Game maker Ubisoft has dropped its notorious DRM requirement that all games must be played on computers that are continuously connected to the Internet, even for single-player modes. This comes after many years of categorical statements to the effect that this sort of DRM is an absolute necessity, that it stops piracy cold, and so forth. Rock, Paper, Shotgun interviews Ubisoft spokespeople on the issue, and they just dodge and twist and refuse to give any substantive answers. It's a fascinating read -- a perfect example of corporate doublespeak. Kidos to RPS for sticking to the subject.
RPS: Do you acknowledge that always-on DRM has been extremely damaging to Ubisoft’s reputation?
Burk: I think that, as Stephanie said, I think this is where that feedback comes in. We’ve obviously heard from PC customers that they were unhappy with some of the policies that we had in place, and that’s why we’re looking to make these changes – why we have been implementing these changes, as Stephanie says.
RPS: Would you be willing to say that it was a mistake?
Burk: No, I wouldn’t say that. I’ll let Stephanie say what she thinks, but I wouldn’t use those words. This is a process, and we listened to feedback.
Perotti: I would say the same.
RPS: So you say you’re not talking about data. I find that quite interesting bearing in mind data is the one thing that’s lacking in this entire discussion, across all publishers, the whole spectrum. The one thing no one’s ever shown is any data whatsoever to show DRM’s efficacy. Why do you think that is?
Perotti: I think they are complex topics, and as a company we do not disclose this kind of data for confidentiality reasons. As I said earlier, the situation can be very different, from different games, from different territories.
RPS: Whose confidentiality is being broken by publishing piracy rates?
Burk: It’s internally confidential meaning competitive, not necessarily that we’re breaking anyone’s confidentiality. It’s competitive information and therefore confidential.
I love people who can educate and politicize in creative and entertaining ways. Prince Ea -- hip hop artist, activist and founder of Make SMART Cool -- shows us how it's done with his soon-to-be-released song "Smoking Weed With The President."
This epic 8-minute song is both a history lesson and an advocacy tool that will make you laugh and expand your mind at the same time.
Prince Ea is releasing a lyrical version of the song on Indiegogo to raise money to shoot a music video to accompany the track. You can support Prince Ea's project -- and in doing so reach hundreds of thousands of people.
Check out this great NASA video showing a coronal mass ejection—a burst of plasma thrown off the surface of the Sun—from several different perspectives. It happened on August 31 and it's really gorgeous. It's also rather huge, as far as these things go. Luckily, it wasn't pointed directly at Earth. Coronal mass ejections can affect our planet's magnetic field. There's a risk of large ones screwing with everything from our electric grid to radio waves.
Are pesticides helpful things that allow us to produce more food, and keep us safe from deadly diseases? Or are they dangerous things that kill animals and could possibly be hurting us in ways we haven't even totally figured out just yet?
Actually, they're both.
This week, scientists released a research paper looking at the health benefits (or lack thereof) of organic food—a category which largely exists as a response to pesticide use in agriculture. Meanwhile, Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring, which forced Americans to really think about the health impacts of pesticides for the first time, was published 50 years ago this month.
The juxtaposition really drove home a key point: We're still trying to figure out how to balance benefits and risks when it comes to technology. That's because there's no easy, one-size-fits-all answer. Should we use pesticides, or should we not use them? The data we look at is objective but the answer is, frankly, subjective. It also depends on a wide variety of factors: what specific pesticide are we talking about; where is it being used and how is it being applied; what have we done to educate the people who are applying it in proper, safe usage. It's complicated. And it's not just about how well the tools work. It's also about how we used them.
“It is not my contention,” Carson wrote in Silent Spring, “that chemical insecticides must never be used. I do contend that we have put poisonous and biologically potent chemicals indiscriminately into the hands of persons largely or wholly ignorant of their potentials for harm. We have subjected enormous numbers of people to contact with these poisons, without their consent and often without their knowledge.”
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Unknown Fields (UF) is a design studio, originating in London’s Architectural Association, that "ventures out on annual expeditions to the ends of the earth exploring unreal and forgotten landscapes, alien terrains and obsolete ecologies." Mark Pilkington, author of Mirage Men and publisher of Strange Attractor, has just led this busload of architects, writers, filmmakers and artists in an exploration of the mythic landscape of the American Southwest, and the stories that it has inspired. Their trajectory took them from Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque New Mexico to Black Rock City, Nevada, via sites of military, architectural and folkloric significance. Mark sent us occasional postcards from the edge. - David Pescovitz
White Sands Missile Range Museum and National Park
America’s space program started here in 1946 with the aid of a few dozen German rocket scientists, imported as part of the highly-secret Operation Paperclip. The apex of their WWII achievements was the enormous V-2 rocket, which housed its devastating cargo in an elegant back and yellow casing. An original 1946 V-2, cut-away to reveal the intricacies of its thrust and steering mechanisms, forms the centerpiece of the museum collection. Over the next 20 years Paperclip team leader Wernher von Braun built ever-larger missiles, climaxing with the Saturn and Apollo rockets that took America to the Moon.
As its curator reassures us, White Sands’ on-site museum is “not your typical military museum”; as well as a housing a wealth of missile related technology and ephemera, it has sections dedicated to the local flora and fauna, including the African Oryx released into the wilderness in the late 1960s to entertain hunters and wreak environmental destruction; the indigenous peoples who once lived on the land, (many of the earliest inhabitants disappeared in the 16th century as the once verdant lands turned to desert), and a room of paintings by a survivor of the brutal Bataan forced march of WWII, in which up to 10,000 Pilipinos and 650 Americans died at Japanese hands. Outside is the rocket garden, housing a number of missiles, rockets and drones used in combat from WWII to Gulf War I, including personal favorites like the ever-reliable Ryan drone, the monumental Redstone Cruise Missile, and the saucer-shaped Viking Mars Decelerator.
Following the museum the Unknown Fields team engaged in workshop activities amongst the gypsum dunes of the White Sands themselves, formed from the remains of a 250 million year old shallow sea. As part of our training for future hostile environments, we fought off hordes of aggressive red ants, made sand circles on which to land our RC drones, buried one team member alive, and tested the effects of exposure on another as he ran naked across the shifting desert sands.
[Video Link] Here's the latest video from PBS Digital Studio's excellent "Idea Channel" web series. It's about the 5,000-page (and growing!) webcomic Homestuck.
You might not think that a 265,000+ word novel from 1918 and a webcomic started in 2009 would have a lot in common. But one trait they both share is that each work presents a real challenge to the reader -- in length as well as difficulty. Created by Andrew Hussie, Homestuck is over 5000 pages so far -- and still growing. It has a strong cult following and presents incredible challenges to its readers: a giant cast of characters, huge walls of text, and animated flash games that you must beat in order to continue. Likewise, James Joyce's Ulysses is a lengthy book full of dense language and crammed with literary references, requiring lots of previous education or continuous research to catch all meaning. The joy that readers of both works share relates to a bit of psychology known as "Effort Justification," which basically says that the more difficult an experience a person undertakes, the more satisfied that person will be once finished.
My latest Locus column is "Why Science Fiction Movies Drive Me Nuts," in which I propose that the reason the science in sf movies is so awful is that they're essentially operas about technology.
The reason that SF movies command such a titanic amount of attention and money from audiences is because they are brilliantly wrought spectacles. What they lack in depth and introspection, they make up for in polish and craftsmanship. Every costume is perfect. Not one polygon is out of place. An army of musicians, the greatest in the land, have picked up horns and stringed instruments by the orchestra-load and played precisely the right music to set the blood singing, written by genius composers and edited into the soundtrack by golden-eared engineers from the top of their trade. The product is perfectly turned out, and this perfection attracts the eye and captures the mind.
But although these spectacles look like movies, what they really are is opera – stylized, larger-than-life, highly symbolic work that is not meant to be understood literally. And it makes me nuts.
How else to explain the glaring inconsistencies that sit in the center of these movies, like turds floating in the precise center of a crystal punchbowl carved out of the largest, most perfect diamond in the whole world? I mean, look at Spider-Man again, and think for a moment about the absurdity of its set-pieces.
Drew Friedman says:
I just wanted to share my latest portrait of Jerome Siegel and Joseph Shuster, the creators of Superman. This is the latest in the series of portraits I'm creating of "Legends of the Comics."
It's my great pleasure to welcome Wendy and Richard Pini to Boing Boing, where they'll be publishing the next chapter of their long-running fantasy epic Elfquest—online-first for the first time!
You may also know Wendy from her anime-style retelling of Edgar Allan Poe's Masque of The Red Death — which even got her in trouble with Facebook over cartoon boobs.
The first page of Elfquest: The Final Quest's prologue will appear here at Boing Boing on Monday. In the meantime, catch up with the story so far (all 6000 pages of it!), free of charge, at the series' official homepage.
After the jump, I've pasted in part of an item I once wrote (for the late, lamented Ectoplasmosis (Update: reborn on tumblr!)) about why this comic series is so awesome. Then follows our press release. Read the rest
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Keep an eye out for crocodiles -- the islands of the South Pacific are teeming with them.
Marshall Headphones & Amplification have launched their first home audio product, an active loudspeaker that (surprise) looks just like a guitar amp. The Hanwell, named for the London location of Jim Marshall's first shop, has a wooden cabinet with the iconic Marshall vinyl wrapping and black/gold grill cloth. No word on pricing, or whether it goes to eleven. "Hawnell Revealed"
CNN suppresses its own award-winning doc on human rights abuses in Bahrain; has commercial ties to the regime
CNN sent its investigative correspondent Amber Lyon to produce an expensive documentary on the Arab Spring, including human rights abuses in Bahrain. Lyon and her crew were violently detained by Bahraini security forces, but soldiered on and made "iRevolution: Online Warriors of the Arab Spring," which went on to win awards and acclaim after its sole airing on CNN.
But CNN International, "the most-watched English-speaking news outlet in the Middle East," has never aired the doc. While cutting the doc, Lyon was pressured to include statements from the Bahraini government that she knew to be lies. And CNN itself under-reported the ongoing abuses in Bahrain. Now, CNN has threatened Lyon with sanction for her continued work to uncover the reason that her doc was blackballed by the international arm of her former employer. CNN itself has been remarkably friendly to the Bahraini regime, with which it has close financial ties.
Here's more from Glenn Greenwald in The Guardian:
On 16 August, Lyon wrote three tweets about this episode. CNNi's refusal to broadcast "iRevolution", she wrote, "baffled producers". Linking to the YouTube clip of the Bahrain segment, she added that the "censorship was devastating to my crew and activists who risked lives to tell [the] story." She posted a picture of herself with Rajab and wrote:
"A proponent of peace, @nabeelrajab risked his safety to show me how the regime oppresses the [people] of #Bahrain."
The following day, a representative of CNN's business affairs office called Lyon's acting agent, George Arquilla of Octagon Entertainment, and threatened that her severance payments and insurance benefits would be immediately terminated if she ever again spoke publicly about this matter, or spoke negatively about CNN.