Something for the weekend: Week 50, 2017

These are some longer things I’ve read this week. I don’t guarantee that they’re new, just that I found them interesting:

    1. Former Facebook exec says social media is ripping apart society. At least they admit it once they’ve quit the company.
    2. You don’t need to go vegan to save the planet. Nevertheless, your diet is one of the most important factors driving climate change. A less meat-heavy diet (like in the Mediterrean) is enough to improve things significantly. So you don’t have to buy a Tesla, just go vegetarian 5 days out of 7 and maybe add a vegan day now and then.
    3. Digitiser at 25, part 1. Mr Biffo is a Teletext celebrity. He did Teletext gaming journalism. In the 90s!
    4. How the US government pressured Sweden into taking down The Pirate Bay. If you are the USA, you can enforce your own values and laws all over the world. This has happened under the umbrella of the DMCA as when Norwegian special police stormed into Jon Lech Johansen‘s house and confiscated all his computers even though there were no legal grounds for it under Norwegian law. Why did they do it anyway? US government strongarming. This is also the reason all the banks in the world give up customer data about US customers, and only US customers, to the US government. Because otherwise the US central bank would cut off their access to US Dollars, and that would destroy any bank immediately.

I’d be delighted if some of that tickled your curiosity.

Something for the weekend: Week 49, 2017

These are some longer things I’ve read this week. I don’t guarantee that they’re new, just that I found them interesting:

  1. Google is blocking Amazon devices from YouTube. This is what happens when you have an oligopoly of powerful companies who make proprietary software and closed services. The companies start dictating what features you have on your devices and they decide when you lose them. Even though it’s you who owns the devices and it’s they who are fighting among themselves. The victim is the customer. The Verge covers this take as well.
  2. Google’s true origin partly lies in CIA and NSA research grants for mass surveillance. It’s interesting to know this, but as Facebook shows, you don’t have to be sponsored by the NSA to find out how profitable the destruction of privacy is.
  3. Facebook Messenger is now available specifically for kids. The privacy implications are horrendous. While this is very creepy, always remember that Microsoft follows a similar tactic. Hook them young (with discounted Office and Windows licenses for schools in the 90s, and now with free Office 365 subscriptions for education) and those kids will likely become your customers when they grow up. The sad thing here is that we might raise a generation of kids that is used to giving up their privacy to surveillance capitalism.
  4. Zeta Global acquires Disqus. What happens when the comments and communications from thousands of websites fall into the hands of a marketing company? This shows how dangerous it is to entrust your communications to a commercial private entity that can be bought, including all the data you thought was private. Granted, it’s about public website comments here. But the same could happen to e.g. Dropbox.
  5. Surveillance Capitalism thinks it won, but there’s still time to unplug it. Billions have given up their privacy in exchange for cat pictures and a free e-mail service (that in a private version would cost less than € 2/month, by the way). We can yet destroy surveillance capitalism, but those of us who are still feeding it need to change their habits.
  6. In praise of cash. An older article, but no less important. Corporate powers and even some governments want to move you away from cash and towards a cashless society that is easier to surveil, easier to manipulate. This not only threatens your privacy but also removes a lot of valid commercial activity at the fringes, done by people without smartphones, without a credit rating, without plastic money or bank accounts. And people who don’t need any of these things, because there is cash.

I’d be delighted if some of that tickled your curiosity.

Something for the weekend: Week 48, 2017

These are some longer things I’ve read this week. I don’t guarantee that they’re new, just that I found them interesting:

  1. Can the new Firefox Quantum browser regain its market share? Firefox is the last really open browser with any significance, but Microsoft, Google and Apple are actively trying to destroy the open web. Don’t let them succeed. The article covers half a dozen other angles that I didn’t address in my old article.
  2. A growing number of Americans are leaving desk jobs to farm. This resonated with me not because of the illusion that I could be a good farmer, but because of the sad state of the IT industry. If it gets any more closed or much more proprietary-services-driven, I think I would feel happier filling up shelves at Aldi.
  3. Facebook can’t cope with the world it’s created. They are dominating all of Asia except China. The former is a tragedy in the making for society, and the latter is just bad for Zuckerberg’s bottom line.
  4. Ciao, Chrome: Firefox Quantum is the browser built for 2017. I’m so glad that Mozilla is getting this much recognition. This is our last chance to preserve the free web (at least on the client side). I hope the new Firefox reaches 30% market share at some point, so we have a good competitive market. We should never have to depend on a web advertisement company that spies on us for our web browsing. But the fact that most people now browse on mobile and that only Android allows Firefox to exist is deeply troubling. On iOS, Firefox is just a wrapper around Apple’s web rendering engine, because Apple is the all-powerful iOS gatekeeper and doesn’t allow this competition.
  5. Electronic Arts: The Donald Trump of Gaming. EA is a terrible games company by many metrics, but you knew that before. The latest clusterfuck surrounding microtransactions in Star Wars: Battlefront II is just the piss-flavored icing on the shit cake EA has become. The problem is that their behavior may rub off on other, better game companies if they turn too greedy — and it seems like it already has.
  6. System76 will be removing Intel ME from all its laptops. If you weren’t aware of it, Intel ME contains an entire separate computer inside your computer that has access to all your hardware, all the memory, all your secret keys. It can take over your entire machine and runs even when your PC is switched off. All this is hidden from you and outside your control. Who controls it? You can’t know. No one knows. All we know is that any Intel PC is potentially open for complete takeover and no OS-level security tools can do anything against it. Up until now, nobody outside Intel has  been able to completely disable this spying machine. System76 laptops seem to be a first for us consumers, perhaps soon followed by the ones from Purism.

I’d be delighted if some of that tickled your curiosity.

Some hints for coping with stress, by someone who has coped with stress

I don’t want to bore you with my life story, but I had several years of stress that ended up manifesting themselves bodily in the form of nausea, rapid heart palpitations, erratic sleep and eating patterns, depression, permanent exhaustion, mood swings, memory loss, light hallucinations and very painful cramp-like symptoms in various body parts

It was so bad for some time that I couldn’t lie on my back anymore and had to sleep while sitting. How do I know that it was stress that caused this? I am only guessing, but I got rid of the stress, and now the symptoms are gone as well. Symptoms that I had for years and that no doctor could explain. So maybe here are some hints you could surely also get from anyone else with a similar backstory:

Continue reading “Some hints for coping with stress, by someone who has coped with stress”

A game that needs a remake: inFamous 2

Oh, the PS3. A problematic console from the start, with its strange Cell processor and its status somewhere between home entertainment system and games console. I suspect it only succeeded because of Sony’s muscle at the time, having emerged from the last console wars as a winner.

Screenshot of inFamous 2 courtesy of Hooked Gamers

But this isn’t about the PS3, or only insofar as inFamous 2 is one of the titles that really, really taxes the system, and is a PS3 exclusive. Here’s inFamous 2 in a few paragraphs, maybe enough of them stick for you that you’ll give this game a chance:

The synopsis is this: You’re a freak who gets electricity-based superpowers, but now you can’t drive a car anymore and water kills you. Make sense so far? But you gotta save the world from the The Beast that approaches the Floridaesque or New Orleansy coastal city of New Marais.

Writing, characters, story

There is excellent writing (for an action game) with solid characterization and great voice work. The lead character, Cole, is interesting because the voice actor (Eric Ladin) does this gruff-sexy-action-hero type of gravely monotone, but he puts just the right amount of emotional nuance into it to make it interesting. The lines he gets are often surprisingly human. These people talk just like people! The game won’t bore you with ages of exposition, each dialog is just the minimal amount of information to move the story forward, delivered in short well-written bursts.

Graphics and sound

You’ll find breathtaking environments. Think Zelda: Breath of the Wild invented the scenic third-person game? Think again. inFamous 2 has beautiful vistas by the truckload. Particularly the skyboxes are astonishing — depending on the mood they want to create, they either look like something from a comic book or something from an apocalyptic classical painting.

This is one of the large non-boss enemies you’ll face

Lighting is carefully chosen in general, with the whole scene bathed in a bluish twilight here or a dark orange sunset glow there. The architecture also deserves to be mentioned. It’s as if the developers had worked with an architect and a city planner to lay out the areas. Wood shacks and half-collapsed brick houses in Flood Town, colonial redbrick and a huge cathedral in the main part of town, an industrial wasteland full of gas tanks, train tracks and repair warehouses in the, err, industrial part. It all looks believable and organic.

Textures deserve to be mentioned as well, as I haven’t seen many PS3 games with such varied and careful texture work. Bricks and rocks have a palpable rough feel to them, colors in the main part of town are chosen carefully to be muted so that the many neon signs and lights pop out. Scenes with water feel glistening and wet.

Gameplay

This sequel has much more accessible gameplay than inFamous 1. That alone sets it apart enough for me. You unlock superpowers at just the right rate, and you feel like a badass as you climb through the cityscape or grind on a powerline. There aren’t any of those annoying tutorial levels like in inFamous 1, so in case you’re worrying about that, worry not.

You’ll be facing hundreds of normal, smaller enemies that each use different tactics, and usually the AI is good enough to make things interesting. You rarely feel totally overpowered, so you can rarely just stop thinking. Sometimes the AI gets stuck in corners, especially if you are very far away, but that’s fine. Most of your powers don’t have enough range to hit then anyway, and when you move closer the AI wakes from its daze and joins the fight again.

The few battles with extremely large enemies are all the better for it. Usually you fight enemies roughly your size or twice that. But there are occasions where you need to take on much larger beasts. Those truly shine because they are the exception. You’ll remember these enemies and fights precisely because you didn’t get inundated with sixty bosses already.

The only major criticism I could lob at the game is the framerate. It’s uneven, staring at the sky might get you around 60 fps, but actually playing in the streets hovers around 25 to 30, and battles can go down to the low 20s. They did a fantastic job adapting the controls so that you can win the fights anyway, even when the framerate tanks. But it’s just not beautiful anymore in the age of rock-solid 60 fps like the Nintendo Switch delivers for many games. This game needs a remake. Anyone listening? Screw The Last of Us, inFamous 2 is a fantastic action romp and it needs to be 1080p60 for fuck’s sake.

Festival of Blood: Electric Vampires

If you haven’t had enough of inFamous 2, there is a standalone side-game in the form of inFamous: Festival of Blood that uses the same locations but that lets you be an electrified vampire during a Mardi Gras-ish festival, hunting Bloody Mary, a vampire that terrorizes town. Yes, the cocktail was named after her in this universe, not the other way round.

The writing is once again spot-on, especially Bloody Mary’s diary segments. They’re delivered in her lofty English sing-song and written in the style of Gothic horror novels, always with a fun twist at the end.

You can mingle with townsfolk, but some of them might be hidden vampires you need to stake

Technically the game isn’t different from inFamous 2, but the colors are all changed (much more red) and the atmosphere in the street is very different with hundreds of festivalgoers wearing neon glow-in-the-dark bracelets.

Gameplay is changed from the base inFamous 2 by the addition of vampire powers (vampire sense lets you see into people and whether they are hidden vampires, bat flight turns you into a flock of bat, biting people and sucking their blood refills your bat flight energy, etc.).

The only criticism here is that environments are reused quite often, with one section of catacombs underneath the cathedral serving as location for at least three quests. But this is forgivable.

Final thoughts

Oh, the PS3. It’s getting old now. This is an advantage for you, in case no remake is coming. If you don’t have a PS3, you can get one now for 50 bucks of whatever currency, and inFamous 2 in a digital sale often dips below 10 and includes Festival of Blood. Physical, you might be able to score a used copy for 5.

Also, if you have a beefy PC, keep an eye out for RPCS3. This PS3 emulator has been making great strides, and you can rip games yourself quite easily. It doesn’t really run the inFamous games yet, though. Maybe if RPCS3 becomes optimized enough, we won’t need a remake anymore. A very, very fast PC can potentially play this game at a solid 30 or 60 fps, as there is no frame limiter in the engine.

Here’s a full playthrough with major spoilers if you want to see what the game is like:

Rating: Electric Wizard/10.

Our terrible future of closed protocols and proprietary systems

TL;DR (1072 words): The current trend towards closed communications systems like Slack, Facebook and the like can only hurt us as society. An open standard needs to emerge. Who’s volunteering to support things like Matrix and the “new decentralized Internet”?

I’m trying to illustrate the newly closed nature of the Internet using team chat and team collaboration as an example. But you can expand this example to pretty much anything nowadays. Because the solution to combat this closed-ness applies equally to all of these issues, I hope you can extrapolate from this as necessary.

Continue reading “Our terrible future of closed protocols and proprietary systems”

Something for the weekend: Week 47, 2017

These are some longer things I’ve read this week. I don’t guarantee that they’re new, just that I found them interesting:

  1. Android at 10 part one, part two. As Android turns ten, Google is moving away from Linux and towards their own Fuchsia kernel. What might the next ten years of Android look like?
  2. Super Mario Odyssey review by Digitiser2000’s Mr Biffo. It sums up pretty much what I think about the new mechanics, and also calls out Mario for being a sexist pig. Don’t take this as virtue signaling, but yes, Nintendo might need to work on this when the only game starring Princess Peach is basically a pre-menstrual mood swing simulator with a far too easy  jump’n’run wrapped around it. You know, for girls! Girls can’t play video games! lololol!
  3. Google tracks and sells your location even if you’ve disabled location services. The surprise is probably that anyone’s surprised. Now that the company was caught red-handed doing this, will they promise to stop? I don’t think so, since Silicon Valley believes in “self-regulation” — thus no regulation at all. That we may have to thank Oracle for revealing this doesn’t make it any less bizarre.
  4. Microsoft appears to have lost the source code for parts of Office. And this is the same company that some governments trust with their sensitive data. Why doesn’t Microsoft publish all their software under a FOSS license? It’s like Linus Torvalds is rumored to have said, “Backups are for wimps. Real men upload their data to an FTP site and have everyone else mirror it.”
  5. Ideas were not enough. Not the reformation alone brought religious freedom to western societies, but the fact that enforcing religious unity was becoming too expensive and politically cumbersome for the rulers.
  6. Stress can be good for you, but most toxic stress has measurable detrimental effects on your brain. The article explores the damage stress causes down to the physical level and gives some hints for post-stress recovery. Daily walks and meditation are mentioned. I’ve had episodes of stress and trauma leading to generalized anxiety (as the article also mentions) and I can say that meditation definitely can’t hurt.

I’d be delighted if some of that tickled your curiosity.

Play The Saboteur instead of Wolfenstein II

If you enjoy Nazi-stomping you’ve probably heard of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. They did have a pretty funny marketing campaign, after all. Now according to the reviews I’ve seen so far, it’s a mixed bag. It’s the Doom engine meets the previous Wolfenstein’s setting. Something we’ve more or less seen before, just with better graphics. Not that terribly exciting on a conceptual level, is it?

This section of Paris will turn from black, white and red to color once you get rid of the Nazis

But there’s one game about taking out Nazis that is unique and was overlooked when it came out in 2009: The Saboteur. I’ll leave it to you to find in-depth reviews, but here are some of the things you can do:

Continue reading “Play The Saboteur instead of Wolfenstein II”

Facebook should be regulated, it is incapable of regulating itself

Directly from a Facebook employee formerly in charge of fixing the privacy issues of its developer platform:

[Facebook is] a company that reaches most of the country every day and has the most detailed set of personal data ever assembled, but has no incentive to prevent abuse

Read more at the New York Times.

This is a new trick I’m trying with simple short links to articles. Let me know if it’s annoying or fun.

Hollywood overreacts to its sex scandals

And this begs the question: Who decides what is moral, who decides whose work you are allowed to see?

Comedian Louis C.K. was recently involved in a sex scandal. He did not rape a woman, but he made several women watch him while he was masturbating. HBO reacted by removing Louie’s previous work from their HBOnow service and his film distributor has cancelled the distribution of Louie’s new film titled “I Love You, Daddy”

Continue reading “Hollywood overreacts to its sex scandals”