So, remember when the Xbox One release confused the hell out of everyone and then Microsoft confirmed a bunch of hated, needless restrictions on used games and internet connection requirements? Then there was that whole thing at E3 where the crux of Sony's presentation was, "Hey, at least we're not Microsoft?" The backlash, as you can imagine was immensely fierce, with pissed off gamers who know inherently how important the used game market is and how stupid and insulting online requirements are.
Well, Microsoft apparently now knows it too, as they have done a serious about-face on nearly every single one of these plans. Xbox chief Don Mattrick stated on the Xbox blog:
"An internet connection will not be required to play offline Xbox One games – After a one-time system set-up with a new Xbox One, you can play any disc based game without ever connecting online again. There is no 24 hour connection requirement and you can take your Xbox One anywhere you want and play your games, just like on Xbox 360.
Trade-in, lend, resell, gift, and rent disc based games just like you do today – There will be no limitations to using and sharing games, it will work just as it does today on Xbox 360."
So, all's well that ends well, right? Fans pushed back and Microsoft listened. Well, perhaps not. When you consider that the chief reason for the backlash was the obvious nature of restrictiveness and money-grabbing in Microsoft's plans, I expect gamers to not be assuaged by those plans being walked back in the aftermath. The company has made it quite clear what they think of their customers and where their priorities lie. Many jilted people won't be fooled by this new conciliatory tone.
There is a lesson to be learned here about how a company should treat its customers. Customers meaning the gamers, not the game publishers Microsoft seemed so focused on. I don't believe they have wiped the chalkboard clean without stain with this announcement.
In the wake of the NSA scandal leaks, there have been several examples of government officials and law enforcement coming out to state both that the program is necessary and that its existence ought never have been revealed. Those who espouse the latter often indicate that, as a result, Edward Snowden is some measure of a traitor, and in some cases so are members of the press that reported on the revelations. Not all former and current government folks are in that camp, of course, but those that are not typically argue the polar opposite: that the NSA program is either unconstitutional or unnecessary. Those are sentiments I happen to agree with, but there is a refreshingly original third course of thought.
“I don’t think it ever should have been made secret,” Kelly said yesterday, breaking ranks with other US law-enforcement officials. “I think the American public can accept the fact if you tell them that every time you pick up the phone, it’s going to be recorded and it goes to the government. I think the public can understand that. I see no reason why that program was placed in the secret category. Secondly, I think if you listen to Snowden, he indicates that there’s some sort of malfeasance, people . . . sitting around and watching the data. So I think the question is: What sort of oversight is there inside the [National Security Agency] to prevent that abuse, if it’s taking place?”
Now, the easy reaction to this is to write off Kelly's opinion that the majority of Americans would be okay with data surveillance as long as we were well informed about it. After all, stop and frisk is fairly above board, and people still hate it. But the point is an important one with real implications on how democracy is supposed to work versus how it actually does work in America today.
By that I mean whether secretive programs run by the government that impact the majority or all of Americans can be undertaken without the consent of the governed. Step back a moment from Kelly's assertion that the public would be on board with the program if we had known about it all along. Isn't the better point to be taken from his statement that we should at least have been given the opportunity to find out? As a member of a representative democracy, if my fellow Americans were indeed informed and signed off on this program, I have to accept it, whatever my dissenting views. If the government was above board on the checks and balances in the program, they might have a good PR case. But that process was never given a chance to incubate. Instead, broadly worded, vague legislation birthed secretive policies, subject to secretive committees and secretive courts, and it was only by the providence of a humanitarian leaker that the public had any inkling of what was going on. That isn't how the American concept is supposed to function.
And now we'll never know whether Kelly is right or not, because the experiment that could have occurred has been foiled. Any complacency by the public now can be written off as apathy born of anger and mistrust. Any dissent is tainted by the same as a result of the secrecy of the program. The method by which the NSA spy program was both initiated, continued, and finally revealed is almost a perfect counter example to the democratic process. I fear that our founding fathers, those men of the enlightenment so often referenced by the career politicians of the day, would be calling for revolution once more.
Around and around we go, when the futility will stop, nobody knows. I'm referring, of course, to a large swath of government and industry groups around the world that apparently just love to play whac-a-mole with torrent sites, which don't host infringing files. If you're not familiar with the carnival game of the same name, it goes something like this. A mole pops out of a hole and you bludgeon that little bastard with a man-hammer. Then another one pops up from another hole. After bashing that one, another one pops out elsewhere. This goes on for exactly as much time as it takes the person playing to decide it would be much more productive to consume thirty corn dogs and puke all over themselves.
The face that launched a thousand mallets Image source: CC BY 2.0
The latest challenger in this stupid, stupid game? The Philippines. At the request of the Filipino record industry, with some help from their US counterparts, the government seized infamous torrent tracker site Kickass Torrents. The government notes that they're only following the lead of the United Kingdom, who similarly censored KAT back in February. So, once again, we have private industry managing to get government to act as their knee-cap hit squad. Rather, that would be a decent description if the mole wasn't able to simply pop back up out of another hole, which it did.
Local record labels and the Philippine Association of the Recording Industry said that the torrent site was doing “irreparable damages” to the music industry and following a formal complaint the authorities resorted to seize of the main domain name. The torrent site hasn’t given up and is operating as usual under a new domain name.
In other words, this was a pointless exercise in parlor game futility. Instead of finding new ways to compete, the recording industry would rather whack away at those pesky moles. My advice? Well, I suggest, as always, corn dogs.
The thing about this damned internet is you just can't get stuff to disappear, you know? Whether it's automakers trying to disappear offensive advertising, bus companies apparently run by Mr. Burns trying to get negative reviews to go away, or that embarrassing home video my mother put up of me performing the lead role in my grade school's rendition of Hairspray (seriously, why would a K-12 school even do that?!?), the internet never forgets. More importantly, it vehemently punishes those that try to force amnesia upon it, via the Streisand Effect.
The deleted entry, which has since been restored, concerned a 2010 scandal in which Johnson was found to have "awarded 23 scholarships over five years to two of her grandsons, two sons of her nephew and the children of her top congressional aide in Dallas." It was a clear violation of the scholarship fund's anti-nepotism and residency rules. Johnson eventually repaid the foundation more than $31,000 for the misappropriated scholarships, but has been hammered over the issue by rivals during her two most recent campaigns.
And now it will be an issue in any subsequent campaigns as well, and fresh in the media's bloodstream too, all thanks to whoever is trying to disappear the entry about Johnson's apparent corruption. For her part, the Congresswoman insists that it isn't she who is attempting these changes and she has no idea who is. Whether you believe that or not, even supporters of Johnson who might try this have to be punching themselves over how this is all working out. The report suggests a link to Johnson's campaign manager which, if it is indeed him, simply indicates that the Congresswoman needs a new campaign manager.
After all, as we continue to learn, no matter how bad the transgression of a public figure, the coverup is always worse. As one Wikipedia editor told the culprit:
By removing information about Johnson's nepotistic scholarship awards, you served only to bring this scandal back to the attention of The Dallas Morning News. If that was your intention, then you succeeded - as the material is now back in the article and Bernice's name is once again being smeared in Dallas. If it wasn't your intention, then you really screwed the pooch. At any rate, if you persist in removing content from this encyclopedia, regardless of your motives, your account will be disabled.
So take heed, public figures. There is simply no percentage in fudging your Wikipedia entries. It won't actually work, it will Streisand-rocket whatever information you're trying to suppress, and you'll end up with media egg all over your face.
Allow me to be nostalgic for a moment, because I remember a time when words used to actually mean something. I remember when terrorism actually meant terrorism and wasn't just a trump card of a word used by the government to do whatever the hell they want. I seem to recall a glorious era when hacking was hacking and not just sitting down at the local library computer lab and screwing with someone who forgot to log out of Facebook.
And you know what other phrase I remember having an actual sensible meaning? Aiding the enemy. Unfortunately, that phrase too is apparently going to be co-opted by a group of horribly cynical jackwagons over the coming weeks. We already talked about Rep. Peter King, proud supporter of the IRA, a terrorist organization, and his confusion between where reporting on actions taken against the American people end and national security begins. I'm a bit unclear on how the American people knowing what a secretive arm of the government is doing to its own citizens compromises national security, unless of course Rep. King means that the government is about to have to deal with a severely pissed off electorate. But it's only going to get worse, now that NSA leak-master Edward Snowden has added that the USA regularly hacks China.
The Morning Post said it had seen documents but was unable to verify allegations of U.S. hacking of networks in Hong Kong and mainland China since 2009. Snowden told the paper that some of the targets included the Chinese University of Hong Kong, public officials and students. The documents also "point to hacking activity by the NSA against mainland targets," the newspaper reported.
Oh, lordy lord, next you'll be telling us there ain't no Santa Claus. The percentage of Americans that already assumed this was going on could probably be roughly estimated as all of them. Still, watch what will happen next. Already we've heard claims that Snowden's leak has endangered American lives, without a single explanation as to what the hell that could possibly mean. He initially leaked a story about domestic spying, unlike that which was leaked by Bradley Manning. Now there is noise about how Snowden is aiding the enemy. But what enemy? We aren't at war with China.
And besides that, exposing the government for taking part in the kind of thing that we decry everyone else doing isn't aiding the enemy, it's just embarrassing the shit out of our domestic agencies. Hell, it was less than a week ago that President Obama met with Xi Jinping, his Chinese counterpart, in part to demand that the Chinese cut out their hacking.
In the official's discussion with Reuters, he or she said that Obama will ask that Xi "abide by international norms and affirm clear rules of the road." The U.S. president also wants to tell Xi that any cyberattacks originating from China are the government's responsibility.
Snowden's leak will likely torpedo any positives that came out of that meeting, but that still isn't aiding the enemy. That phrase used to mean something. It meant helping get weapons to nations with which we are at war, or to terrorist organizations (you know, like Peter King did in working with an organization that helped finance the IRA). Or providing troop positions, military plans, or money to the enemy. It also meant giving intelligence to the enemy. Who the hell is the enemy here? It can't be China, since we aren't at war with them. It can't be the press since, despite King's wish, we aren't at war with them either. That just leaves the target of this massive data slurp. You and I. And if we're the enemy Snowden is accused of aiding, then we're all in a great deal of trouble.
We give our lawmakers a lot of grief in this glorious country, which is so glorious specifically because we can do that, but there's got to be hardship that goes along with public service of that sort. I mean, it can't all be lobbying money here, grandstanding there. I imagine being a Senator or Representative can be quite hard, and that isn't even an Anthony Weiner joke. As a result of all that, it's probably understandable when the wife of a state senator heads to her husband's official Facebook page to defend her man against what she admits are likely spammy Facebook fake-skank accounts asking to engage in said skankdom.
In a post Monday on a Facebook account belonging to Alabama state Sen. Shadrack McGill, R-Woodville, a poster identifying herself as McGill's wife said women have used the social media network to approach her husband "multiple times" since he was first elected in 2010.
"I have been silent for long enough!!" a person who identified herself as Heather McGill wrote. "NO MORE! Multiple times since being in office he has gotten emails from women (who may not even be real) inviting him to explore, also sending pictures of themselves."
Inviting him to explore? Are we 100% sure that these aren't a series of scantily-clad female versions of Lewis & Clark looking for the next great undiscovered territory? Perhaps more importantly, exactly what is the point of screeding against what, if our collective experience is any indication, is almost certainly a series of spam accounts looking to generate clicks at BS adult websites? Assuming they're the spam accounts I think they are, they aren't going to read the post. Nor are they going to read any post. They're not actual people. All this does is make you look silly on a senator's official Facebook page. And how is she accessing his page anyway? Isn't that a no-no?
"We have children that look at our face books from time to time! Shame on you! I love my husband and my children too much to sit here and allow this to go on and will not give the enemy anymore foothold into my family! This is the 'behind the scenes' garbage that political life brings. I will not turn a blind eye to it any longer!"
That may be true, but they're turning a blind eye on you. Also, allowing your children access to your "face books" (er...) is your responsibility. That behind the scenes garbage you mentioned? Well, first, it comes with the territory, so buck up, hoss. Secondly, we all get those spam messages too. And we ignore them. You know...like nearly everyone on the planet does. We certainly don't go post-crazy about them, which in this case will only serve to shine a spotlight on her husband. You want to take bets on whether people are now sifting through Senator McGill's personal life more ardently than they had been before all this?
It has been no secret that Microsoft's handling of the launch of their Xbox One console has been controversial at best and a complete debacle at worst. As rumors of mandatory internet connections and fees for playing used games made the unsteady transition to reality, dedicated fans of other consoles mobilized to make sure their voices were heard. Most substantial was the fanbase of the Sony Playstation, who made their wishes for a more traditional and open PS4 known. I had mentioned in that post that Sony in particular had a real opportunity on their hands, assuming they were willing to both stick up for their customers and take the issues against Microsoft head-on.
During their Electronic Entertainment Expo press event, Sony Computer Entertainment of America president and CEO Jack Tretton says its PS4 will not restrict used games, nor will it require an online connection.
Tretton specifically noted the PS4 "won't stop working if you haven't authenticated within 24 hours," a jab at the Xbox One and its requirement to perform online checks of consoles.
Now, to be sure, this isn't a completely unambiguous stance in favor of its customers, but credit Sony for doing what many of our commenters thought they wouldn't: seeing an opportunity in sticking up for customers and running with it. Having said that, there are still many questions surrounding whether or not the Playstation platform will simply be agnostic with used games, leaving that decision instead up to the game developers and publishers. It might seem a better thing for Sony to simply say they won't allow the kind of used game pocket-picking that MIcrosoft is codifying, but that might be a bit too much to ask. After all, Sony needs developers for their platform, too. Besides, as long as it isn't Sony acting in an anti-consumer way, developers that might wish to be restrictive on used games can be judged on their own individual merits. In other words, we'll actually get to see what the market impact of anti-consumer behavior on used games is.
And if some of the reaction I've seen thus far is any indication, such as Sony Entertainment now being listed on Wikipedia's list of "burn centers in the United States" after they torched Microsoft at E3, developers might begin rethinking their plans.
As the NSA spying scandal lumbers along, or as some reports suggest, begins, reports of American apathy have already rolled in. Of course, those supposed indifferent shrugs tend to amount more to how the questions are being asked than actual viewpoints. Couple that with how social humans are as a species, is in my opinion quite dangerous. It'd be all too easy for people to hear reports that nobody really seems to care about any of this intrusive data gathering business and decide that they should feel similarly.
Fortunately, there's at least some evidence that such an effect isn't occurring. Otherwise, we're going to have to come up with a whole new logical reason as to why George Orwell's books, particularly 1984, are skyrocketing up the hot sellers lists. As Gawker notes:
According to Amazon's Movers & Shakers countdown, three different editions of George Orwell's alt-history book Nineteen Eighty-Four have shot up hundreds of spots on the chart since news of the NSA's clandestine spying program PRISM broke late last week. One edition in particular — the Centennial Edition — has exploded in popularity, increasing its sales rank by 7,000% in days.
Now, before you cheer this on, it's worth noting that other books on the "Movers and Shakers" list aren't so politically-minded, unless books on being a gentleman (pshhh!), books on calorie counting (pshhh!), or books by Glenn Beck (PSHHH!) actually have some value there that I'm not aware of. Still, it's encouraging to see signs that people are paying attention. That, after all, is how change actually occurs. I might suggest some lovely texts by Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine as well, but Orwell is certainly a start.
It's become something of a sport in the past decade for roughly half of America to mock, dismiss, and otherwise tear down the Fox News channel. Personally, I'd rather like to see all of cable news go away, but there are times when I think the criticism is a tad selective and unfair. For instance, it'd be very easy to lambaste the network for the man-clowns they trotted out in the wake of a Pew Research study that showed that mothers currently make up nearly half of American household's primary wage-earners. What was for me a meh-inducing announcement was a sign of the surely-coming apocalypse for Lou Dobbs, Erick Erickson and Juan Williams. They're easily targeted as examples of the bad on the station, but if you're blinded by ideology or party alliance, you probably didn't bother to shine a light on the absolutely glorious rebuttal by Fox News host Megyn Kelly.
What we have there is an example of Fox News presenting two sides of the debate and among their own hosts to boot. In case you can't see it, Kelly uses clips from Lou Dobbs' show within her own to demonstrate her point. I mention this only to demonstrate that Fox News was not sufficiently embarrassed by the dumb things said by some of their commentators to keep from re-airing them on another of their shows. When an advocacy group wants to use those same clips for an ad-spot, however, suddenly the scramble to copyright claims has occurred. An anti-sexism group named UltraViolet submitted the ad to air on Fox's channel, painting the commentators in a negative light and then asking them to be retired from Fox News. You might expect the channel to dismiss the ad simply on the grounds that they don't want to denigrate their own programming, but that wouldn't help in trying to keep the spot off of other networks, would it? So Fox instead relied on the go-to protocol for censoring negative information. Per UltraViolet's media buyer, Buying Time, LLC:
Team – Just heard back from Fox Business. Unfortunately, Fox has rejected the ad. Due to their copyright rules, they can’t air an ad that uses their material in a spot.
It's a dumbfounding refusal on its face and is almost certainly being used as an excuse rather than a legitimate claim. Certainly nothing in copyright law would keep a network from airing commercials that use its own footage, valid copyright claim or not. It's their footage. Beyond that, this seems like a clear-cut case of fair use, the clips being central to a critique which does not seek commercial gain, are not significantly long in use, and in a way that certainly doesn't compete against Fox's own programming. Watch the ad for yourself:
Whether you think that women being primary bread-winners is okay, or whether you think that it's just the first step in the lizard-people's plot to systematically ruin American families so that children will be easy pickings for their hungry salamander love-children, using copyright claims to put down criticism is an abuse. Thankfully, UltraViolet is savvy enough to still put their spot up on YouTube instead of being too scared to show it.
You'll of course remember Dan Brown as the author of The Da Vinci Code, a book based on a poorly researched work of non-fiction largely built on the fraudelant claims of anti-semite Pierre Plantard. I mention this only to remind anyone who forgot that you couldn't ride a bus, a train, or sneak past the office water cooler in the early part of the millenium without someone breathlessly rushing up to tell you how amazing the book was and how terrific a researcher Dan Brown had proved himself to be. Dan Brown's book and the book off which it was based have since been judged to be the sort of drivel normally reserved for terrifyingly hysterical conspiracy theory websites. History, it seems, does indeed tend to repeat itself.
I'm speaking of an article to which Dementia alerts us. The entire thing is bizarre, honestly, from a report that Dan Brown may now be joining the punching bag of conspiracy theorists, the Freemasons, to his assertion that Freemasonry is not itself a religion. That last one seems to stretch the definition of religion entirely, considering the group has lodges (churches), rituals (sacred rites), and requires the belief in a supernatural deity (God), which all sound like religion to me. All that said, the article took an even stranger turn mid-prose, when Brown suddenly began railing against video games.
"I think video games are very dangerous," he said. "The quantity of hours that people play these first person shooter games. It becomes a reality of some sort, and that's a part of it. It really comes down to educating schools and parents. To say 'you know what, you can;t play that, sorry, I'm just not going to let you do it'."
Let's get the obvious out of the way: an exhaustive look at the research into the question of violence and its relation to video games should probably be labeled inconclusive, with a nod to a ton of research that says there is simply no link. I can't say for certain that Brown is simply shooting from the hip, here, without really researching what he's putting out for public consumption, but I will say that he's demonstrated the ability to do so with his books.
If you think about his quote above, he's basically saying video games are dangerous because of the quantity of hours people play shooting games, which are violent, and suggests that people are getting lost in those games, embarking from reality. In other words, the games are dangerous because they fictitiously propel people into a world which doesn't actually exist, and gamers come out of that world changed into believing something or acting in a way they had not previously. Are you seeing the problem? One might have said that The Da Vinci Code, which wasn't lacking in violence, by the way, is dangerous for the exact same reason. People read that book and came out of it believing in a reality that didn't exist. So perhaps Brown wants to explain why it should be different for his own books?
Just a guess, but it probably sucks to be the IRS right now. Between reports about them snooping on people's emails and their targeting of conservative groups, it's quite easy to paint them as a big, evil bureaucracy. Actually, it was pretty easy to do so before all that. You can generally rely on the hatred of the people for a group that requires meticulous spending records and then collects taxes. Big, bad, evil. What could be worse?
The conference spending included $4 million for an August 2010 gathering in Anaheim, Calif., for which the agency did not negotiate lower room rates, even though that is standard government practice, according to a statement by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Instead, some of the 2,600 attendees received benefits, including baseball tickets and stays in presidential suites that normally cost $1,500 to $3,500 per night. In addition, 15 outside speakers were paid a total of $135,000 in fees, with one paid $17,000 to talk about "leadership through art," the House committee said.
Infuriating, right? The bald-faced audacity of the organization that collects our taxes using some of that tax money to go to baseball games has the air of outright thievery. Fortunately, thanks to the investigation by the Treasury Department, we now have a full and accurate account of the awful IRS spending, right?
Hypocrisy, thy name is now an acronym, and that acronym is IRS. This is the type of thing that keeps pitchfork and torch manufacturers in business. In fact, were it not for the undeniably smooth face and impossibly perfect coiffure of Anderson Cooper getting me through this, I might just be leading the mob.
You may recall the concern some have raised over Smart TVs, those internet connected glowing boxes with cameras ripe for exploits that would allow hackers to watch you watch TV. Supposedly less nefarious were concerns over technology that would allow those same Smart TVs to recognize when you had left the room or were looking away, subsequently dimming the screen to conserve energy. Whether or not either is a concern rising to the levels of epidemic privacy invasion, one thing that is clear is that the general public is a bit dubious about being monitored within their own living rooms.
The patent, snappily titled "Awards and achievements across TV ecosystem", describes camera sensors monitoring the eye movements and heartbeats of TV viewers. Which means a console will know if you're in the room when an ad break is on, or if you've popped out to make tea. It'll also be able to tell whether you're actually watching the ad or if you're engrossed in the latest issue of Heat magazine. And don't even think about gaming the system by watching telly with the lights off: the XBox would be able to monitor you even in the dark.
Every move you make, every breath you take, the Xbox would be watching you – but also rewarding you. The patent suggests that sitting through commercial breaks would rack you up points to buy both virtual and physical awards. The thinking behind this being that people today need to be bribed in order to sit still and watch a commercial. As the patent application explains: "With the proliferation of digital video recording devices, advertisers are finding it increasingly difficult to introduce their advertisements to viewers."
While the above can be slightly misleading in that this is a patent application, not a granted patent, the response to it is the same. Fun, right? Here's the problem. I am aware that, at some level, everything about video games is reward-based. The obvious Xbox achievements are in place and people ostensibly seek them out, though I have yet to attain any modicum of understanding as to why people do this. Less obvious is the concept of gaming in general. Get to the next level. See that next cut-scene. Advance the plot. Unlock the new weapon, the new armor, or the new ability to shoot a bad guy directly in the balls. These are things that are important to gamers. It might therefore seem natural to build a rewards-based system for advertising as well within this audience.
Except advertisements are different, aren't they? If we're skipping ads, it's because they're an annoyance. Whereas stopping the bad guy, winning the World Series, or uncovering a mystery are all integral to the playing of whatever game we're enjoying, advertisements are, by definition, a break from what we're actually interested in doing. In fact, the label of "achievement" itself relating to watching advertising reeks of a gross misnomer. Granted, being able to stomach a minute's worth of Miss Cleo advertising may seem like a challenge, but it isn't an achievement in the same way.
More importantly, as the article notes, getting people to watch ads isn't a problem solved by some kind of Pavlovian reward system. It's solved by having creative, interesting, and entertaining ads.
The proliferation of digital video recording devices is something of a red herring when it comes to ad-viewing. After all, people aren't forced to skip the ads when they watch a time-shifted show; rather, they're free to watch them over and over again if they like. Just, err, most people don't like. Research conducted by Deloitte in 2010 found that 90% of TV viewers always skip through the adverts on their DVR. But the answer to stopping this behaviour doesn't lie in sophisticated motion-detecting technology, it lies in making ads that people actually want to watch. The biggest threat to advertising isn't technology like Sky+; the biggest threat to advertising is bad advertising.
Because advertising is content and content is advertising. And these invalidating arguments are made without even bothering to touch upon the public's reaction to being watched through the all-seeing eye in Microsoft's device. In a world where authors like Rand and Orwell are well-read, I expect a line to be drawn between cameras in the public square and cameras within our own walls. That this would be done to solve a problem better solved through smarter means is a fact I hope won't be lost on anyone.
In past discussions around the use of technology to achieve school security, we have typically found that the practice has more to do with money than safety. Such was the case when a Texas school district issued RFID-chipped student IDs, the impetus for which was actually all about receiving government funding based on attendance. While there was backlash from students and parents in that case, the ire was likely somewhat muted by the fact that these were still basically just ID cards with a little extra juice in them.
The situation is quite different in the case of Polk County, Florida schools, which instituted compulsory iris scans of its high school, middle school, and elementary school students, and then sent out a letter to parents announcing they could opt out after the scans had already been completed.
Reports were confirmed Wednesday that Daniel Jenkins Academy, a high school, Davenport School of the Arts, a middle school, and Bethune Academy, an elementary school, planned a pilot scan program with a security program and the schools allowed officials from Stanley Convergent Security Solutions to take iris scans of an unknown number of students. Parents of the students were sent a letter on Friday, May 24, although the letters were dated for delivery the day before. The letters stated that the scanning program would begin on May 20, and allow for students to opt out. However, all students were scanned before any letters were sent home.
There is a saying that goes something like this: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. While public school administrations can often be found rife with the latter, the lack of judgment in this case seems unbelievably grotesque. Anyone with a modicum of sense simply had to know that scanning irises of students was going to raise at least some controversy. To supercharge that by conducting the scans a full three days before a letter informing parents was scheduled to go out, and four days after it actually did, reeks of masochism. Add to that anyone on the lower levels of the operation, who might not be aware of the late-arriving letter to parents, not batting an eye when there wasn't a single instance of parents opting out of the procedure and you have the kind of cauldron of dumb that keeps private schools in business.
To add insult to injury, parents are reporting that attempts to get answers from the school are about as useful as a wedding ring is to the Pope. One particular parent was hilariously directed by the school, which should have had the answers to questions about procedures conducted on its students, to instead contact PCSB, the county school board.
By the time we were able to make a phone call to PCSB (a time span of about 1 hour), the secretary told us that this pilot program had been suspended. When we did get a return call from one contact, she reiterated that the program has been suspended, like this should appease us. My husband continued to ask where our son's private scans were, and she said the company was instructed to destroy the information. When we asked how do we know this has happened, there was no answer.
It is interesting that this letter went home on Friday afternoon at 3pm. Like I told you originally, everyone was gone by 4pm when I tried to make calls. So when exactly did this program get suspended? As of Friday afternoon, it was still in effect. Are they trying to say that somehow it was suspended by Tuesday morning (Monday being a holiday)? It seems like they are mostly focused on this program, like the program was the problem. It's not, it's the invasion of my family's Constitutional right to privacy that is the problem, as well as the school allowing a private company access to my child without my consent or permission. This is stolen information, and we cannot retrieve it.
The district has since claimed that all records and scans from the program have been destroyed, but hasn't bothered to offer any method for parents to confirm this claim. So now we get to endure the resulting suspicion and resentment that is likely going to go unresolved. The district will claim error, parents will stay outraged, and the lawsuits will likely fly. All because the schools couldn't be bothered to tell parents their children were going to have their irises scanned.
Insane legal actions over relatively mild pranks are coming fast and furious these days. We just recently discussed the 17 years old high school girl staring down felony charges over a childish year book prank. There have also been several cases of those that fall victim to pranks turning to intellectual property law as a way to hide their gullibility. There's something -- embarrassment perhaps -- that spurs victims into unreasonable legal action once the trap has been sprung.
And now we can add to that list the case of Joshua Barber and Nicholas Kaiser, who are looking at up to 5 years in prison and/or a half-a-milliion dollar fine for the crime of getting two NFL general managers to talk to each other on the phone and recording the conversation. Their prank consisted of calling the office of Buffalo Bills GM Buddy Nix, claiming to be Tampa Bay GM Mark Dominik, hanging up, then dialing Dominik. The confused Nix called back using the redial function on his phone (many, many times), and the pranksters finally called Dominik as well, just as Nix called them back, hit the conference button, joined both GMs on the line and recorded the ensuing conversation. It's worth noting that conversation was about as innocuous as it gets. No real embarrassment was to be had from the recording, which was then sold to Deadspin. The result of the prank is far less innocuous.
[The] two Plymouth, Mass. men were charged Wednesday with intentionally intercepting a wire communication and with making a telephone call without disclosing their identity with the intent to annoy or harass the person at the called number. The complaint further states that after the conversation was recorded, Barber and Kaiser sold the unauthorized recording to the website deadspin.com. If convicted, Barber and Kaiser face a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a $500,000 fine or both.
And yes, here are your tax dollars at work, with the FBI/DOJ gloating about taking those darn prank callers off the street and ruining their lives with extended jail time and fines. Half a million and half a decade in jail for a prank phone call? Shall I assume The Jerky Boys are currently dropping soap in barred showers, or is the safer assumption that someone in the legal system sees this high-profile prank as a way to further their career?
We've already discussed the abomination NYC Mayor Bloomberg has unleashed on his own people in the form of random searches of scary dark-skinned people, more commonly known as stop and frisk. The justification of a blatantly racist policy that nonetheless undermines the civil liberties of an entire city's population has taken a couple of turns. They started by assuring us they had a checklist, because that apparently means something to someone, somewhere. Then His Honor weighed in on the matter himself, saying:
"Look at what's happened in Boston," Mr. Bloomberg said. "Remember what happened here on 9/11. Remember all of those who've been killed by gun violence and the families they left behind."
Got it? We need to let police rummage around in people's pockets because of terrorism and gun violence. Ah, the old simultaneously playing on fear and concern for victims trick. Nicely played, Mr. Mayor. Or, it would have been nicely played if the statistics bore out even a portion of what he said. Unfortunately, thanks to the folks as the NYCLU, the true impact of the stop and frisk program has been revealed in all of its glory, and it essentially amounts to a blip in the gun seizure statistics and a whole lot of people being arrested for marijuana.
Last year, the NYPD stopped and interrogated people 532,911 times, a 448-percent increase in street stops since 2002 – when police recorded 97,296 stops during Mayor Bloomberg's first year in office. Nine out of 10 of people stopped were innocent, meaning they were neither arrested nor ticketed. About 87 percent were black or Latino. White people accounted for only about 10 percent of stops.
The NYCLU analyzed the NYPD's full 2012 computerized stop-and-frisk database, which contains detailed information not included in the quarterly stop-and-frisk reports the Police Department provides the City Council. The analysis examines multiple aspects of the 2012 stop-and-frisk data, including stops, frisks, use of force, reason for stop and recovery of weapons. The analysis provides detailed information at a precinct level and a close examination of race-related aspects of stop-and-frisk.
And the survey says? Well, it says that the program has been an absolute failure, unless its intention was always about filling up prisons for non-violent crimes. The analysis shows a complete lack of uniformity in how the program is utilized across precincts, that it is overwhelmingly used to stop minorities (who were found to be innocent at the same 90% rate as everyone else), that the total number of weapons recovered in 2012 increased by a total of 96 guns compared with 2003 when there was no stop and frisk program (a 0.02% increase), and that 26,000 people were stopped for offenses related to marijuana. Arrests due to marijuana possession were the most common reason for arrest resulting from stop and frisk.
What does this mean? Well, it means Mayor Bloomberg is either a liar or he simply doesn't know what he's talking about. To say that stop and frisk is all about combating terrorism and illegal guns, despite the program's lack of success doing either, shows a frightening level of incompetence and/or malice. All of this on top of the fact that violent crime is on a decline in New York City. Keep in mind that all of this comes at the cost of distrust of police by citizens, distrust of government by citizens, and the disenfranchisement of the minority population. Oh, and unless you've been sleeping the past year, you probably know that the laws surrounding marijuana in this country are becoming more lax by the minute.
With nearly nothing to show for it, how does His Honor continue to defend such a deplorable policy?
We recently discussed the somewhat mishandled release announcement for Microsoft's new gaming machine, the Xbox One. While a big part of the problem was a lack of firm answers to gamers' questions, it's clear that something is going to change in how the new Xbox handles used games. The rumors vary, but we know that the used games market that has existed for the past several decades is going to be altered to come under stricter control of Microsoft directly. Reception of this news has been cold, but it isn't just Xbox fans reacting.
No, the ultimate effect of Microsoft's actions may end up being a highly mobilized Playstation fandom and a massive opportunity for Sony if they want to grab it. You see, famousmortimer of the popular gaming message board, NeoGAF, decided to bring the wants of the customer to Sony's attention through a simple Twitter hashtag, #PS4NoDRM.
I can say, for sure, that the past week's PR nightmare for MS has not been lost on Sony and they, in fact, do have a used game 'solution' working and have been going back and forth for months on whether to use it. This past week is pushing them strongly into "Yeah, let's not use that."
He then suggests that readers politely tweet several high-ranking Sony executives, indicating that they want a free and open used game market, and including the aforementioned hashtag. While he later went on to say that he didn't expect any of this to become much of a movement, that's exactly what it became. Not only did something like 14,000 tweets with the hashtag go out across Twitter, it has become big enough that even the mainstream press is reporting on it.
The campaign has reached dozens of news sites including NBC News. Even now, people are tweeting messages with the hashtag in hopes of getting Sony's attention.
"It's much larger than I ever imagined," Dodd told me this afternoon. "Honestly thought the post would go about 2 pages." As of right now, the NeoGAF thread has 105 pages and 467,690 pageviews.
Several Sony executives have replied with encouraging tweets, suggesting that, at the very least, they're seriously listening. And listen they should, because that isn't just the sound of gamers typing on their keyboards ringing over the Twitterverse. It's opportunity. Real opportunity.
Imagine what happens if Sony issues an official response to this campaign. Imagine further that this response acknowledges the fans, thanks them for all of their interest, and firmly states that, on its system, the used game market will go on unhindered. Let's say that a company that has an unfortunate reputation on consumer rights flips the script completely in the gaming arena and positions itself as the consumer's choice compared to Microsoft. What would the market's reaction be? It would be huge.
Finally, if you believe that used games don't harm game sales, but rather spur them along by creating added value, then this should represent the easiest no-lose choice in the gaming business's history. Now let's see if Sony hears opportunity knocking through those corporate walls.
With the general public not being heavily invested in the nuances of copyright, you expect mistakes to be made, but the idea/expression dichotomy is fairly central to the entire copyright endeavor. Given that, I have come to expect anyone who throws around legal threats and/or DMCA notices to at least know what the hell they're talking about. I don't think it's too much to ask someone, who can potentially erase the work of others, to use that power judiciously, yet problems persist. For example, there was the time when two major networks butted heads over the basic concepts of reality television. And it stands to reason that if two major broadcast entities with gobs of lawyers chomping at the proverbial bit can't get the basics right, then you can expect similar problems with individuals.
He has apparently convinced Mark de Heide, the 23-year-old creator of PGN Piano lessons, to take down all of his videos that display the letters of notes above the keyboard (e.g. a visual display of "C, D, E, C," for frere jacques). Mark took the bait, and stated in a video he's removed all of his YouTube lesson videos that contain the fundamental piano practice technique. He also worried about YouTube taking action over the lessons he recording [sic] teaching pop hits.
It's bad enough when legitimate copyrights are used to hinder broad instructional methods and information, but when the claim is blatantly one that cannot be copyrighted, it's down right infuriating. Cheek is reported to have a series of DVDs using this "innovative," write-stuff-on-the-keys method -- and those DVDs, i.e. the actual expression, certainly can be copyrighted, but the teaching method is an idea. It can't be copyrighted. Yet now, thanks to the aggressive ownership culture that has resulted from a reaching and complex copyright law, all of de Heide's videos have been removed. He isn't even challenging their removal. Why? Well, because he doesn't really know how copyright works either, but he does know that he's afraid of the legal repercussions that might result. Those videos, by the way, had millions of views and were quite popular. It's very likely that de Heide was making his living in part from those videos.
The only encouraging part of this story is the YouTube comments to de Heide, in which commenters actually displayed a decent knowledge of the idea/expression dichotomy. For instance, one user stated:
"What Shawn has protected is the recordings of his performance (in other words the recordings of Shawn instructing people how to play songs in his DVDS and etc.). You would infringe his copyright by making, copying, uploading, distributing, or many [sic] available copies of his recordings to the public without his permission. I recommend you discuss the following discussion points with your lawyer."
If the ultimate result of aggressive and misused intellectual property laws is a better informed public that not only knows the law, but also can recognize its intrinsic abuses, then so much the better. Until that pivotal point is reached, however, we'll have to hear about piano teachers not being able to write letters on keys.
Let's start this off with the obvious: bullying sucks. In particular, when the bullies and the bullied are students, it sucks extra hard. That said, we've talked before about how overreacting to bullying situations ends up with everyone looking silly. And when the prosecutors and lawyers decide to get involved, all the more so.
A Columbia high school student faces a possible felony charge after her arrest for changing a classmate's name in the school yearbook to a sexually suggestive term. The 17-year-old Hickman High School junior was arrested May 14 after she allegedly changed a student's last name from Mastain to "masturbate" in the 100th edition of the Hickman Cresset yearbook. She could be charged with first-degree property damage, a felony, and harassment.
My first reaction to this was to be thankful that I didn't have any access to my high school's year book files. If I had, the overwhelming likelihood is that I'd still be serving time in a federal pen, with a teardrop tattoo or two on my face and a strong fear of showers. My second thought was, roughly: what the hell? Felony charges? I get that the school is probably annoyed, but this just screams of an over-reaction to suspected bullying. Hell, the victim of the prank doesn't even seem to think it's a big deal.
Raigan Mastain said although she wasn't happy about what happened, she also "wasn't devastated."
"I was kind of annoyed. It was stupid, but I wasn't that upset," she said.
Elsewhere, she pointed out that she didn't even know the girl that well, so the whole thing was strange to her.
Both Acopolis and the girl whose name was changed, Raigan Mastain, an aspiring graphic designer, called the last-minute change by another yearbook staff member as an act of immaturity, not malice. "I hardly knew her at all," said Mastain, who graduated from Hickman last week. "I barely worked with her. We weren't friends. But I didn't think I had any problems with her."
Still, given all that, Mastain went on to suggest that the charges would be warranted because "it's bullying" and "there needs to be consequences" while also noting that the damage to school property was immense. However, considering she's already graduated and didn't even know any of this had happened until a friend discovered the prank and sent her a text message, how much personal harm was actually done? And for all the talk about property damage, the school decided not to even reprint the year books, instead covering up the naughty word with a sticker. What does a sticker cost? $1? $700 worth of cost, plus a mildly annoyed fellow student, equates to felony charges?
As with so many of these stories, it's likely that emotions ran high and the school and community thought they needed to be seen doing something about so-called bullying. The end result, however, will be a young woman living the rest of her life with a felony on her record for what was a silly and stupid high school prank. That seems entirely unreasonable.
Unless, like me, you are looking at the release dates for the next generation of gaming consoles the way a starving hyena watches an approaching gazelle that's been eating nothing but butter for weeks, perhaps you're not up on all the information coming about regarding Microsoft's next console. Actually, as I'll discuss in a moment, even if you are paying constant attention, you probably still don't know a whole lot for sure. See, after months and months of speculation on possible features of the next Xbox, Microsoft stupidly decided to not firmly address any of that speculation at the release event for the Xbox One. The most troublesome in terms of bad press have been rumors about online connection requirements and how used games would be handled. I say press, but perhaps I should rather say non-mainstream press, because it's really been the smaller blogs and citizen journalists that have produced a roundly negative buzz for the Xbox One.
You would think that in a negative and uncertain climate that's been brewing for the past several months, Microsoft would use the official release press event as a way to clear all of this up. Good answers or bad answers, it's important that the public and the press have a firm understanding on what to expect out of the console. Aren't we constantly told that uncertainty is four letter word in economics and business? That's why it's so curious that Microsoft appears to have provided very little in the way of answers and what answers it has chosen to supply have been both contradictory and confusing.
So, let's take the two issues in order. First up is rumors about online requirements.
It turns out that the detail we were murkiest about was the one Microsoft themselves are the murkiest about. The official Microsoft party line on the day the company revealed the Xbox One: "It does not have to be always connected, but Xbox One does require a connection to the Internet."
Welcome back. I say that because I assume you just spent the past fifteen minutes rereading that last sentence over and over again trying to figure out what the hell it means. As it turns out, the key word is "always." The Xbox One will require an internet connection at certain points, but it won't need to constantly be connected to function. So, what are those certain points? Well, nobody, including Microsoft, seems to know, which is strange of them to admit since it's their nun-punching freaking product. Microsoft executive Phil Harrison told Kotaku that he "believes" a connection is required once every 24 hours. Oh, and possibly one is needed in order to play a new game for the first time. Also when you first use the console. The lack of finality in these answers is astounding, particularly coming from a Microsoft executive giving interviews at the release event. Imagine going to your local auto show and having a Ford Motor VP telling you how wonderful their new car is, but can't firmly answer any questions about its motor or how many miles-per-gallon it gets?
And with the question of used games, we do no better. Harrison told one reporter:
"We will have a system where you can take that digital content and trade a previously played game at a retail store. We're not announcing the details of that today, but we will have announced in due course."
Then told another:
"We will have a solution—we're not talking about it today—for you to be able to trade your previously-played games online."
What you immediately notice is not only the lack of any specifics to one of the major questions hanging over the console like a set of rain clouds, but even these two non-answers are different. The first talks about used games being traded at retail stores, while the second seems to mention trading games online. That'd be a huge development if true, with some kind of Microsoft online trading platform threatening GameStop and other used game retailers. Speaking of which, reports are already surfacing that Microsoft is requiring agreements limited to select retailers to actually be able to buy and sell used games. If those reports are accurate, trading games will only be possible through those select retailers and the game publisher and Microsoft will take a massive cut of the transaction, leaving retailers with very little margin. The end results of this setup will be higher prices for used games and the inability for gamers to trade games with one another.
Still, as bad as that would be, Microsoft hasn't even officially confirmed that program either. Between that uncertainty and that of online connection requirements, it's no wonder the general public hasn't been keen on the Xbox One release yet. There is a market, sadly, for the kind of walled gardens and restrictive requirements discussed above. Apple's mobile devices prove that. But where Apple officially and boisterously owns those concepts, Microsoft's opaque stance on these questions can only mute any release buzz for their new console. It's high time the company got everyone on message.
You may recall that years ago Anheuser-Busch applied for a trademark on the number 312, having bought out Goose Island Brewery, who had a beer by that name. The catch is that 312 is the area code for most of Chicago, where Goose Island was based, and that seems like a sort of funny thing to trademark. But, strange as that might seem, at least AB didn't then go around suing the pants off of anyone who used any further permutation of that number.
A lawsuit filed May 16 in U.S. District Court charged that West Sixth began selling beer, ale and brewpub services in 2012 using color, trademarks and designs "that closely resemble and are confusingly similar" to the designs used by Magic Hat for several years.
And if you look at the side-by-side comparison picture, you can see exactly what they mean. After all, Magic Hat #9's logo is maroon, yellow and orange, with a trippy stylized number 9 and a star. The offending logo from West Sixth's amber ale is brown, tan and silver, with a non-stylized number 6 merged with a circle and a star. In other words, they're almost nothing freaking alike in any way.
The only basis for the suit appears to be that 6s and 9s are kinda similar (as in opposite of one another) and there is some incorporation of a circle and a star somewhere. And that, friends, is a shitty basis for a trademark suit. Seriously, look at the picture and tell me if you could possibly confuse the two. If you say yes, there's a good chance you recently had a lobotomy.
West Sixth appears to agree.
"They're claiming that we intentionally copied their logo, and that has caused them "irreparable harm," enough that they're asking for not only damages but also all our profits up until this point (little do they know that well, as a startup company, there wasn't any, oops!)"
West Sixth logos were created by a professional design firm in Lexington called Cricket Press that has "a long history of fantastic and creative logo designs. ... Our logo contains neither a '#' nor a '9.'"
The lack of a # is actually kind of key. As West Sixth points out on its own website, the trademark in question includes the "#" sign, so the fact that their beer doesn't have it is pretty damning by itself. But, even beyond that, the focus on different numbers is just ridiculous.
Look, within the confines of a beer can or bottle, there's only so much you can do with a logo. That said, here's a fun experiment you can do at home (assuming you're of legal drinking age). Find someone who has never tried either of the Magic Hat or West Sixth beers in question. Sit that person down at a table with a case of both beers in front of them. Ask them if they are under any illusions that the two brews are distinctly different because of the logo. When they say, "Of course not, you idiot, and why did you kidnap me from the Stop & Go?!?", ask them to slam one of each beers. Rinse, repeat. Exactly how many double-slammed-beers do you think this person would have to go through before they can't tell the difference between a 6 and a 9?
"I think that an entry level wage for a writer is probably around $30,000."
If you're full time, in-house employee, perhaps. I'm neither. Nor are most of the other writers here. Could we agree that for part timey work, that number should be about half?
"Then most companies contribute modestly toward health insurance, so call that $4,000."
You said you assumed I'm independent, which I am. Therefore benefits aren't included and I wouldn't need them even if they were, so I'm glad they aren't.
" Assuming the writer worked 40 hours per week to produce those articles, I'd say a minimum of $3200/moth for an inexperienced writer and double that for an experienced one."
You're not very good at math. You started at $30k/year, or $2500/month. Benefits are moot since I'm an independent contractor and we can cut your expectations in half since I'm part time, not full time. Payroll taxes are meaningless as well, since the only thing that matters is gross salary (for the purposes of payment discussions, I mean). What you arrive at is your suggestion, essentially, that a writer like me should make roughly $1250/month here.
Let me assure you, my payment meets your expectations. Glad you agree I'm compensated appropriately. Can we move on now?
"Some how he manages to ignore that he's doing the same thing. He's making money on others work and not paying (or paying a pittance)."
Look, let's make this really simple. First, you keep saying no payment is made. This is 100% false. As to the pittance argument, establish some goal posts. Let's say a writer here is contracted to post somewhere between 5-10 articles a week. What would be a fair monthly compensation for that?
I don't believe I provided enough lines to read between, but whatever. By your tone I can tell you've come to the discussion with your own presuppositions and that nothing will assuage you of them. It's been said it isn't what you think but how you think that's important. I fear for you, as a result....
"Oh, so he's not running because he's been called out for being wrong and he knows it yet doesn't want to admit it?"
No, he's not bothering with you because commenter and all around smart dude Karl in the very first post you referenced in your link SHREDDED your entire argument and attempted to explain why you were wrong. That you didn't take the point is as surprising as when my dog doesn't understand Voltaire....
You must have missed the part of the linked article where he says attacks on the mainland of China happen regularly. No worries, I understand. After all, it's quite easy to miss if you don't bother to read....
I'm surprised nobody has yet brought up Mr. King's lecturing everyone on the need for national security intrusions on our privacy, and questioning exactly how that jives with his previous direct support for at least one terrorist organization and indirect support for a second.
This man is an absolute religiously motivated SNAKE....
"Your ability to obscure a topic with verbiage is right up there with what's-his-name, that Irish drunk who blithered on in "stream of consciousness", accumulating words without ever getting to a point."
Just to be clear, you're attempting to insult...INSULT me...by comparing me to James Joyce? Let me tell you something Blue, and I swear to all that's holy that I mean this, that's about the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me. So thanks, pal!
"President Obama's incredibly weak response to the revelations this week of widespread data collection of pretty much everything by the NSA is to say that he "welcomes" the debate."
Pardon moi, to his Worship, but we already had this debate and the results have been in for several hundred years. Being a constitutional scholar, I'm quite surprised that he hasn't bothered consulting the very document that resulted from that debate between men better than he or I....
That's actually been the suspicion for some time. It's based off of US/Israeli intelligence in part, and also on claims made by former Saddam military men. I don't believe it's confirmed at this point, but there is significant reason to believe it's likely....