Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Tech: Still Waiting On Time Travel, DARPA Invents Magic Bullet

The US's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has release promising results for work on a "maneuverable bullet" with a "real-time guidance system," that can hit a moving, dodging target, according to the Inquisitr.

Media released by DARPA and available on their website states, "An experienced shooter using the technology demonstration system repeatedly hit moving and evading targets. Additionally, a novice shooter using the system for the first time hit a moving target."

While the program is designed to be used with a laser-guided sight to control the bullet after leaving the barrel by a military sniper, we can only hope nobody "misplaces" a few rounds and they end up in the hands of a drive-by shooter, or worse, a disgraced Time Agent with his sights (pun intended) set on JFK.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Tech: Ownership Ain't What It Used To Be

Just because you paid for something doesn't mean you own it.

"Deere & Co., makers of John Deere tractors and other equipment, sent a letter to the United States Copyright Office asking that it not allow owners of the company’s tractors to circumvent or modify the software it builds into its machines," according to Canada's Globe and Mail, and unfortunately John Deere isn't the first.

Just like any piece of multimedia you've purchased from Amazon.com, an increasing number of devices have DRM-controls built into them. This makes it a crime to take something old and make it new, both in the respect of taking bought-and-paid-for CDs and ripping them to put the media on an MP3 player, and of taking old hareware and repurposing it into something more useful (The Globe and Mail suggests examples such as old blender to mix paint or fixing your own car).

Multimedia purchased from large retailers like Amazon.com is just as bad. If you bought it through their services, you can only use it on their approved platforms. They've even created an Amazon-specific eBook format to keep you trapped. And if you think for a moment that you've actually bought any of those books, movies, or music, you're sadly mistaken. What you've actually paid for is a license to use the product within strict guidelines: no remixing, no converting it into other formats, and very limited sharing with others (if you're lucky).

"In this world, “property” becomes the exclusive purview of manufacturers. You don’t get to own your computerized devices: You are only and forevermore a tenant of them, and the manufacturers are the landlords and they get to decide how you use the goods they deign to allow you to pay for."

Does this seem unjust to you? Do you feel you deserve to gain the full value of your personal belongings regardless whether you bought the hard-copy or the digital edition? Give the EFF a call, and join the war against DCMA (US) and C-11 (Canada).

Monday, April 27, 2015

Education: Former Teacher Sweeps School Board Election Vote

John Dryden, who made national news in 2013 when he chose student rights over job security, ran for a school board seat in the district that cut his teaching career short this past spring. He won one of three seats, beating the standing incumbent by six hundred votes in a town of 26,000 citizens (according to 2013 census data). Many of his votes came from former students and first-time voters, some of which spoken before the board in defense of him.

"Give 'em hell" is the general response to Mr Dryden's successful campaign, where he plans to do just that, targeting the issues that interfered with his lesson plans, including "creat[ing] a bottom-up model that focuses on teachers rather than [the existing] top-down model focusing on administrators," according to the Chicago Tribune.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Science: Yellowstone Caldera vs Death By Ladder

An enormous reservoir of magma has been discovered beneath Yellowstone National Park in Utah. How enormous? The Week describes it as enough to fill the Grand Canyon "almost 14 times."

But don't go packing your emergency rations yet. Scientists report that the likelihood of the long-known supervolcano releasing its tides of destruction are about 1 is 700,00 for any given year. According to the Insurance Information Institute, that's about the same as dying by "falling on [or] from [a] ladder or scaffolding."

For all the times I've breached OSHA regulations on the use of ladders, let me tell you: you've got nothin' to worry about. Besides which, if it did go off, there's hardly anywhere on the planet you could go to get away from it.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Science: New Species Bad News For Pest Control Services

One of the most common ways to discover a new species of something is to invest time in looking at or for something else. This is no different from the pocket shark discovered for only the second time, while researchers were examining sperm whale feeding habits, according to Washington Post. While these miniature sharks are very rare, their diminutive size (less than a half-foot) is bound to make them a wishlist item for pet owners with more money than brain cells.

I wonder what PETA would do?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Business: Body-Shaming Giant Repeals Hiring Policy


In a world where celebrities and internet superstars are regularly shamed when making off-hand remarks that objectify people, body-shaming giant Abercrombie & Fitch is finally changing its hiring practices and reducing its topless sales staff.

According to Washington Post and the NY Post, this past Friday, A&F is only just tuning their policies to focus more on "strong work ethic" than "sexualized marketing."

It's about time.

Shaming for those who make offhand remarks, either internationally or otherwise, is sharp and swift on the Internet, but A&F has been defying that trend for years.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Censorship: Minecraft-Turkey Ban Doesn't See The Whole Picture

"Although the game can be seen as encouraging creativity in children by letting them build houses, farmlands and bridges, mobs of creatures must be killed in order to protect these structures. In short, the game is based on violence," says a report from the General Directorate of the Child Services, according to BGNNews.

This is only partially true.

Minecraft has multiple game settings, and the one that concerns the Digital Games Research Association Turkey Chapter, the governmental body seeking to ban Minecraft, is only one of them. Minecraft also has a wholly Creative play mode, which still encourages creativity, but puts the player in a state of invincibility. Putting the game on "peaceful" (one of four difficulty levels) prohibits aggressive "mobs" (the in-game term for non-player characters, or NPCs) from "spawning" (appearing or existing) altogether. On top of that, the traditional play mode, called Survival, can be played in a fully defensive manner, without engaging in aggressive mobs altogether; few people play that way, but it is certainly possible. (It's actually my preferred play style.)

Besides which, is it not good to teach your children the ethical concerns that come with self-defense? What better teaching tool than a game designed to inspire creativity and with a significantly low graphic violence quotient?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Health: Appearance Isn't Everything

A mother's attempt to look strong and attentive to her blog audience in the face of the suffering and pain of her son failed disastrously in January. According to The Public Slate, her son's sickliness was wholly manufactured through "multiple surgeries that he did not need" followed by a fatal dose of sodium while hospitalized.

Ms Lacey Spears is facing twenty years to life and the label of a mostly unknown mental illness, "Munchausen by proxy," which may be a legitimate claim or mere assignation of blame.

Photo credit: Lacey Spears, 2012

Monday, April 13, 2015

Tech: Prevent a Fan-Revival By Stopping Abandonment

A controversial DMCA judgment is being considered as an exception to their extensive anti-piracy policies.

According to ArsTechnica.com, the exception "seeks to give gamers the right to modify games with abandoned online servers in order to restore online gameplay and functionality." Both the ESA and MPAA are fighting it, calling it "encouraging... unlawful reproduction and distribution of infringing content."

Maybe you shouldn't have abandonded the server and left a hole in the lives of your fan-base then.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) suggests a six-month period of server inaccessibility to determine true abandonment, seeking a middle ground to protect both developers and ethusiastic fans.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Crime: Arrested for Potential Wrongdoing


"Even though some might say this is just a teenage prank, who knows what this teenager might have done," said Pasco, FL County Sher. Chris Nocco.

In what is being called an "act of hacking," Domanik Green used a teacher's password to access a school computer and plant "inappropriate pictures," including setting a homosexual desktop wallpaper, according to Tampa Bay Times. Said computer is also reported to contain answers to the state standardized tests.

Using someone else's password is hardly hacking, while it is certainly an unapproved and abuse of school property and materials. Hacking generally involves compromising the security of the system via vulnerabilities in the hardware or software, and entering in a pre-existing system password just doesn't do that.

The teacher whose account was breached (a valid term, not indicative of "hacking") remains unnamed and apparently is not being reprimanded for using poor security practices, including using a simple password and entering it into a terminal while being observed by students. For a system that hosts state-wide standardized test answers, such negligence should be due serious consequences.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Censorship: Why Hack When You Can Just Protest?

Buoyed by Sony's Christmas controversy over the movie, "The Interview," students at the University of Michigan temporarily derailed screening of "American Sniper," continuing the mantra that the few are responsible for protecting the minds of the many, regardless of the many's personal feelings on the matter.

It's too bad the Guardians of Peace are too late to learn this lesson: that filing a petition is enough to suspend a movie (albeit temporarily), they might have found it less expensive (and less illegal) to simply round up scores or sympathizers to picket Sony headquarters.

According to Lamees Mekkaoui, the student who initialized the movement against the U of MI screening, she "felt uncomfortable during [American Sniper]," when she watched it of her own free will. Instead of giving others the opportunity to educate themselves of the conflicting opinions between the movie and reality, or simply leaving the movie, she felt compelled to "demand censor and closure... [where she did] not necessarily belong."

Sound familiar? It should. Those are the words of Lois Keidan speaking on the matter of Charlie Hebdo, a quote I myself employed back in January.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Sexuality: NFL Player Self-Contradicts His Own Cowardice

Michael Sam is out about is sexuality. Not just to his close friends or family, but to his employers, fans, and the world as a whole.

An anonymous player is calling out as offended by being called "less courageous" by not being "as out" as Mr. Sam. Said player "says he's open about his sexuality with close friends," according to TMZ.

Do you hear that? Anonymous. He's fearful of naming himself, which is classic cowardice. If he really wanted to make a case about it, he would allow his name to be released.

I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with not being out and open about your sexuality (though admittedly, the longer you put it off, the more you look like a bandwagon-jumper). For some people, it's unsafe to be out, and I recognize that.

I myself have been out for years.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Grammar: Too Much Information in Small Space Bound To Cause Confusion

"Police Searching for Montgomery Man Charged With Attempted Murder" was a headline released by the Batavia Patch at the end of last month, and in the world of police officers shooting fleeing suspects, leaves concern and confusion in the minds of readers.

Who was charged with attempted murder? The police searching or the Montgomery man?

Health: Parent Blames Sugar Instead of Poor Parenting

"It’s harder than you think to get your kid excited about vegetables," claims Therese Borchard, of Everyday Health, "Many people who suffer from chronic severe depression and anxiety are allergic to sugar and foods... that the human body processes like sugar. Like most of my theories, I have tested this one on my 13-year-old son."

After dosing her son with an excessive dosage of sugar-filled treats, he responds with uncharacteristic behavior, starting with bouncing off the furniture and slowly devolving into depressive-like self-hate. What she fails to recognize is that these symptoms are more indicative of a sugar high than any mental disorder.

The problem isn't getting your kids excited in vegetables, it's getting vegetables to look and taste appealing. My folks did great by that: my father makes fantastically delicious green salads which were more of a "treat" in our house than any sugary snack.

I also must question her testing methodology, unethically using a child who is likely unaware of the risks of being a subject, and the child's legal guardian not unbiased in her priority between the child's heath and the test.