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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

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

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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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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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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