April 1, 2012

WestJet innovates!

Filed under: Cancon, Humour — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:14

H/T to 680News for the link.

“Off the Somali coast, everyone is looking for a big payday”

Filed under: Africa, Law, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:54

Strategy Page on recent developments in the anti-piracy campaign off the Somali coast:

To get around laws, in many ports, forbidding weapons aboard merchant ships, security companies operating off the Somali coast have equipped small ships to serve as floating arsenals. The security guards boards, in port, the merchant ships they are guarding, then meet up with the gun ship in international waters so the guards can get their weapons and ammo. The process is reversed when the merchant ships approach their destinations or leave pirate infested waters (and put the armed guards off onto the gun ship.) Maritime lawyers fret that there are no proper laws to regulate these floating armories, or that if there are applicable laws, everyone is not following them. It’s also feared that some enterprising lawyers will seek to represent the families of pirates shot by these armed guards. Off the Somali coast, everyone is looking for a big payday.

In the last three years, more and more merchant ships, despite the high expense, have hired armed guards when travelling near the “Pirate Coast” of Somalia. It began when France put detachments of troops on tuna boats operating in the Indian Ocean, and Belgium then supplied detachments of soldiers for Belgium ships that must move near the Somali coast. These armed guards are not cheap, with detachments costing up to $200,000 a week. There are now over a dozen private security companies offering such services. What makes the armed guards so attractive is the fact that no ship carrying them has ever been captured by pirates. That may eventually change, but for the moment, the pirates avoid ships carrying armed guards and seek less well-defended prey.

GuildMag announces details of Guild Wars 2 console versions

Filed under: Gaming, Gaming, Humour — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 10:08

I’m quite impressed with our crack GuildMag editorial team for being the first to break this big story:

This just in!

We have just received word from a reliable source within ArenaNet that a console version of Guild Wars 2 has been CONFIRMED!

That’s right, folks! You heard it here first! There is no confirmed release date as of yet, but it has been confirmed that Guild Wars 2 will be on the Xbox Kinect, the Wii U and the PS3 Move, and we’ve got all the details!

Unfortunately, as the controllers for the different platforms are not directly compatible, there are a few differences between the various versions:

Xbox 360 (controller)

Healing skill — To use this skill, press B repeatedly in Morse code to spell the word ‘heal’ (which is dot, dot, dot, dot, dot, dot, dash, dot, dash, dot, dot). We recommend beginning this sequence before you take damage otherwise you may not cast it in time to save yourself. If you forget the sequence and delay pressing B a second time, you will activate the ‘/wave’ emote

Xbox 360 (Kinect)

Dodge — To dodge in the computer version, you use V. To dodge in the Xbox 360 version, you simply scream as loudly as you can whilst running away from your television, preferably hiding behind a sofa for a maximum chance to dodge. The game will detect that you’re no longer present and assume you intend to dodge. We think there’s a massive bonus to this — whenever you leave the room whilst playing for whatever reason, you don’t have to worry about pausing the game for fearing of dying!

[. . .]

PS3 Move & Wii U

Dancing Dagger (thief weapon skill) — All weapon skills have been given their own unique movement action. One we particularly enjoyed was this thief skill, where the thief throws a dagger at the target. To perform this skill, the player simply throws their controller at a supplied target ring, which will bounce the controller back if it lands successfully. If not — well, let’s just say you need to improve your aim!

Nightmare progression from Facebook data to stalker app to genocide tool

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:11

Charles Stross on the very disturbing implications of Facebook and other social media tools:

There is an app, currently on the Apple app store as a free download, called Girls Around Me.

A couple of days ago, computer journalist John Brownlee wrote an essay about it explaining why he found it disturbing. I’d like to propose that it is symptomatic of a really major side-effect of our forced acculturation into Facebook’s broken model of human social interaction — a broken model shared by all the most successful social networks, by design — and that it is going to get much worse, until it kills people. Quite possibly in very large numbers.

I wish this was an April Fool’s joke or a piece of dystopian near-future fiction. Unfortunately it isn’t.

[. . .]

What “Girls Around Me” does is simple: it looks up your GPS location, then queries Facebook and FourSquare for people matching a simple search criterion (are they female?) who have checked in (or been checked in by their friends) in your vicinity. It then makes it really easy to pull up their publicly visible information — stuff such as age, occupation, favourite sports, what school they attended, and so on. All the stuff Facebook encourages you to share.

You can probably see why John and his friends became increasingly uneasy about this app: it’s pitched as innocent, slightly hokey fun, but it stops being amusing the instant you imagine it in the hands of a stalker or serial rapist. Or even just an unscrupulous ass-hat in search of a one night stand who isn’t above researching his target’s taste in music and drinks without their knowledge.

Creepy and stalkerish, right? So where’s the dystopic vision? Right here:

It’s easy to imagine how we could make something worse than “Girls Around Me” — something much worse. Facebook encourages us to disclose a wide range of information about ourselves, including our religion and a photograph. Religion is obvious: “Yids Among Us” would obviously be one of the go-to tools of choice for Neo-Nazis. As for skin colour, ethnicity identification from face images is out there already. Want to go queer bashing? There’s an algorithm out there for guessing sexual orientation based on the network graph of the target’s facebook friends. It’s probably possible to apply this sort of data mining exercise to determine whether a woman has had an abortion or is pro-choice.

In the worst case, it’s possible to envisage geolocation and data aggregation apps being designed to facilitate the identification and elimination of some ethnic or class enemy, not only by making it easy for users to track them down, but by making it easy for users to identify each other and form ad-hoc lynch mobs. (Hence my reference to the Rwandan Genocide earlier. Think it couldn’t happen? Look at Iran and imagine an app written for the Basij to make it easy to identify dissidents and form ad-hoc goon squads to proactively hunt them down. Or any other organization in the post-networked world that has a social role corresponding to the Red Guards.)

But as I said earlier, the app is not the problem. The problem is the deployment by profit-oriented corporations of behavioural psychology techniques to induce people to over-share information which can then be aggregated and disclosed to third parties for targeted marketing purposes.

Update, 2 April: The app has been pulled from the App Store after Foursquare revoked the developer’s API access, but the underlying problem is still there.

Scott Feschuk: “Thomas Mulcair didn’t say much at the convention. But at least he said it fast.”

Filed under: Cancon, Humour, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:05

For those of you who don’t follow Canadian politics, Thomas Mulcair is the new leader of the Official Opposition, the NDP (New Democratic Party). His performance at the convention inspired Scott Feschuk:

Most New Democrats who’d be choosing the party’s next leader had voted before the convention even began. Thomas Mulcair could have used his 20 minutes of stage time before the first ballot to repeatedly punch a cat in the face — and still he would have won the leadership. As a bonus, smacking around a kitty would have earned him less hostility and criticism than he took for his speeches.

Mulcair’s performance during the candidates’ showcase began with a line of drummers snaking its way through the hall. This was meant to go on for three minutes. It went on for 10 because, hey, who doesn’t love an interminable drum solo, right? Suddenly up against the clock, Mulcair could have chosen to pare his remarks — but clearly the man didn’t want to deprive us of a single syllable of genius. And so out came the words, fast and then faster. Sweat formed along his brow and down his nose. By the end, Mulcair sounded like a guy reciting a legal disclaimer at the end of a radio commercial. No one remembered a word of it.

After the vote, the winner’s speech to the party faithful:

The first five minutes of Mulcair’s acceptance speech were devoted to thank yous. In any campaign, many are owed a debt — and public gestures of appreciation are a key currency of politics. But even here, the address had its odd moments. Mulcair gently ridiculed the labour-inspired NDP tradition of referring to one another as “brothers and sisters.” He carefully followed a written text in issuing words of thanks to his relatives. And then came this line, delivered in French but translated on TV: “To my mother — my Mom, who with her brothers and sisters is up north watching us: Hello.”

Should Mulcair fail over the course of his leadership to develop a common touch and connect with Canadians, these four words may serve as his political epitaph: “To my Mom: Hello.”

Mulcair then got to the meat of his speech. It made for tough chewing. He said things like “Young people are active in their community groups.” He said things like “Leadership comes in many forms.” Mulcair spoke with all the dynamism and charm of an economics professor, his face buried in his text. Voters of Canada, the NDP would like to introduce you to its new leader: the top of this guy’s head!

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