Digital: A Love Story; Nostalgia, Irony and Cyberpunk

Jonathan McCalmont @ 05-01-2011

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.  Originally coined in 1688 by a medical student investigating the tendency of Swiss mercenaries to become homesick to the point of physical incapacity, nostalgia soon changed from being a curable physical ailment to being an unassuageable psychological condition, a sickness of the soul.

This shift was the result of nostalgia being partly decoupled from the concept of homesickness.  Homesickness can be cured by allowing the sufferer to return home, but nostalgia came to signify a longing not for a particular place but for a by-gone age forever out of reach… short of someone inventing time travel.  However, despite becoming de-pathologised, nostalgia never quite managed to shed the negative connotations of its medical origins and the late 20th Century’s decision to turn nostalgia from a condition into a marketing strategy did little for its respectability in certain circles. Continue reading “Digital: A Love Story; Nostalgia, Irony and Cyberpunk”


The end of the PC era is 18 months away

Paul Raven @ 08-12-2010

So claims this piece at ComputerWorld, anyhow, parroting the findings of a market research firm about the unit-numbers of smartphones and tablet devices to be shipped when compared with sales of “traditional” personal computers [via SlashDot]:

It may be seen as a historic shift, but it is one that tells more about the development of a new market, mobile and tablet computing, than the decline of an older one, the PC. Shipments of personal computers will continue to increase even as they are surpassed by other devices.

IDC said worldwide shipments this year of app-enabled devices, which include smartphones and media tablets such as the iPad, will reach 284 million. In 2011, makers will ship 377 million of these devices, and in 2012, the number will reach 462 million shipments, exceeding PC shipments. One shipment equals one device.

I think an end to the dominance of the PC is pretty inevitable, and indeed has been happening for some time – I don’t know many people whose home computer isn’t a laptop, for instance, which seems indicative of a desire for computing-as-convenient-commodity rather than computer-as-installation, than computer-as-machine.

But will they vanish completely from the consumer marketplace? I’m not so sure… I use a desktop tower by choice, because I like to be able to build, maintain and upgrade my hardware myself, but that marks me as a relic of sorts, and an inheritor of my father’s engineer-esque attitudes to computers*. But as devices get cheaper, more powerful and more disposable, that impetus may fade awy.

Whether or not disposability is a path we should be pleased to follow is another question entirely, of course…

[ * My first PC was his handed-down 8086, which he insisted I help him assemble and test; with hindsight, that’s one of those incredibly pivotal moments in a life. ]


Stuxnet almost certainly meant to hobble Iranian uranium

Paul Raven @ 17-11-2010

Remember all the hypothesising about what the Stuxnet worm was supposed to do, and who had designed it for such? Well, the expert verdicts are in, and it appears Stuxnet was designed to very subtly sabotage uranium centrifuges by varying their rotation speeds in a way that, while hard to notice for humans, would effectively negate the enrichment process they are designed to perform.

So Iran’s Bushehr plant was almost certainly the target (or one target among many); and while we don’t have (and may never have) any substantive proof as to exactly who decided that they wanted to spoke Ahmedinejad’s nuclear wheels on the sly, I think we all know how the odds would fall if you were to pop down to your local bookmakers*.

Regardless of who did it, Stuxnet represents the opening of a particularly well-stocked Pandora’s box: highly-specific sabotage targetting of embedded (and potentially critical)  industrial systems. As Bruce Sterling points out, anyone who hadn’t thought of it before has certainly thought of it now. All the recent hyperbole describing the antics of patriotic  DDoS skript-kiddiez as “cyberwar” is gonna look pretty facile when stuff like Stuxnet becomes commonplace… which, with the benefit of hindsight, may have been the entire point all along.

[ * I’ll take a £5 spread on the US and Israel, please. ]


Virus purge on your laptop? That’ll be US$20m, please

Paul Raven @ 11-11-2010

OK, just to pre-empt any angry emails, I’m not posting this to gloat or mock the victim, nor to suggest that this sort of outright bilking of the ignorant is in any way acceptable behaviour. I’m posting it because it’s an astonishing story that says something simple yet profound about the gap of knowledge between technology end-users and technology adepts.

So, the headline says it all, really: a guy from one of those shady “de-virus your computer for ya, mister?” companies managed to screw something approaching US$20million out of composer Roger Davidson, who – pity him as I might – can only be described as a bit on the naive side, and not just with respect to computers [via TechDirt]:

The saga began in August 2004 when Roger Davidson, 58 years old, a pianist and jazz composer who once won a Latin Grammy, took his computer to Datalink Computer Services in Mount Kisco, saying the machine had been infested with a virus. The owners of the company, Vickram Bedi, 36, and his girlfriend, Helga Invarsdottir, 39, became aware of Mr. Davidson’s high profile and allegedly proceeded to convince him that he was the target of an assassination plot ordered by Polish priests affiliated with Opus Dei, a conservative Roman Catholic organization, authorities said.

[…]

When asked to remove the virus from the laptop, Mr. Bedi allegedly told Mr. Davidson that his computer had in fact been attacked with a virus so virulent that it also damaged Datalink’s computers, according to prosecutors.

Mr. Bedi told Mr. Davidson that he had tracked the source of the virus to a remote village in Honduras and that Mr. Bedi’s uncle, purportedly an officer in the Indian military, had traveled there in a military aircraft and retrieved the suspicious hard drive, prosecutors said.

In addition, Mr. Bedi told the victim that his uncle had uncovered an assassination plot against Mr. Davidson by Polish priests tied to Opus Dei, according to prosecutors.

Opus Dei was depicted in the popular Dan Brown novel “The Da Vinci Code” as a murderous cult. Mr. Bedi allegedly told Mr. Davidson that his company had been contracted by the Central Intelligence Agency to perform security work that would prevent any attempts by Opus Dei to infiltrate the U.S. government, authorities said.

In addition to the thousands of dollars charged to secure Mr. Davidson’s computer, Mr. Bedi and Ms. Invarsdottir allegedly charged thousands more to provide 24-hour covert protection for Mr. Davidson and his family.

Davidosn’s naiveté is only matched here by the incredible chutzpah of Bedi and Invarsdottir, who – from the sound of it – could have called it quits after the first million and retired into blissful offshore obscurity with no one any the wiser.

But as I mentioned above, this really highlights the knowledge gap between people who simply use computers and those who understand how they work – a gap regularly exploited by botnet operators and other scammy types. The unanswered (and possibly unanswerable) question is: can we ever effectively legislate or educate against this sort of exploitation of ignorance? Or is the sphere of human knowledge simply too large for these sorts of gaps not to occur?


Paying Attention is Not Fun: Crackdown 2

Jonathan McCalmont @ 15-09-2010

Back in 2007 Realtime Studio’s Crackdown limped onto the XBox 360.  Originally intended for release on the original XBox, Crackdown had been beset by technical hitches and a series of disastrous decisions during the development process.  Despite Realtime receiving quite a bit of aid from Microsoft, the game’s testing did not go well.  In fact, it went so poorly that Microsoft decided to package the game with the Halo 3 demo in a desperate attempt to boost sales and recuperate some of the money spent during the game’s epic development cycle.

Originally conceived by David Jones — one of the developers behind the original Grand Theft Auto (1997) — Crackdown was intended as an attempt to go one better than the GTA franchise.  Where GTA had you running around a sandbox-style city causing chaos and climbing the ladder of the criminal underworld, Crackdown gave you super-powers before letting you loose on a similar sandbox-style city.  The reviews were surprisingly positive, because Crackdown managed to capitalise on one of the great joys of GTA: ignoring the plot and blowing things up.  Crackdown was all about the fun. Continue reading “Paying Attention is Not Fun: Crackdown 2”


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