Wednesday, December 19, 2007

This is just too 'low hanging fruit'

What will we do for humor when Bush and Cheney are banished to the Phantom Zone come 2008?

There was a fire today in the Executive Office Building directly across the street from the White House. Dark black smoke was seen billowing out of the front.

I've actually been in this building. It used to be the offices for the State, War, and Navy Departments, and now houses the Office of Management and Budget and staff of the National Security Council and other agencies.

VP Cheney has a 'ceremonial office' in the building.

Ahem. Take a deep breath...just savor it.

AP reporters indicated that the room was cloaked in heavy black curtains, allowing complete and total darkness, save from that of the infernal sulphuric glow from the gaping portal to Hell, which just happens to occupy most of the floor in front of the VP's desk. Staffers referred to the office as 'ceremonial' because, as one anonymous source indicated, "he likes to make his sacrifices to his Dark Lord away from the White know...the whole 'don't sh*t where you eat' thing."

Cheney was located in the West Wing of the White House, and so was unharmed by unexpected blaze, which apparently resulted from the smoking remnants of a recent offering. Fire officials reported seeing several scurrying eight legged creatures crawling the utterly colorless drapes and leaving burning patches of velvet in their collective wake.

When contacted, Cheney asked the fire officials to put him on speakerphone so he could recite arcane commands derisive of Yog-Sothothery, with which to banish the nefarious critters.

White House officials were quick to engage in damage control and released this activity designed to inform Americans on the true identity of their 'elected' official.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Hoping for Hobbit not vomit

It took over a year to get all the litigation issues worked out, but Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh are again associated with Tolkien's, 'The Hobbit'...except he's not directing it would seem. He's in the Producer's seat...hmmm. This movie could very well sucketh...having Steven Spielberg produce this year's 'Transformers' helmed by Michael Bay's just barely made it better than his earlier flotsam, 'Pearl Harbor'.

Who knows. It could not suck. I'm betting on the Jackson for making it happen. Maybe they want him in the producer's seat since he made all three of the Lord of the Rings films in concurrent production, thereby saving buttloads of scrill. Who's going to direct? Hmm...there were some rumors that Sam Raimi would take the reigns. Could be good. Could be. Then again, it could stink like that pile of vomit I saw in the BART station last night.

Finally, a movie worthy of Will Smith's abilities

Check the trailer for Hancock.

WALL-E trailer

Lasseter always seemed a little smug to me...'I did Toy Story 1/2, A Bug's Life, and Cars, what did Brad Bird ever do! Oh, well if you're gonna count The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and the countless Simpsons episode on which he was the creative consultant, then fine. I BIRTHED Pixar and I get to greenlight films!'

Needless to say, I'm looking forward to the new Lasseter Pixar film, 'Wall-E'. Here's the trailer.

And speaking of Brad Bird, his next film (1906) sounds like it's going to be live-action.

24 hours between trains during Winter

Wet weather seems to bring out different behavior on BART.

The train this morning was pretty full. More people want the safety and sanity of transportation that runs on rails and isn't prone to careless brakers or lane-changers. I'm standing in the middle of the aisle, reading Fahrenheit 451, when this gentlemen gets on board and stands RIGHT NEXT TO ME.

Now the train isn't that full...not the full that the after work rush gets where everyone is packed like sardines and you can't help but be all up in someone's space.

No. This morning's train was moderately full, but this guy decided that he needed to brace himself against me. I know what you're thinking...he wasn't getting overly friendly...he was, for some reason, dead set against not moving from his spot and didn't mind if his shoe soles were nestled up on mine. Of course, he wanted to rub elbows as well...just to let me know that he cared. I didn't have much room, to reposition, and even if I did, I find it rude that some people get in your space in order to attempt to claim it. So I kept elbowing back (this is all very childish I know), and eventually he calmed down a little.

I kept thinking...what if this is all a set up and this guy's trying to get on or something. He was definitely on par with the elevator lady.

I kept kicking myself for not having this clever video device my sister showed me...I'd have filmed the whole thing and put it up on youtube. Unfortunately, all I have are his bad manners to remember...and some slight indentations on the side of my shoe.

The funny thing is...well not so much funny...was that almost 24 hours previously, I was at 12th Street waiting to get on and notice this dude slumped over on the brick stairwell rail. Not too remarkable. Then I noticed the sharp, tangy smell of partially digested food and see that homeboy had just booted his sauce onto the platform. It looked pretty fresh too. Chunky in the right places, and thin and runny in the others. Well, if I'd had the proper video equipment you'd be able to participate in that lovely slice of citizen journalism.

BART just seems to be so much more interesting during Winter...especially closer to the holiday weeks. I guess it's because of Christmachannukwanzaa, and of course, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Lessons learned - vundo and Beacon make out at badware reunions

This Saturday I spent most of the day working on removing variants of the vundo Trojan dropped on my most favorite and dear in-laws.

It's unclear how they got the little jerk on their machine, but Norton Real-Time Protection picked it up almost immediately, and started broadcasting the fact that it couldn't do anything about it. More than likely, someone clicked on a link in a spam email.

So, while this harangue has something to do with trojan removal, and 'ultimate' Windows boot CDs, it also has something to do with online privacy.

Here are some little vignettes I would like to impart:
  1. Vundo is malware that's part adware part trojan, and while it's not all that serious to your machine (nothing's going to blue screen you), it is extremely hard to remove.
  2. There's so much 'information' on the internets about removing 'vundo' and its variants that I won't contribute to the noise. The entry on wikipedia is a fair summary. Needless to say, Symantec and McAfee don't provide methods to remove. It would seem that while these companies used to develop fixes for issues like these, there are more and more niche businesses and open source developers out there that create specialized tools that make a company like Symantec's investment in development for one trojan foolish and unnecessary.
  3. My method of removal consisted of making a Windows boot CD, which allows your copy of XP to load from CD, and removing all the adware and malware I could find, then by manually removing the randomly named dlls (c:/windows/system32...) that vundo creates. Those little bastards would still be in use even in Safe Mode. Even using a process tool that could suspend certain processes so adware or malware removal programs (like Ad-Aware or SpyBot Search and Destroy) could scan the hard drive didn't remove the thing.
  4. This all relates to protecting your privacy. EPIC has a bunch of safe tools that can be employed to aid in the quest to maintain your anonymity, but once something (trojans, worms, or other viral nasties) is on your machine you should consider yourself compromised and take steps to sever your connection with the internet, as these pieces of code can track your keystrokes, harvest your emails from your address book, harvest password information, or at least turn your machine into a zombie, which will then be used by some 15-year old hacker in the Netherlands to run a distributed denial of service execution against eBay.
  5. Oh, and make your wireless network secure. I had to check email on the road one day and just drove around and refreshed the available networks until I found one that wasn't locked down. If you don't change your administrator login (like your password from 'password'), then someone who knows the manufacturer's default credentials can just hop on your network, access the router, login, and get whatever they want from any machine connected to the network.
  6. While consumer regulation defeated the intrusions of Facebook's Beacon, and has launched AskEraser, which allows you to anonymize your query activity through the site, the larger issues are: Ask gets some of its results returned from Google, and Google doesn't anonymize this information, and everything that goes through your ISP (like AT&T or Comcast) is stored on their servers and personally identifies you.
  7. Will consumer regulation activity extend to government regulation? Seems like we don't have a problem complaining to Facebook about our shopping information being made available to perfect strangers, but for some reason our government seems content to perpetuate the military-industrial complex when it should be focused on evolving from an country that requires a surge of troops to bump up the economy. Is the populace not vocal enough? Is all this talk about torture farming and warrantless wiretaps spooking the citizenry into silence?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Holy spooky comics

While trolling through MySpace and Facebook pages under the guise of 'exploration', a news report banner stole my attention away from the abundance of shockingly personal and easily identifiable information: the Catholic Church released an 'Anti Abuse Coloring Book'.

Now all my attempts at prowling the internets will go unfulfilled! The Catholic Church is just so proactive and responsive to concerns about young people being violated, molested, and dismissed.

OK, so I'm just a little in shock from this. Not that it's a completely accurate parallel, but it smacks of the Philip-Morris anti-smoking campaigns.

The funny thing is that the comic above doesn't say 'priest' says 'adult', as in: don't be alone in a room with a priest. Just come out and say it, you mean to tell little boys that they shouldn't be in rooms alone with priests because, know...they can't keep their sticky fingers to themselves.

Don't get mad at me for making such comments. Be mad at the Church for the abuse it's enacted upon its parishioners.

Me...I'm Jewish. Jews kick ass.

Monday, December 10, 2007

If you don't vote, the Martians win

So what do you want the next President and his/her (first time I get to say that, pretty cool) administration to achieve?

For me, I'm seeing this next election as the opportunity to inject some new blood and their fresh ideas into the highest office of an elected official.

I want someone ,who, when they say 'The American people want...', is actually talking about things that I consider to be relevant for me and for the global community. We can't shirk the 'community' tagline anymore. We are a global economy. Economic markets are becoming further and further dependent on efforts taken by a companies in separate hemispheres, acts that impact the environment aren't confined to one country's shoreline or horizon, and with an ever increasely 'connected' technological infrastructure governmental power cannot reside solely in the hands of those who graduated college when the television was the next biggest thing.

There is undoubtedly incontestable value and wisdom in our older generations, and in order to make such wisdom actionable, extensible, and flexible in an ever-changing world is to incorporate it within newer power structures and people familiar which such structures. For example, you wouldn't put Ted Stevens in charge of a government body charged with defining the nation's goals associated with Net Neutrality.

Oh wait...maybe you would.

Alaskan Sen. Ted Stevens (R) is a prime example of such this disparity between those in political office and their understanding of the ever-expanding haze of the Internets, or in his words, a 'series of tubes'.

I'm not saying that the next President needs be a sys admin, but he or she must have a basic grasp of email, networks, blogs, instant messaging, wireless security concerns (if they set up their own wireless network at home did they change the username and password from the manufacturer's default), consumer privacy (nicely brought to the forefront by Facebook's Beacon scandal - thank you CA researchers), and issues of broadband accessibility.

Unfortunately, I'm not too clear on how we're going to get the model changed. It's not like there is an army of lobbyists charging up Capitol Hill trying to get issues (for example) like consumer privacy dealt with on the scale of, say, legions of T2000s that descend from pharm or medical industry dropships.

For one, I'm not sure the government is the best tool in place in order to contend with something like consumer privacy. I'm thinking that Beacon and its PR nightmare have helped to awaken some people to the issue that we've been like lobsters sitting in a pot that's slowly been getting warmer, and only when it's too late do we realize that we're cooked. Plus, given the broad reaching impacts of the Homeland Security Act, and Mitt Romney's desire to get biometric devices installed in people, I'm even more loathe to have someone who gets puzzled when the computer tells them to push the 'any' key run anything related to my privacy.

Second, I think candidates are recognizing the fact that they need to be more tech savvy. That's why they flock in droves to the Google campus to talk about their ides on innovation. The nice thing about technology is that for the most part it's usually a binary issue: it's on or off, it's either this or it isn't - meaning, a candidate will know what SQL does or a candidate will not. There's not much wiggle room there, and typically wiggling in this area is an indication that you don't know, and don't want others to know about it.

Third, the sooner we get on board with the integrated village model the better, since we're going to have to start talking about the Martian invasion at some point, and it'd be better if we're all on the same page as a species. Those Martians just love to see us tearing at our throats...makes conquest easier.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

DLC for BioShock released: 4 new plasmids

Looks like I jumped the gun on that last one, but those plasmids were mentioned in the code...maybe it's for a later release. Ecology plasmids would really add a new dimension to the gameplay.

Only 4 new plasmids have been released, per 2K Games:
  • Sonic Boom (1 & 2): Hurls creatures and objects back with a blast of force.
  • EVE Saver (1 & 2): Enables Plasmids to use less EVE.
  • Vending Expert (1 & 2): Reduces prices in the vending machines.
  • Machine Buster (1 & 2): Increases the amount of damage players deal to cameras, bots and turrets.
Xbox360 users will be prompted to access the content when they load the game and connect to their Live account. PC users will need to download and install a patch. All the info in on the 2K Games site.
Completely semi-related...recently saw Kooza and I'm almost 100% positive that the set and costume designers modeled the under-stage utility-commanding Deep Sea diver looking character after a BioShock Big Daddy.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

No Ahhnold for Terminator 4 - is there anything Christian Bale can't do?

I was having a conversation with a friend about who today's current swiss army knife actor...the actor who seems to pop up in unrelated films and always nails the role regardless of how questionable the film may be. Such an actor usually makes the film more enjoyable.

Names were thrown around. Val Kilmer (we excused him for Thunderheart) was one...c' never saw his breakout role in 'Real Genius'? It even had the Tears for Fears hit, Everybody Wants to Rule the World, as the soundtrack's terminus; wrapping the ending up in a nice little package proving that brains can always overcome government stupidity assuming you know how to substitute a 'prom' with the 'reprom' (a little inside Real Genius humor).

Can't remember the others we discussed, probably because the crux of the matter revolved around one actor we both agreed displayed the requisite wicked thespian chops: Christian Bale.

He broke out in Steven Spielberg's 'Empire of the Sun' in 1987. I personally feel that it was his disturbing portrayal of the 'American Psycho' character Patrick Batemen conceived in Bret Easton's eponymous novel that put him on the map. From there he chose films that balanced box office appeal and roles that explored the shadowy facets of humanity without becoming overly saturated in maudlin themes...with 'The Prestige' probably being one of the more darker films of his films.

Needless to say I was thrilled to hear that he'd be picking up the Terminator franchise as John Connor, whom we all know as Sarah Connor's son, who saves humanity from the brink of extinction from the machines led by SkyNet's brutal self-aware AI. Producers are calling it a 'reboot' of the franchise, a term that's becoming more and more popular these days (think the J.J. Abrams 'Star Trek' project). No word yet on who'll be the antagonist, since the Governator has his own battles to field at present.

[sidenote: is this 'rebooting' another indication that Hollywood is running out of ideas, or that present-day themes are so fleeting or uncompelling that it keeps returning to topics it knows were once innovative, visionary, and thrilling...what is it about today's climate that's so less interesting? Are we being lulled deeper into a consumer oriented fugue? Facebooking our privacy away? Are we losing ourselves to our Second Lives, or are dynamic virtual communities making such static artifacts as lights projected on a screen passé?]

Bale is returning as Bruce Wayne/Batman in Christopher Nolan's 'rebooted' 'Batman' franchise, and recently appeared in '3:10 to Yuma' and is scheduled to headline in 2009's 'Killing Pablo', also starring one of the scariest villains ever to grace the screen in this year's 'No Country for Old Men'...Javier Bardem. Should be good stuff. They've even gotten out a trailer for the new Terminator film! Amazing! Didn't see Christian Bale though...

Monday, December 3, 2007

It's not a Lifeclock, but it's close

(finally, I can use this picture again)

For $999 would you want to know what your genetic composition means to you?

Are you more prone to certain kinds of cancer?

Will you get Alzheimer's?

Are you mother's ancestors really from the Black Forest region in Germany?

Are you related to Dave Chappelle's mom?, launching with backing from Google and NEA, offers a service to provide you with these answers and more for a cheek swab and $999. Uber-brains and people with lots of academic suffixes fill out their employment roster.

Interestingly enough, most of the more compelling resources (did you get your good teeth from your dad?) requires that family members also be participants in the service, so that would mean a very expensive Christmachannukwanzaa present for everyone in the clan.

One of the founders, Anne Wojcicki, is the new wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin. Given the nature of Google to acquire all that is known about you in order to provide more 'customized advertisements', it's an interesting service to be sure, but I'm loathe to keep pumping Google and its related subsidiaries with personal information. I'm looking at you, Facebook.

Can you imagine the type of money Google could charge companies wishing to advertise through them if Google statisticians and biologists found a strong correlation between your genetic composition and people who sell or re-lease their car every 2 years? I keep thinking about Oryx and Crake for some reason.

All conspiracy notions aside, I'm also thinking that results from this test would also allow you to get a better sense of your own mortality. Would you want to know when and how you'll expire, if you could? Or is this just going to be a totally awesome tool for people who finally want to put an end to the debate about how Irish are they really come St. Paddy's day?

A great game gets better

Recent news relevant to gamers, specifically BioShock gamers, is the news that certain plasmids will be made available via downloadable content (DLC) for PCs and consoles. This should be interesting to see, as typical DLC involves new gaming levels or game maps, but in this case we see gameplay elements becoming accessible. Given the scope and depth of BioShock, enabling elements like this greatly adds replay value as it redefines the way a player approaches ingame situations.

The details of these plasmids is contained in some of the game code in its current iteration, however, it would appear that 2K (the publisher) didn't release the content for the initial shipping of the game. Folks have done some detective work and uncovered a number of plasmids. Expect to see these made available through the free DLC.

Vending Expert
Sonic Boom
EVE Saver
Machine Bully
Life Drain
Telekenisis 2
Electric Bolt Zero (what the heck is that?)

These appear to be a whole new family of Plasmids called 'Ecology Plasmids'
Name: Mutant Synergy Plasmid (Ecology)
Description: Junkers who are near to you will take less damage.

Name: Drone Neural Dampening Field Plasmid (Ecology)
Description: Drones take longer to sound their alarms when near you.

Name: Pressure Manipulation Plasmid (Ecology)
Description: You can use a Pressure Station even if its timer is currently running.

Name: Drone Attractant Plasmid (Ecology)
Description: Makes Drones want to follow you.

Name: Drone Synergy Plasmid (Ecology)
Description: Drones who are near to you will take less damage.

Name: High-Pressure Armor Plasmid (Ecology)
Description: When local pressure is high, you take less damage.

Name: High-Pressure Conservation Plasmid (Ecology)
Description: When local pressure is high, your Active Plasmids consume less EVE.

Name: High Pressure Entropic Dampening Plasmid (Ecology)
Description: When local pressure is high, your weapons will not degrade.

Name: High-Pressure Plasmid Synergy Plasmid (Ecology)
Description: When local pressure is high, all your other Plasmids are treated as if they had an extra slot.

Name: High-Pressure Security Crate Access Plasmid (Ecology)
Description: You can automatically open security crates in high pressure.

Name: Localized High Pressure Plasmid (Ecology)
Description: Your Weapons and Plasmids are always treated as if they were in high pressure.

Name: Localized Low Pressure Plasmid (Ecology)
Description: Your Weapons and Plasmids are always treated as if they were in low pressure.

Name: Low Pressure Armor Plasmid (Ecology)
Description: When local pressure is low, you take less damage.

Name: Low Pressure Conservation Plasmid (Ecology)
Description: When local pressure is low, your Active Plasmids consume less EVE.

Name: Low Pressure Entropic Dampening Plasmid (Ecology)
Description: When local pressure is low, your weapons will not degrade.

Name: Low Pressure Plasmid Synergy Plasmid (Ecology)
Description: When local pressure is low, all your other Plasmids are treated as if they had an extra slot.

Name: Low Pressure Security Crate Access Plasmid (Ecology)
Description: You can automatically open security crates in low pressure.

Name: Guardian Synergy Plasmid (Ecology)
Description: Guardians near to you will take less damage.

...not that this development overshadows the Vivendi-Activiation merger. I wonder if this will mean that Blizzard will finally get the developers it needs to crank out Diablo 3.