Archive for June 11th, 2012

The Dangers of Excessive MMO Gaming

It’s a fact that some form of play is necessary to human sanity and indeed, to human development. Our first few years are devoted to little more than play. Babies and young children learn about their environment by playing. For older people, games are necessary in order to release stress and introduce some endorphins into the bloodstream. Form many, competitive games are a way of indulging in aggressive activities without doing any actual harm. Within the framework of sports, competition becomes a positive outlet for the biological urge to be faster, stronger and smarter. In fact, in ancient times sports and games often served as an acknowledge means to keep the population fighting-fit at all times. Today, games are played not just on the field or at the playground but also in cyberspace. MMO gaming or Massively Multiplayer Online gaming refers to the act of playing video games in an environment that supports multiple players, numbering as many as hundreds or thousands. MMO gaming naturally takes place over the internet and can be accessed via personal computers or gaming consoles. MMO gaming is so popular because it allows for role playing and even extended bouts of socialization. Its benefits can include improving critical thinking skills, manual dexterity and the honing one’s ability to play in teams. However , excessive MMO gaming can also lead to several negative effects. The first negative effect of too much MMO gaming is an increased tendency to aggression. Studies show that children who were constantly exposed to combat-themed online games tended to get into more fights and indulge in violent behavior. This increased tendency to violence is explained by the fact that violent acts are performed repeatedly while gaming, which makes the players desensitized to aggression. Too much MMO gaming can also lead to a certain detachment from reality, including a tendency to ignore responsibilities and social norms. When a person is constantly playing video games online, he may reach the point where he finds the virtual world preferable to the real one and begin neglecting school, work and family responsibilities. Often, the gaming begins as a distraction from the stress of daily life and a chance to indulge in a virtual world where circumstances can be controlled to a certain extent. Real problems arise when virtual reality becomes preferable to actual reality, and what was once only a distraction becomes the center around which a person’s life revolves. Check out mmoattack.com for more information on online gaming.

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The anonymous war to free the Internet

The battle lines are being drawn between advocates of total Internet freedom and those who want restrictions on its use. On the one side is Anonymous, the worldwide group of users who want governments to stop interfering with the Internet. As far as India is concerned, they want a revocation of the ban on free video downloading sites. They have vowed to fight every attempt to control the Internet. So they have set out to register their protest by taking down the pages of government-owned institutions, starting with the MTNL.

On the Internet, where the idea of anarchy is kind of cool (and armchair activism is de rigueur), Anonymous has received a thumbs-up. I have my own misgivings about this kind of proto-anarchist ways of showing dissent and cannot understand what it will achieve. If anything, Anonymous too can be accused of taking matters in their own hands and imposing their will on users. The banning of video download sites came after a stay was filed by movie producers; why not take the battle to them?

The method employed by Wikipedia, which shut down for a day in January last, in protest against the US government’s Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), was far more effective in getting the point across and forced Senators and Congressmen to do a rethink on the bill. Yet, I find myself rooting for the cause Anonymous has taken up.

A bigger worry than any government action is the recent tendency of private parties to curb the Internet. Let us not forget that the Indian government was spurred into action by a case filed by a lawyer on behalf of some religious and community organisations demanding that content be censored.

And now comes the PIL of ex-BJP leader K.N. Govindacharya who runs something called the Rashtriya Samman Andolan (National Pride Crusade). His is an omnibus plaint demanding inter alia that Facebook and others be made to pay tax and also that government employees not be allowed to use Facebook from the office since that could result in compromising national security.

He also wants that users be “registered” and that these companies be penalised for allowing non-authenticated user accounts. The current online registration forms ask for name, address, email and sometimes the telephone number. His petition says that around five-six per cent of users have given fake addresses and they could be up to all kinds of mischief. He has not spelt out exactly what would be the best way to do a KYC (Know Your Customer) check — a police certificate and a letter from the local MP, along with tax returns for the last three years?

This case has gone largely unnoticed and got very little media play. The normally hyperventilating television channels have ignored it and there is hardly any debate online. To my mind, some of what is being demanded is as dangerous, if not more, than the government’s proposals to pre-screen content. This is about pre-screening the user and is an insidious way to keep a check on people.

Barring government servants from using Facebook at work is a simple security precaution of the kind several companies take; it irritates employees, but they have no option but to lump it. This does not require a PIL; any senior officer can impose this diktat. As for collecting taxes from Facebook and others, the law of the land must be applied; if they break it, they must be penalised, but otherwise left alone to do their business. One wonders what the real purpose of this petition is.

The Internet is a microcosm of the world. All sorts of people inhabit it. Content on the Internet ranges from the useful to the frivolous, from the inane to the important. The Internet entertains, informs, educates. It follows that there could be people with sinister intent with social media accounts, just as there are in the real world. But surely they are in a minority; why make everyone prove their innocence for the sake of a few mischievous or even evil people?

The anonymity offered by the Internet lulls several users into expressing themselves in a manner they wouldn’t do openly. As a writer, I often get comments on my pieces on Twitter and on the websites where my articles appear. Some praise, many condemn and a minority abuse. Some comments are downright malicious and slanderous. More often than not, those who write those comments hide behind pseudonyms. If I really wanted to, I could complain to the site or even the police, both of whom have the means to track down the mischief-makers. But I have found a good solution — ignore them.

Sure the nasty comments can hurt, but by ignoring them, you take the sting out. No doubt the person who wrote the stuff was hoping for an argument that would allow him to abuse a bit more and when s/he is ignored s/he feels disappointed. That is the best revenge.

The manner in which governments and self-proclaimed guardians of society try and curb the Internet and social media shows that they just haven’t understood the medium. They continue to think in the old way: if you can’t understand something and it looks big and menacing, find ways to control it or, better, just ban it. Mr Govindacharya’s PIL displays that kind of mindset, which wants greater control on human behaviour rather than allowing more freedom.

No one wants trouble-makers of any kind let loose on society, but sometimes that is the price one pays for liberty. These fault lines have always existed, but the Internet, because of its sheer size and reach, has scaled up the issue. The free-flowing culture it has engendered faces many threats — from governments, from corporations and from those who cannot come to terms with a changing world. These threats must be resisted. Which is why, initiatives like the Anonymous action will get wide support, because Internet users know what is at stake.

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Anonymous takes down Euro 2012 site

Anonymous accounts tweeted about an attack on a Euro 2012 Web site to protest mass killings of dogs ahead of the soccer championship in Ukraine.

Anonymous accounts tweeted about an attack on a Euro 2012 Web site to protest mass killings of dogs ahead of the soccer championship in Ukraine.

Online activists with Anonymous said they took out a site associated with the Euro 2012 games in Ukraine to protest the country’s rounding up and slaughter of stray dogs in advance of the soccer championship that started there today.

The account for YourAnonNews tweeted: “#OpUkraine?: Revenge for your Animal Holocaust: http://www.kieveuro2012.org ==>> TANGO DOWN!! | ?#Euro2012? via @AnonOpsLegion| ?#Anonymous? ?#Ukraine?”

However, the site appeared to be back up as of midday Pacific Time. Distributed denial-of-service attacks that shut down Web sites are Anonymous’ tool of choice in its ops, or operations. The activists have targeted a host of companies and governments over issues ranging from human rights to online privacy and civil rights.

The Ukraine government has been criticized for conducting mass killings of dogs found in the streets in an attempt to clean up the city ahead of the soccer event, over the past year or more. Ukraine officials said last November that they would stop the killings, but recent photos and video appear to show that the slaughter has not stopped.

Tens of thousand of dogs, including some wearing collars indicating they are pets, reportedly have been poisoned, shot or thrown into incinerators alive.

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Nexon pays $685 million for 14.7 percent of NCsoft

Nexon is now a minority shareholder in MMO publisher NCsoft, having purchased 3.218 million shares of the company from NCsoft chairman/cofounder Taek Jin Kim to the tune of ₩804.5 billion ($685.43 millon) – 14.7 percent of total stock. This makes Nexon the largest shareholder in NCsoft, according to VentureBeat . The purchase is part of a two-year agreement between the two South Korean game companies, though the specifics of said agreement remain shrouded in mystery. This announcement comes somewhat cooly on the heels of reports that claimed Nexon had designs to take over EA; reports that ended up being far less interesting than originally thought.

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Guardians of Middle-earth brings MOBA to XBLA and PSN


Monolith Productions has one of the most varied histories in video game development. The studio first cut its teeth on first-person shooters, finding a cult hit in the popular No One Lives Forever series. Then, it was a vast experiment with The Matrix Online , before coming back to shooters with the Fear and Condemned series of games. And now, the company’s trying to reinvent itself yet again with two licensed downloadable titles for Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment: first Gotham City Imposters from earlier this year, and now Guardians of Middle-earth . Guardians of Middle-earth is a weird one. It’s a licensed Lord of The Rings title, starring characters from Tolkien’s series. It’s a MOBA game, similar to League of Legends or DOTA 2 , featuring Tolkien’s characters fighting it out across a battlefield full of AI-controlled troops. And it’s a complicated, deep online multiplayer title, designed for competitive play. “What’s so weird about that?” you ask? It’s being developed only for consoles.

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Ping: What went wrong

In his recent appearance at the All Things Digital conference, Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, had this to say about the company’s music-centric social networking service, Ping:

We tried Ping and the customer voted and said, this isn’t something I want to put a lot of energy into. Some customers love it, but there’s not a huge number that do, so will we kill it? I don’t know. I’ll look at it.

Given that this is the kind of lukewarm endorsement generally reserved for a hospitable but unwelcome plague of roof rats, we can safely assume that when Tim and crew find the time, in come the exterminators and out goes Ping.

While I could let Ping go quietly into the night, Apple provides us with so few failures that it’s impossible to pass up the opportunity to give Ping’s corpse a poke or two to determine what led to its demise. And, fortunately, it doesn’t take a forensic genius to sleuth that out. Let the list begin.

1. The missing Facebook connection

From all appearances, when initially planned, Ping and Facebook were to have a chummy relationship—one where you could use Ping to search for Facebook friends who had also Pinged themselves. This would make it very easy to quickly accumulate a list of Ping pals. According to All Things D’s Kara Swisher, the Ping/Facebook relationship soured shortly after launch, with Steve Jobs complaining about Facebook’s “onerous terms” and others concerned about the impact Ping would have on Facebook’s network.

Regardless of why Facebook and Apple couldn’t agree on how to forge this partnership, the fact that the connection wasn’t there meant that Apple had to grow Ping from seed—hoping that iTunes users would take it upon themselves to add friends and famous people piecemeal. Many people gave it a go when Ping first launched but eventually stopped as the process required too much effort.

2. Too fiddly

Fiddling (the kind that doesn’t involve a violin) is parcel and part of the Ping experience. Too many options are hidden behind drop down menus or on artist pages or tracks lists. If you want to create a playlist to share, you either search for songs individually with a feature buried in the iTunes store or construct tracks within your iTunes library and figure out how to share it via Ping. While it’s easy enough to like a track or album, doing much more requires the kind of work people are unwilling to undertake.

3. The lack of smarts and guidance

When working with Ping, it’s up to you to decide who to follow. This is great when choosing to follow friends, but what about following people whose musical preferences are likely to intersect with yours? Apple will recommend artists to follow, but they’re not tuned to your particular taste. Ideally, Ping would examine the contents of your iTunes library (with your permission, natch), compare it to others’ libraries, and suggest regular people (and artists, if you like) you might follow. Additionally, Apple could hire DJs—people who really know particular genres of music—and set them up as trusted sources that you could follow. If you’re into a particular style of world music, jazz, classical, or power pop, these are the people you turn to rather than the store’s very general Recommended for You links. These are features found in many music subscription services but lacking in Ping.

4. That marketing smell

It’s hard to look at a Ping page without seeing it as a sales tool rather than a service that makes a serious effort to help you discover new music. The blaring bold Buy links remind you that you’re in a store, not in a collaborative space. Most of your true “friends” are going to feel the tiniest bit uncomfortable telling you what to buy rather than enjoy.

5. The fundamental flaw

Social networks succeed, in part, because they encourage you to overshare. If you want to post videos from your latest unfettered bacchanal, have at it. If only a lolcats baker’s dozen will do, share away. If the world can’t rotate another inch without reading your views on Tasmanian animal husbandry, type like you’ve never typed before.

Ping, however, demands that you undershare. When you share a track, album, or playlist with friends, they can’t listen to it in its entirely. Instead, you’re allowed a 90-second preview, which again underscores Ping’s commercial (and somewhat unfriendly) nature. A true friend doesn’t wave a bowl of soup under your conk, allow you a savory sniff, and then jerk it away demanding that you pungle up to ingest the stuff. They scoot it over—complete with spoon, napkin, and best wishes.

And therein lies Ping’s primary defect. Though dressed in social garb, at its heart, it’s a crude advertising vehicle. And one—undoubtedly to the great disappointment of some at Apple—that too many people saw through.

[Christopher Breen is a senior editor for Macworld.]

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Google: Cyberspies Have Many Eyes, and Some Are Looking at Gmail

Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) has begun informing certain individual users whom it believes may be the target of state-sponsored cyberattacks.

Those users will see a pink ribbon at the top of their Google pages bearing a warning notice.

However, the warning only means Google believes the account holder may be a target for phishing, malware or some other form of attack and doesn’t necessarily mean the account has been hijacked.

Google lists what users can do to protect themselves when they see the warning notice.

What Google Is Saying

Users should be careful about where they sign in to Google and should look for the URL “https://acounts.google.com/” in their browser bars because attackers often send links to fake sign-in pages to try to steal people’s passwords, Google said.

On spotting the warning ribbon, users can immediately create a unique password that has a good mix of capital and lower-case letters and punctuation marks and numbers; enable two-step verification for additional security; and update their browsers, operating systems, plugins and document editors, Google stated.

Google said the warnings weren’t triggered due to any internal systems being compromised or because of any particular attack.

Further, the company’s alerting only a subset of users whom it believes may be targets of state-sponsored attacks. However, it doesn’t state who falls within that subset. Nor does it identify the potential targets by country of residence.

Google claims its detailed analysis and victim reports strongly suggest the involvement of states or groups that are state-sponsored.
Who’s Doing What Where?

“If this were a warning coming from a small unknown company, one could speculate with good reason that it’s an attempt to get attention,” Mike Reagan, vice president of LogRhythm, told TechNewsWorld. “But it doesn’t do Google any good to be a fear-monger.”

It seems strange that a nation-state would bother to target members of the general public when attacks on specific targets would yield much richer rewards, but “it’s the shotgun effect — you spray your shot widely and you’ll hit someone,” Randy Abrams, an independent security consultant, told TechNewsWorld. “You don’t want to focus where the targets can easily protect against attacks; you go where people are searching, you statistically know where they’re searching on the Web, and you’ve got a pretty good chance of hitting them.”

Google did not respond to our request for further details.
What About the China Card?

As news of Google’s warning spread, speculation that it was aimed at the Chinese authorities began making the rounds.

There are perhaps grounds for making such an assumption. In June of 2011, Washington and Beijing locked horns over Google’s assertion that hackers in China broke into the Gmail accounts of several hundred people, including senior government officials in the United States and political activists. The White House issued a denial that its email system had been hacked. However, security experts pointed out that just because the attacks were launched from servers in China, it didn’t mean the hackers were backed by the Chinese government.

“It could be any number of countries that would like a path to hitting our economy,” LogRhythm’s Reagan said. “As it’s described, the attack has the potential to chip away at the stability and reliability of one of the leading providers of Internet services … Ultimately, albeit indirectly, the U.S. takes a hit.”
Keeping an Eye Peeled

Google said its duty is to be proactive in notifying users about attacks or potential attacks so they can protect themselves.

“Nobody’s going to hate Google for releasing the warnings,” Abrams said. “It’s a pretty easy win.”

Google is “evolving their information security infrastructure to detect sophisticated threats,” LogRhythm’s Reagan suggested. “They also recognize that it’s not a matter of if they’ll be breached but when, and they’ve readied themselves for this. Most people will give Google the benefit of the doubt and heed their warning.”

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Allied Comp set to offer laptops at Rs 4,999

MUMBAI: UK’s longest standing laptop specialist brand marketed in India by a BSE-listed, Allied Computers International (Asia) Limited, is now all set to offer super low-cost laptop to Indian public at Rs 4,999.

“We are launching India’s super low cost laptop at Rs 4,999 in mid-June. It will be real fully functional, windows compatible working laptop at a lowest price tag in the country,” Allied Computers managing director Hirji Patel said.

London-based missile scientist turned entrepreneur, Hirji Patel established Allied Computers International (Asia) Limited under the ACi brand in May 2002.

ACi India offers laptops and PCs in the Indian market with innovative design.

Talking about the viability of the project, Patel said, the company will import the product from China and depend on volume growth and will have thin profit margin.

Patel is all set to unveil to market few third generation models of laptops including Rs 4,999 windows compatible with 10″ screen. Among other low-cost models, laptop PC for lower-mid class segment for Rs 9,999 and latest 3rd generation model housing Intel i3 CPU for Rs 19,999 will be launched shortly.

The company is also launching latest 3rd generation model housing Intel i7 with 32GB RAM – fastest gaming laptop ever built – first laptop in India with RAM exceeding 8GB for Rs 49,999, Patel said.

“We will never compromise on quality with price. The range we will be offering are carefully designed and developed just like majority of our models launched both in UK and India,” Patel said.

In the recent times, we have seen much hype and heard much hoopla around so-called low-cost computing devices, which created enough buzz, but failed to live up to their expectations purely because they could never deliver computing, Patel said.

Patel pointed out that although, India today enjoys a volume sales of around 2.5 million laptops per annum, it is still barely 10 per cent of what western countries like UK and other leading European countries are churning out into the market.

Laptop cost-to-earning factor is still rather high in India and in lower middle class to the poor it is still considered beyond reach.

Introducing such low-cost computing devices becomes more significant in the wake of various state governments like Tamil Nadu, UP and others announcing to provide laptops for students. The company is looking at offering the low cost laptops to these state governments, Patel added.

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