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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Peter Griffin: Cuban Hero

I had to laugh at this!

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Wireless Mesh Radar

Ars Technica reports on a a paper discovered by Technology Review which demonstrates how interference between wifi communication signals can be used as a primitive radar. Their experiment involved a square room and a number of wireless nodes to test the theory. However considering the number of wifi devices around and all the communications and self-discovery traffic going on, theoretically someone with the right technology could use this as an instrument for spying. Or am I just being paranoid?

Ig Nobels 2009: Gas Mask Bra

The BBC reports on the annual Ig Nobel awards, with the winner of the top prize going to a bra that could easily be converted into two gas masks. All the winners can be found on Improbable Research's web site and highlights include:

Veterinary medicine: Cows with names produce more milk
Biology: Giant Panda shit reduces kitchen refuse by up to 90%
Economics: Awarded to 4 Icelandic banks for demonstrating rapid economic expansion and contraction
Physics: Analysis into why pregnant women do not tip over
Chemistry: Diamonds from Tequila

Pavlov's Fish

The BBC reports on a new technique that could be used for fish farming. Experiments on sea bass have shown that they can be trained to come for food by associating feeding with a specific sound signal. It takes about 4 weeks to train the fish. This method means that cages would no longer be required, which actually might also cut down diseases that are associated with fish living in close quarters. The biggest drawback is predators, since the instinct for survival is greater than that of association with food. This would mean the fish would need be protected by other larger fish or even mechanical dummies, in much the same way that a sheepdog guards its sheep.

Michael Jackson Homicide By Anaesthetic

The BBC reports on the results of Michael Jacksons autopsy. Although not all the details have been officially released, the cause of death has been revealed to be homicide by anaesthetic. Apparently Micheal was in fairly good shape for a 50 year old, aside from some arthritis problems which would be expected from a performer and inflammation of the lungs which was his biggest ailment. His medical condition and treatment would not alone account for his death.

27th Banned Book Week

Oh dear. A story based on true events of two gay penguins in a New York zoo has come out as being the book most requsted to be banned. The BBC reports on a protest this week in San Francisco around banning books in schools and libraries. It seems conservative America still can´t help forcing its will on others. What was that about the land of the free? Even worse, it seems the stigma surrounding science fantasy has not gone away either, with some politicians seeing J K Rowling´s Harry Potter series as promoting witchcraft and a likely reason why Rowling was not awarded the Medal of Freedom this week.

Cyborg Insects

New Scientist reports on a project run by DARPA in which stimulating pulses were sent to an insect´s brain to make it take off, land and turn in flight. Although the apparatus is bulky and could only be used on large insects, it is a first step. Comments on the article point to where this all might lead of course. Conjures up visions of mad scientists controlling the dead in the name of military might in the not too distant future.

Gamers Victory Like Soldiers

New Scientist reports on how gamers that play against strangers have an increased level op testosterone upon scoring a victory. Similar effects have been recorded in soldiers on the battlefield. The study also notes how playing against friends does not have the same effect, probably as a result of our biological instinct to protect friends and family.

SE Pacific Quakes

It has been a rough week this week in the South Pacific and SE Asia. No sooner were there reports of a tsunami hitting the Samoan islands, when an earthquake hit Sumatra, with the city of Padang being worst hit. Hope is fading for survivors trapped under the city rubble, which included collapse shopping malls and hospitals. A second 6.8 magnitude earthquake hit the region again on thursday. Further north it seems like villages have been wiped out so, the death toll is very likely to run into thousands.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

NFS:Shift Demo

NFS:Shift was recently released. Now I like driving simulations though they require a lot of concentration. Arcade racers a great for fun to be able to pick up and play. NFS:Shift is EA´s attempt at putting some credibility back into the franchise after the mixed receptions of its efforts post NFS:Undergound. They have tried to hit somewhere in the middle of the two extremes, to appeal to casual players that have foot on the floor as much as those who like a more realistic driving experience.

Considering my PC has reached the retirement age of 3 years, I downloaded the demo to see if the game was playable on my slightly outdated hardware. I must say the demo plays okay but I do have framerate issues and the photorealism is not up to what I expected. I think that is probably my max LCD resolution of 1280, though FUEL actually looks prettier and uses less resources on my system. Turning the difficulty up to max provides a decent racing challenge, though I feel the car handling is a bit too twitchy. In general though it looks good, though I think I´ll wait till I get a Playstation3 before buying the game.

So here is a replay of the demo of me, in last place, on a circuit through Westminster.

video

FBI Data Mining

No real surprise I suppose, but Wired reports on how the FBI has managed to accumulate a wealth of information on US civilians covering everything from surfing habits, credit card payments and flight details. Under the guise of an anti-terrorist database, the system is being increasingly used for civil cases. Yet another example of using fear to pass through surveillance laws. I have to laugh at the people who say they have nothing to hide. Don´t forget that that information could be passed on to other non-goverment enterprises, used for insurance claims or credit evaluation, let alone what would happen if the information was incorrect or stolen or the authorities come knocking on your door because of a false positive thrown up by the database.
The British government have plenty of examples of losing electronically stored personal details. Not only that but the national DNA database has not led to a significant reduction in crime. The US and Japan already have my mug shot and fingerprints in a database somewhere just because I visited their countries and I never did anything wrong. Similarly the Dutch are putting in a system in which fingerprint information will be stored on all new passport applications, even though such a system has not been proven to be completely accurate or resistant to fraud. The days of Big Brother come ever closer to reality.

OnLive Demonstrated At MIT Conference

Could the cloud computing model be the future of gaming? Ars Technica reports on a demo by OnLive which I have mentioned in previous blog posts, that provide a subscription gaming service that does not require high end hardware on the client side. A set-top box is sufficient to play the games, which actually use the television to output the game graphics which are actually running on servers in the cloud, so there is no need to install software. This kills software piracy in one go so games publishers are obviously happy with the concept. I still worry a little about bandwidth requirements considering potentially thousands of people could be playing on the servers at one time. However Ars were impressed with the demonstration

Happy Birthday Elite!

Elite, the mother of all space trading and combat games is 25 years old! Originally developed for the BBC Micro it was released in 1984. Unlike other games of the time there was no high score and it presented an open universe in which the player could trade or take to piracy to improve the player´s rating from harmless to elite. I still consider this one of my favourite games and no other space game came close to it for me until Freelancer in 2003. The BBC reports that a sequel in the making though the creators will be not drawn on a release date.

Software Demo Performance Art

Ars Technica have a piece on Tristan Nemcombs The Last Lecture. He turns up to demonstrate a piece of game software to a class in which everything goes wrong, including his own personal breakdown. The whole thing is actually scripted and the demo is a film playing in the background, with the lecturers PCs being nothing but props. Obviously many can relate to the ¨demonstruction¨ theme, but the lecturer´s personal issues being so openly exposed give the thing a more personal dimension. The idea came about following demonstrations of real software in which students said wouldn´t it be easier just to fake the whole thing with a video. The audience would not be able to tell the difference provided it was presented correctly. The lecture has been filmed and is available for viewing and download here.

Family Guy Banned In Venezuala

Funny how Venezuela has a cool relationship with the US but still broadcast their TV shows. The BBC report though that Family Guy has had its chance. An episode in which Brian is supporting marijuana was too much for the authorities and any channels that continue broadcasting the show will be punished. Sorry Lois.