The real tech heroes

On Monday President Bush hosted a ceremony awarding the National Medal of Technology, which since 1985 has recognized individuals and companies responsible for great advances in, as Bush no doubt remarked, fancy science stuff. Most will probably roll their eyes at the notion of Bush rewarding science, considering his less than stellar record with those in that field. Nevertheless there were a couple of winners who not only would be less than likely to court controversy but might even find some admiration from Bush himself (without any need for knowledge of big words).

Ralph Baer is credited with creating the first ever home video game console, at the time known as the Brown Box. His consulting firm was also involved in the invention of Simon, everyone’s favorite 80’s handheld. His mark on the world’s culture is undeniable, though you have to wonder if an invention that’s led to chronic thumb pain is worthy of an honor such as this. Heck, I can dig it. Industrial Light and Magic, Hollywood’s leader in the movement towards script obsolescence, also received a medal. This of course lead to a meeting between possibly my two least favorite Georges ever, W. Bush and Lucas, both of which have caused me more pain with their words than anyone else in the last few years.

ILM’s legacy is equally remarkable as Baer’s, but again one can question the awarding of this medal to pioneers of less than vital status. Should you think me a tad critical, consider that Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, has never received the award (and before you think he’s ineligible because he’s not a born American, Baer was born in Germany). Then again it’s hard to take a technology award seriously when, as pointed out by the Guardian’s games blog, the 2004 medals are awarded in February of 2006.

On a marginally related note, I guess it’s only fitting that Tim Berners-Lee should have his own blog. And yet even he can’t fight the often fleeting nature of the blog - he hasn’t posted since January 25. Perhaps he’s too busy playing Star Wars Battlefront II.

PS3 flip flop

After the eBay boon for Xbox 360 flippers last Christmas, many thought $500 or $600 would be a worthy investment for a Playstation 3. About a month before, the average sale on eBay was over $2,300. That means the people who profited the most were those that sold their pre-orders before the units ever arrived.

Why the flop?

• Flipper backlash - When people sold their XBox 360s on eBay last year, it was a large but still off-the-cuff phenomenon. A year later the flipping was expected and egregious. It was hard not to look at these guys with a measure of contempt, knowing it was primarily their fault why you couldn’t get the units at stores. Once you got past the people who simply had to have it for Christmas, I’ll bet many people decided they’d rather wait for one to appear at their local big-box rather than encourage this type of behavior.

• Price - Charging $600 for the premium PS3 only a year after the $400 Xbox 360 was quite the show of hubris on the part of Sony. Especially since most game makers lose money on consoles (the money’s in the games), why not bring the price down a bit? Charging $400 for the basic system and $500 for the premium would have been more sensible. They could have marketed it as costing the same as the Xbox 360; it wouldn’t be comparing apples and apples, but the slight misinformation would have been similar to Microsoft marketing the 360 as costing $300, which was the price for the silly Core system.

• Wii - The biggest advantage the Xbox 360 had was lack of new competition. This year the PS3 had to battle with Nintendo’s Wii for the consumer’s money. The Wii already had the price advantage, coming in at less than half of the premium PS3’s price tag. Nintendo also won gee-whiz points with the motion-sensing remote. Nintendo was clearly the winner in the design of the console itself: the Wii is small, sleek - frankly it looks like they called in the folks at Apple for help. With everything in technology trending to the friendly and small, it was surprising to see the Playstation not only sticking to that daunting black, but growing far more daunting in size.

Indeed the Wii is faring better on eBay - I found several auctions in the $350 range, a better percentage profit than the PS3 average at the end of Kotaku’s graph. But if you’re tired of hearing about any of them, you can always buy my own personal favorite console of all time - the Sega Dreamcast is averaging about $60 on eBay, and that’s with a bunch of games included.

UPDATE: Preliminary numbers show Xbox 360 winning the US Christmas console battle, with the Wii and PS3 following in that order. There’s actually not that much to glean here though - the 360 was the only one readily available, and this is certainly not a surefire sign of what the result will be five years from now.