technology

Javascript "Asteroids"-like game

This made my day: a Javascript version of the old "Asteroids" game that lets you blow up HTML elements on web pages.

To try it out on this page, you can click this link. Rotate with left and right arrow keys, up arrow for thrust, shoot with the spacebar, press B to highlight shootable regions, and Esc to quit. (You'll probably want to reload the page afterwards.) For more fun, drag that link to your bookmarklet toolbar, then invoke it from some other webpage -- maybe one laden with ads, or maybe one with photos of whoever's pissing you off this week...

A tip of the hat to young Mr. Erik Rothoff Andersson, author of this applet.

so maybe Big Brother isn't watching very closely...

It seems that every few days we see another story about employers firing or suspending employees for comments made of Facebook or elsewhere on the web. It's a worrisome trend.

Given that, you might think that if a company finds your resume on-line, before their recruiters call you up they might Google your name + their company's name, and see if you've bad-mouthed them. For example, I'd expect someone from Amazon.com to Google '"Tom Swiss" amazon' before calling me about a job, and see on the first page links to my post, "Amazon must be destroyed", where I write about my loathing for these patent-abusing pro-censorship bastards, and then cross me off their list. (BTW, such a search also finds the MP3 downloads for my tracks for Words on War.)

Apparently not, though, since I just got a call from an Amazon.com recruiter. (I was polite.)

I'm not in the job market right now, and my resume page even has a link explaining this. But since my resume has been at the same URL since, IIRC, the late 90s, I guess it comes up fairly high on Google searches.

Egypt shuts down Internet access

Woody Guthrie used to have the words "This Machine Kills Fascists" on his guitar. I've often thought that that would be a fine sticker to put on Internet-connected computers. The free flow of information is anathema to authoritarians.

Need proof? Reports are coming in that Egypt has shut down all internet access, as protests continue against the U.S.-backed regime of Hosni Mubarak.

That, I think, is pretty much a sign that the cat is out of the bag, and that this regime's days are numbered. (The question, though, it whether what replaces it will be better...)

Amazon must be destroyed

Amazon -- the company, not the river -- has been on my shit list since they became patent-abusing bastards. But their recent actions have moved them up the list.

Most troubling is the sudden removal of WikiLeaks's content from Amazon Web Services. There was much speculation that the U.S. government put pressure on Amazon to make this happen -- but just a few weeks later, Amazon was bragging that the federal government is one of its biggest customers. This suggests that the pressure involved was good ol' money: piss of one of AWS's big customers, and Amazon will pull the plug on you.

But wait -- there's more. Rather like the rat bastards at Apple, Amazon's censorship of WikiLeaks goes along with a pattern of censorship of sexually explicit material.

It's not as if they don't know what they're doing. When people objected to a book with the (disgusting, to be sure) title Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure showing up the Kindle store, Amazon said, "Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable. Amazon does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts, however, we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions." That's a wonderful statement -- but Amazon then caved in and removed the book.

Amazon is now removing erotic incest fantasy fiction and works that portray homosexual rape -- and not just removing such stories from further sales, but deleting stories from purchaser's Kindles. Amazon was famously sued over such remote deletion last year, and supposedly set a policy which limited its use.

Amazon now says that the recent retroactive deletion was due to a "technical issue". Ha.

Woz on net neutrality

As you may have gathered from my last post about them, I am not a fan of Steve Jobs and Apple; they've been on my shit list since the infamous look and feel lawsuits of the late 80s and early 90s. But I am a fan of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. "Woz", as many know him, is pretty much the anti-Jobs: he was the engineering genius behind Apple's early success, back in the pre-Mac days when functionality and openness were Apple's virtues. He was the sole developer of the hardware, circuit board designs, and operating system for the Apple I, and did the vast majority of the design and development for the Apple II. Many technophiles have contrasted the openness and elegance of Woz's work with the closed, walled-garden, and pretty but technologically deficient designs pushed by Jobs.

Before Apple, Woz founded a Dial-a-Joke line; after Apple, he spent almost a decade teaching computer science, without pay, for public schools in Los Gatos. When Apple went public, Woz shared his stock options with employees he though had been unfairly left out. Wired columnist Leander Kahney calls Woz "a man who has lived his life according to deeply geeky and humanistic principles," which seems to me like a correct description and a high complement.

So when Woz talks about something with both technological and humanistic implications, like network neutrality, the wise pay heed:

The early Internet was so accidental, it also was free and open in this sense. The Internet has become as important as anything man has ever created. But those freedoms are being chipped away. Please, I beg you, open your senses to the will of the people to keep the Internet as free as possible. Local ISP's should provide connection to the Internet but then it should be treated as though you own those wires and can choose what to do with them when and how you want to, as long as you don't destruct them. I don't want to feel that whichever content supplier had the best government connections or paid the most money determined what I can watch and for how much. This is the monopolistic approach and not representative of a truly free market in the case of today's Internet.

Imagine that when we started Apple we set things up so that we could charge purchasers of our computers by the number of bits they use. The personal computer revolution would have been delayed a decade or more. If I had to pay for each bit I used on my 6502 microprocessor, I would not have been able to build my own computers anyway.

Apple pulls WikiLeaks app

If you needed more proof that Apple is a bunch of evil censoring bastards, here it is: Apple has pulled a "WikiLeaks" app from its App store. The $1.99 app, created by Igor Barinov to make the WikiLeaks data more browsable and accessible, was yanked without explanation. The app had no data in it that isn't already public.

This comes on top of Steve Jobs telling us he wants to give us "freedom from porn", and Apple banning apps with political cartoons by a Pulitzer-winning cartoonist, a gay travel guide to New York, and graphic novels based on James Joyce's Ulysses and on The Importance of Being Earnest. Public outcry has made them pull back on some of those decisions, but it does not make the fact that they were made in the first place less outrageous.

"Think Different"? No. More and more, Apple shows that it wants people who use its hardware to think the same.

And if you have a problem with that, Apple might just put you down the memory hole, as when they delete from their message boards discussion threads that are critical of their shiny but underfunctional geegaws.

Of course, censorship never does take very well. (Let's be clear: this is censorship. Apologists for corporatism like to say that only the government can engage in censorship, but that's not what the word means; when a business says "this is objectionable" rather than "people won't buy this", that's censorship.) The iPad has a built-in web browser, and though it doesn't support Flash -- the format of most video on the web today -- adult website "YouPorn" is already offering a selection of its videos in HTML5, which does work on the iPad.

So you can still view pr0n on the iPad -- just like you can still view WikiLeaks information. That does not change the fact that Apple's attempt to moralize is more appropriate for a church than for a technology company; and given that Apple is getting its fingers more and more around our information channels, it's much more disturbing.

If you support free expression, support free software. So long as you don't have the choice of what to install on your computer, your freedom is limited. We're headed more and more toward the world RMS envisioned in his short story The Right To Read.

why I prefer to pay with cash

Wired reports on documents obtained by security researcher Christopher Soghoian under a FOIA request, which show how federal law enforcement agencies have been tracking Americans -- in real time -- via credit cards, retail "loyalty program" cards, and rental car agencies.

More detail is at Soghoian's blog. He notes:

The document also reveals that DOJ's preferred method of obtaining this information is via an administrative subpoena. The only role that courts play in this process is in issuing non-disclosure orders to the banks, preventing them from telling their customers that the government has spied on their financial transactions. No Fourth Amendment analysis is conducted by judges when issuing such non-disclosure orders.

While Congress has required that the courts compile and publish detailed statistical reports on the degree to which law enforcement agencies engage in wiretapping, we currently have no idea how often law enforcement agencies engage in real-time surveillance of financial transactions.

interactive fiction via typewriter

As a young geek, I whiled away many hours playing interactive fiction text games like Adventure (Colossal Cave), Zork, and Planetfall.

So I was quickly enchanted with this video of Jonathan Guberman and Jim Munroe's Automatypewriter. Guberman has essentially converted an old Smith-Corona into a fanciful teletype terminal for interactive fiction.

Watching the type type "by itself" reminds me of a scene from the Star Trek episode "Assignment: Earth", where Roberta Lincoln -- played by a young Terry Garr -- encounters a voice-operated typewriter in the office of time-traveling secret agent Gary Seven. Anyway, it's cool.

Newton the Alchemist

You may know that Issac Newton is a contender for the greatest physicist of all time. You may know that he invented calculus to amuse himself. But did you know he was a serious alchemist? Natalie Angier discusses Newton's fascination with alchemy in The Hindu.

How did one of the greatest scientists of all time get caught up in what is usually thought of today as superstition? She cites William Newman, a professor of the history and philosophy of science at Indiana University in Bloomington, who has extensively studied Newton's alchemical work. "Alchemy was synonymous with chemistry," says Newman, "and chemistry was much bigger than transmutation."

Maryland court upholds citizens' right to record cops on the job

The Sun reports that a Circuit Court judge in Harford County (Maryland) has dismissed wiretapping charges against Anthony Graber.

I've previously mentioned Graber's story: he was (apparently) being a dangerous jerk on his motorcycle, and got pulled over by a Maryland state cop who made a illegitimate traffic stop, cutting Graber off in an unmarked car (no lights or siren either) and jumping out his his car with his gun in his hand. Graber was wearing a helmet camera which recorded the incident. When Graber posted the video to Youtube, Joseph Cassilly -- State’s Attorney for Harford Count -- threatened to prosecute Graber for violating Maryland's wiretap law, a felony carrying a penalty of up to five years. It was in an act of pure intimidation for daring to embarrass a cop gone wild.

In yesterday's ruling, Circuit Court Judge Emory A. Plitt Jr. quite sensibly noted that "Those of us who are public officials and are entrusted with the power of the state are ultimately accountable to the public...When we exercise that power in a public forum, we should not expect our activity to be shielded from public scrutiny." He added that the incident "took place on a public highway in full view of the public. Under such circumstances, I cannot, by any stretch, conclude that the troopers had any reasonable expectation of privacy in their conversation with the defendant which society would be prepared to recognize as reasonable."

Jackass Cassilly claims the ruling "will make it more difficult for the police to do their jobs"; I can only interpret this to mean that he thinks that cops' jobs include intimidation and abuse.

According to the Sun's coverage, cops throughout the state have been using the wiretap excuse to seize people's cameras; a Baltimore cop threatened to arrest an amateur cameraman recording the arrest of a woman at Preakness, telling him, "It's illegal to record anybody's voice or anything else in the state of Maryland."

Recognizing our right to watch the watchers is a small, but important, step to get our out-of-control police forces to respect citizen's rights.

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