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Trent Reznor talks sense

When I was a much younger lad, Nine Inch Nails took up about 2 picoseconds of brain processing time.  Didn’t care much for his band, and the odd time you would hear about NIN or its frontman on the news, Mr. Reznor would usually be spouting something whiny, churlish and asinine.  So it was with some trepidation that I started reading this interview with him on gaming site Joystiq.  I don’t know what they did with the old spoiled brat Trent Reznor, but the new guy playing him on that website is fargin’ brilliant.  It’s almost as if his cerebral cortex has fired up and is now able to provide perspective, context and experience to the part that manages his mouth.

Reznor has some truly outstanding insights into the risk-averse nature of music and game studio management, and how it materially affects the quality of the gaming and music experience we have today.  (I have previously discussed the shortcomings of modern games here.)  It’s no coincidence that all the dreck being churned out by the major labels is highly reminiscent of songs and games we’ve seen before.

You previously mentioned that you came up with a video game idea and pitched it to big publishers. Tell us about that game.

Trent: Rob and I have some things on the side that we’ve been working on and one of the things we’ve been talking about doing is publishing or developing video games. A few years ago we took that idea to a few of the main publishers, Midway, Activision, etc. And as first time people in a pitch meeting, it was kind of depressing. Depressing to see that the people in control of those studios and publishers are much the same as the people sitting at record companies.

In a record company, they aren’t musicians or people who love music, they’re people who want to sell plastic discs. They think they have a formula where if they can eliminate the artist from that equation, even better. You see that in the case of the Pussycat Dolls and some of the other fabricated crap that’s out there. What we tended to notice in the video game meetings was that it didn’t seem that there were gamers there. It’s business guys who want to turn the company into a profit making machine. They look at it in terms of numbers, like a Hollywood studio. If it costs “X” amount to make a game, to compete, then it has to be a proven franchise or it has to be similar enough to something they know is going to sell. They don’t want to take the risk.

Do you see any similarities between the indie video game and indie music industries? If so, what advice could you give to those who want to get noticed in the market?

Trent: …The success of the industry as an art form and a form of entertainment will be if it can rediscover itself and to allow for the redefining of what a video game is. Not necessarily targeting it towards just kids or grandparents or whatever. The goal is always to keep a level of entertainment, excitement and innovation.

Again, it seems like games have gone from the golden age — like Robotron, which was only a few kilobytes — to the era of Wolfenstein and Doom, where a boutique shop of just ten guys could create an in-depth, quality game in six months to a year. Now we’re at an era of needing hundreds of guys and millions of dollars and several years to compete with other A-list titles to attract the big publisher that wasn’t as big of a deal years ago. The publisher equates to the record label and now you have an ecosystem where, if you want to compete with EA or Activision, you have to have a mainstream enough title, which turns into a blockbuster movie scenario.

This, again, is the same thing you see with films where a lot of generic, big films come out of Hollywood. Things like G.I. Joe and Transformers, where you know what you’re getting, they aren’t redefining anything, but they’ll make “X” amount of money, because “X” amount of people — including us — will see it. But every once in a while, something different comes along, like a Quentin Tarantino who’ll blow the doors off things and turns the industry on its head. All because it was exciting, innovative and it came from way over there.

— Burg, Dustin.  “Interview: Trent Reznor.”  Joystiq, 24 September 2009.

This man is a genius.  Trent Reznor should be appointed Gaming Czar, given enough stimulus money to purchase a couple sets of high-quality brass knuckles, and sent off with a directive to start bringing Hopenchange to the studios.

Reznor also has some kind words for Nintendo, who have tended to shy away from incorporating hyper-real 3D graphics into every franchise title, and instead stuck with more stylised 3D graphics rooted in the look and feel of the company’s 2D platform-scroller heritage.  That was a conscious decision on Nintendo’s part, targeting the Wii at a broader spectrum of people who like to have fun but aren’t hardcore FPS gamers.  The other console manufacturers have tended to specialise their platforms for the narrower but more techncially demanding subset of people who want games with x number of frames-per-second at resolution y, with anistrophic filtering, antialiasing and so on.

The whole interview is really quite fascinating, and it is to Mr. Reznor’s credit that he is able to see the fundamental dysfunction at the heart of the music and gaming industries.  Another interesting sidebar is provided by interviewer Burg, who includes some of the excised portions of the interview (where Reznor discusses Twitter, smartphones and application development) on his own blog.  Both pieces are well worth reading.

Category: Games, Web/Tech  4 Comments

Mobile phone bans miss the point

This Victoria Times-Colonist editorial has its heart in the right place, but reaches an erroneous conclusion.

I understand that using a mobile phone sucks up valuable brain computing cycles and thus increases one’s reaction time by a factor of four while driving.  I accept that, according to the latest research, the degree of impairment caused by using a hands-free phone is the same as that caused by using a handheld phone.  Nor do I dispute that, in a perfect world, human beings would have the sense not to talk on mobile phones at all while driving.   I am no longer a mobile phone aficianado myself, having gotten to the point where my own phone is a relatively basic RAZR (no internet, no GPS, no App Store) borrowed from a friend.  Despite all this, I perceive banning cell phone use for drivers to be stupid and impractical.

Back in 1989 such a ban might have been possible, before the devices became ubiquitous and everyone became accustomed to using them.  Right now the Canadian wireless market is supposed to be hovering near 65% saturation, meaning there is still plenty of room for new sales and more growth.  For those that can read the writing on the wall, the message is: wireless devices are not going anywhere, their usage (at this point) is only going to increase, and policing their growing use on the road will be an enormous and laughable waste of law enforcement time.

We already have cadres of people who are trained to communicate and operate vehicles at the same time (pilots, police and emergency services), so perhaps a better way forward would be to teach the Average Joe or Jane how to mitigate the inherent risk.  Pilots learn little turns of phrase like “Aviate, Navigate, Communicate” to remind them of the necessary order of operations.  The first responsibility is to keep the plane controlled and flying; second priority is knowing where you are going; the third is staying in regular contact with air traffic control.  They also—importantly—learn to be brief, so as not to clog the frequency when others are trying to communicate.  This also would have some resonance for personal communications, for while you are not hogging air time away from anyone else, you are lowering your ability to respond to environmental or mechanical challenges around you.  The briefer you are, the better.

Instead of trying to roll back time to a point before these devices existed, it would be more practical to accept their use and alter the design of our vehicles and thoroughfares accordingly.  We could be designing vehicles and roadways with strategically placed sensors, so that when a paired wireless device goes active, the vehicle itself assumes control over navigation and separation from other traffic.  When the paired device stops being active, guidance can be returned to the human driver.  In my mind this is the only sensible way forward into a future where wireless devices get increasingly commonplace and indispensable.

Whatever one’s personal preferences, it is clear that our future is going to include more, not fewer, wireless devices.  It would not be a bad idea to try and adapt ourselves accordingly, instead of doggedly trying to preserve driving as it was before this technology existed.

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USAF’s observations on the VC-25 New York flyover PR disaster

This Associated Press story contains some interesting nuggets about how the Air Force approaches major media events.  In the aftermath of their VC-25 public-relations flight over New York City, two 1st AF units (the Combat Information Cell and the 101st Information Warfare Flight) were observing the various byways of social media (blogs, Twitter, YouTube, etc) and noting the public’s uniformly negative reaction.  Some of the key quotes from the article:

The Combat Information Cell’s first assessment of the event said “Web site blog comments ‘furious’ at best.” Local reporting of the flyover was “very critical, highlighting scare factor,” it added.

A search of Twitter, which allows people to post messages of 140 characters or less to a circle of friends, family or fans, showed that users were posting a rate of one message, or “tweet,” per minute about a pair of F-16s chasing a commercial airliner, the cell said.

Media coverage over the next 24 hours “will focus on local hysteria and lack of public notification,” the cell predicted. “Blogs will continue to be overwhelmingly negative.”

“Damage control requires timely counter-information,” but the opportunity for that had passed, the assessment said. The cell recommended acknowledging the mistake and ensuring it didn’t happen again.

Another update on April 28 said the story was still “reverberating, surprisingly resilient.” The tweet rate had grown to three per minute and the words “New York” had been pushed into Twitter’s list of most talked about topics. Videos of the event posted on YouTube had been viewed more than 260,000 times, it said.

By April 30, the story had faded, the cell reported. The blogs were still very critical, but it was the White House, not the Air Force, that was taking the heat, the assessment for that day said.

— Lardner, Richard.  “Air Force used Twitter to track NY flyover fallout.Associated Press, 10 August 2009.

I suppose the good news (only partially tongue-in-cheek) is that the Air Force didn’t end up taking the blame.  But Louis Caldera of the WH military office did, and paid for it with his job.  In this correspondent’s opinion the FAA Air Traffic Security Coordinator for Potomac TRACON should likewise have fallen on his sword.  But that is a battle for another day.

The interesting thing is that the Combat Information Cell identified the problem early on, but obviously the general officer grades far above them did not move with sufficient alacrity to try and remedy the situation.  The Air Force, for the most part, kept its mouth shut.  It would be interesting to know why; was it a tactical move designed to shield itself from further attention?  Did they appeal to civil authorities but get overruled?  Or did they simply not react fast enough and the final outcome (one White House staffer fired, zero Air Force staffers fired) fortuitously happened to go their way?

One of the big challenges in the future will be assessing and using this information in a timely fashion.  Right now, without any further insight, we can’t really say whether the Air Force reacted quickly or not.

Category: Aeronautics, Web/Tech  Tags: ,  Comments off

Designate contact Sierra-One

Now that Google has patented the design for seaborne data centers, the next logical evolution is for Microsoft to patent “cloud computing” attack subs.  Someone has to be prepared for the day when Google officially morphs into a Scientology cult.

Those subs better trail each Google boat with firing solution in hand, ready to put holes in their side the instant Brin, Page or Schmidt appears on deck wearing a dopey Sea Org uniform.

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You’re doing it wrong

If you ever wanted to see your wife or girlfriend as imagined in a particularly boring James Bond title sequence, here’s your chance.

A Scottish company trialling “intimate communication over a distance” is seeking couples interested in drawing lines of light on each other’s bodies rather than the more-traditional teledildonics hardware.

The technology comes from Forres-based Distance Labs, who are looking for three couples in which one partner is based near Edinburgh, and the other more than 250km away, to see if drawing lines of light on each other’s bodies can replicate some of the ambiance involved in relationships.

The drawing is done with a ring, which glows red, and so can be easily detected by an overhead camera. Special bedroom electronics project lines drawn by the distant partner, as well as those traced out locally, enabling the couple to “communicate through the language of touch as expressed on the canvas of the human body”.

— Bill Ray.  “Scots to pioneer remote sex via glowing ring“, The Register, April 22nd, 2009.

Sorry fellas, but where I come from sex is not playing with light pens over a network connection.  That sounds suspiciously like “Microsoft Live Meeting with Whiteboard”, which is something I won’t voluntarily play.  No matter how you spin it, teleconferencing never gets exciting.  Anybody who has ever worked in an office should know this already.

Right then.  Those of you not interested in playing remote Spirograph on your spouse can get back to the old-fashioned method of teledildonics; phone sex.  Or as we do it in the 18th century, long, windy letters professing undying devotion via ink pens.

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Remove annoying crap from Facebook

Or, How to ensure the site makes no money from ads and slowly but surely circles the drain.

Tired of having your browser cluttered with crap when all you want to do is log in and boost your Zuma high score?

  1. Install the Stylish add-in for Mozilla Firefox.
  2. Remove the annoying “Highlights” stuff by installing the “Facebook: Hide Highlights Sidebar” script at userstyles.org.
  3. Remove the annoying Ads by installing the “New Facebook: jeremyclarke Hide Ads” script at userstyles.org.
  4. ???
  5. Profit

Now if only there was a script to render MySpace pages as web pages circa 1995: grey background, blue hypertext links, no enormous stack of images to load because everyone uses a 500×500 pixel image as their “thanks for the add!” sig.

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Conficker / Kido / Downadup

dune_sandworm

The T&C network remains secure and free of infection, but not everyone is so lucky.

Here are two quick tools that will help you find out if the worm has infiltrated your systems, and help eliminate it if an infection is detected.

DETECTING THE WORM

Found via the diligent folks at the Honeynet Project.  Conficker is very easily detected by the way it handles packets, and a simple Windows python script can scan a series of IP addresses and determine whether or not the machines are infected.  The Windows python script is available here.

Note that you will need to have the Microsoft .NET framework installed in order for the python script to execute correctly.

Download it, unzip it to a temp folder, and run the executable with these parameters via the command prompt:

scs <start-ip> <end-ip> > <ip-list-file>

NOTE: As reader 2Sheds points out in the comments, only include the last bit ( > <ip-list-file> ) if you want the output piped to a text file.  Otherwise, leave it out.

Obviously you will need to know your computer’s LAN IP address and use it as the start and end IPs.  Assuming that your computer’s IP address is 192.168.1.100, the syntax looks like this:

scs 192.168.1.100 192.168.1.100

If all is well and you don’t have Conficker, the return will look like this:

———————————-
Simple Conficker Scanner
———————————-
scans selected network ranges for
conficker infections
———————————-
Felix Leder, Tillmann Werner 2009
{leder, werner}@cs.uni-bonn.de
———————————-

192.168.1.100 seems to be clean.
Done

If you are infected, the return will indicate this, instead

192.168.1.100 seems to be infected by Conficker

Not too hard to figure out.

REMOVING THE WORM

Use the Microsoft Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool, which, amazingly, actually appears to work in this instance.  (See Microsoft KB 890830 for additional information regarding use.)

Normally you would get the tool via Windows Updates, but the clever Conficker worm denies access to this site and many other anti-virus and security-oriented sites.  Download the Malicious Software Removal Tool directly from the Microsoft Download Center here.  Save the tool to a temp folder.

Run the executable and follow the instructions.  Note that the tool is not anti-virus software and will not remove all manner of infections—just a short, specific list of some of the most prevalent.

Happy surfing.  And hey—let’s be careful out there.

hillstblues_sgt
Category: Web/Tech  5 Comments

Cough up your Facebook profile—a lawyer’s view

Tariq Remtulla of Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP has a good summary of the Leduc v. Roman case—the one that spawned the Justice Brown's hilarious ruling that any junk you throw on a social networking site (like Facebook) has no reasonable expectation of privacy because, well, you went and put it on the Internet.  Which is publishing, and therefore has a diminished expectation of privacy.  Shame on you for thinking it was something else.

Discoverability Of Access-Limited Documents

In order for a court to order production of a document under Rule 30.06, a court requires evidence, as opposed to mere speculation, that a potentially relevant undisclosed document exists. This may prove difficult for a party seeking production of a private document, such as a private or limited access Facebook profile, given that the party is not able to access the private Facebook profile to determine whether it contains relevant information.

The majority of Canadian cases dealing with the production of Facebook postings have involved publicly available content. Prior to Leduc v. Roman, the only case that had considered the question of the production of access-limited content of a Facebook profile was Murphy v. Perger, a case that also involved a claim for damages resulting from injuries suffered in a car accident, including a claim regarding loss of enjoyment of life. In that case, Justice Rady held that, where in addition to a publicly accessible profile, a party maintains a private Facebook profile, a court can infer from the nature of the Facebook service the likely existence of relevant documents on a limited-access Facebook profile.

Justice Brown found that Master Dash had correctly interpreted Rule 30.06 as requiring some evidence from a moving party pointing to the omission of a relevant document in the other's affidavit of documents. However, in Justice Brown's opinion, Master Dash had erred in exercising his discretion under Rule 30.06 without applying the above principle articulated by Justice Rady in Murphy v. Perger. Master Dash held that the existence of Mr. Leduc's Facebook profile was not reason to believe it contained relevant evidence about his lifestyle. Master Dash distinguished the court's decision in Murphy v. Perger by noting that the plaintiff in that case had posted public photographs on her Facebook profile and had given the defence photographs as part of her productions, therefore creating a reasonable suspicion that the private part of her Facebook profile contained additional relevant photos. Master Dash found that the defendant, without any such evidence, was just fishing.

Justice Brown disagreed, stating: "With respect, I do not regard the defendant's request as a fishing expedition. Mr. Leduc exercised control over a social networking and information site to which he allowed designated "friends" access. It is reasonable to infer that his social networking site likely contains some content relevant to the issue of how Mr. Leduc has been able to lead his life since the accident." [para. 32]

Justice Brown also found that Master Dash, having granted a consent order that Mr. Leduc serve a Supplementary Affidavit of Documents, erred in dismissing the motion to produce without affording the defendant an opportunity to cross-examine Mr. Leduc on his Supplementary Affidavit of Documents about the kind of content posted on his Facebook profile. Justice Brown felt that: "[t]o permit a party claiming very substantial damages for loss of enjoyment of life to hide behind self-set privacy controls on a website, the primary purpose of which is to enable people to share information about how they lead their social lives, risks depriving the opposite party of access to material that may be relevant to ensuring a fair trial." [para. 35]

— Tariq Remtulla. "Facebook Not So Private? Ontario Court Finds Facebook Profile Discoverable", Blakes Bulletin on Litigation, March 2009.

In short, Facebook is a site designed to share stuff. If you sue somebody for damages, a court is going to want to let the defendant poke around in your private Facebook junk to see whether your life has changed significantly enough to warrant the damages being sought.  It doesn't matter that you've designated some information as off-limits and private; the fact that you've published a public profile causes the court to infer that you wanted somebody to know your private stuff on the same site.

So the next time you get into a minor fender-bender, set up some kind of scripting agent to post Facebook status updates every half hour, saying "OMG THE PAIN THE PAIN MY LIFE SUCKS NOW WHY OH WHY DID THAT ASSWIPE HAVE TO HIT ME".  Also, delete any photos you've posted, pre- or post-accident, where you are smiling or having fun.

Justice Brown has now given us all an excellent reason to close down our Facebook and LinkedIn profiles because the crap you share there—regardless of self-regulated access settings—is, in the eyes of the law, about as private as those big billboards on the Gardiner Expressway.  Ergo most T&C content on Facebook has been neutralised with extreme prejudice.  I have no plans to sue or be sued, but why leave it out there.  Sooner or later somebody with a bigger net will go trolling for some poor sod's info, and the precedent's already been estabilshed.  Way to go, Justice Brown.

RELATED:  This comment of pure awesomeness by David, at a TechDirt article chronicling Leduc v. Roman.

So if someone takes a nude photo of themselves, by this judges reasoning, it would not be private. You know what you look like naked. Since you took a picture, you must be intending to share it with someone. And if you're going to share it with one person, even once, it's not private.

Sorry ladies, but you heard the man. Start posting!

Category: Web/Tech  Tags:  13 Comments

The short answer is “no”

Forbes asks “Will social networks on the web ever make money?

No, and here’s why.  Social networking is built around the Mother of All Web Business Models—if you give away junk for free, you will build up a huge user base.  Then you just have to figure out how to get them to pay for it.  Unfortunately that is the exact opposite of a sound business plan.  First, figure out something people are willing to pay for.  Then market the hell out of it and get a good customer base.

On the web, nobody ends up paying for free crap.  Because when free junk goes payware, some other entrepreneur with a pocketful of angel investors will come up with the next big free junk idea, everyone will sign up, and later on down the road, will abandon it when it goes payware.  It’s all a part of the Great Circle of Life, like antelopes eating the grass, lions eating the antelopes, and bugs turning the lion carcass into fertilizer for the grass.

Right now the social networking sites that make money are doing it the old-fashioned way—crappy ads plastered all over anything.  Which you should be filtering out at the router, by the way.

No other model seems to work.

See, that wasn’t so hard.

Category: Finance, Web/Tech  2 Comments