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Archive for January, 2006

Free and Innovative Gaming

From this Wired News article, are some links to a small selection of free games, each of which innovate one thing cool and new. if you’re tired of “the same tired play mechanics, over and over. Shoot the bad guys while avoiding flying lead. Level up your character in an online world. Drive like hell in a souped-up rig. Match the pretty colors in a puzzle.“, then perhaps one (or more) of these will interest you.

Strange Attractors, played with only the space bar as input.

Facade, interactive theater so open-ended that it puts paid to the supposedly “immersive” qualities of today’s narrative games. expressmedscanada.com

RSVP from Pop & Company, a card game that “feels like a sepia-toned Depression-era opium dream”.

Dyadin, an otherwise traditional puzzle-action game for two players that has elements that exist for only one player or the other.

Cloud, a basic flight game without the ground targets, dogfights, or simulated cockpits.

Arcadia from Gamelab, an innovative twist on the old arcade games.

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Octopus Attack on Sub

Life imitates Art. This story describes an actual giant octopus attacking a small submarine off the west coast of Vancouver Island. Captured on video, sorry, no link to that.

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Technology from the NSA

Interesting Technologyies moving to the public from the NSA. 44 fact sheets from ‘’Network Geo-location Technology'’ to ‘’Device for high resolution scanning transmission electron microscopy in a scanning electron microscope'’ including one simply titled ‘’Multiverse'’.

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Funny, but true

On RFID tagging, this cartoon hits the issue. With the probable exception that the 2nd option would be a profit-maker.

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Legal (Monkey) Business as Usual

For more proof that we need some sort of loser-pays system in civil liability law, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and others have threatened Viacom and Kellogg with a billion dollar lawsuit over TV commercials. Their demand letter fails to cite an actual cause of action.

They reference Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 93A which has much explanation and precedural statute but basically reads “Unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce are hereby declared unlawful.” Pretty simple. Massachusetts refers to the Federal Trade Commission Act (15 U.S.C. 45(a)(1)) which has similar wording. “Unfair methods of competition in or affecting commerce, and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce, are hereby declared unlawful.”

What they don’t do is identify an unfair or deceptive act, anywhere in the letter.

Based on this letter, CSPI wants the court to order:

  1. That CSPI’s definition of “food of poor nutritional quality” be established as correct.
  2. That such food may not advertised “directly before, during, or directly after any Nick Jr. programming” or any other programming where 15% of the audience is under 8.
  3. That such food may not be advertised on any TV channel, magazine, G or PG movie, or web site when 15% of the audience is under 8.
  4. That such food may not be advertised in any other way to children under 8.
  5. Damages of $25 for every time any child under 8 sees any such advertising, AND every time a parent purchases such food.
  6. Attorney’s fees.

So, CSPI wants to (1) replace the legislature as the definer of law, (2, 3, 4) create a content based restriction on legal speech, (5) make a legal product effectively illegal to sell, and (6) be paid for doing it.

Whether or not you like the idea of kids eating Captain Crunch when their parents say it’s OK, this is a baldfaced attempt to end-run the democratic process and make law in the courts. This lawsuit violates the parents’ right to feed and raise their kids as they see fit. It violates the basic right of Viacom and Kellogg to engage in lawful commerce. And the “heads I win, tails you lose” state of civil law violates all of our right to be secure in our persons and our possessions. CSPI can’t get their program through legislatively, so they file a lawsuit that will cost the companies millions to defend even if they win. And the threat of a huge potential judgement, however improbable, makes it more likely that the defendants will settle.

Which just gives CSPI more money to go after the next target. But CSPI has nothing to lose. They can file one huge, frivolous, groundless lawsuit after another and never have to pay for their actions. This kind of irresponsible behavior is destroying many legal industries and raising prices of just about everything you buy, with no significant benefit.

This suit should be dismissed in summary judgement, but it won’t be. The legal ‘profession’ has decided that just about every case deserves to be heard, no matter how much everyone else has to pay to lawyers.

Maybe Shakespeare was right.

via Overlawyered.

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Another Borg Sighting

Resistance is futile

While the NSA is in the news these days, another NSA sighting crops up. It seems that all versions of Windows since a late version of W95 have a ‘back door’ in the security suite that allows the NSA to do pretty much what they want with the computer. And the latest version of W2000 has additional deliberate doors for people with the right keys.

From this article at Heise Online Technology Review, this information was reported at the Advances in Cryptology, Crypto’99 conference held in Santa Barbara. According to those present at the conference, Windows developers attending the conference did not deny that the NSA key was built into their software. Even Microsoft’s top crypto programmers were astonished to learn that the version of ADVAPI.DLL shipping with Windows 2000 contains not two, but three keys.

Potentially on the bonus side for some people, the NSA key inside CAPI can be replaced by your own key, and used to sign cryptographic security modules from overseas or third parties unapproved by Microsoft or the NSA. A demonstration how to do it program is available. Might be worth changing the key anyway, even if you don’t use it.

An interesting Microsoft quote on a tangentially related topic applies here as well. Microsoft “works closely with law enforcement officials worldwide to assist them when requested.” And: “It is our policy to respond to legal requests in a very responsive and timely manner in full compliance with applicable law”

Remember, if it’s not against the law, Microsoft’s policy is to do whatever the local officials ask, regardless if it is legally required or if it is right. Including hacking their own OS to let the NSA take over your computer.

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The 2005 Dubious Data Awards

A list of the Year’s Biggest Science Reporting Flubs by the media. Compiled by STATS at George Mason University. There’s dieting to death, the epidemic that isn’t, and a fistful of hokum scares.

These kind of ‘mistakes’ would be malpractice in any professional industry, but it’s just good headlines for the fact-checking news media.

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Deconstructing Choice

Again, not to pick on any one individual, another example of lack of thinking is presented. The Rambling Taoist is presenting a deconstruction named ‘One Choice Among Choices‘ of a post at Where’s Your Brain? titled ‘Liberals Screw The Poor - Again‘ about the Florida Supreme Court decision on school vouchers. What I find of interest here, is the clarity with which the Rambling Taoist states his case, though he defends it with obvious logical fallacies.

The Rambling Taoist accurately discerns his opponent’s thesis, “Republicans (more so diehard conservatives) want to offer parents the opportunity to place their children in any school they want and have taxpayers fund it. Liberals, on the other hand, oppose this concept.” Here he recognizes that the issue is about the parents’ choice. He quotes his opponent’s argument correctly:

There has always been this very false perception that liberals are the champions for the poor, yet time and time again the facts prove otherwise. The facts continue to prove that it is the conservatives that are the true helpers for those in need. Republicans as a whole want freedom of choice in education; Democrats do not want freedom of choice. School vouchers provide that choice and Democrats hate the concept.

Unfortunately, at this point he proceeds to talk about the choices of taxpayers, the (nebulous) ‘community’, the teachers at a private school (where he presents an unjustified and misleading position), and theoretical students trying to attend a school where they don’t meet the admissions criteria. This is an example of the Straw Man fallacy. By ignoring the parents’ choice issue in his post, the Rambling Taoist tacitly concedes that his opponent is correct.

But to answer his issues head-on, let me take the Rambling Taoist’s points one at a time.

They do not believe that taxpayers should be offered any choice in the matter. What if I don’t want to fund a school that teaches apartheid or injects God into every issue? Do I as a taxpayer have a choice of which schools my tax dollars will support?

Two fallacies for the price of one. First, the voucher is not state support of the school. It is state assistance provided to the parent for the purpose of funding education. The taxpayers have no more legitimate objection to the voucher going to a religous school than they have to a welfare recipient tithing to a church. Second, where is the taxpayer choice now? Do taxpayers have the choice to not fund schools that teach false religion? that teach false history? that fail to achieve basic educational goals? No. Vouchers have no affect on taxpayer choice.

Though as I see it, the Rambling Taoist wants to give taxpayers only a strictly limited and unfairly biased set of choices.

They also don’t believe that members of the community should have a say in how a private is run or managed or the curriculum taught. What if members of the community want foreign languages such as Spanish to be taught and private school administrators are against the idea? Should the community have the power to impel Spanish classes?

Somehow, the Rambling Taoist sees a distinction between the parents of children and the community. He seems thinks that if the parents of a community want their children to learn Spanish, that the private schools will refuse. To anyone who has ever run a business, this is obviously nonsense. Either that, or he seems to think that the people with no children of their own have an innate right to force their preferences in education on the people who do have children, and that to not allow the ‘community’ to exercise this force is removing some people’s choice.

What if teachers at a private school decide they want to form a union? Should they be allowed to?

On this issue, the Rambling Taoist presents only his opinion of what other people think, with no evidence. A classic Red Herring.

Finally, should a private school be mandated to accept any student who has the requisite funds to attend? Well, of course not! Private schools have standards!

Yes. The people who own the private school have the right to restrict themselves to a fraction of the available customer base, if they think it’s the right thing to do. The parents have the right to choose between schools that provide a restricted environment and schools that provide an open and integrated one. What’s the problem?

As you can see, the choice argument collapses upon itself. It really has next to nothing to do with providing people with greater options.

What really collapses here is the argument that taking choices away from individuals (this parent, this school administrator, this teacher) to give a restricted set of choices to ‘communities’, ‘taxpayers’, or other groups or organizations, or vice versa, “has next to nothing to do with providing people with greater options”.

I think that if the Rambling Taoist was more forthright, he would simply say that he thinks that he can choose better than the parents can, so he doesn’t want them to choose. I may think I can choose better also, but I support their right to be wrong. And who knows, I might be wrong instead. Can a Taoist make the same admission?

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Carnival of Liberty 27

Carnival hosted by Louisiana Libertarian this week.

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Reason’s Pro-war Libertarian Quiz

How far are you willing to go to win the War on Terror?

An interesting set of questions, 12 for the price of 10, and some with a bit of context missing. I’ll shamelessly copy the questions and give my answers first.

1) Should the National Security Agency or CIA have the ability to monitor domestic phone calls or e-mails without obtaining judicial approval?

2) Should the government have the ability to hold an American citizen without charge, indefinitely, without access to a lawyer, if he is believed to be part of a terrorist cell?

3) Can you imagine a situation in which the government would be justified in waterboarding an American citizen?

4) Are there American journalists who should be investigated for possible treason? Should Sedition laws be re-introduced?

5) Should the CIA be able to legally assassinate people in countries with which the U.S. is not at war?

6) Should anti-terrorism cops be given every single law-enforcement tool available in non-terrorist cases?

7) Should law enforcement be able to seize the property of a suspected (though not charged) American terrorist, and then sell it?

8) Should the U.S. military be tasked with enforcing domestic crime?

9) Should there be a national I.D. card, and should it be made available to law enforcement on demand?

10) Should a higher percentage of national security-related activities and documents be made classified, and kept from the eyes of the Congress, the courts, and the public?

My answers:

1. No, not domestic only. And not even with a warrant. Their turf is outside the country. I would allow them to provide technical assistance to the FBI, however.
2. Only if arrested outside the country by military or foreign police, under circumstances where such treatment would be justified for any other prisoner.
3. Yes. A theoretical American civilian taken in a combat zone, under circumstances where such treatment would be justified for any other prisoner. If it’s ever justified.
4. Yes, and No. The ‘journalists’ who actively cooperate with terrorists in exchange for access, provide slanted and staged news, and act as propaganda services for the enemy are treasonous.
5. Yes. It could prevent a war, and such a policy would make state sponsors of terrorism and other ‘proxy wars’ sleep a bit less comfortably.
6. No. Family law, for example, so emphasizes ‘protecting’ the children that no hint of due process remains.
7. No.
8. No.
9. No and No.
10. No.

Questions of the form ‘Can you imagine X’ are usually tests of imagination more than anything else.

Your turn.

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Italian Meatballs

An Italian judge has ordered a priest to appear in court this month to prove that Jesus Christ existed.

This might just be another ‘look at those whacky europeans’ moment, unless you remember that just 8 months ago we heard that the Italians were prosecuting a writer for insulting the Muslim faith. Put that together with this suit charging the Catholic church with “fraud, abuse of popular credulity and impersonation” based on the claims of a militant atheist, and it seems that defamation of religion is OK with the authorities if the religion is Christian.

A shame those whacky europeans don’t believe in free speech or a level playing field.

via Daily Pundit, here.

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Klingons and Vulcans next?

With a news article about a warp drive and the old story about impulse engines, Star Trek just keeps coming back. Fun to think about, even if it’s not good science. Even better if it is. Time should tell.

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