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Archive for May, 2012

Korea Sues Blizzard Over Diablo 3 Set-up

Hon­estly, I’m shocked no one here in the states has thought of doing this yet.

The gov­ern­ment has launched an inves­ti­ga­tion into Bliz­zard Enter­tain­ment over alle­ga­tions that the Amer­i­can com­puter gamemaker has refused to refund Kore­ans who pur­chased its lat­est real-time role-playing game Dia­blo 3.

The Fair Trade Com­mis­sion (FTC) said the firm is sus­pected of hav­ing vio­lated the country’s law on elec­tronic com­merce and com­mer­cial con­tracts. The FTC said Tues­day that it raided the firm’s Seoul office Mon­day and secured related doc­u­ments and other evi­dence with which it will deter­mine whether Bliz­zard broke the law.

The inves­ti­ga­tion comes only two weeks after the release of the game, which has sold more than 6.3 mil­lion copies world­wide.
Larger-than-expected traf­fic to the online game’s sev­ers made it extremely dif­fi­cult for its users to access the game, par­tic­u­larly on week­day nights and week­ends, accord­ing to Bliz­zard Korea.

Some buy­ers of the game vented frus­tra­tion over server shut­downs and asked for refunds, but the com­pany refused to do so, cit­ing sales con­tract terms, which the FTC says is dis­ad­van­ta­geous to consumers.

Bliz­zard said it dou­bled the capac­ity of servers Fri­day and pledged to improve ser­vices fur­ther in order to pre­vent a recur­rence of the problem.

Despite the move, major por­tals have already been receiv­ing mes­sages denounc­ing Blizzard’s poor ser­vice. Hun­dreds of users have filed for­mal com­plaints with the FTC, call­ing for an inves­ti­ga­tion by the regulator.

We have received many com­plaints from Dia­blo 3 users,” said Kim Hyung-bae, a spokesman for the FTC. He admit­ted that an inves­ti­ga­tion into Bliz­zard is under­way, but refused to elaborate.

Why is this hap­pen­ing?  The gang over at Rea­son explains.

Dia­blo III is the lat­est (and the largest) rep­re­sen­ta­tion of rel­a­tively new trend in com­puter gam­ing, requir­ing con­stant Inter­net con­nec­tion and access to a company’s servers in order to play, even if the game does not have mul­ti­player com­po­nents. In Dia­blo III, up to four play­ers can run around slay­ing demons together and ignor­ing its tragi­com­i­cally awful sto­ry­line, but it can also be played com­pletely solo. Even alone, though, play­ers must have a work­ing inter­net con­nec­tion at all times.

The con­nec­tion require­ment exists for sev­eral rea­sons, most of which are con­nected to fight­ing piracy and cheat­ing. If you’re a non-gamer won­der­ing why Bliz­zard would care if peo­ple cheat in the games they bought, the game has an online auc­tion house that will even­tu­ally allow peo­ple to buy items in the game from each other for real-world money. In Dia­blo II (which did not have such an auc­tion house and did not require con­stant Inter­net con­nec­tion), the game’s “econ­omy” suf­fered from hack­ers fig­ur­ing out ways to dupli­cate items in the game and sell­ing them to other play­ers in a vir­tual black mar­ket. In Dia­blo III, parts of the game are on the play­ers’ com­put­ers, but some assets are on Blizzard’s servers to make it much harder for hack­ers to engage in vir­tual coun­ter­feit­ing and manip­u­lat­ing the mar­ket. The issue is com­pli­cated and con­tro­ver­sial and no doubt it will be a focus of dis­cus­sion with Hit and Run com­menters below for any­body who wants to drill down deeper into the subject.

What has hap­pened here is that Blizzard’s servers are cur­rently unable to accom­mo­date the num­ber of peo­ple who want to play their game. So even those who have Inter­net access might not be able to play their copy of the game because of prob­lems on Blizzard’s end. The com­plainants are demand­ing refunds because they can’t play their games when they want to, even though the games them­selves are not bro­ken, a com­pli­cated con­sumer issue that is bound to get more com­plex as games and infor­ma­tion become less and less tied to per­sonal pieces of equip­ment (like a PC).

Com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters fur­ther, Dia­blo III isn’t a subscription-based game like World of War­craft, which has a monthly fee. Bliz­zard has cred­ited World of War­craft accounts in the past when unex­pected server prob­lems ren­dered the game unplayable for long lengths of time. Con­sumers pay for Dia­blo III entirely up front. There’s no mech­a­nism for deter­min­ing the value of being unable to play for two days in a month, for example.

Dur­ing the course of my game­play of Dia­blo III, I’ve suf­fered through two pro­longed server out­ages.  The first was on the day of game launch which showed the strain of what Bliz­zard — a French Com­pany with its US arm once being called “Bliz­zard North” — had not antic­i­pated for gamers.

The sec­ond was after the first patch to game was added on Wednes­day.  Bliz­zard told users it was hav­ing server issues try­ing to coor­di­nate gamers across the globe to the new updates.

It ticks you off, espe­cially since the major­ity of my game play has been solo, with maybe six hours total over the Memo­r­ial Day Week­end being co-op play.  But on one level, I under­stand why Bliz­zard is try­ing to avoid hacks, piracy, and other shenani­gans in its game (and the game’s black mar­ket econ­omy which tends to exist out­side of it).

Then again, I could be my friend with a dial-up con­nec­tion.  He’s told me he can’t play the game at all.

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Senators Call Your Offices…

…You might be miss­ing some furniture.

The U.S. Sen­ate is out of town this week, and some­body may want to make sure its fur­ni­ture is safe and secure.

An employee assigned to care for fur­ni­ture used by Sen­ate offices stole and ille­gally sold more than $13,700 worth of tables and chairs to a used fur­ni­ture dealer in Vir­ginia, accord­ing to a new watch­dog report and peo­ple famil­iar with the investigation.

The employee worked for the Archi­tect of the Capi­tol, the office respon­si­ble for main­te­nance, land­scap­ing and ren­o­va­tions at the U.S. Capi­tol and adjoin­ing con­gres­sional build­ings. A report released this week by the AOC inspec­tor gen­eral pro­vided lim­ited details of the ille­gal sale.

On three sep­a­rate occa­sions between Octo­ber 2010 and August 2011, the report said the employee used an AOC vehi­cle to trans­port the stolen fur­ni­ture and sell it to a used fur­ni­ture store.

The employee, who resigned his posi­tion one day before he was set to be fired, sold the fur­ni­ture to a used fur­ni­ture store in Vir­ginia, accord­ing to two peo­ple famil­iar with the inves­ti­ga­tion who asked not to be iden­ti­fied for fear of ret­ri­bu­tion. The pieces were not con­sid­ered valu­able antiques, and were mostly excess office fur­ni­ture pre­vi­ously used in Sen­ate offices, the sources said.

The inspec­tor general’s office learned of the ille­gal fur­ni­ture sales from an AOC employee who spot­ted “what appeared to be AOC Sen­ate fur­ni­ture for sale in a local used fur­ni­ture store,” accord­ing to the report. Watch­dog inves­ti­ga­tors suc­cess­fully iden­ti­fied the stolen fur­ni­ture after find­ing “gov­ern­ment mark­ings” affixed to the fur­ni­ture, the report said.

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Cartoon of the Day

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BLS Confirms Walker’s Jobs Numbers">BLS Confirms Walker’s Jobs Numbers

This won’t stop the TV ads from say­ing Gov. Scott Walker “cooked the books,” but it will def­i­nitely stop Tom Bar­rett from say­ing it dur­ing tomor­row night’s debate.

Be hon­est with your­selves, you seri­ously think Mike Gousha — prob­a­bly the tough­est inter­viewer in the state media — is going to let Bar­rett get away with say­ing it if he tries to?

Wis­con­sin Gov. Scott Walker’s admin­is­tra­tion says job-growth num­bers he made pub­lic ear­lier than nor­mal have been ver­i­fied by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Wis­con­sin Depart­ment of Work­force Devel­op­ment spokesman John Dipko told The Asso­ci­ated Press on Wednes­day that the bureau has con­firmed Wis­con­sin jobs grew by 23,608 in 2011.

Walker faces a recall elec­tion Tues­day, and his record on jobs has been a focus of the campaign.

He released the pre­lim­i­nary job num­bers two weeks ago before bureau con­firmed them, an unusual move.

His Demo­c­ra­tic oppo­nent, Mil­wau­kee Mayor Tom Bar­rett, accused Walker of “cook­ing the books” and try­ing to spin the num­bers to his advantage.

Walker says the bureau con­fir­ma­tion shows the pre­lim­i­nary num­bers were accu­rate. He says Bar­rett owes peo­ple an apology.

Don’t hold your breath for that Bar­rett apol­ogy any­time soon.

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NBA Star Has ATM in His Kitchen">NBA Star Has ATM in His Kitchen

Wow.

Just wow.

Here is a list of things DeShawn Steven­sonhas: An NBA cham­pi­onship ring on his fin­ger, an Abe Lin­coln tat­too on his neck, and an ATM machine in his kitchen.

That’s right. The Brook­lyn Nets swing­man posted this photo of him­self in his kitchen. The osten­si­ble goal seems to be to show off his col­or­ful bowtie-hat-rolled pants ensem­ble. But the cash dis­penser behind him takes cen­ter stage.

The 6’5″ guard is known for his off-the-court adven­tures (pub­lic intox­i­ca­tion) and con­fronta­tional per­son­al­ity (ongo­ing feud with LeBron James). And while Steven­son would hardly be con­sid­ered an NBA star (he’s aver­aged 7.4 points per game in his career), he has been in the league for a dozen years, mak­ing some seri­ous cash along the way. Accord­ing to USA Today, he had earned over $26 mil­lion in salary as of 2010, so it’s per­haps no sur­prise the guy has an ATM across from his toaster.

I urge you to look at the pic­ture at the link.  It’s some­thing to see.

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Donald Driver: Packer for Life

The wor­ries are over and the deal is done.  Pack­ers WR and reign­ing “Danc­ing with the Stars” Cham­pion Don­ald Dri­ver will be back with the team for a 14th (and likely final) season.

GREEN BAY — It appears that the Green Bay Pack­ers and their all-time lead­ing receiver have agreed to a restruc­tured deal allow­ing him to play for the team for a 14th season.

TODAY’S TMJ4’s Lance Allan reports that Don­ald Driver’s agent Jor­dan Woy emailed: “We have agreed to terms with the Pack­ers but need to review it (Wednes­day) to finalize.”

Allan had pre­vi­ously reported sources on both the Pack­ers and Driver’s side say they have offered Dri­ver that restruc­tured deal.

The Pack­ers have expressed desire for Dri­ver to take a pay cut, and the 13-year vet­eran seemed open to that in order to stay with the team.

The receiver, also recently won the nation­ally tele­vised dance com­pe­ti­tion “Danc­ing with the Stars.”

Dri­ver has a year left on his con­tract, but his return to the team was not con­sid­ered likely unless he restruc­tured his deal.

The Pack­ers were to hold work­outs Wednesday.

Dri­ver is the team’s all-time leader with 735 catches for 10,060 yards. He said after the Pack­ers’ play­off loss to the New York Giants that he wasn’t sure if the team would bring him back.

Details of the con­tract have not yet been made public.

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Cartoon of the Day

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TAA for Barrett">No Valentines from UW-Madison’s TAA for Barrett

Had been won­der­ing what was hap­pen­ing with UW-Madison’s teach­ing assis­tants union.  They were said to be all-in for Falk and were very skep­ti­cal of Bar­rett for months.

Now we know their answer.  They will not be endors­ing Bar­rett or any­one in the recall elec­tion.  (H/T Althouse)

The UW’s Teach­ing Assis­tants’ Asso­ci­a­tion (TAA) has declined to endorse Demo­c­ra­tic chal­lenger and Mil­wau­kee Mayor Tom Bar­rett, who faces Walker in the June 5 recall elec­tion. The TAA also with­held its sup­port from Demo­c­ra­tic pri­mary can­di­date Kath­leen Falk on the grounds that she wouldn’t com­mit to a firm stance against bud­get cuts and con­ces­sion­ary con­tract nego­ti­a­tions with state workers.

Through his use of Act 10 against the work­ers in Mil­wau­kee [Bar­rett] has shown that he is not deserv­ing of sup­port of unions in Wis­con­sin,” says Dan Suárez, a mem­ber of the TAA and a Ph.D. can­di­date in soci­ol­ogy at UW-Madison. Bar­rett made use of Walker’s col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing restric­tions in Act 10 to increase pen­sion and health care con­tri­bu­tions for work­ers employed by the city of Mil­wau­kee. Bar­rett has said he took those steps to avoid lay­offs of pub­lic workers.

With­out an endorse­ment, the TAA won’t expend any of its vol­un­teer or finan­cial resources on elect­ing Bar­rett, although indi­vid­ual mem­bers are still free to con­tribute as they wish.

What this means for the TAA is that the con­ver­sa­tion is going to shift back to how to mean­ing­fully and effec­tively rebuild our mem­ber­ship [instead of wast­ing] time and money on sup­port­ing a can­di­date who doesn’t care about us,” says Suárez.

Demo­c­ra­tic Party of Wis­con­sin spokesman Graeme Zielin­ski bris­tles at the sug­ges­tion that Democ­rats aren’t com­mit­ted to defend­ing orga­nized labor. “The attack on col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing was the orig­i­nal sin that sparked this move­ment,” says Zielinksi. “Scott Walker’s total dis­hon­esty with the pub­lic on the mat­ter of col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing informs every inch of what we do going forward.”

But a well-publicized memo (PDF) out­lin­ing the Democ­rats’ mes­sag­ing strat­egy for the recall elec­tion makes lit­tle men­tion of col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing and lays out a range of alter­na­tive issues as the recall campaign’s focus. In an inter­view for Mother Jones mag­a­zine, Zielinksi defended the strat­egy, stat­ing, “Col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing isn’t mov­ing people.”

It was the TAA which started the protests in Feb­ru­ary 2011.  They were the ones who sent Walker, his staff, and var­i­ous state leg­is­la­tors “Valen­tines” after the announc­ing of bill which would become Act 10.

Lord only knows how many red bal­loons they wasted…

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Geneticists Make Leather Shoes on Demand from Stingray Skin

All yours for the low, low price of $1,500 to $2,500 per pair of shoes.

(And in all seriousness…WHAT THE *#$%!?!)

We’ve been able to cus­tomize prod­ucts for a while, from Levi’s that are per­fectly sculpted to our pos­te­ri­ors to Timbuk2 bags in our own triad of col­ors, and the result is always “cus­tom” but not always so unique. These end prod­ucts are only as diverse as the choices that go into them–a les­son I learned years ago when my brand-new Timbuk2 matched a friend’s almost perfectly.

Ray­fish Footwear is look­ing to offer con­sumer cus­tomiza­tion, not by dye or stitch­ing, but at the genetic level. On their site, you can mix and match var­i­ous pat­terns of stingrays, and Ray­fish will com­bine their DNA to match the design of your choice, actu­ally grow­ing you a genet­i­cally manip­u­lated pair of stingrays to har­vest as the leather for your shoes. The col­ors are bold. The pat­terns are intri­cate. And every pair is inher­ently unique.

It would not be fea­si­ble for ordi­nary peo­ple to code their desired pat­tern in the DNA, so we made a design tool that allows them to cre­ate a pat­tern that we can actu­ally grow on the stingrays,” says Dr. Ray­mond Ong, head of Ray­fish Footwear. That tool eschews eso­teric DNA snip­pets for a graphic-laden UI, allow­ing you to drag and drop up to nine pat­terns into your shoe, selected from a library of 29 styles of leather. With so many choices com­bin­ing into such an array of designs, the pos­si­bil­i­ties seem end­less, though obvi­ously there are some nat­ural lim­i­ta­tions to just how spe­cific users can be about a shoe that is osten­si­bly grown.

We can­not breed any desir­able shape or logo on the fishes, as our pat­tern­ing process works by record­ing and recom­bin­ing DNA of exist­ing ani­mals…. Squares are for instance not pos­si­ble, as the expres­sion of the DNA on the skin doesn’t allow it,” Dr. Ong explains. “Also, the pat­terns that grow on the actual fish some­times slightly dif­fer from what you see in the design tool. Although it is almost per­fect, we are still devel­op­ing the map­ping between the design tool and the DNA encod­ing further.”

For these prac­ti­cal rea­sons, Ray­fish is hon­ing their prod­uct while soft-launching their line with a series of design con­tests. You can go on their site now, try out their tool, and sub­mit your own stingray shoe design. Win­ners will be given a free pair of shoes, which is a hefty prize: These bio-customized kicks will start at $1,800 when they hit the mar­ket later this year.

Next up (oh, we’re prob­a­bly already there) is a child’s hair, eye-color, and facial fea­tures made for order on demand.

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NYT Magazine Piece on Wisconsin Recall">Walter Russell Mead Destroys NYT Magazine Piece on Wisconsin Recall

Just so we have a refresher on some of the play­ers on this.  The NYT mag­a­zine piece — done by a part-time writer for The Nation mag­a­zine — was called by a par­ti­san hack attor­ney with a sus­pended law license as being done by “an actual reporter.”

Wal­ter Rus­sell Mead is a Demo­c­rat, who sup­ported the Iraq War in 2003, voted for Barack Obama in 2008, says the Tea Party is bad for Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy, serves on the edi­to­r­ial board of the Amer­i­can Inter­est mag­a­zine and is a book reviewer for For­eign Pol­icy magazine.

(Both of which, are nowhere close to being card-carrying mem­bers of the vast right-wing con­spir­acy.)  Here’s the meat of Mead’s take-down of the piece:

So far, so good. Let us stip­u­late that in the view of the Times, Scott Walker is a skunk and a cad. And let us stip­u­late that every­thing bad in Wis­con­sin, all the ill feel­ing and all the tur­moil is entirely because this sin­is­ter enemy of all that is noble and good has been rid­ing roughshod over every decent prin­ci­ple in pub­lic life.

But what Times read­ers will not learn from this piece is that the skunk is win­ning.  Walker is over­whelm­ingly favored to win on June 5, with polls con­sis­tently giv­ing him a sig­nif­i­cant lead over his oppo­nent. In seven pages of focused, detailed cov­er­age of the pol­i­tics of the Wis­con­sin race, the piece has no room for this sim­ple yet some­how telling detail.

The Times knows very well that Walker is kick­ing butt in Wis­con­sin. Blog­ger Nate Sil­ver tells read­ers exactly this at his NYT blog 538.  (Gib­bon buried the more sala­cious details about the scan­dalous lives of the Roman emper­ors in untrans­lated Latin foot­notes; the Times puts unpalat­able facts in blogs where the more sen­si­tive read­ers sel­dom look.)

It isn’t just that recent Times arti­cles about Wis­con­sin have stu­diously tip­toed around the opin­ion polls that point to a solid Walker lead. Dan Kaufman’s weeper doesn’t give read­ers any idea why any­body in Wis­con­sin sup­ports Walker or why even the Democ­rats now accept that the pub­lic sup­ports Walker’s union leg­is­la­tion and aren’t mak­ing an issue of it in the campaign.

The bruised feel­ings, the sad­ness and the anger of Walker’s oppo­nents are given plenty of air time, and we learn much from Mr. Kauf­man about why the governor’s oppo­nents think he deserves to be recalled. But we don’t learn any­thing at all, really, about why peo­ple sup­port him — or why so many of them are furi­ous with the unions and their sup­port­ers. In an arti­cle about the bit­ter polit­i­cal divi­sive­ness con­sum­ing Wis­con­sin, we learn noth­ing about the actual nature of the divide.

Again, the Times doesn’t need to treat the two sides as equal. It can sneer at what it con­sid­ers to be the fal­lac­ies and incon­sis­ten­cies of Walker’s oppo­nents all it wants. But if it wants to tell read­ers why Wis­con­sin is divided, it needs to at least refer to the ideas and the per­cep­tions, fool­ish and mis­taken though they may be, of those who pas­sion­ately sup­port the governor.

Kaufman’s agit­prop misses much of the rest of the “divi­sive­ness” in Wis­con­sin. There’s noth­ing about the alle­ga­tions of vio­lence, intim­i­da­tion and law­less­ness that Walker sup­port­ers have made against his oppo­nents. There’s noth­ing about the con­tro­ver­sies over state work­ers get­ting phony doc­tors’ notes to take ‘sick’ days rather than per­sonal or vaca­tion days to protest against the Walker law. Again, he is free to excuse this con­duct as jus­ti­fied or raise doubts that it hap­pened — but you can’t write about divi­sive­ness while ignor­ing the con­tro­ver­sies that have made peo­ple so angry.

Read the piece and see for your­self.  It is long, exhaus­tive and deeply mis­lead­ing. This goes beyond bias; it is the most fool­ish and self-defeating pro­pa­ganda. If you want to know why lib­er­als are so fre­quently sur­prised by events that other peo­ple saw com­ing, why so many well edu­cated and well mean­ing peo­ple are so pathet­i­cally clue­less about Amer­i­can pol­i­tics and Amer­i­can cul­ture — read this piece.

If there were an anti-Pulitzer Prize for the worst jour­nal­ism of the year — this would be a contender.

In a word: OUCH.

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