iTrojan

iPhone is set to transform the handheld gaming market, but not just as a platform in itself. It’s al

Disregarding Snake, gaming on the mobile phone has never quite managed to attain any real ubiquity.

There have been two main problems. First, the sheer variation in handsets available on the market at any given time makes it hugely expensive and time consuming for any publisher/ developer to create their game for enough models to be financially viable. Second, it’s been very difficult for publishers to get their content onto the devices. Bandwidth has been very limited and the install process less than streamlined, causing many users to quit even after deciding to make a purchase. (Snake of course, was successful because it was already on the phone when you bought it…)

Whilst as a device the mobile phone has saturated our live, outside of the core enthusiast base, mobile phones have never really been true lifestyle objects of desire. That was of course, until a Cupertino company decided to get involved and radically intervene in the market.

A few weeks ago you might have noticed the media hysteria around the new mobile phone by Apple. Apple’s release of the new iPhone 3G was an embarrassingly botched affair - marred by critical system failures and inadequate stock. Of the faithful individuals queuing outside stores, few who wanted one got one - and those who did had problems activating them as servers crashed.

It’s an extraordinary testament to the brand loyalty they have managed to create that even following an embarrassing catastrophe such as this, goodwill can be restored so quickly. Within 24 hours all had been forgiven and the nerdsphere was back to doe-eyed worship of Steve Jobs and all he touches.

But whilst an irresistibly device, the biggest leap in iPhone 3G isn’t the built-in GPS or the faster connectivity, but the app-store. Finally, Apple are allowing third-party developers to create applications for the device (and the iPod touch - essentially the iPhone without the phone) and in doing so elevating it from being just a phone, to a mobile computing platform.

The App-store is based within iTunes, and by exploiting an already hugely established install-base users Apple has done what it does best - humanised software.

By removing the clumsy download and install problems that have blighted the mobile games market for years and replacing them with the slick, seamless and, most important, familiar iTunes conduit - mobile gaming has suddenly become accessible.

At the E3 show in LA last week, the major publishers all came out in strong support of the platform, with key games being announced by many. It’s clear that it has the kinds of titles coming to it which will ensure its appeal amongst more discerning players - this will be about more than just Snake and Tetris clones.

But how is it to use? Well, the built-in accelerometer is a joy, albeit one that takes a little getting used to. Tilting the device from side to side is a surprisingly easy interface and it’s deserved that SEGA’s Super Monkey Ball should have been at the top of the download charts since launch.

It’s only when playing titles that demand touch control that the real shortcomings of the device become startlingly clear. Even with my delicate, artiste's hands it’s a frustrating experience on occasion to touch and drag over the screen with any real accuracy. It becomes very clear, very quickly why handheld pc’s usually come with a stylus.

Perhaps the real trojan horse of the new iPhone though isn’t its ability to run games itself, but the potential it has as a controller for another system. One of the other most downloaded applications at launch was ‘remote’, a small and free-of-charge app which enables the user to control another machine's iTunes library from your iPhone.

In a moments download, the potential of the device as not just a platform in itself, but as a peripheral is revealed. Anyone with a basic WiFi network can control music around the house from a single handheld device. The AppleTV, their initial mis-fire entry into the media hub market is suddenly given new possibilities as a gaming platform when coupled with the iPhone as a remote. This is surely the real potential here.

iPhone is set to transform the handheld gaming market, but not just as a platform in itself. It’s also the sexiest controller you ever had.

Iain Simons writes, talks and tweets about videogames and technology. His new book, Play Britannia, is to be published in 2009. He is the director of the GameCity festival at Nottingham Trent University.
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Inside Big Ben: why the world’s most famous clock will soon lose its bong

Every now and then, even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care.

London is soon going to lose one of its most familiar sounds when the world-famous Big Ben falls silent for repairs. The “bonging” chimes that have marked the passing of time for Londoners since 1859 will fall silent for months beginning in 2017 as part of a three-year £29m conservation project.

Of course, “Big Ben” is the nickname of the Great Bell and the bell itself is not in bad shape – even though it does have a huge crack in it.

The bell weighs nearly 14 tonnes and it cracked in 1859 when it was first bonged with a hammer that was way too heavy.

The crack was never repaired. Instead the bell was rotated one eighth of a turn and a lighter (200kg) hammer was installed. The cracked bell has a characteristic sound which we have all grown to love.

Big Ben strikes. UK Parliament.

Instead, it is the Elizabeth Tower (1859) and the clock mechanism (1854), designed by Denison and Airy, that need attention.

Any building or machine needs regular maintenance – we paint our doors and windows when they need it and we repair or replace our cars quite routinely. It is convenient to choose a day when we’re out of the house to paint the doors, or when we don’t need the car to repair the brakes. But a clock just doesn’t stop – especially not a clock as iconic as the Great Clock at the Palace of Westminster.

Repairs to the tower are long overdue. There is corrosion damage to the cast iron roof and to the belfry structure which keeps the bells in place. There is water damage to the masonry and condensation problems will be addressed, too. There are plumbing and electrical works to be done for a lift to be installed in one of the ventilation shafts, toilet facilities and the fitting of low-energy lighting.

Marvel of engineering

The clock mechanism itself is remarkable. In its 162-year history it has only had one major breakdown. In 1976 the speed regulator for the chimes broke and the mechanism sped up to destruction. The resulting damage took months to repair.

The weights that drive the clock are, like the bells and hammers, unimaginably huge. The “drive train” that keeps the pendulum swinging and that turns the hands is driven by a weight of about 100kg. Two other weights that ring the bells are each over a tonne. If any of these weights falls out of control (as in the 1976 incident), they could do a lot of damage.

The pendulum suspension spring is especially critical because it holds up the huge pendulum bob which weighs 321kg. The swinging pendulum releases the “escapement” every two seconds which then turns the hands on the clock’s four faces. If you look very closely, you will see that the minute hand doesn’t move smoothly but it sits still most of the time, only moving on each tick by 1.5cm.

The pendulum swings back and forth 21,600 times a day. That’s nearly 8m times a year, bending the pendulum spring. Like any metal, it has the potential to suffer from fatigue. The pendulum needs to be lifted out of the clock so that the spring can be closely inspected.

The clock derives its remarkable accuracy in part from the temperature compensation which is built into the construction of the pendulum. This was yet another of John Harrison’s genius ideas (you probably know him from longitude fame). He came up with the solution of using metals of differing temperature expansion coefficient so that the pendulum doesn’t change in length as the temperature changes with the seasons.

In the Westminster clock, the pendulum shaft is made of concentric tubes of steel and zinc. A similar construction is described for the clock in Trinity College Cambridge and near perfect temperature compensation can be achieved. But zinc is a ductile metal and the tube deforms with time under the heavy load of the 321kg pendulum bob. This “creeping” will cause the temperature compensation to jam up and become less effective.

So stopping the clock will also be a good opportunity to dismantle the pendulum completely and to check that the zinc tube is sliding freely. This in itself is a few days' work.

What makes it tick

But the truly clever bit of this clock is the escapement. All clocks have one - it’s what makes the clock tick, quite literally. Denison developed his new gravity escapement especially for the Westminster clock. It decouples the driving force of the falling weight from the periodic force that maintains the motion of the pendulum. To this day, the best tower clocks in England use the gravity escapement leading to remarkable accuracy – better even than that of your quartz crystal wrist watch.

In Denison’s gravity escapement, the “tick” is the impact of the “legs” of the escapement colliding with hardened steel seats. Each collision causes microscopic damage which, accumulated over millions of collisions per year, causes wear and tear affecting the accuracy of the clock. It is impossible to inspect the escapement without stopping the clock. Part of the maintenance proposed during this stoppage is a thorough overhaul of the escapement and the other workings of the clock.

The Westminster clock is a remarkable icon for London and for England. For more than 150 years it has reminded us of each hour, tirelessly. That’s what I love about clocks – they seem to carry on without a fuss. But every now and then even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care. After this period of pampering, “Big Ben” ought to be set for another 100 or so years of trouble-free running.

The Conversation

Hugh Hunt is a Reader in Engineering Dynamics and Vibration at the University of Cambridge.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.