disorder, unpredictability and complex systems. His new book, The Information, is in the same tradition. It’s a learned, discursive and sometimes wayward exploration of a complicated subject.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years