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The new news

Freedom | Friday, February 24th, 2006 | 11 years, 7 months ago
— WARNING —
Some addresses in this blog entry post to material that some people may find extremely upsetting and objectionable. I have entered these hyperlinks as plain text instead of clickable URLs to prevent the possibility of accidental viewing. DO NOT VIEW THESE LINKS unless you are exceptionally strong of mind and stomach.

A while back I accidentally happened across a website with content I will never forget. The site is www.ogrish.com – a repository of stories, images, and videos of violent and graphic material. This content is not baseless; it is a collection of recordings by law enforcement agencies, news media, private investigators, soldiers, terrorists, murderers, and more.

I’m not sure how I found this website (I believe I was reading about the war in Iraq), but I assure you that, despite the very fair warning and disclaimer displayed before entering, I was not prepared for the things I saw.

The site contains photographs of traffic accident aftermaths, uncensored footage of war, videos showing mutilation and murder of kidnapping victims, graphic pictures of disease victims from medical archives, beheadings of prisoners of war, and a heck of a lot more. The things I saw upset me and repulsed me. My heart raced as I watched agonizingly long video clips showing the last minutes of peoples’ lives, beknownst or not to the victims.

I browsed the site for over 2 hours. I hated what I saw but I couldn’t stop browsing. That night I had trouble getting to sleep, and when I did I had nightmares. I’ve returned to the site since in an attempt to face my demons.

I am writing today to praise ogrish.com for making these materials available on the internet.

Yes, there are more pleasant and productive things to concentrate on. A tiny percentage of human beings have to watch such horrific stuff, because it is their job or they were just in the wrong place in the wrong time. Most of us in the “first world” are content receiving news of the world through homogenized, triple-baked, carefully manipulated, lifeless words and statistics. Anyone who has seen the content of ogrish.com (or is unfortunate enough to see such things first hand) will tell you that flaccid words do not do justice to the oppressed and the tormented.

Ogrish.com is news. The real news. In your back yard. And front yard.

Despite the fact that some content shows American soldiers, police, and citizens at their worst, the website is served by a web host in the USA and is protected by the first amendment of the US constitution. (this link is safe to click) This is one of the greatest triumphs of human freedom I’ve observed personally. Goes to show how sheltered we Canadians suburbanites are.

It is with this spirit of freedom in mind that I am sorry to report that the German government has requested that google.de remove all links to ogrish.com. This is certainly not the only recent case of censorship by the German government; a topic I’ve discussed (safe to click) in the past. It’s also not the only case of Google censoring results to conform to national law (safe to click), though interestingly the site still appears on China’s google.cn.

Few things in life remind us of how very lucky and free we truly are. Ogrish.com is one of them. It reminds me of how important it is to be aware of the world around me, to care about the actions and rights of my neighbours, and to fight for and speak out about what I think is right. Although I complain about things like frivolous lawsuits and oversensitive special interest groups, I realize that their freedom to protest is what makes civilized nations so great. When a nation loses its freedom to state the facts, never mind vocalize its opinions of them, there is cause for great international concern.

When we are stagnant we decay. When we are challenged we grow stronger. Having said this, I still don’t feel comfortable recommending anyone to view www.ogrish.com. This website has pretty much the most horrific stuff I can humanly imagine. Still, I feel like a better person having seen this material. I feel that I have a better understanding of human nature, other cultures, my own culture, and especially of terror.

I’ve been writing this entry on a comfy couch with the TV on in the background. I’ve glanced over periodically and noticed commercials for shows and movies that display sword fights, gunplay, murder, and oppression as entertainment. I find this frivolity particularly disgusting now. These themes are serious and unsavoury. I think people like Jack Thompson who try to equate video games with real violence should be strapped to a chair and forced to watch every piece of media on ogrish.com so that he can finally understand the difference between fantasy and reality.

Draw your own conclusions. Agree with me or disagree. Whether or not you feel websites like these should exist, whether newspapers should be allowed to publish religiously insensitive cartoons, or anything at all, voice your opinion loud and clear.

I enclose a link to one video from ogrish.com. It is video shot by American soldiers in Iraq who are being fired upon by a sniper. The Americans call for air support and the building hiding the sniper is bombed. There is no blood or particularly “objectionable” material (unless you count the reaction of the American soldiers, which I do).

Truly, if a picture is worth a thousand words, this short video is worth an entire book.

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Intangible but convenient

Video Games | Thursday, February 16th, 2006 | 11 years, 7 months ago

I’ve had a bit of a game-buying drought as of late. I’ve walked into my 3 favourite game stores (in Toronto) – Gamerama at Yonge & Eglinton, EB at Yonge & Eglinton, and EB Games at Yonge & Steeles, – and have come up relatively empty for several weeks now (I bought Unreal 2 for $10 out of desperation yesterday). I was really jonesing for a nice cheap game purchase; not necessarily for the game, just the purchase, ya know? So I thought I’d look into my crystal ball and try buying a game off of Valve‘s content distribution system, Steam.

Steam is the distribution system first made mandatory by Half-Life 2, Valve’s 2005 game of the year as voted by countless publications including my favourite, PC Gamer magazine. Upon installing the game from storebought discs the user must make an account on Steam, activate the product over the internet, download any patches (optionally), and start playing. Steam must log into Valve’s servers before even the single-player version of Half-Life 2 can be played, but for those with a stable internet connection (not me) this is a much preferred alternative to leaving the CD in the drive.

Having recieved HL2 from a friend I simply needed to enter his password and start playing. Many early-purchasers noted some trouble with Steam due to high volume, but most were up and running minutes after installing.

It should be noted that Steam can be downloaded by one and all for free, and any game, including Half-Life 2, can be purchased and downloaded without taking a trip to the store at all.

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Steam’s IM-ey main window

Valve opened up Steam’s embedded web store with its classic roster of titles – the original Half-Life series including its 2 expansion packs, accompanied by the odd third-party shovelware title. Since its illustrious launch, Steam users may choose from an ever-growing list of titles by increasingly prestigious developers such as Lionhead.

My game of choice was Half-Life: Source – the original Half-Life game rendered by Half-Life 2’s Source engine. It’s the same game that I’ve played at least 3 times through already, but as PC Gamer’s game of the year for 1998 it has a ton of replayability. This is the game responsible for transforming the first person shooter genre from baseless free-for-all splatterfests to a storytelling medium of unmatched personal weight. Half-Life was the first FPS to unfold in real time entirely in the first person perspective.

I clicked Half-Life: Source from a surprisingly disorganized roster of dozens of games and was presented a variety of bundles: purchase the game standalone or bundled with Half-Life 2. Having already changed most of the account settings from the previous owner’s, I was simply prompted to enter my billing information (which isn’t required by Steam until you make a purchase). I clicked another button or two and the game immediately appeared on my list of available games. The game automatically began downloading (at about 110KB/s) and was completely installed and updated within 40 minutes. I was emailed a reciept and given the option to print a copy. The total came to $10 USD, no taxes, no fees.

steamstore.jpg
Steam’s IE-embedded web store could be better organized

I tested ‘er out and it worked perfectly. The game looks very slightly better than the original – it uses the higher-res (but still very pixelated and muddy) textures from the Blue Shift expansion pack and it incorporates Half-Life 2’s specular lighting and water effects, but otherwise it’s the same old Half-Life – and that’s a great thing! I look forward to giving this old favourite another good run-through. It’s a toughie!

Overall I am quite pleased with my Steam experience. After enduring maybe 10 fruitless visits to brick and mortar stores it was a pleasure to see a game I wanted, buy it, and play it in less time than it takes to drive to and from a store (granted this is an older 1-CD game).

Of course there remains the issue of Steam’s demise – what happens to all this purchased content if and when Steam disappears? Will Valve generously unlock all their content to be played freely? Or have we all been renting the game from Valve as long as Steam works? We shall see, I suppose.

Thankfully, with an impeccable track record, Valve isn’t going to disappear any time soon. They are blazing a trail here, and hopefully it will only mean good things for the industry. Indie startups like Introversion Software can ride on the coat tails of Half-Life to make themselves better known, and can distribute titles to consumers without dealing with the dozens of middlemen involved in traditional retail channels. This means greater distribution and per-unit revenue for budding developers. Hopefully Steam will be to indie devs what iTunes was supposed to be to indie musicians. (aside – boycott iTunes for screwing the little guy!)

In the end, am I as pleased with my Steam purchase as if I had gone to a store and bought a box? In a word, no. Although Half-Life 2’s packaging was disappointingly sparse (quick reference card instead of a manual, paper CD sleeves) it’s still a package. I have those lovely printed CDs and the very attractive box that sits nicely on my, er, pile of boxes. In truth, I don’t even have a place to put these boxes. It’s obvious that game stores will soon be a thing of the past, but considering the price of the 8-year-old game I bought it would have been nice to have something to hold in my hand. Nevertheless, this bias will surely disappear as we become more accustomed to the trade of intangible goods in years (or less) to come.

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David is Goliath

Freedom | Friday, February 3rd, 2006 | 11 years, 7 months ago

In retrospect I feel yesterday’s post might have come off a little harsh. I’d like to qualify the reason for my wrath.

Yes, I ridicule Dave Redl for being ignorant of the ways of the internet and for sashaying into Reggieland’s inbox like a bull in a china shop. It’s amusing that his petty squabble with a private community has earned him some infamy. However, it’s not this ignorance that prompted my fury.

My reason is the simple fact that Mr. Redl could have – SHOULD have – asked nicely to remedy the situation.

Maybe (duh, Brian) it’s the nature of the media to shine the spotlight on the extreme, ridiculous, negative aspects of society, and\or perhaps my pessimism is growing in general. Whatever the reason, I feel that business ethics is some unfathomable oxymoron.

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Take the sad story of American entrepreneur Uzi Nissan for example. Mr. Nissan has owned a variety of businesses spanning over 2 decades, currently chairing the Nissan Computer Corporation.

As a forward-thinking businessman, Uzi registered a domain name, www.nissan.com, in 1994 to represent his enterprise. More than 5 years later, the Nissan Motor Company subpoenaed Mr. Nissan to relinquish his allegedly copyright-infringing domain name and to reimburse the company $10,000,000 in damages.

If this corporate cesspool was simply suing a man for damages caused by using his own name, it’s minutely possible that one might sympathize with Nissan Motor for simply seeking to ensure the strength of their own larger brand and that they might even be entitled to the domain. However, when Uzi Nissan registered his domain name, the Nissan Motor didn’t even exist! It was then called Datsun Motor!

The auto-maker could have offered to purchase the domain in a gentlemanly fashion. They could have made Uzi Nissan a very rich man with a tiny penance in relation to the corporation’s countless sums. A symbiotic resolution was perhaps 3 phone calls away.

Uzi Nissan, after more than 6 years of lawsuits and threats, has been granted a ridiculous ultimatum by the US “justice” system. He may retain www.nissan.com under the condition that he not use it for any commercial means.

Fuck you, judge. Fuck you, Nissan Motor. Fuck you, corporate trough-feeding and trough-filling pigs.

This is no isolated incident either. As long as people are free to purchase any unregistered (or expired) domain name, greedy corporations will try to cheat them out of them. Just ask Eduardo Perez Orue of www.wolfb.com and he’ll tell have plenty to tell you.

Today I read that Volkswagen Motor is poised to sue an artist who draws Beetles! They literally asked him to tear images of Beetles out of his long-published books and mail them to the company! This is coming from a company whose fucking name is “People’s Car”!!!

Yesterday I read that Starforce, makers of copy protection software, are suing news site www.boingboing.net for reporting the common complaint that their product physically damages some computers! I guess they don’t read [H]ardOCP.

The RIAA has sued a woman for trading music online and she’s never used a computer in her life. They’ve also sued a 13 year old girl and a dead woman.

Sue sue sue, cry cry cry. Didn’t anyone else’s mom teach them you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar? Or was that just mine.

I, like everyone else, have had my fair share of altercations with dishonest companies.

Rogers Cable took over Shaw Cable whom were our internet service providers at the time. Rogers proceeded to raise our monthly fees $10, reduced the speed of the connection by 2/3, and then threatened to cut off my access because I was downloading too much. We promptly ditched them after 3 years of consumer loyalty.

I bought a Linksys router which turned out to be defective. I called their tech support department who gave me some possible solutions and advised me to call back in a few weeks if the problems remained. When I called back they informed me my 30-day refund window had expired. They jerked me around for months until I reported them to the Better Business Bureau, and then they folded like a card table. I was so sick of dealing with them that I refused their refund. I’m now very happy with my D-Link.

I purchased a cell phone from Fido last year. I was hoping to purchase one on the cheap from a third-party vendor, but Fido insisted that I had to ensure compatibility of frequencies and features for the phone to work with their networks. I begrugingly accepted the 2-year contract tethered to the reduced-price phone. Recently Fido was bought out by my favourite company, Rogers. Fido promptly switched to Rogers’ towers which were, of course, operating on a different frequency. Fido’s tech support insisted that I must bear the cost of a working phone and the rep proceeded through an unsolicited sales pitch. Weeks later I finally got in touch with a manager who exclaimed his surprise that nobody had offered me the free SIM card that solves the problem in a snap. I’m looking forward to ending my 8 years of patronage with Fido when my contract expires this June.

So, fair readers, this is where I’m coming from. I’m tired of corporations trying to step on the little guy. When such a practise becomes so prevalent in society you can be sure there is something wrong with North American priorities. Companies are rewarded for being dishonest. Individuals are punished for being assertive.

This is where I’m supposed write my conclusion. The part of the essay where the writer reiterates his introduction and reinforces his point. Sorry, can’t do it. Now that my thoughts are in perspective I can’t possibly defend speaking more softly on the matter.

The above examples are why I resent the actions of Dave Redl so very, very much. Dave, you are the epitome of the tarnished American dream. You made your own company with little-guy sweat and you’re galumphing around the internet in your elephant shoes and your battle face like a big company.

Fuck you, Dave Redl.

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