The Opposable Thumbs blog is running an interesting article contrasting everything Activision did "wrong" in creating and marketing Modern Warfare 2 with the game's unqualified success. Despite price hikes, somewhat shady review practices, exploit frustrations, and the dedicated server fiasco, the game has raked in over a billion dollars in sales. "There was only one way to review Modern Warfare 2: on the Xbox 360, in Santa Barbara, under the watchful eye of Activision. Accepting the paid trip, along with room and board, was the only way you were going to get a review before launch. Joystiq noted that this broke their ethics policy, but they went anyway. Who can say no to a review destined to bring in traffic? Shacknews refused to call their coverage a 'review' because of the ethical issues inherent in the situation, but that stance was unique. The vast majority of news outlets didn't disclose how the review was conducted, or added a disclaimer after the nature of the review was made public. This proved to Activision that if you're big enough, you can dictate the exact terms of any review, and no ethics policy will make news outlets turn you down."
For the last couple of days news has been trickling in about how the US is trying to ram IP laws down Costa Rica's throat by blocking their access to the US sugar market. Techdirt has a good summary of the various commentaries and a related scoop in the Bahamas where the US is also applying IP pressure. "The first is in Costa Rica, which is included in the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). Yet like with other free trade agreements that the US has agreed to elsewhere, this one includes draconian intellectual property law requirements. I still cannot understand why intellectual monopoly protectionism — the exact opposite of 'free trade' — gets included in free trade agreements. At least in Costa Rica, a lot of people started protesting these rules, pointing out that it would be harmful for the economy, for education and for healthcare. So the Costa Rican government has not moved forward with such laws. How has the US responded? It's blocking access to the US market of Costa Rican sugar until Costa Rica approves new copyright laws."
jenningsthecat writes "A study published in December 2009 in the International Journal of Biological Sciences found that three varieties of Monsanto genetically-modified corn caused damage to the liver, kidneys, and other organs of rats. One of the corn varieties was designed to tolerate broad-spectrum herbicides, (so-called 'Roundup-ready' corn), while the other two contain bacteria-derived proteins that have insecticide properties. The study made use of Monsanto's own raw data. Quoting from the study's 'Conclusions' section: 'Our analysis highlights that the kidneys and liver as particularly important on which to focus such research as there was a clear negative impact on the function of these organs in rats consuming GM maize varieties for just 90 days.' Given the very high prevalence of corn in processed foods, this could be a real ticking time bomb. And with food manufacturers not being required by law to declare GMO content, I think I'll do my best to avoid corn altogether. Pass the puffed rice and pour me a glass of fizzy water!"
bfire writes to tell us that marketing firm uSocial has decided to apply a new monetization scheme to the Twitter service by providing packages of followers for purchase. "According to the firm, a single Twitter follower could be worth $0.10 a month. It is selling followers in various packages, starting at 1,000 for $87, which is delivered in seven days, and going all the way up to 100,000 followers at a cost of $3,479, delivered over a year." This is just the latest in a number of different exploits and problems of the Twitter universe as individuals try to subvert a popular tool into a self-serving device.
An anonymous reader writes "A new Canadian study deconstructs how copyright lobby groups manipulate public opinion by laundering proposals through seemingly independent groups. The study started after the Conference Board of Canada was shown to have plagiarized several of its IP reports and now shows the connections that all lead through the MPAA and RIAA. Michael Geist writes, 'It is not just that these reports all receive financial support from the same organizations and say largely the same thing. It is also that the reports each build on one another, creating the false impression of growing momentum and consensus on the state of Canadian law and the need for specific reforms.'"
An anonymous reader writes "Now that some little time has passed, and the hype has died down a bit, I'm wondering if anyone has taken the $500 plunge and gotten a Kindle DX. From the academic-paper-reading-geek perspective, is it worth the money? How well does it work with PDFs, and is it easy to get them on and off? I haven't been able to find any good reviews on the interweb that address its usability as I would like to use it."
snydeq writes "Major browser vendors have been unable to agree on an encoding format they will support in their products, forcing the W3C to drop audio and video codecs from HTML 5, the forthcoming W3C spec that has been viewed as a threat to Flash, Silverlight, and similar technologies. 'After an inordinate amount of discussions on the situation, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that there is no suitable codec that all vendors are willing to implement and ship,' HTML 5 editor Ian Hickson wrote to the whatwg mailing list. Apple, for its part, won't support Ogg Theora in QuickTime, expressing concerns over patents despite the fact that the codec can be used royalty-free. Opera and Mozilla oppose using H.264 due to licensing and distribution issues. Google has similar reservations, despite already using H.264 and Ogg Theora in Chrome. Microsoft has made no commitment to support <video>."
Ponca City, We Love You writes "The NY Times reports that farmers and ranchers oppose a government program to identify livestock with microchip tags that would allow the computerized recording of livestock movements from birth to the slaughterhouse. Proponents of the USDA's National Animal Identification System say that computer records of cattle movements mean that when a cow is discovered with bovine tuberculosis or mad cow disease, its prior contacts can be swiftly traced. Ranchers say the extra cost of the electronic tags places an onerous burden on a teetering industry. Small groups of cattle are often rounded up in distant spots and herded into a truck by a single person who could not simultaneously wield the hand-held scanner needed to record individual animal identities. The ranchers also note that there is no Internet connection on many ranches for filing to a regional database. 'Lobbyists from corporate mega-agribusiness designed this program to destroy traditional small sustainable agriculture,' says Genell Pridgen, an owner of Rainbow Meadow Farms. The notion of centralized data banks, even for animals, has also set off alarms among libertarians who oppose NAIS. One group has issued a bumper sticker that reads, 'Tracking cattle now, tracking you soon.' 'They can't comprehend the vastness of a ranch like this,' says Jay Platt, the third-generation owner of a 22,000 acre New Mexico ranch. 'This plan is expensive, it's intrusive, and there's no need for it.'"
Michael_Curator writes to tell us that mobile phones now have a "reality overlay" app that combines a smartphone's camera, GPS, and compass to augment a user's view of a particular location with metadata. "It works as follows: Starting up the Layar application automatically activates the camera. The embedded GPS automatically knows the location of the phone and the compass determines in which direction the phone is facing. Each [commercial] partner provides a set of location coordinates with relevant information which forms a digital layer. By tapping the side of the screen the user easily switches between layers."
yuna49 writes "The US Supreme Court today ruled 8-1 that the strip search of a 13-year-old girl by officials in an Arizona middle school was unconstitutional. However, by a vote of 7-2, the Court also ruled that the individual school officials could not be held personally liable. A suit for damages against the school district itself is still going forward. We discussed this case at length back in March when the Court decided to hear the case on appeal."
Godefricus writes "Outrage ensued among Dutch techie and media websites, after a government report advised that the dwindling print media industry should be financially supported by the online industry (Google translation; Dutch original here). The idea is to help the old media fund 'innovative initiatives.' The suggested implementation of the plan is by taxing a percentage of each ISP subscription, and give the money to the papers. The report, which was solicited by the Dutch parliament and written by a committee of its members, specifically states that 'news and the gathering of news stories is not free, and the public must be made aware of that.' The report is not conclusive, but from here it's just one step toward a legislative proposal. Both industries are largely privately owned in The Netherlands, and the current government is center-left wing. Who needs an RIAA if you can build one into your government? And hey, why invest in the future if you can invest in the past?"
circletimessquare writes "The Obama administration opened a discussion forum in January of this year which has become an electronic suggestion box. It is now entering stage three, following brainstorm and discussion phases: the draft phase, in which the top subject matter is codified into suggestions for the government. 'Ultimately, the visitors advanced more than 3,900 ideas, which in turn spawned 11,000 comments that received 210,000 thumb votes. The result? Three of the top 10 most popular ideas called for legalizing marijuana, and two featured conspiracy theories about Mr. Obama's true place of birth.'"
gerddie notes a piece up on the EFF site outlining the fairly outlandish legal theories ASCAP is trying out in their court fight with AT&T. "ASCAP (the same folks who went after Girl Scouts for singing around a campfire) appears to believe that every time your musical ringtone rings in public, you're violating copyright law by 'publicly performing' it without a license. At least that's the import of a brief (PDF, 2.5 MB) it filed in ASCAP's court battle with mobile phone giant AT&T."
Neil H. writes "The White House's Human Space Flight Plans blue-ribbon panel (the 'Augustine panel') has posted the material from their first public meeting on the future of NASA's spaceflight program, which was held on Wednesday. NASA officials presented their Ares I rocket plans and their belief that they can work around its design flaws, with projected development costs ballooning to $35 billion. The panel also heard several alternative proposals, such as adapting already-existing EELV and SpaceX rockets to carry crew to orbit; these proposals would have better safety margins than the Ares I, be ready sooner, and cost NASA less than $2 billion to complete, but are politically unattractive."
mikesd81 notes a press release on the EFF website that begins "The Obama Administration's decision to support Bush-era concealment policies has forced the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Public Knowledge (PK) to drop their lawsuit about the proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). Federal judges have very little discretion to overrule Executive Branch decisions to classify information on 'national security' grounds, and the Obama Administration has recently informed the court that it intends to defend the classification claims originally made by the Bush Administration. ... Very little is known about ACTA, currently under negotiation between the US and more than a dozen other countries, other than that it is not limited to anti-counterfeiting measures. Leaked documents indicate that it could establish far-reaching customs regulations governing searches over personal computers and iPods. Multi-national IP corporations have publicly requested mandatory filtering of Internet communications for potentially copyright-infringing material, as well as the adoption of 'Three Strikes' policies requiring the termination of Internet access after repeat allegations of copyright infringement, like the legislation recently invalidated in France. Last year, more than 100 public interest organizations around the world called on ACTA country negotiators to make the draft text available for public comment."