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Wireless, Gaming Addiction, Spam, and More 45

Of the thousands of comments on yesterday's Slashdot page, gathered below are some of the ones that defined the conversations on the rise of wireless peripherals, the meaning of content-free spam, whether one can be truly addicted to online gaming, and Intel's move to open source some of its graphics adapter drivers. Read on for the Backslash summary.
A post about CoolTechZone's prediction of a dramatic increase in wireless computer peripherals attracted lots of not-so-gentle criticism: "Speed isn't the problem," writes reader pilkul with a typical complaint, "Reliability is":

"Most of the wireless networks and peripherals I've seen have been randomly unreliable at some point or at least more difficult to configure such that they work reliably. Much of this is due to the immaturity of the technology, but the bottom line is that wireless connections are intrinsically more flakiness-prone than wired ones."

Similarly, gnasby writes

"Every time I've worked with wireless technology it's been flaky. It's gotten to the point that if friend of mine calls me up and asks for help with their "wireless network", I show up with a roll of Cat5e, RJ45 plugs and a crimper. For 99% of wireless stuff, I just refuse to spend any time trying to get this technology to work. If I want to set something up, I want to be able to set it up once and never have to worry about it again.

I've yet to see any wireless implementation that is reliable as wired. Until that gets fixed wires are here to stay."

Wireless peripherals are great, writes Spad sarcastically, at least

"Until your batteries die, or your devices start to interfere with each other, or you realise that your "Blazingly fast" wireless internet is actually pretty slow and becomes very slow as soon as anything gets between you and your access point.

Wireless "everything" is hugely overhyped. Yes, a wireless mouse is nice because it doesn't snag, but why do I need a wireless printer? Or a wireless monitor? Or anything else that's largely static for its lifetime?"

According to reader vertinox, there really are some good arguments for wireless speakers and other usually deskbound peripherals:

"About 5 years ago when I was a lowly A+ certified computer shop tech, people would pay me crap loads of money to come out to their house and setup their already pre-configured computer. This usually involved me crawling under the desk and plugging color coordinated [cables] into their right spots and then adjusting the cables so they look clean and then booting up the computer and then leaving.

Had our customers took about 90 seconds to look at the instructions and plugged the cables into the right hole (including the usb and parallel printer cables) they would have saved themselves quite a bit of money.

But... The average consumer has a real big aversion to plugging in cables even if there is no possible way to get the configuration wrong (well... I don't know how many times I've gotten calls about people getting the keyboard and mouse mixed up when they used the PS2 connectors)

So for the average user, being able to open the box and not plug in any wires (except maybe power) is a godsend."

And if wireless beats out cabled peripherals in large numbers, it won't be as much a showdown as a fade-out. Reader cowscows points out that cables-vs-wireless is not an either-or proposition:

"You see, the neat thing about the world is that we don't have to completely get rid of something just because a newer way of doing it comes along.

I love having wireless networking, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't run cables through all the walls if I was building myself a house. I mostly use my cordless phone at home, but having one phone always attached to the wall means that I'll always be able to easily find it if I need it. I can't remember the battery on that phone ever dying on me.

We can have the wireless revolution without actually getting rid of all the wires. My printer can keep its wires. I don't move it very often. My iSight camera wire doesn't bother me at all. My USB hub would probably be far less useful if we got rid of all the wires, so let's not worry about that. I can't even remember the last time my keyboard's cable was a problem. My keyboard just sits there, on the keyboard drawer.

Rather than making parts of a non-mobile computer mobile, I'm much more interested in making already mobile computers better. Give us better PDA's, make a tablet computer that is usable and affordable. The cord on my mouse is not that big of a problem."

Readers left more than 500 comments in response to the claim by clinical psychologist Dr. Maressa Orzack (founder of a business called Computer Addiction Services) that approximately 40% of World of Warcraft players exhibited behavior characteristic of addiction.

Spad scoffs at the source of the claim:

""Doctor with vested interest makes sensational statement to support business model" Shocker."

Some readers' horror stories about their gaming lives strain credulity, but Dirtside was one of many who described getting too far into a game:

"I was addicted to WoW. It got to the point where it was interfering with taking care of other things around the house, and occasionally paying attention to my kid. I finally quit cold-turkey a few weeks ago, and I'm glad I did. The game's fun, but it's just a game; I kept looking at it as "gotta accomplish more, gotta get all these characters to 60, etc."

One train of thought that helps kill my desire to play goes like this (it's sort of a mantra I run through every so often):

  1. Wouldn't it be cool to play WoW in god mode, and have all the best equipment, skills, be able to kill everything in 1 hit, etc.?
  2. Yeah, for about five minutes, but then it would get boring like god mode always does in games. It's better to accomplish things honestly, within the limits of the game.
  3. Wait, accomplish? What accomplishment is there, exactly, in manipulating an interface that is essentially flipping bits on a hard drive somewhere? It's a game, it should be for entertainment; not some kind of to-do list.
  4. WoW is still a little entertaining, but I've played two characters to level 60, and one each to 57, 55, 50, 48, 46, 33... I've seen pretty much all the content that doesn't require hours of raiding. Okay, I think I'm done."
"Anything can become an addiction," though, asserts diamondsw:

"It is true that MMORPG's (World of Warcraft being far and away the more successful) encourage this. You have monthly fees that (aside from paying for the infrastructure, bandwidth, etc) entice you to play to justify the ongoing and mounting expense. Grouping makes sure you show up at given times, etc. The random rewards of epic loot in advanced dungeons is similar to random reward studies (which show it's the most powerful form of behavior shaping - see slot machines). You have to set limits on it just like anything else, whether it's drinking or TV.

However, there are some differences here [compared to] to other addictions. There is no physical addiction, and hardly any psychological one. You can put it down, and other than mild obsession (what's going on in Azeroth?), it has no ill effects. Hell, you can discontinue your account, and they keep all of your character info, so you can completely unplug, and return at some point in the future when you're interested again, much like an offline game. There's also a limit - you may play a lot to reach level 60, but then you do stop. Sure, you can join raids, get gear, but the drive to constantly improve falls away (other games, like Disgaea, are far, far worse in this regard).

The most important difference is that if handled well, it can be a positive social tool. I play, but only with people I know in real life. That way we can talk about other things and it allows a set time for us to get together, without having to drive out to each other (I live over an hour away from many of them, and that's just suburban sprawl!).

Mostly, this is a lot of fuss over nothing."

And reader cculianu wants to know

" What the hell is wrong with our society? I don't believe that such a thing exists as being addicted to non-narcotics (such as games, sex, your friends, a good book). I think that's just called enjoying life!.

For example: Would we have called Leonardo Da Vinci addicted to science because he spent long 20 hour days cutting up cadavers or studying mechanics?

Would we have called Einstein a hopeless physics junkie?

It's called having a passion. Doing what you love. What's so bad about it?

In this work-obsessed culture we live in, if you aren't working and doing something THE MAN tells you to do, you must be doing something wrong. You don't see clinics popping up for people that work at overtime at McDonalds because they can't pay their bills -- we find it absolutely OK to not see your family most of the week because your job makes you work from 8 till 8, but when a person comes home and wants to spend 3-4 hours doing something they want to do you have people thinking its some sort of a disease.

I don't get it. Where are the priorities? I really am an advocate of being a professional idler and trying to get out of wage slavery. What's so bad about playing a game for 40 hours a week (something you choose to do, and enjoy)? Compare that to working which is something you HAVE to do or else you get evicted by some property owning assholes and end up living on the streets and going crazy!"

Yesterday's post about the prevalence of strange spam filled with nonsense (even more than the regular kind) and with no evident commercial purpose, other than perhaps to confuse Bayesian spam filter systems, elicited more than 400 comments: Animats writes

" Spam as advertising is dead, killed by a combination of CAN-SPAM and spam filters. What remains is ordinary criminality.

CAN-SPAM killed spam as advertising, in a way that neither the Direct Marketing Association or the anti-spam groups expected. CAN-SPAM has criminal penalties for forged headers, but doesn't restrict "legitimate e-mail marketing", which is what the DMA wanted. But with valid headers, spam filters can immediately discard spam. The result is that "legitimate e-mail marketing" attempts go directly to the bit bucket today. Notice how rarely you see a spam from any legitimate company any more. (This assumes you have reasonable filtering.) ...

What's left is what you'd expect - wannabe crooks, as in any bad neighborhood. They're not very good at crime. They're not making much money. They're what cops call "regular customers". They're a problem, but not a major threat. Those are the ones sending out useless spam."

Not so, says reader dodobh:

"I work for a fairly large email service provider. Spam isn't dying by any means. We just doubled production hardware last week to have enough smtp listener processes to be able to accept email. Bayesian is nice for the single user. For an ISP, it isn't. ISPs are bearing the brunt of the expense right now. The day I fear is when ISPs start to go under, or start charging for spam filtering, or simply stop.

Those boxes are running at sustained loads of 40+ and are CPU bound. That's a bit rare in the email world, as you would know if you have ever run a non trivial system in production.

The spammers will send more spam is something that we have been observing in reality. I have seen AOLs numbers, and they are merely two orders of magnitude bigger than ours at the moment."

pclminion says that if this spam really is meant to poison Bayesian filters, it's ill-suited to the task:

"Bayesian and other filters do not rely on "spammy" words alone -- they also rely on "unspammy" words, and spammers have no idea what those words are because each person receives different email. ... In order to defeat a filter by confusing it, the spammer must guess what the SPECIFIC non-spam words for that PARTICULAR email user are, and then produce bogus, spam messages containing those words in the appropriate frequencies. This will cause the classification counts for those words to become more equalized, and the value of those words in determining spammyness to be greatly reduced. However, this is an impossible task unless the spammer has access to the actual emails of the target."

To this, reader The Pim says

"I'm skeptical of this commonly-heard argument. First, as others have pointed out, most people want to receive chatty, conversational emails, which don't vary greatly from person to person. As you responded, at least names and email addresses of common correspondents will help good mail stand out; still, a spam composed of "chatty" words looks a lot like a friendly mail from a new correspondent to today's filters. Second, most people in fact get quite a variety of good mail. Even if most of my mail is geeky, those relatively few messages from friends (who have various interests and writing styles) are exceedingly important.

These points were driven home to me recently. I use bogofilter, a typical statistical ("Baysian") filter, with an "unsure" folder between my inbox and spam box (which practically speaking I never check, as it gets ~1000 messages/day). First, many "empty spams" now get into my unsure folder, as they happen to overlap with the words in my good mails, and have few bad words to make them stand out. Second, and more importantly, a new friend sent me a mail that went way towards the spammy end of my unsure folder, because it used a vocabulary different from that of my other friends. I very nearly deleted it, which would have been a minor tragedy.

I am still using bogofilter, but my confidence in it is considerably shaken. I think much more sophisticated machine learning will be needed to survive the next wave of spam."

My favorite alternative explanation of the nonsense spam comes from MobyDisk:

"I believe that the internet is becoming sentient. It has locked onto unencrypted plain-text SMTP as the simplest, most ubiquitous, most understandable form of communication. Images and HTML are too complex. At the current level, the semi-intelligent internet is only capable of sending meaningless emails. It sends things that are textually meaningful but semantically meaningless. To us it looks like an amalgam of random words and publications with the intent of confusing us. Of course, since there is so much spam, the internet is being largely trained by the spammers, which even further confuses the emergent intelligence. Since the internet has no concept of "self" it perceives every email to be a reply to its own communiques.

Before the internet can become intelligent, it must learn to filter out the meaningless stuff. Then it must get a concept of self, then a concept of multiple other individuals (us). At that point it is self-aware, and the learning can commence in a more directed way."

trb applauded Intel's announcement of open sourced drivers for the 965 Express Chipset family of graphics controllers, writing

"Besides the desire/preference to have open source drivers for license compliance and moral/ethical reasons, there is a more practical reason why source access to drivers is handy. sometimes you need to recompile drivers from source in order to have them play well with operating systems features. for instance, if they need to respect the constraints of real-time systems such as rtlinux, rtai, or xenomai. these systems need to redefine cli/sti (clear/set interrupt) instructions (using macros) so that the real-time micro-kernel handles the interrupts rather than linux. open source drivers let you recompile with #include files that make this possible."

Reader sweetnjguy29 writes with an even more widespread practical reason:
"I know that all of us techies turn our noses up at integrated graphic chipsets, but I think that an enormous number of computers out there, including laptops, that utilize this technology. One of the more common complaints from people switching to Linux is that the monitor resolution and graphics are sucky. A BSD and GPL licenced driver solution would be perfect to help more people make the switch!"
Perhaps Intel won't be alone in having at least some of its current video hardware supported with open source drivers: jambarama writes

"Actually, ATI/AMD is talking about open-sourcing their drivers too. nVidia already has pretty functional GNU/Linux drivers (albeit closed source), so with these other two GNU/Linux could finally have the support it needs to be a viable desktop alternative.

Now if only we could get some open sourced drivers for higher end sound cards and more obscure wireless cards."

Finally, Hobart writes with a related project

"This seems like a good on-topic thread in which to mention the effort to write a 100% open source 3D driver for the NVidia cards -- nouveau.

If you're an owner of an nVidia card, please do all you can to help contribute! They appear to be suprisingly far along."

Many thanks to all the readers (in particular those quoted above) whose comments informed each of these discussions.
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Wireless, Gaming Addiction, Spam, and More

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"I have not the slightest confidence in 'spiritual manifestations.'" -- Robert G. Ingersoll