Archive for October, 2010


Moose Jaw, Sask. via CBC.ca ~

Sarah Dionne, a practicing Wiccan and self title witch, recently spoke out against another example of religious ignorance.

As a Fundraising event for the coming Samhain (or Halloween), the Western Development Museum had an event planned on October 29th called the Ghosts of the Past fundraiser. The idea being that for a $30 entry fee, consenting adult guests could learn about things such as Ouija boards and take part in a séance-like event to communicate with ancestors from the past.

Now, I know most of you out there just cringed at reading the words “Ouija Board” to yourself. Most people I have spoken to, including myself, have a certain level of distrust for these particular occult instruments. Namely because you never can be 100% sure what exactly your contacting through such a device. However, if employed properly, and the proper protections are used; they can be a useful tool in opening people’s minds to the possibility of things beyond their normal perceptions of the world.

Regardless of our personal thoughts and beliefs on these particular practices and devices, I don’t think anyone has the right to force their beliefs on anyone else. But that is exactly what happened here. After receiving complaints from local residents of the area and religious leaders the event was cancelled. Why? Because these people expressed that they feared “evil spirits” would be conjured up, presumably wreaking havoc on their town.

Just for the record, I had to pause after that last paragraph until I could stop laughing. Sorry, continuing on..

Dionne, which brings up some very good point regarding Wiccan religion, was outraged at the situation. She brought up that Wiccans believe the Halloween season is a favourable time to communicate with loved ones in the spirit world.

To suggest that contacting any sorts of spirits or otherwise unknown forces in the universe is somehow evil … just doesn’t make sense, “ Dionne told CBC News in their interview with her. She later went on to say, “The whole concept of … evil and the devil, they’re not concepts that are in Wicca whatsoever. There’s no worship of the devil or evil things. Any of those stereotypes are absolutely false.”

While I agree with her on the concepts of the devil, the evil alter-ego of the judeo-christian divinity complex, I myself whole heartedly believe in the concept of evil or at the very least, restless spirits and entities that could potentially use Ouija Boards and other mediums to mislead, confused, or at worse disrupt people practicing with such devices. As such, I personally leave them alone myself.

However, these devices most certainly can be employed in a positive light if necessary. I just don’t feel comfortable trying it myself. Sarah also, has not called for the reinstatement of the fundraising event either, as she acknowledges the differing, less positive feelings of the Wiccan community regarding these devices but recently wrote in to a local news paper to complain  about those who would paint “witches and other pagans” in a bad light.

I respect and admire Sarah’s opinion here. She’s basically saying, not everyone even within our own community likes the idea of of these particular occult tools, but that doesn’t mean anyone has the right to stop those who do want to use them from practicing.

Good show Sarah. You’re of course totally right. Big surprise the bigots get their way.

Dear judeo-christian religious complex: Fuck you. That is all.

I have been saying for some time now, that the world needs more companies to ally against the hidden evil of Google. Today, as I type this, Microsoft and Facebook have joined together to combat Google’s influence in the world of search engines. I neither respect nor trust Facebook, and I only respect Microsoft as “the devil you know” type ally against the cancerous evil that is Google. As such, I am both happy and horrified by this at the same time.

But now I should mention, to avoid any misunderstanding, that Microsoft and Facebook have been close allies since 2006, when Facebook was still in its infancy. Which means Microsoft was their friend even during the privacy issues scandal.

What does Facebook have to do with search? Well, until now nothing. Which maybe was a good thing, but oh well. So let’s run it down.

Within the next few hours, Microsoft’s Bing search engine will be including a new module that interacts with Facebook. This module will pull data from your friends network, and give you not only the search results you are looking for, but input and opinions from your friends list. More specifically, it will show you, who liked relevant data or articles related to your search. And using your friends network data, will give you results based on your electronic geography. More over, when you search for specific objects (the example they used was a car) it will show you if you’re friends already liked it or liked reviews and relevant information related to it.

That in and of itself is extremely interesting, but that isn’t all this new personalized experience offers. They’re trying to improve the people searching for people aspect of the search engine as well. When you normally search for people on most search engines, its very rare that you get results relevant to you. What the Bing/Facebook module does when you type in a search query, is displays not only Bing’s search results but it hunts through your social network for relevant results as well. Then it can bring up results within the “friend of a friend” type realm and give that information to you.

The idea is, according Chi Liu, one of Microsoft’s people on stage, is to revolutionize the search experience. “For Bing, our aspirations are to go substantially beyond [Bing’s current version of search]. The prevailing structure of today’s web is fundamentally topical in nature.” He goes on to say, “The first dimension is that we’ll be able to create search experiences that weren’t previously available.”

The idea seems to be to place the search emphasize more on the trusted opinions of those in your social network rather then just providing web results. Interesting, but I have a problem with this concept. To put it as bluntly as I can, humans en masse are about as trustworthy and intelligent as a herd of cattle. So, though I may trust my friend’s opinions on a subject or product, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be accurate about the information they’re providing or the opinions they’re offering. It’s a dangerous new vector for the spread of misinformation based on erroneous or outright false ideas stuck in many people’s dumb little heads.

Social Networking, whether we like it or not, is a huge part of our modern day culture and I think it will be for a long time to come. As such, creating an interaction between Bing and Facebook (as long as proper privacy tools are in place, and work the way they are claiming they do at this event), is really the next evolution of search. Oh Gods, I sound like one of them. At least I didn’t use any buzzwords so far.

Speaking of which, one buzzword sounding term that was mentioned today is actually kind of interesting. The term is “instant personalization”. It is the concept that when you visit an “instant personalization” website, that website can detect your live Facebook login, or the active Facebook cookie and grab your name. It then can go to the Facebook database, grab the info you share, and personalize the website based on that information.

This of course isn’t new. Faceb0ok has already been doing it with Pandora and other sites like it. But bringing this to a search engine is definitely an interesting twist I wouldn’t have thought of. Because it’s insane. Security threat much?

Well, Mark Zuckerberg claims that Facebook is being very careful with this instant personalization technique and implementing it with only trustworthy partners that will roll it out responsibly. But do we trust Facebook that far, given its issues in the not-too-distant past regarding privacy issues?

One thing Mark noted during the Q&A portion of the event, which I think is pretty important to note is that no personal data gets sent from Bing to Facebook. So it sounds like the interrelationship between the two companies is only one way.  This means that your search results for penguin-on-transexual-monkey porn will remain within the confines of Bing and Facebook won’t know about your disturbingly horrifying fetish. Seriously, your sick.

So the bottom line of this whole event? Microsoft and Facebook are definitely bringing some interesting functionality to Bing, but I’m not entirely convinced it needed a whole live event to define it. Sure, it’s another layer of interoperability between large portions of the internet.

Guess I’m going to have to switch my search to Bing for awhile and find out for myself. I’ll post an update to this article when I’ve formed more of an opinion on it.

Picture this for me if you will.

You’re standing in your mechanic’s shop, your car jacked up into the air as it gets its oil changed. The smell of grease-monkey and subtle noises of the equipment making you nearly catatonic with boredom. Your gaze sweeps idly across the body of your car in a vain attempt to retain consciousness when you spot something odd.

Is that a wire sticking out of your wheel well? That’s odd, why would a wire be sticking out of your wheel well. There’s nothing wirey requiring in that region is there? You wander over to the back wheel of your car and reach up and inside. After feeling around for a moment you pull out a magnetically attached small black box & tube.

OM6nE

To be fair, my first guess would have been faulty remote detonated pipe bomb.

Seems like the beginning of a government thriller or X-Files-esque movie plot right? Once again, life (or more accurately the US Government) chooses to mimic fiction.

After discovering this strange looking device secretly attached to his car, young Arab-American and Californian Yasir Afifi, posted pictures of this device to the internet and the wild speculations began. Though most people that commented agreed it seemed quite a bit like an older model FBI tracking device (c0nfirmed by an ex-FBI agent later on).

Was it real? Did someone get their hands on it aftermarket? Or was the FBI actually tracking Mr. Afifi? 48 hours after locating and removing the device he sure found out. The FBI intercepted him and took their tracking device back.

So why were the FBI tracking Mr. Afifi? Is he a foreign national living in the US with ties to foreign powers? A potential terrorist cell leader? Seems unlikely. Yasir Afifi is a citizen of the US; born and raised for the 20 years of his life. Though according to this Wired article, the FBI seems to have been investigating and tracking Mr. Afifi for 3 to 6 months before he discovered the device.

Comments made by the agents involved to Mr. Afifi seem to indicate that the investigation was initiated because of some comments one of his close friends Khaled made on a website. Maybe racial profiling, maybe not. Hard call. But the potential to be in a similar situation exists for every American citizen. Seriously.

The US Circuit Court of appeals recently ruled that it is ok for law enforcement to wire your car without needing so much as a warrant. Good Gods, seriously? Police State much?

If you’re like me, a Canadian citizen or a citizen of another country outside the US, this should still be fairly alarming to you. Many other countries look at what the US is doing, and consider how effective that would be in their own country. And it’s even worse for us, because we have an idiot/US puppet as our Prime Minister in the form of the glorious Stephen Harper.

Regardless of whether or not Yasir was targeted by the FBI based on actual evidence or just because of his family’s racial background and ties, this should not be overlooked by anyone. The potential for abuse in this current situation is disturbingly overwhelming.

But our story does have a hero. Or at least a potential hero. Brian Alseth of the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington heard about Yasir’s story much like we are. He saw Yasir and Khaled’s pictures of the device online and took action.

"This is the kind of thing we like to throw lawyers at," Alseth was quoted saying by Afifi. And with good reason. If no warrant is required to place these devices, the good ol’ boys club at the FBI could easily abuse them for selfish or personal reasons, or even personal gain.

Your stocks tanking? You think the CEO of a rival company maybe cheating on his wife, or doing something else embarrassing? No problem! Install ye olde tracking device in his car and send a private eye with a camera to follow the GPS. Admittedly this is a minor example so to speak, but I hope you get the general idea.

Wired.com reports that Afifi’s FBI adventure ended with the agents telling him that he should not worry about any of it.

"We have all the information we needed," they told him. "You don’t need to call your lawyer. Don’t worry, you’re boring. "

Yea, sure. Easy for you to say jerks. You aren’t the ones finding a tracking device on your car. 

Now, before I continue, I should point out that I’m not calling everyone who does this stupid per se. Well, actually, that’s exactly what I’m doing. But we’re all stupid at something right?
 
Anyway, one of the most common things I hear both inside and outside of work is whining about Microsoft Windows Vista. I just wanted to take this opportunity to say shut the hell up and stop it. Seriously.
 
I’m the first to admit that Vista’s launch was rocky. Very rocky in fact. But you know what operating system had an even worse launch. That piece of crap 10 year old one you people are still trying to cling to.
 
See in 2001 there was this new operating system that had more problems then Vista did right off the line. A lot of previous version Windows software wouldn’t run on it. The drivers were even MORE broken then Vistas was. Then there was the massive security flaws such as operating system side popups that people could broadcast over the internet randomly and you would get them on your screen. Not web browser popups mind you, but actual network-delivered operating system pop ups.
 
Have you guessed what operating system that was? That’s right. Your crappy stupid Windows XP. It was a terrible system right off the line, and wasn’t even viably stable and secure until Service Pack 2 came along. And let’s not forget how Windows XP introduced us to the concept of Spyware.
 
Up until that point viruses were pretty rare, and usually detected quickly by then antivirus overlords McAffee and Norton.
 
Comparitively, other then resource overusage, Vista’s major two problems were drivers not being available (which was a problem that can be attributed to hardware manufacturers AS WELL as Microsoft themselves) and devastatingly bad response to critismism by the Mac twits. More specifically, there WAS NO response.
 
Moreover, on XP’s release. Any games you currently had would simply not work. Period. They crashed right out of the box. Vista? Most current gen games at the time performed great. In fact in some cases, with the addition of Desktop derendering, they worked even better. The only crashing issues were caused by faulty or poorly developed drivers for hardware over 3+ years old.
 
This is the conversation that I generally get into with Windows Vista haters (at least the ones that don’t know computers):
 
Person: Windows Vista is terrible!
Me:      Well I admit that Vista is a little heavy on resource usage, but its really not that bad.
Person: Well I just don’t like it.
Me:       Why?
Person: Someone told me it was bad.
Seriously? That’s the best reason you can come up with? If you’re going to bash something at least have some kind of reasonable argument asshat.
 
Now don’t get me wrong Windows 7 is vastly superior to Vista, but GODS I’m sick and tired of hearing people whine about Vista when they don’t even really know why, or seem to forget how horrible XP used to be.
 
So please, do us all a favour. I don’t care if you’re a technical GOD or a person who just discovered where the “any key” is. If you want to bash Vista, do some goddamned research into what your bashing first or shut your stupid verbal diarheea generator before I shove my foot in it.
 
That is all.
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