Archive for Technology

  • Rob Spectre
  • 29
  • Nov
  • 09

This weekend an athlete celebrity gets in a reasonably serious car accident and our post-modern media machine swang into a frenzy after a slow holiday news cycle.  The news “broke,” in so far as any story does these days, first on Twitter, beating CNN by a full 45 minutes.  The time lag between the story’s publication on the real-time web and on a major media service was then immediately seized upon by new media advocates as indicative of these changing times.

TechCrunch’s MG Siegler even judged the example as sufficient evidence upon which to write the obituary for the journalism industry as it was previously known.  He declared Twitter the new “Walter Cronkite;” that the Internet service has replaced the slo-mo traditional journalist as the breaking news voice the 21st century citizen trusts most.

Some will say they don’t mind waiting an extra hour to get just the facts. That’s fine. But that’s not really true. It may be true for a relatively small incident like a minor car crash, but imagine if a national (or worldwide) catastrophe happened. Do you honestly believe that any one of those people would be content to sit back and wait for the 100% fact-checked version of the story?

The claim was the kind of incendiary, far-reaching generalization that has become the hallmark of the post-digital school of journalism: a search engine friendly headline loaded with buzzwords sensationalizing an indefensible op-ed in the shameless pursuit of greater page views.   Siegler’s conclusion was so far-fetched it even compelled his colleague Deven Coldewey to follow with a dissenting, more even-handed interpretation of the story’s portent for the future of the news business.

Source: TechCrunch

Source: TechCrunch

At the center of Siegler’s argument is a press release issued by the Florida Highway Patrol which was first posted on Twitter by the nascent and popular new media wire service BNO News.  The boiler plate release used for car accidents resulting in a hospitalization was issued by the FHP the afternoon after the early morning accident containing the name of a certain A-list golfer.

BNO News posted that they had received a report that the 33-year-old male Eldrick Tiger Woods had been injured seriously.  45 minutes later, CNN reported that the golf star had just been injured.  Siegler concludes from that disparity of timeliness and accuracy of the reporting that the former is clearly the future while the latter suffers under the weight of its own antiquated machinery.

Let’s look at the entire story.  If the only measure of a news source’s quality is how quickly it can regurgitate a press release, in this particular case the old Fourth Estate obviously got scooped.  But in the direct comparison of BNO’s breaking news Twitter “wire” and CNN’s international news network, let’s look at the difference of the organizations’ responsibilities.

BNO’s popular @breakingnews Twitter account has 1.5 million followers.  Even if were were to assume they had the same amount through its other distribution methods like its popular iPhone app, it is dwarfed by the 93 million US households and 212 countries in which CNN is available.  Giving BNO a generous spot with 3 million unique consumers it would put the service barely comparable to CNN’s prime-time audience on a slow night.  In terms of total reach, CNN is over 30 times larger than BNO.  The league in audience easily justifies an extra forty-five minutes of fact checking.

Telling three million people something and telling one hundred million people something are two very different things.  If BNO is wrong, its an honest mistake based on the best information at hand.  If CNN is wrong, its a libel and slander lawsuit liability that makes forty-five minutes of phone call very easy to rationalize.  Given that the release was a boiler-plate produced by the graveyard shift of an overworked state office, CNN’s experience in handling sensitive information may seem needlessly conservative to MG Siegler, but then he will never have to pay eight figures if he jumps the gun.

Beyond the legal obligation is the moral duty of a journalist to get it right before publication.  In the line of work that Tiger Woods is in, his health is his meal ticket.  The public perception of his fitness for the game of golf is directly tied to how much money he makes.  To report inaccurately a serious injury without making sure it wasn’t a late-night clerical error would do material harm to a figure like Woods for whom ability to play is his livelihood.  MG Siegler’s attitude towards an early inaccuracy is “So what? The story is developing.  People should be smart enough to know mistakes happen.”

Siegler acts like there are no consequences for rushing the hard work of journalism, an attitude I hope he finds is rare in his line of work.  Most reporters take the accuracy of their work far more seriously, particularly when it might affect how much food a man puts on his table.

Finally is the business issue.  CNN makes money doing its work – BNO News does not.  CNN pulled in $46.98 billion in revenue in 2008.  BNO is still “in development” as the first news wire startup.  CNN is held by a public company answerable materially to shareholders.  BNO News is a couple dudes in the Netherlands.  If the press release turnaround difference between an organization with two people and a handful of volunteers and a unit in a 86,400-employee company is just over half an hour, any rational measure would describe CNN as efficient.

The stakes are bigger at the level CNN is playing at – the comparison is just naive.

My news to MG Siegler, to TechCrunch, and to all the post-digital journalists out there (of which I am surely one) is that Walter Cronkite is dead.  There is not going to be the next Walter Cronkite.  The thoughtful, disciplined, considered research found in the infancy of broadcast journalism is not going to be a part of our brave new world.

A web service is never going to replace a man; a distribution model is never going to replace a discipline.  And those who think corners can be cut, constraints can be relaxed and words don’t matter are not likely to be a part of it.  The consumer demand Walter Cronkite fulfilled was “the way it is” – the straight delivery of the issues that matter.

“The way it is” is not driven by page views.  The conclusion then is that hacks like MG Siegler and infant services like BNO should make hay while the sun shines.  For the disproportionate value they currently enjoy will eventually be proven false, and the real successor to the fabled 20th century journalist will emerge.

  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati
  • Rob Spectre
  • 24
  • Nov
  • 09

It was just this time last year that we were cracking open the skulls of the undead over the delicious, acrid sizzle of overheated shotgun barrels with the release of Valve’s Left 4 Dead. While the famed developer’s lightning quick turnaround time on a sequel has been the target of much outrage (even a threatened boycott), the authors of the Half-Life franchise has proved they aren’t a one trick pony.  With the latest installment of the four player co-op zombie apocalypse masterpiece, they’ve finally produced a winning franchise that they didn’t buy first – and cemented that victory in a year’s time.

Source: Valve

Source: Valve

For fans of the original, Left 4 Dead 2 is a much different and much harder game.  Building on the successful formula of the original with a shitload more weapons, some of the finest level design yet produced in a first person shooter, and some real motherfucker new zombies, life after Z-Day isn’t the walk in the park it once was.  The zombies drop slower, run faster and have more ways to clamp their undead pieholes around your tender neck than ever before, making a helpful sequel to our guide to surviving Left 4 Dead a necessity incumbent.

Here’s some helpful tricks to keep your lungs from becoming someone’s lunch.

1) Take A Breather

In Left 4 Dead, the melee shove was the best weapon in the game.  With a couple square yards of effect and no cooldown, if you ever got in a real pinch you could duck into a corner and melee spam until some help came to bail your fat out of the fire.  The sequel nerfs that shit with a four foot wiffle bat.

Rate of fire of your melee attack drops drastically after three or four.  Be sure to pick your melee bursts well and, most importantly, time it with a reload of your weapon.  How you time your melee often decides whether you watch the horde from the deck or from the dirt.

2) Batting Order

You can’t win the World Series with three hot bats, nor can you beat Left 4 Dead 2.  The new melee weaponry are pantloads of fun to play, but only if your squad takes turns.  Nothing turns the panic music to requiem sonata faster than four douchebags all carrying cricket bats.

Keep a good balance of ranged and melee in your secondary slots – one can be helpful, more than two is a liability.

Source: IGN.com

Source: IGN.com

3) The Three S’s

Squat, shove and swat, melee fans – in that order.  Getting the distance right on your melee weapon is next to impossible and usually a waste of health.  To get the maximum effect out of that axe or crowbar, crouch, melee shove, then take a swing.  You hit more zombies per stroke and by ducking, you’ll avoid friendly fire.

Following the three S’s will save a lot of health and heartache.

4) Jockeys Come First

No special zombie is more dangerous than the Jockey.  While the Tank and the Charger can be devastating in the right area, a Jockey can fuck everything in the campaign into a cocked hat anywhere.   Sticking together is way more important in this game than its predecessor and no one splits up a crew as well as the Jockey.  While a player will usually get hung up on a park bench or a rail with a Smoker, a Jockey will ride your ass right off a ledge, right into a Boomer or Witch or even do laps in a pool of Spitter acid.

You hear that giggling bastard and your priority should be evident.  Always shoot the Jockey first.

5) Still No Time Like The Present

The best tip from our last guide was using your disposable items.  Now in addition to Molotov cocktails and pipe bombs, players have access to bile canisters, adrenaline shots and ammo dispensers.  Like before, there is no better time to use the weapon in your hand than right nowLeft 4 Dead 2 sprinkles items far more liberally than the original and you are rarely ever in a situation where “the right moment” for your item will ever come.

Make like Snoop Dogg and drop that shit while it’s hot.

  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati
  • Rob Spectre
  • 04
  • Nov
  • 09

Last year while the country was engulfed in Obama vs. McCain madness, the Internet first began to get word of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).  On the surface, it would seem that the treaty originally intended to curb the sale of cheap copycat knockoffs of brand name merchandise in the developing world would have little to do with the Internet that has come to drive the global economy.

But digital freedom advocates started to become concerned when they got wind of provisions for Internet distribution in the treaty.  That concern gave way to alarm when government officials – from the Bush White House to Obama’s – came up with these provisions in secret.

And that alarm surrender to full-blown, porkchop sandwich, five-alarm, habenero-in-your-cornhole outrage today when during the sixth round of ACTA negotiations in South Korea the Internet chapter of the treaty was finally leaked.

Many of the provisions are frightening indeed:

That ISPs have to proactively police copyright on user-contributed material. This means that it will be impossible to run a service like Flickr or YouTube or Blogger, since hiring enough lawyers to ensure that the mountain of material uploaded every second isn’t infringing will exceed any hope of profitability.

That ISPs have to cut off the Internet access of accused copyright infringers or face liability. This means that your entire family could be denied to the internet… if one member is accused of copyright infringement, without access to a trial or counsel.

That the whole world must adopt US-style “notice-and-takedown” rules that require ISPs to remove any material that is accused — again, without evidence or trial — of infringing copyright.

Mandatory prohibitions on breaking DRM, even if doing so for a lawful purpose.

The focus on digital freedom in recent years has been laser sharp on net neutrality.  For many advocates of our rights online, we’ve been so focused on the companies providing the Internet we know and love we’ve largely forgotten the threat of the governments that regulate them.  With ACTA, our attention should snap like a pair of browsers in Windows 7, bringing back calls for transparency in these negotiations that will govern international trade.

Whether through technology or litigation, Hollywood wants to shut down the Internet that birthed the information economy.  So long as we allow them to continue their work behind closed doors, a spoon-fed, broadcast-style Internet is going to be our future and the user will be left wondering what happened.

  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati
  • Rob Spectre
  • 02
  • Nov
  • 09

After the other day’s failed attempt to upgrade my Lenovo X60 Tablet to Windows 7, I finally got around to booting the machine to its Ubuntu Linux install.  Canonical released its own big update to its operating system, 9.10 codenamed Karmic Koala.  A number of reviews have been written on the release, comparing the latest release of the Linux distribution focused on a world class consumer desktop experience to Microsoft’s attempt to save face after Vista’s flop.

With the bitter resentment of spending $200 for a failed product, I braced myself for pure misery with Karmic’s $0 pricepoint.  If a $60 billion company wouldn’t support my laptop if I paid them two benjamins, what could I expected from a tiny South African startup without handing them a nickel?

Here’s the (d)N0t infographic comparison of the two upgrades on the exact same hardware.

ataleoftwoupgrades

Hardware: Lenovo X60 Tablet PC

  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati
  • Rob Spectre
  • 24
  • Oct
  • 09

“Two hundred dollars. Are you shitting me?” I asked the clerk.

“$199.99 plus tax,” the timid man corrected, undoubtedly wishing by now that he could crawl under the counter and hide.

“I can buy a netbook with Windows 7 on it for $200.”

“Would you like to look at a netbook?”

“No. Give me the damn box.”

Anything off a shelf is more expensive than free, so after blissfully converting to an open source household years ago, the idea of paying for an upgrade has become alien. If that seemed unusual, the idea of paying serious money for what is, in effect, a patch for a previous failure seems batshit fucking loco. With the right contractor, $200 would supply the purchase and installation of a Toto bidet and would likely result in less shit on my hands than Windows 7.

Source: Silicon Alley Insider

Source: Silicon Alley Insider

After a morning of intense retail struggle, I at last had the product in my hands in front of its intended recipient. For me, Windows 7 was a performance upgrade. I had heard from a number of friends who jumped in during the beta that the overall responsiveness of the operating system had dramatically increased. Being a tablet user, this was crucial as the laptop had sacrificed horsepower for light form factor. Even with four gigabytes of RAM, Vista takes an eternity to boot and frequently slowed to a crawl for even basic web operations.

Stoked to see the performance boost for myself I plinked the entirely too goddamned expensive DVD into the tray and got going with an in-place upgrade. To cut to the big reveal, I never made it past the compatibility screen.

My laptop is the Lenovo X60 tablet, very popular in the tablet PC scene if a couple years old.  Made by a major manufacturer and Microsoft partner, I would have expected the upgrade to run smoothly.  I made it exactly one screen past the license agreement before hitting my hard stop.  During the compatibility check, it told me to uninstall a program that came installed by the laptop manufacturer.

The hitch?  No such program is listed in Add/Remove Programs.  Windows 7 was telling me to get rid of a program that Windows Vista said didn’t exist.

After three hours of repeated attempts and uninstalling a shitload of the manufactuer-loaded software, I found in a forum that I needed to rename a system file in order to clear the false incompatibility message that prevented my upgrade.

In Linux or OSX, this would be simple enough.   Open a command terminal, gain superuser privileges, and rename the file with one command. Definitely not something the average fuck-stupid user would consider appropriate for an OS upgrade, but for my nerdly patience an acceptable obstacle to navigate for a better performing laptop.

In Vista, however, renaming a system file is fucking impossible. Because of the revamped, short-bus security model in Vista, two commands are required to just get the permissions to change a system file – even as the most privileged user on the machine. However, once those permissions are gained, one still can’t rename the file if its in use, even if it is non-critical to the system running. According to the research I did in that three hour timesink, the only other option for me is to do a fresh install which I’m not going to do.

This is not 1999. Operating systems are not some mystic, ethereal projects only one company can manage any more.   The entire Internet can be searched in seconds.  The human genome can be sequenced in a week.  After nearly two decades of development, Windows should be able to just fucking work.

For Mac and Linux users, in-place operating upgrades are ordinary.  My Ubuntu desktop has retained all my installed applications and preferences since Breezy Badger, which was released four years and seven upgrades ago.  The hassle of reinstalling and reconfiguring my OS is just not acceptable any more.

So my review of Windows 7?  Well, the box looks great, but I wouldn’t pay $200 for it.

  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati