How To Fight Anonymous: With Sarcasm

How do you fight an amorphous “organization” famed for its aping of a quote from V for Vendetta that goes “Behind this mask is an idea… and ideas are bulletproof!”? If the Boston Police Department’s reaction is to become to mainstay, this is the perfect and the most encouraging way to fight a bunch of mischief makers with no real disruptive skills: with sarcastic humor and employing down-to-earth police officers as “actors”.

Last week the Boston Police Department’s community news website was ‘hacked’ by Anonymous on the pretext of [insert random “fight the power/police/government/media” propaganda piece/reason here] and the site was taken down. The hackers replaced the website with a message that conformed to the aforementioned inserted pretext with the rap song “Sound o’ Da Police” performed by American rapper KRS-One.

Now, after a week of poking around, the Boston Police have managed to put the site back online, with a homemade video to boot where police officers, with their straightest faces, explain how they could not sleep because one of the most important sites in the entire web had been taken down. With a mockumentary-style shot of an Asian IT officer assuring everyone that the site should be working properly for a while.

The video shows the maturity of the police force starkly against the juvenile nature of these hackers. I, for one, welcome these humorous police officers.

Valve Says that Encrypted Credit Card Data May Have Been Stolen From Steam

Valve’s Gabe Newell issued a statement on the digital distribution giant’s news portal regarding the hacker intrusion of its systems last year. Newell, the CEO of the gaming company, stated that amongst other harmless data the intruders may have stolen logs that contain credit card numbers and other such things – encrypted mind – and data of all the transactions done between 2004-2008. He further advises everyone to monitor their credit card statements carefully and change the Steam passwords.

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Recently we learned that it is probable that the intruders obtained a copy of a backup file with information about Steam transactions between 2004 and 2008. This backup file contained user names, email addresses, encrypted billing addresses and encrypted credit card information. It did not include Steam passwords.
We do not have any evidence that the encrypted credit card numbers or billing addresses have been compromised. However as I said in November it’s a good idea to watch your credit card activity and statements. And of course keeping Steam Guard on is a good idea as well.

Steam Guard is the secondary authentication token provided directly to your registered email ID when you sign it to Steam from a new computer. This is like Google’s authentication and provides a code that you have to enter after typing in your username and password. This is to ensure that unauthorized access to your Steam account is not easy.

As always, we ask our readers to remain vigilant against these threats as well as phishing scams and other things that have been talked about recently on Techie Buzz.

Iran Blocks Country-Wide Access to Facebook, Yahoo, Gmail and Hotmail

Worrying news from Tehran – an Iranian national said that the country has blocked access to many daily-use communication websites such as Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail and Facebook. This occurred recently without the Government stating the explicit reasons, or even acknowledging that this block has occurred. While many net-savvy Iranians have managed to use proxies and Virtual Private Network (VPN) services to punch through this blockade, the prospect of a nation-wide firewall akin to the Great Firewall of China seems very real for Iranians.

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Considering that February 11th marks the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran, word on CNet is that there might have been a protest planned for the day. Iran is no stranger to cutting off internet and communication to stem protests before they blossom. Last month the information minister had said that the Government is planning to go ahead with an Internet Kill Switch that will firewall a majority of anti-Iranian websites and other means of easy communication.

Considering that Iran’s Internet was supposed to survive a nuclear war, it seems that the centralized Internet service in the country is actually the bane for its people. Pretty soon you will have a nation full of people who are not only irritated at the regime, but also bored without Facebook’s games. According to the Internet, that is a dangerous combination.

Rumor: Psychonauts 2 May Soon Become a Real Game

I love Psychonauts. I really really do. It’s one of those things that I remember from back when gaming meant getting lost in a different world completely and utterly and forgetting time or even the concept of it. So when word gets around that Tim Schafer, the creator of one of the finest platformers of all time, says that he is ready for Psychonauts 2, a lot of hearts start racing.

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These hearts start racing faster and faster when the creator of Minecraft, Markus Persson, tweets and follows up on Reddit that he will be willing to fund the game and will not be involved in any other way in the production of the game. At least mine did. It’s like watching something beautiful shape up in front of your eyes. It’s like Genesis fruiting in front of you. It’s like the host of other analogies that I cannot remember right now.

Moreover, DoubleFine Studios’ new KickStarter project for a new old school game went way past its needed funding and crossed the $1 million mark in a matter of days. This led to more hinting from Schafer. He said that if the funding goes beyond a certain limit ($20 million), his studio may give fans the “bonus” of Psychonauts 2 with the $19 million surplus.

Are you excited? YOU BETTER BE!

The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition Trailer Looks Gorgeous

By now, you must know that when I say “gorgeous” I mean “frighteningly violent, filled with liberal amounts of freeze bombs and blood that would make any kind lady look away in shock” yes? If you did not think so, I am afraid you have not been reading my posts very well and thus I shall give you the Very Very Stern Look. *Looks at you Very Very Sternly*. Right, now that the stern looks are done with, shall we proceed with the matter at hand? Good, I thought so as well. Yes, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings will be getting an Enhanced Edition much in the same vein as the original The Witcher received an Enhanced Edition pack. The previous game was completely turned around thanks to this patch going (ratings-wise) from a “rather good” RPG to “oh my god how did we miss out on this brilliant piece of video gaming?”. Judging by the fantastic trailer for The Witcher 2 EE, I think the ratings for that game will go from “this is the most amazing RPG I’ve ever played” to “I cannot think of any other superlatives/God Level/Stop pestering me and go play this game.”

Directed by Tomasz Bagiński, the same man who did the video for the original opening trailer of The Witcher, the trailer shows the death of King Demavend at the hands of the unnamed Witcher (named later in the game, but no spoilers here) whose severed head is shown in the original trailer of the game. Bagiński accomplishes what he does best – showing a beautifully choreographed fight scene with not a single word of dialog. Everything looks brilliant and I would totally want this guy to direct a full-length movie based on The Witcher mythos. Seriously, everyone, make this happen!

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition is slated for an April release – an entire year after the game itself was released. Great stuff from CD Projekt RED!

Steam Mobile: First Look

A couple of days ago Valve released its Beta Steam Mobile app for Android and iOS. Steam, as we know, is the video game digital distribution platform that has quickly become one of the Internet’s friendliest and also its most used. Valve also slowly rolled out the Beta access to its customers through the Steam Inventory (customers with access can send other customers the invite). The mobile app itself is a little rough around the edges – nothing new here because Steam itself is a little rough around the edges. Moreover, it is to be noted that this is still a work in progress for the most part.

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The Steam Mobile app came as a direct request from Steam’s fans, as Valve President Gabe Newell says:-

The Steam app comes from many direct requests from our customers. Seeing which of your friends are online and playing a game, sending quick messages, looking at screenshots for an upcoming game, or catching a sale — these are all features customers have requested. Mobile is changing way people interact, play games and consume media, and the Steam app is part of our commitment to meet customer demands and expand the service functionality of Steam to make it richer and more accessible for everyone.

The app starts with the a mobile version of the “Friends” window which shows your friend list and also shows who is playing what game. Clicking on a friend’s name will initiate a chat thread with that person (although that did not load completely in my case).

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Pressing the app key on the Android brings up the menu with several options like Catalog, Wishlist, Search, Groups, Steam News and so on listed. Clicking on any one of these options is supposed to display the corresponding option, but that did not happen with me.

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Again, I must remind the readers that this is a beta application so I am not holding any of these against the app. So when it does eventually come out of beta, it should have all of these features.

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In short, Steam Mobile is everything that Steam offers minus the most important thing: the game itself. I imagine people will chat with their friends and set up matches for the evening (instead of talking to them through more conventional means, because obviously a smartphone cannot make calls or send texts) or get that ridiculously low priced sale that is on only for the two minutes that you are browsing Steam Mobile. Snide comments apart, it can be a useful way of spending time with folks you only know through Steam, or buying an impromptu gift for someone discreetly. More on this as it gets better.

SOPA Author Violates Copyrights On His Own Site, Is Also Guilty Of Being Very Immoral

Well, well, well what do we have here? It seems that the Vice website has found a tiny little hole in US Senator Lamar Smith’s rather untarnished website, which is more than we can say about his reputation.

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Who is Lamar Smith, you ask? He is the author of the Stop Online Privacy Piracy Act or SOPA. SOPA, as we know, is a diabolical little bill that was up for debate a few days ago in the US Senate. If this Act had passed (which has not happened yet, thankfully), then if you use a copyrighted image on your website and do not take permission or credit the owner of the copyright, you will be jailed and/or penalized very harshly.

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Logically speaking, by his own rhetoric, Lamar Smith should be jailed and/or penalized very harshly. As Vice found out, Lamar Smith was using a photograph that was taken by DJ Smith and released under Creative Commons license for the background of his website. The Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license under which this photograph was released clearly indicates that if the photograph is used:-

  • then it must be used in a non commercial website or for a non commercial cause,
  • it must be shared alike, i.e. the photograph must be released with the exact same license and
  • the author of the media (the photographer) must be credited

While not asking for permission for using the photograph is alright, not attributing it to DJ Smith is a criminal offense. As the photographer says:-

I have no recollection, nor record of Lamar Smith or anyone from his organization requesting permission to use my image “Mist Lifting Off Cedars”. That lack of request does not violate the Creative Commons license although it does show high disregard for creative material producers. What does violate my Creative Commons license though is that I do not see anywhere on the screen capture that the image was attributed to the source (me). It would seem this image was improperly used by the organization of the very author of the SOPA bill that is being debated in Congress.

Unfortunately, it would seem like the creators and supporters of SOPA have little knowledge about the real process of creation, or indeed the novel ways in which media is shared around the internet.

However, it goes deeper than that. A little bit of sleuthing (also known these days are browsing pages on Wikipedia) provides some more information about Representative Smith:-

  • In 2006, he proposed a bill that would give the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) more teeth when dealing with violators. By more teeth, we mean wiretapping authority on suspected violators of the DMCA. The DMCA, if you remember, is the primary reason why we have the scourge called Digital Rights Management still being thrown at legitimate customers of music, movies and video games.
  • Just last year, a brilliant bill proposed by Barney Frank and Ron Paul that would put an end to the prohibition against marijuana use was opposed by Lamar Smith. He opposed it on the grounds that “[M]arijuana use and distribution is prohibited under federal law because it has a high potential for abuse and does not have an accepted medical use in the U.S., The Food and Drug Administration has not approved smoked marijuana for any condition or disease.” All this right after the National Cancer Institute stated that “cannabis and cannabinoids have been studied in the laboratory and the clinic for relief of pain, nausea and vomiting, anxiety, and loss of appetite”. Apparently, decriminalizing a scientifically deemed harmless drug is a hard thing for Agent Mr. Smith to follow. This may be due to the next factoid, which is…
  • In 2011 Smith had received $37,250 in campaign contributions from the Beer, Wine and Liquor Lobby, and $65,800 total between 2009 and 2011. Maplight.org listed the Beer, Wine, and Liquor Lobby as third among Smith’s top ten campaign contributors.
  • Last, but not the least where we are concerned, he is also the proposer of the new Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011, which is basically another internet freedom gagging bill with the convenient foil of child pornography thrown in for good measure so that any opponents of the bill can be easily shown to be secret child porn enthusiasts. This bill will force Internet Service Providers to keep eighteen month records of all activity on all their customers because anyone could be looking around for child porn (apparently). If this does not seem like an easy back door for Big Brother to spy on us, I suggest you wake up from your deep political slumber.

In a recent post on online community Reddit, a poster in the campus of University of Texas, Austin denounced Lamar Smith, a comment by Reddit user CookiesAHelluvaDrug (remember content is more important than the username) went on to say:-

Lamar Smith:
*Voted YES on allowing school prayer during the War on Terror. (Nov 2001
*Voted NO on additional $10.2B for federal education & HHS projects. (Nov 2007)
*Rated 17% by the NEA, indicating anti-public education votes. (Dec 2003)
*Voted YES on barring EPA from regulating greenhouse gases. (Apr 2011)
*Voted NO on starting implementation of Kyoto Protocol. (Jun 2000)
*Voted YES on deauthorizing “critical habitat” for endangered species. (Sep 2005)
*Rated 0% by the LCV, indicating anti-environment votes. (Dec 2003)
*Voted YES on restricting independent grassroots political committees. (Apr 2006)
*Voted NO on protecting whistleblowers from employer recrimination. (Mar 2007)
*Rated 0% by APHA, indicating a anti-public health voting record. (Dec 2003)
*Voted YES on extending the PATRIOT Act’s roving wiretaps. (Feb 2011)
*Voted NO on requiring FISA warrants for wiretaps in US, but not abroad. (Mar 2008)
*Voted YES on continuing military recruitment on college campuses. (Feb 2005)
*Rated 0% by the ARA, indicating an anti-senior voting record. (Dec 2003)
*Voted YES on terminating funding for National Public Radio. (Mar 2011)
*Voted NO on investigating Bush impeachment for lying about Iraq. (Jun 2008)
*Voted NO on removing US armed forces from Afghanistan. (Mar 2011)

Remember, UT falls under Smith’s area of representation.

Now I am not the one to make an ad hominem argument about a politician who does not even belong to my country, but from his exemplary track record, it would seem like this man does not have a shred of good sense left in him. Seriously, stop electing this guy. I do hope he never goes into the lower house ever again.

[Photo: Mist Lifting off Cedars by dj @ oxherder arts]

[Hat tip to Chinmoy for letting me know about this guy]

Play Skyrim On Your Calculator!

That is, if your calculator is a Texas Instruments 84 Plus Graphing Calculator, of course. Intrepid YouTube user no9sniper has found a way to satisfy that burning itch to keep killing dragons, giants and tons of wild wolves while you are in class (and away from your PC/360/PS3 which is still warm from yesterday’s long Skyrim session) with a homebrew version of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim that runs completely on the Ti-84 plus, complete with lo-fi graphics and a nonexistent storyline.

The game, from the video posted on YouTube, looks similar to the legacy Elder Scrolls games, with simple combat and some customization. You choose your name and your race (Imperial, Khajit or Orc) (Sadly no elves or argonians) and set out on a journey as a warrior into the snowy and whitey world with the greatest graphics card in the world at your disposal (read: your imagination). I initially thought it would be a rogue-like game but it turned out to be nicely designed with some retro graphics elements. Much fun!

I honestly have no idea how much time was invested by no9sniper to create this tiny distraction for class, but it sure as hell speaks volumes about this person’s perseverance! Kudos!

Bioshock Infinite To Include 1999 Mode

Bioshock Infinite is an upcoming game developed by Irrational Studios. It is the third game of the Bioshock franchise and, in the timeline of the alternate universe of the video games, is a prequel to the first two games. It is set, unlike the previous two games, in the fictional air-city of Columbia that has elements of steampunk, Star Wars and Final Fantasy in a surreal-yet-gritty mash up. The developers recently announces that the game will have a super-hard ‘1999 mode’ which will test the player’s skills to the maximum:-

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BioShock Infinite’s 1999 Mode will feature an especially demanding gaming experience, forcing you to examine your decisions while going through your adventure in Columbia. With every choice you make, there are irreversible implications, and if your choices guide you down a path not suited to your play style, you will suffer for it.

Every step of the game will involve you taking decisions, such as weapon specializations (with most enemies being impervious to your attacks unless you have the requisite specializations) and resource planning. Irrational Games’ Creative Director Ken Levine goes on to say that “In 1999 Mode, gamers face more of the permanent consequences of their gameplay decisions. In BioShock Infinite, gamers will have to sweat out the results of their actions. In addition, 1999 Mode will demand that players pick specializations, and focus on them.”

This is making me all super excited for this game. What do you guys think?

Bethesda Updates on Skyrim v1.4 and the Creation Kit

Bethesda Studios’ The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is one of the most hyped and played games in recent times. Players have created their own meme-verse with the arrow-to-the-knee jokes and other paraphernalia and the game has been a huge success. Fans of the games have been clamoring for a Creation Kit – a set of tools released by the developer to aid and assist in making mods. Bethesda has released a statement along with the release notes for v1.4 regarding the Creation Kit.

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It seems that the Creation Kit will work with the Steam Workshop – a place where community-made items are voted on by players themselves which may then be added in-game. A Steam Workshop for Team Fortress 2 exists and has seen a bunch of items go from just a concept on paper to an actual in-game item. The creators of the items are also rewarded in cash by Valve. In this case, the creators will be rewarded by Bethesda, probably.

The Creation Kit will allow modders to make complete game transformations such as those we have seen with Neverwinter Nights and the previous The Elder Scrolls games such as Oblivion. It is quite amazing that Bethesda is genuinely interested in enhancing the gameplay by giving players the power, for free.

More news will be here as it happens.