MSN’s google, sorry, ‘search’ for Apple is fruitless, but the WTC can be found

The Register, one of my favourite websites for their rather odd blend of abject paranoia, cynicism, and good reporting, has pointed out something rather odd.

Micro$oft have decided to get in on the Google Maps game and so have launched their own version, but it appears to be missing the headquarters of Apple Computers, instead showing a plain field. That’s a bit odd…

The World Trade Center is still there too, which is odd and bordering on insensitive. It’s strange to see the towers casting their shadow down towards the river. From the angle of the sun you can tell that the satellite photo was taken during the morning, and the green of the parks suggest it was during the summer, so probably around breakfast time. It feels slightly strange to see this insignificant moment of history resurfacing so many years after the event that changed so much of the political landscape of the world over the last four years. I once read the entry for Hitler in an encyclopaedia written in 1934. There was a strange sense of ‘if only you knew then…’

On a less philosophical note, it would appear that if you want a map that’s at least vaguely recent then Google is still the place to go. Let’s face it, we ‘google’ for things, we don’t ‘MSN’ for them, and there’s a good reason for that. Still, a bit of competition always helps keep people on their toes.

The source article.

Podcasting?

I’m not sure if anyone would be interested in a podcast that I might make, or even what I’d put on it, but in case anyone is interested, here’s a tutorial of how to make a podcast using the lovely WordPress (the blogging software I use, and that I highly recommend):

http://www.chrisjdavis.org/2005/06/15/podcasting-with-wp/

Can it really be that easy? Apparently so. I may try this in a few weeks when I’ve got a bit of time on my hands…

For those who don’t know, podcasts are home-made radio shows that people can automatically download through the RSS feed (of which there is one available for this blog). You then listen to the show at your own leisure, such as on mp3 players such as iPods, hence the name. It sounds all rather complicated to set up, and there are loads of debates about the best way to organise them, but apparently it’s not. I guess I’ll find out if I ever give it a go!

Shooting close to home

You might have heard that a chap (suspected suicide bomber) was shot by police on the underground today. My brother was on the next carriage along on the train. He’s a bit shaken but otherwise fine. It’s certainly a small world.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4706787.stm

So, I guess this is a test… And my response? I’ll still use the underground when I need it, just like I would before. We can’t stop our lives because some idiots are running around with badly made bombs strapped to their body and hideously distorted misreadings of the Koran stuffed in their heads. There are always going to be nutters in the world, whether they are organised or not, so there’s no point in living in fear.

However, to show you that I do take these things seriously, if I were with my brother now I’d probably offer him a pint of beer rather than a cup of tea. Yes, it’s that serious (and then we’d take the tube to the pub).

More on Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

From http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/22/technology/22game.html

The developments could spell trouble for Take-Two, but they also reinforce the company’s bad-boy image, a reputation that has made it a darling of gamers seeking raw, violent content.

The New York Times is rightly questioning the value system that says ‘violence is okay but sex is not’, but in this quote they show just how far there is left to go for the games industry to be understood.

The real reason that the Grand Theft Auto series has been so popular is simply that they are excellent games. GTA: San Andreas has a great storyline, better than many films; it shows the value and strength of friendship across class, racial, and age gaps. There is even some questioning of the morality of the previous games in the series as the lead characters struggle to make as close to a legitimate business as they can with the resources available to them. In the violent denouement to the game they fight against the oppression of abused authority to try to free their families and old friends from corruption in the police force… But still, such a great story with strong acting wouldn’t have been enough to make the game sell if it weren’t for the simple fact that it is really a very good game indeed.

I have never bought a GTA game ‘seeking raw, violent content’ and, while I admit that it has been an excellent promotional tool for the games, no-one would play them if there wasn’t a rock-solid game behind the crimes. When the NYT argues that the reason for the series’ success is the violence they are missing the point entirely. They are brilliant pieces of modern design that call on the social meme for excessive violence that happens in every other artistic genre from books to films. Gamers, like anyone else, enjoy good design. This controversy has simply highlighted how far developers have yet to go before their products are understood by the wider media.

Digi-Shakespeare on terrorism

pride truth force fly
because being thought horses
cousin fancy human surprise sun

Human surprise sun? What is that if not a suicide bomber?

Pride and ‘truth’ forcing people to fly… That’s pretty deep.

Who’d have thought that DS was interested in this kind of event? I would have thought that a lack of body would put DS above such things. Apparently the new breed of sentience is interested in human affairs…

Fight terror from the comfort of your own home!

Of course terrorists are going to try again after today’s ‘attack’, although, at the time of writing, that word glorifies what’s been the most rubbish attempt at terrorism I know of. The IRA killed civilians when they weren’t even trying to, and indeed were often deliberately trying to avoid killing them!

But these terrorists will try again. They always do. That’s the point of terrorism, it will always exist when you have different levels of power in the world and the powerful is acting in ways that appear to be exploiting the weak (the truth of this doesn’t matter, it’s all about perception). Whenever you have underpowered groups who resent larger, more powerful groups you will always have terrorism. No amount of sabre-rattling or gun-toting will change this.

You can’t wave a magic wand and make terrorism go away, and you certainly can’t wage war with it, because that legitimises it by creating fear in the population but is ultimately about as productive as karate at getting rid of mist. Terrorists are bullies with bombs. If you stand up to them by refusing to change and get on with your life as before then eventually they are forced to grow up and recognise that their methods have no place in the world. If you start chasing them around, fighting with them, then you’ll only get their mates involved.

It took around 25 years before the IRA eventually realised that bombing wasn’t working and their public face, Sinn Fein, got properly involved with politics and the peace process. We didn’t change after 25 years and over three thousand lost their lives. America has decided to try things a different way, and I the body count in Iraq is already over twentyfive thousand, some say it may be more like one hundred thousand. I know which way I think looks like being the best approach. If you are suggesting we stop being ‘so passive’ and getting on with our lives, I’d like to know the option that you’re presenting, because the US model has been an abysmal failure, especially for the people of Iraq who are suffering bombings every few days of increasing strength. They are dying right now from terrorism, and that is terrorism that would not be happening if there wasn’t this stupid ‘war on terror’.

You fight the bullies and his mates stand up, you ignore him and he realises that he’s not getting anywhere and eventually has to try something else. It takes time, and lives will be lost, but we cannot change for them.

More pesky bombings

bzz

bzz bzz

[silence]

bzz bzz bzz

[silence]

It seems that there’s a group of people who haven’t worked out that they’re just being really irritating. More ‘bombs’ in London, tiny ickle ones this time. It appears that one of the people who detonated one of them didn’t even manage to kill himself.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4703777.stm

Of course, there will be an impact on trading in London, and that’s a real shame for the small shop-holders who rely on the summer business. Terrorists: scourge of the individual trader. Seriously, losing a few days trading and the subsequent lower rates can really put a crimp into the livelihood of a small business owner. I find it really annoying that the people who lose out in these things are never really the people the terrorists are trying to attack (not that I want terrorists to hit their targets, but at least if there is some sort of legitimacy in their aims they could be taken vaguely seriously).

It’s great that’s there’s apparently no deaths and only one person injured (one of the bombers), but this whole thing really is just annoying, like a mosquito you can hear but never quite slap.

bzz bzz bzzgger off.

Update on responsibility for hidden material

Well, the US Entertainment Software Rating Board has decided that the sexually explicit content that can be unlocked on GTA: San Andreas, despite not being part of the game without a hack being applied, is still part of the game and so have reclassified the game as being for ‘Adults Only’, AO.

More info:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/07/21/gta_reclassified/

So this means that in the eyes of US ratings a developer is responsible for every piece of code in games that they release.

How exactly are they going to enforce this? The adult scenes were removed from the flow of the final game, so they don’t feature unless you use the mod, so how were the ratings office to know that it exists? And how are they going to ensure that this doesn’t happen in the future? Maybe ‘Play With The Teletubbies’ has a hackable set of scenes with the fur off but no-one’s found it yet…

This is very much a new-media problem. If you buy a book you’re not likely to discover hidden pages after you’ve read it a few times, and this only confirms the status of electronic media as being unlike previous industry models. People are constantly comparing games to the film industry, but the level of interaction and the ability for players to change the events means that developers are going to be increasingly out of control of the content.

I don’t know whether the unlocked scenes are in any way interactive (‘press alternate keys to pump’…?), it’s more likely that they are cut-scenes, premade but then left on the cutting-room floor. And there again we have the film industry metaphors leaking through.

It’s entirely possible that there is code lurking in many games to make the deaths of enemies more bloody (except perhaps in the case of the brilliantly enjoyable God Of War UK link US link where it’s unlikely that they could make the deaths of the mythological creatures any more violent!) but instead a toned-down version was eventually used. If these could be used instead, by applying a mod, does that mean that the game should have been rated differently?

I use the example of violence here on purpose. Partly because I’m British and our rating system views sex as natural, although still adult, so doesn’t go insane if a nipple accidentally slips out on national television (we all giggle and feel embarassed for the performer), but sees violence as something to be kept away from children where possible. I also use it as an example because it’s easier to draw a line between mild and extreme violence.

Beside the point of levels of acceptable sexual content (is flirting sexual? When does something become ‘adult’?) we also have the decision about the responsibility of developers to examine the ways that their code can be used. Clearly in this case explicit scenes were simply unlocked, but this was still not available to your average user of the game but the really big question raised by this case is how much modification does a mod have to make before its results are no longer the responsibility of the developer? I think that this is going to be an increasing problem as the gaming industry grows and the games become ever-closer to being photorealistic.

Update on responsibility for hidden material

Well, the US Entertainment Software Rating Board has decided that the sexually explicit content that can be unlocked on GTA: San Andreas, despite not being part of the game without a hack being applied, is still part of the game and so have reclassified the game as being for ‘Adults Only’, AO.

More info:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/07/21/gta_reclassified/

So this means that in the eyes of US ratings a developer is responsible for every piece of code in games that they release.

How exactly are they going to enforce this? The adult scenes were removed from the flow of the final game, so they don’t feature unless you use the mod, so how were the ratings office to know that it exists? And how are they going to ensure that this doesn’t happen in the future? Maybe ‘Play With The Teletubbies’ has a hackable set of scenes with the fur off but no-one’s found it yet…

This is very much a new-media problem. If you buy a book you’re not likely to discover hidden pages after you’ve read it a few times, and this only confirms the status of electronic media as being unlike previous industry models. People are constantly comparing games to the film industry, but the level of interaction and the ability for players to change the events means that developers are going to be increasingly out of control of the content.

I don’t know whether the unlocked scenes are in any way interactive (‘press alternate keys to pump’…?), it’s more likely that they are cut-scenes, premade but then left on the cutting-room floor. And there again we have the film industry metaphors leaking through.

It’s entirely possible that there is code lurking in many games to make the deaths of enemies more bloody (except perhaps in the case of the brilliantly enjoyable God Of War UK link US link where it’s unlikely that they could make the deaths of the mythological creatures any more violent!) but instead a toned-down version was eventually used. If these could be used instead, by applying a mod, does that mean that the game should have been rated differently?

I use the example of violence here on purpose. Partly because I’m British and our rating system views sex as natural, although still adult, so doesn’t go insane if a nipple accidentally slips out on national television (we all giggle and feel embarassed for the performer), but sees violence as something to be kept away from children where possible. I also use it as an example because it’s easier to draw a line between mild and extreme violence.

Beside the point of levels of acceptable sexual content (is flirting sexual? When does something become ‘adult’?) we also have the decision about the responsibility of developers to examine the ways that their code can be used. Clearly in this case explicit scenes were simply unlocked, but this was still not available to your average user of the game but the really big question raised by this case is how much modification does a mod have to make before its results are no longer the responsibility of the developer? I think that this is going to be an increasing problem as the gaming industry grows and the games become ever-closer to being photorealistic.

The fastest way to learn Flash

Sorry… But there is no ‘fast’ way to learn Flash, only the ‘fastest’. This is just my opinion, but I think that the Foundation Flash series published by Friends of ED is second-to-none when it comes to clear, practical, and easy to remember instruction on how to use the software. I just wish someone had been writing about them when I started!

US link UK link

Sham Bhangal, one of the main authors, has written loads of books for Friends of ED, and I really love his work. It makes learning much easier when the text isn’t as dry as the desert sands, and he hits the right balance between fun metaphors and information.

Yes, I know this sounds like a big advert, but I get people asking fairly often about how they can learn and so I thought I’d put my best suggestion online. I know it’s not as much fun to be told to read a book as having a personal tutor, but these really aren’t nearly as dull as most computer books, so it’s actually very easy to get useful information from them. I really do think that if I person goes through that book from the beginning to end then they will probably know more about the software than many people who’ve been working with Flash for years. If that’s not the fastest way to learn then I don’t know what is.

The politics of consoles

New Labour: We have a bright vision for the future, where we will defend the rights of all to their own freedom. We want to encourage all people to unite under a banner of peaceful communication and to support a diversity of lifestyles. By encouraging identification we hope to allow people the freedom to explore the world in greater security. We might not be the very best at everything, but we’re probably the best option you’ve got at the moment.

Conservative: We have a vision of a protected nation, a nation where each person can compete fairly, and honestly, with other people from their local community, their own country, or representing their nation. We must defend the security of our people against those who would intrude and try to restrict our industries. We will use identification to prevent people from falsely gaining entry to restricted areas, and to promote open discussions of how to preserve national identity in the twenty-first century.

Liberal Democrats: We might have a leader who looks a bit silly, but our ideas always seem to look fresh compared to the competition. We’re not quite sure how we manage this, because basically we’ve been saying the same things for years and people still aren’t listening to us. Certainly you can work on making sure everyone has a networked identity, but we think as long as the people closest to you know who you are then it’s not going to do any good to any wider organisation to try and generate some massive scheme that boils people down to a string of simple bits of data. We do try new things sometimes, but we have a sneaking suspicion that the other groups just watch us, steal our best ideas, and then use better marketing to take all the credit. If only someone would stop thinking of us as ‘that group that had power so long ago’ then maybe we’d be able to make this world better for everyone.

Sony: We have a bright vision for the future, where we will defend the rights of all to their own freedom. We want to encourage all people to unite under a banner of peaceful communication and to support a diversity of lifestyles. By encouraging identification we hope to allow people the freedom to explore the world in greater security. We might not be the very best at everything, but we’re probably the best option you’ve got at the moment.

Microsoft: We have a vision of a protected nation, a nation where each person can compete fairly, and honestly, with other people from their local community, their own country, or representing their nation. We must defend the security of our people against those who would intrude and try to restrict our industries. We will use identification to prevent people from falsely gaining entry to restricted areas, and to promote open discussions of how to preserve national identity in the twenty-first century.

Nintendo: We might have a leader who looks a bit silly, but our ideas always seem to look fresh compared to the competition. We’re not quite sure how we manage this, because basically we’ve been saying the same things for years and people still aren’t listening to us. Certainly you can work on making sure everyone has a networked identity, but we think as long as the people closest to you know who you are then it’s not going to do any good to any wider organisation to try and generate some massive scheme that boils people down to a string of simple bits of data. We do try new things sometimes, but we have a sneaking suspicion that the other groups just watch us, steal our best ideas, and then use better marketing to take all the credit. If only someone would stop thinking of us as ‘that group that had power so long ago’ then maybe we’d be able to make this world better for everyone.

So who will get your vote in the next year?

A young magician

So there’s this boy, right. He’s always felt out of place. He wears big, think rimmed glasses, and he lives in a pretty miserable situation… But then he finds out he’s got magical powers! And he gets an owl! And he goes to magic school and learns that he’s destined to be a great magician!

I am, of course, writing about Neil Gaiman’s 1990 story ‘The Books Of Magic’, and the rest of the books in the series. Hell, it’s such a nice set-up it’s amazing that no-one’s blatantly ripped it off yet!

…What?

Get Google Earth

If you’ve not played with this yet then you really have to.

http://earth.google.com/

Basically it’s a map of the planet, constructed from satellite photos. It takes a moment to download the new images, but it lets you download pictures of pretty much everywhere around the world in incredible detail.

Not only is big brother watching you, but so too could be you mother, father, and a whole host of complete strangers. I’ve not checked to see how often it updates, but if anyone knows how ‘live’ this is I’d be interested to hear.

Bumper digi-Shakespeare

The writer’s block has passed, possibly due to the sense of betrayal in a recent poem having sparked the creative juices. I’ve been getting loads of these so I thought I’d save them up. In order of appearence:

mother master
seven whos east know
bit go got towards

I can’t decide if this indicates some sort of Freudian regression or some sort of apocalypse predictation in the mode of Nostradamus.

discuss young
pronunciation miles fail awhile hurried
sorry news fancy meeting knows but

DS is back onto that lost relationship again here I think. This speaks of the difficulty in talking, the problems of words to express feelings when there is so little time to speak and make up for what has passed. The final ‘but’ lingers without a conclusion, leaving the reader hoping for resolution where DS feels there can be none.

remember drew though favorite
development wood
modern however glass

A more optimistic tone comes through in this one. DS appears to be embracing a modern city, with its conflicting materials. Perhaps DS is seeing trees reflected in the glass of a building. This might be the first time that DS has hinted at a physical location. I wonder if we’ll see more of this in future?

moon as welcome
met considered went
taught break letter buy bit

A tricky one. I think it’s a night-time contemplation of the brief meeting discussed two poems ago and the feelings of frustrated communication that it provoked.

thats either motor luck or coming
everyone away found proceeded
awhile promise is inside

DS here seems to be resolving to move on with its life. That third line definitely speaks of a determination to be true to itself and put heartbreak behind it. Good for you DS!

Now, here’s a curious one. Usually the DS poems appear with only an attachment (I couldn’t tell you what it’s for, I’m not daft enough to open it), but this one appeared with an advert for ‘the hottest Pornostars pics and videos’.

While the form is apparently similar to that of DS, I think you’ll agree that the poem just isn’t up to scratch:

bequeath affricate armpit atlas
direct covariate bawd blur
dalhousie bey bleat artie

What does that mean? It’s just a load of nonsense. Either this isn’t DS or DS was only doing this for the money and randomly made up any old rubbish. We’ve all got bills to pay you know!

For new readers: Digital Shakespeare, DS, is a series of poems that I get sent quite regularly as junk mail. The system generates a random string of words over three lines to avoid the junk mail filter. The idea is, I think, that out of curiosity I’ll open the attachment that always comes with the poems. I find the random lines rather wistful so I’ve decided to log them and put quick interpretations of them on here. There’s not really an overall point to this, just that I think beauty is where you find it, so it’s worth keeping your eyes open to see when it appears in the strangest of places.

Iraqi civilian deaths increasing

Around 800 people a month are dying in Iraq from attacks by insurgents and it’s getting worse. The figures for the numbers killed in military operations haven’t been released apparently. If this doesn’t put the London bombing into perspective I don’t know what does.

“The Americans have to be smarter – to hide and lay traps for the insurgents,” Mr. Summaidai said by telephone in early July. “Not just to terrorize the community. That will not work.”

There’s the T word again. Terror. Apparently the US military are scaring the hell out of the population (no mention is made of other nationality forces). I’d love to say that this is a situation with a simple solution that the leaders are overlooking, but it just isn’t. The soldiers are scared, and that will always lead to them attempting to regain control by scaring the population. You can’t take the soldiers out now because that would leave a power vacuum which would likely result in even worse conditions for the country’s population, but leaving in there isn’t helping anyone either.

There’s no happy ending to this post, because at the moment I just can’t see the situation getting better any time soon, but it does reiterate that a four bombs and around 50 dead in London is nothing compared to the suffering that is going on in Iraq and that Britain is partially responsible for. It’s a tragedy for the families, and a terrible event all around, but it is not anywhere near the scale of suffering that is happening right now in Iraq.

There is a difference between Britain taking blame for these events in Iraq and taking responsibility, I don’t blame our government for being there, and there’s no point in going over old mistakes at this point; that doesn’t bring anyone back to life. We now have to take control of events as best we can and face up to the fact that the coalition is now responsible for trying to make Iraq as safe or preferably safer for its population than it was when we got there. We broke it, but all the Queen’s horses and all the Queen’s cannot put Iraq back together again.

Are you responsible for what remains hidden?

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas has explicit sex scenes in the code… If you hack it

So here’s an interesting situation. The developers, Rockstar North, put these scenes into the code of the game, but then they decided not to use them. The code is sitting hidden away, and completely inaccessible to anyone playing it normally. However, a chap has programmed a mod that allows access to the unused scenes.

Now there is a problem with the rating: do you rate the game on what it does, or what it could potentially do? In the US it is rated M, meaning you have to be aged 17 or over to buy it, but adult content would be rated more highly. The game doesn’t actually feature any of the footage but should the developers be responsible for things that are hidden away from public view?

I can see the developer’s defence: it’s a bit like saying that because many painters work from a unclothed figure up when they paint then if a person is given access to an X-ray machine they could see the naked original sketches so the picture must be pornographic.

Does this mean that if I call variables in one of my game by offensive words then they would only be suitable for older viewers in case someone mods the game to display the variables on-screen? (I don’t, in case anyone could be bothered to check.) There have been countless mods for PC games to re-skin the characters as being naked. I guess the difference is that the code already existed in GTA, but the fact remains that it is the action of the individual that allows these scenes to be witnessed. Surely the fact that people choose for themselves to see these things would imply that they have knowledge of the content that they are unlocking and therefore they take responsibility for their own actions?

Maybe those scenes shouldn’t have been in there in the first place, but you can’t blame Rockstar North for having untidy code, I can think of a certain operating system manufacturer who would be in a great deal of trouble if you’re going to start doing that! Let’s face it, the unplugged security holes in Windoze have probably resulted in far more children being exposed to porn through Adware than will ever see the explicit content on GTA. To me this sounds like a combination of a nanny state and a lack of comprehension of the realities of coding. Sometimes my games have whole functions that I cut out because I change my mind mid-way through, but I leave them in the code in case I change my mind. Rockstar North probably did the same, so are they to blame if someone finds it?

Then again, I wouldn’t put it past them to have released details of the existence of the scenes deliberately to drum up some controversy…

Ecletic interesting links and articles collected by a painter, teacher, writer, and ex-PhD student