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Software

Submission + - Programmer Making Thought-controlled Robot Avatars (theepochtimes.com)

An anonymous reader writes: Software developer Robert Oschler is creating a program to give quadriplegics robotic avatars, by syncing a thought-detecting Emotiv EPOC electroencephalogram (EEG) headset with a WowWee Rovio telepresence robot. The ‘Robodance 5’ software he’s currently funding through Kickstarter would let them control the robots using only their thoughts and emotions, which means even people with severe paralysis could use the device. He also plans to create an online network for quadriplegics to meet, make friends, and hang out by linking to each other’s robots using their minds.
Censorship

Submission + - Porn sites still exposed in China (skunkpost.com)

crimeandpunishment writes: Could it be that Internet censorship in China has a pecking order? Politics & human rights are bad....but porn is okay? The porn sites that suddenly popped up in China two months ago are still accessible...leaving people wondering if it's a change in policy, a glitch....or maybe a test by the Internet police. The Chinese government isn't saying, but one internet analyst speculates "Maybe they are thinking that if Internet users have some porn to look at, then they won't pay so much attention to political matters."

Submission + - Using brains instead of brawn to thwart piracy (codemasters.com)

TheHarvesteR writes: Looking at the new devious scheme Ubi has set up for their AC2 release, I can't help to think how hard this will fail once it inevitably does

What's sad about it is that this will be pirated just like any other draconian DRM scheme before it... and the pirate version will be able to run offline while the legit version will continue to punish the honest consumers...

What they need to realize is that these mad schemes to thwart piracy, as they get increasingly more aggressive, hurt the company image and this will eventually have a more negative effect on sales than even piracy does... There's a clear catch 22 here... the harder your wall is to crack, the more people will be bent on cracking it... until inevitably one succeeds...

Up until now, I've only seen one DRM scheme that might work... I say 'work' not in the sense that the game it protects is unpirateable, but in the sense that it generates no inconvenience for legit players, and protects the game by being smart, not strong. It's the copy protection system found in the ArmA games from Bohemia Interactive... It's called FADE, and was created by CodeMasters and first used on Bohemia's original Operation Flashpoint... what happens is that, if the game's self checking mechanism is tripped by a cracking attempt, the system is activated... and what happens? (here is the genius part) nothing!!

so, what happens next is that mr. hacker, feeling good about his l33t hax0rz skills, goes ahead and posts his torrent for everyone to download... not knowing that FADE has been activated.

The torrent game is fully playable... until after a few weeks, when gameplay starts to degrade... not in a technical way, as crashes and hangs... but in a funnier way that will affect the player AND mr. hacker.. After a few weeks the player can't shoot straight anymore, can't walk in a straight line, and things start to get weird altogether until the game is completely unplayable... the gamer then, is frustrated by his downloaded copy, and the hacker's reputation is now tainted by a bad upload...

So what happened is that what mr. l33t hax0r managed to crack was but a standard copy protection, that was there only to set off FADE without his knowledge, and the hacker has no way of knowing he set it off because the game gives no indication that it's activated until it's already up and being downloaded by the thousands...

This gets even better when you realize that FADE never manifests itself in quite the same way every time... some players get black screens, some cannot shoot straight and some can't keep their characters standing up...

And what happens when your game is behaving weirdly? what's the first thing you do? you rush to the official forum to tell all about it, and let the community know you've got the 'unofficial' version of the game, and get bashed by the forum goers for your actions.

Of course, this is by no means infallible, but given that any successful cracking effort will inevitably take weeks to happen, because the effects of a bad crack won't show themselves until then, the legit game has months of safe time to get sold. And the pirate consumers are having such a hard time with their slowly malfunctioning copies that many are giving up on pirating and buying the game, now that they had a taste of it.

This is the most brilliant DRM system I've ever seen, and the reason it's so cool is because their creators decided to outsmart the hackers in their own game, using brain instead of brawn... and brains is something that seems to be missing in a big part of the industry these days.

Cheers

Games

Submission + - Punished by Steam for buying legal software

Luke O'Sullivan writes: "Recently I went on holiday to Hong Kong (I live in Singapore) and picked up a copy of Left4Dead 2 for the PC. I got it back to Singapore only to find I couldn't install it because apparently it's region coded. So I contacted Steam with proof of purchase (a photo of the receipt and another of the installation key) to ask if I could exchange it for a key for my region and they refused, without explanation.

The game is cheaper in HK than Singapore, but only a little. And in any case, I didn't buy it because it was cheaper, I bought it because in Singapore it comes in a stupid non-standard A3 cardboard envelope rather than a standard DVD case. This was something else Steam just ignored when I raised it with them. I'm not a game retailer looking to buy hundred of copies in HK and profit on the price difference by re-selling them in Singapore, I'm an individual consumer who wanted to buy the product in a *standard* format which should have been available in his own territory but wasn't, hence the resulting mess. Which piece of market research suggested to these people that PC gamers in Singapore like their games to come in giant cardboard envelopes, for heaven's sakes? The x360 version is just a normal DVD case. Why oh why?

Now, furthermore, last year I ended up buying the original Left4Dead on holiday in Australia, again because I didn't want the same non-standard packaging the Singapore version of the original L4D for PC came in, and it worked fine. So was I really supposed to expect that wouldn't be the case this time? Historically, if you buy consumer PC software such as a video game, there has never been any reason to suspect it won't work so long as you meet the system spec. I bought L4D in Australia in 2008, and it worked fine in Singapore; so what reason did I have to think if I bought L4D2 in HK in 2009 it wouldn't work fine in Singapore as well?

Oh yes, the copy of L4D2 that I bought did say on the box that its for Hong Kong and Macau only, as Steam support pointed out to me. It said so *in tiny print on the back at the bottom*, which wouldn't be visible unless you read every word on the entire box before you bought it. I'm not questioning, ultimately, that as a business Valve/Steam have the right to introduce region coding if they so choose, whether to protect their pricing structure or because of censorship issues or both. Then, the choice lies with the consumer. Fine.

What I do question is how they have gone about doing it. Valve/Steam made the T&Cs about as unnoticeable as it was possible to make them while still actually having them on the box. Moreover, there was no reason for me to expect them to be there in the first place as these kinds of T&Cs have never been part of the PC gaming scene. Given the way piracy has eaten into the profits of PC gaming, anyone prepared to shell out hard cash should be treated with a lot more respect.

I'm not going to rant about how I'll never buy another game from Valve again, as they make some great titles. Nor am I going to rant about how 'Steam sucks', because actually in many ways its a great service. But I do think that in cases like this they could treat their legitimate paying customers an awful lot better, and its sad that the only recourse I have against them is to hope that I can shame them into doing the right thing by getting them some negative publicity on Slashdot."
Technology

Submission + - 2010 is the year of 3D

GuyFawkes writes: It is now, just this first week in January, basically impossible to avoid some media outlet breathlessly informing me that 2010 AD is going to be the year of 3D, not only will we now be having 3D TV sets in our homes, but every piece of cinematic crap from the seventies (Star Wars) onwards is going to be re-released in 3D.

Luckily, all the major electronics manufacturers have new products, which take about a year to develop, ready to take advantage of the “smash hit” that was Avatar, which took about a year to develop. Now isn’t that a happy coincidence?

Even Sky, who have yet to broadcast any decent quality HD content (e.g. 1080p @ > 16 mbit/sec) are getting in on the bandwagon, football is going to be in 3D.

Deep Joy. Every pub, venue and lounge on the planet is now going to look like covens of the Stevie Wonder appreciation society.
(I’m not going to diss Roy Orbison, at least he had talent)

Even better, studios are claiming that the new 3D format is “pirate proof”!! (Yeah, that’ll be why I downloaded the 3d IMAX version of Avatar buddy) This fallacy is of course based on the false notion that all film piracy is due to kids sneaking camcorders into the cinema.

Even better still, all your Blu-Ray players and 1080p HD televisions are now obsolete, so you’ll have to buy new stuff.

So, what is 3D TV?

Currently, there are two ways of displaying a picture, one is interlaced, one is progressive.

A 1080p set has 1080 horizontal lines, in an interlaced picture every other line, or 540 lines, is refreshed each frame, in progressive, all 1080 lines are refreshed each frame.

A frame is each individual image on a roll of film.

Now we have seen our flat panel TVs, which started out at 50 Hz (60 Hz if your are state-side) go to 100 Hz (120 Hz) and now 200 Hz (240 Hz) and of course the default 24 Hz movie refresh, which is a bit of nonsense really because if you show a 24 Hz movie on a 240 Hz set, it just means ten successive frames on the set show each frame of the movie, then move on to the next frame.

Now it depends on whether or not you are cynical (experienced) or gullible.

It just so happens, rather like Avatar and 3D televisions both being ready for market at the same time, that all the existing HD TV technology is exactly what you need to do 3D TV, how amazing is that?

How it works is this, you take the existing panel technology, and then you put a *switchable* polarising filter in front of the screen. No aftermarket answers here, you buy a whole new set.

Then, with the existing technology which allows refresh rates which are multiples of frame rates, you start showing left channel image data for this frame with the polarising filter switched this way, then you show the right channel image for the same frame with the polarising filter switched that way.

All you need to add now is a set of gimpy Stevie Wonder glasses, with each lens containing nothing more than a polarising filter, set at 90 degrees to one another, to match the two states of the polarising filter built in to the screen, and voila!

Part of each frame can only be seen by the left eye, while the right eye sees only dark screen, and part of each frame can only be seen by the right eye, while the left eye sees only dark screen. Do this backwards and forwards fast enough and, like cine film, you get apparent smooth motion, but now in 3D.

BUT IT BLOODY WELL IS NOT THREE DEE!

The keyboard that I am typing this on IS three dee, and because the function keys are further away from my eyes than ZXCVB etc, there is depth of field and focus.

But, on a television screen, absolutely everything you see is exactly the same distance away. There is no depth of field, there is no focus.

So how the hell to they say it is 3D.

Google “moving optical illusion” and all will become clearer, or more blurred and head-achey depending on your perspective.

So it is NOT 3D, and like the so called 3D pictures shown on the Google search, a large part of the “trick” to viewing them involves training your mind to stop rejecting the twisty wrongness, and start perceiving depth or movement that simply is not there.

This is nothing less than a MASSIVE social experiment in optical /neural stimulus.

I am personally extremely dubious about the long term effects of this on the brain.

Speaking of myself personally, I have what is known as a “lazy eye” which means my brain basically ignores much of what my right eye sees. It all works, and when I was seven years old I wore a patch on my left eye for six months, which taught my brain to stop ignoring my right eye, but, within six months of removing the patch, my brain went back to ignoring it again.

For people like me then, this new 3D technology simply does not work, period, and can not be made to work.

Interestingly, only a very small percentage of the population use both eyes equally, the vast majority of the population have brains that favour one eye slightly over the other, it is a distribution curve, with people like me at one end, and those who use both eyes equally at the other, and everyone else somewhere in the middle.

But of course none of this matters, the marketing departments have already decided the future.

So, to (mis)quote Animal Farm, our dystopian Stevie Wonder fan club future worlds looks like it is going to be “Four eyes good, two eyes bad”

I wonder if it will evolve into “Four eyes good, two eyes better”

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