Dec. 18, 2011: It lives on!

Hello again, everyone! I know many of you were expecting our course blog to come to an end after our last post — the semester is over, after all — but I’d like to try a little experiment. You see, I recently discovered that we’ve garnered some followers who have no affiliation whatsoever with COM 315. In other words, our blog has been successful enough to attract a bit of public attention. So, we’re going to keep this running and see how it goes. You’re no longer required to keep commenting on posts in order to earn class credit, obviously, but you’re certainly welcome to keep engaging the blog if you’d like. Besides, we talked about how many employers value your ability to build a web presence, so why not keep that going and turn your participation as a founding member of this blog into something you can showcase for years to come?

Naturally, since we’re turning this class activity into something even more, I’d like to also invite anyone else viewing the blog to get involved in our discussions. After all, this blog has shown all of us that plenty of exciting, shocking, and plain wacky things happen in the world every single week. It’s much more fun when we can discuss those events together. So please, chip in!

With that said, let’s jump right in with some gaming news this week. Remember the big Nintendo 3DS price drop in August? If you don’t know the story, the much-vaunted 3DS, with revolutionary 3D graphics on a handheld system, saw very sluggish sales in the first few months after its release. It was so bad, in fact, that Nintendo took the unprecedented step of cutting the $250 retail price by $80 (with comparable cuts around the globe) — a move which naturally angered gamers who had already purchased one at the original price. As compensation, Nintendo created the Ambassador Program to reward early adopters: anyone who bought a 3DS prior to the official price cut, the company said, would receive 10 classic Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) games and 10 Game Boy Advance (GBA) titles for free as exclusive 3DS downloads by December, while those who got a 3DS after the price cut couldn’t even choose to pay for the games; they’ll just have no way of getting them on their shiny new handhelds.

Well, while Nintendo announced the list of NES Ambassador games in August, they’ve been rather slow to release the GBA list. Thanks to Kotaku, though, we now have the full set of titles now available in Japan and soon the U.S. (as well as a video guide to downloading the games):

  • F-Zero Maximum Velocity
  • Super Mario Advance 3
  • The Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap
  • Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones
  • Kirby and the Amazing Mirror
  • Mario Kart Advance
  • Mario vs. Donkey Kong
  • Metroid Fusion
  • Wario Land 4
  • Wario Ware, Inc. Mega Microgame$

Those are some heavy-hitter franchises. We have three big Mario games plus two from Wario, then one game each from F-Zero, Zelda, Fire Emblem, Kirby, and Metroid. Sure, it may not be everything that every gamer wanted (for instance, some were literally begging Nintendo for the smash hit Pokémon Emerald), but that’s still a tantalizing set of downloads. Given the timing, the long delay also makes much more sense: the list became public on Wednesday; the games became available for download on Friday; and Sony’s competing handheld system, the PlayStation Vita, was released on Saturday. We’ll have to wait and see whether Nintendo was successful in diffusing the Vita release fervor, but you have to admit that it was a crafty way to turn flagging sales into an opportunity.

On the political front, the Occupy Wall Street movement continued its campaign in Washington D.C. this week with protests, hunger strikes, tests of new devices that facilitate flash mobs, and, of course, arrests. Some analysts claim that even by “Occupy” standards, the D.C. effort is quite murky, with even some of the most passionate supporters conceding that their movement has been more about people talking about problems than implementing solutions (one of the movement’s biggest complaints with the government itself). Still, they’re hopeful that their efforts will ultimately coalesce into a stronger course of action. Regardless of how you view the movement, it’s certainly costing the District of Columbia a small fortune — the city, which does not have voting rights in Congress, has seen protests on federally-controlled land force a great deal of overtime labor, sanitation expenses, and related protest cleanups. Since the federal government has largely permitted camping protesters to remain in a few areas such as Freedom Plaza and McPherson Square, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray contacted the National Park Service on Friday to demand full reimbursement for the $1.6 million in costs that the protests have generated. After all, Gray says, the federal government won’t permit D.C. authorities to remove them, as in the raids on camps in other cities, so it’s unfair for the city to suffer the consequences of the government’s decisions. While Gray is trying to get the government to act or to at least reimburse his city, some Occupy D.C. protesters, ironically, have pushed for D.C. to receive voting rights and partial autonomy from the federal government. It’s a thorny issue, to say the least.

Let’s turn to the tech side of things for a bit. You may remember the Carrier IQ scandal we discussed two weeks ago — security researcher Trevor Eckhart accused the the company, which provides diagnostic software to a wide range of cell phone manufacturers, of intrusively collecting far more data than would be necessary for diagnostic purposes, including every keystroke for every user whose phone happened to feature Carrier IQ’s product. (Anyone who has ever paid a credit card bill by phone should be terrified of that prospect, which he detailed in a video demonstration — check out 11:30-13:30 for the most important bits.) Well, major phone companies are taking the allegations quite seriously, it seems. On Friday, Sprint, which had used the software since 2006, announced that it is disabling the Carrier IQ software on all 26 million Sprint phones that used it. Sprint representatives say that the company never used the software to look at private customer information, such as text messages, E-mails, or photos, but that customer privacy concerns ultimately outweighed the potential customer service benefits. About 25 million Samsung phones use Carrier IQ, according to Samsung representatives, along with 6.3 million HTC phones and 900,000 AT&T phones. T-Mobile has also admitted to using Carrier IQ, but none of these listed companies have yet taken any action like Sprint’s. Apple representatives say that they will remove Carrier IQ software support from their devices in a future system update.

In other cell phone news, a national ban on cell phone use while driving could be in the United States’ future. The National Transportation Safety Board is now urging all states and D.C. to impose sweeping bans on all cell phone use by drivers, given the piles of evidence showing slower reaction times and increased risks when drivers engage in a range of cell phone activities. Not everyone is happy about the idea, though, with some calling the proposed legislation needless micromanagement of individuals’ behavior and others saying it would be difficult to enforce. Furthermore, a number of states have already passed up key opportunities to enact such laws on their own, such as Missouri, where such a bill was filibustered even after two buses full of high school band members were involved in a fatal freeway pileup last year because of a teenage driver who was texting. (A 15-year-old student and the pickup driver whom the texting teen rear-ended were killed. 38 others were injured.) Given that, some analysts consider it unlikely that states will take up the cause now just because a federal administration asks them to do it.

Like it or not, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) has been dominant in web browsing for quite some time. Well, game on, Microsoft. Google Chrome 15 just passed Internet Explorer 8 as the world’s most-used browser, according to a Wednesday StatCounter report, after passing Mozilla Firefox just two weeks ago. Granted, Chrome is only beating IE by a tenth of a percentage point, 23.6% to 23.5% of the global market, and that advantage is expected to evaporate soon during the from Chrome 8 to Chrome 9. Still, given that Google is relatively new to the browser wars, with the original version of Chrome released in 2008, taking the number one spot even for a moment is quite the achievement.

Just for fun, let’s close with a little pop culture this week. Apparently, Britney Spears is getting married… which was only revealed when she changed her Facebook relationship status to “Engaged.” Decide for yourself if that’s a sweet modern touch or a scary sign of the times. Now, this will not be Spears’ first or even her second marriage. Also, the diamond on her engagement ring is “only” four carats compared to the 5.5-carat stone she received for her second engagement (that ring was valued at $40,000). Still, given that Spears and fiancée Jason Trawick have been dating since 2009, perhaps their love is bigger even if the stone isn’t. And hey, if nothing else, maybe the third time will be the charm. Or perhaps her marriage will remind us of a certain multi-platinum 2000 album. We’ll see.

We’re keeping it somewhat lighthearted this week, so no deep scientific argumentation here. At least, not above. There’s plenty of good stuff below, though, if you need your fix. Enjoy!

Other articles of interest:
NASA Satellite May Have Found The Smallest Known Black Hole
Off the Beam: Did a U.S. Radar Research Station Disable Russia’s Phobos Probe?
Space Shuttle Discovery Powers Down
Loophole Inserted in Climate Accord Augurs U.S.-China Clash
Robotic Assist Gets Stroke Patients Walking
Beaten Giants fan Stow speaks on camera for first time since attack
States get flexibility to design benefits under health care reform
US House Passes Massive Spending Bill to Avert Government Shutdown
Senate deal on payroll tax cuts and jobless benefits requires Obama to act on pipeline
Will BlackBerry survive 2012?
Jury Deadlocked in $1B Microsoft Antitrust Suit
Please Stop Sharing
Man takes name of Zuckerberg
Facebook Threatens to Sue Mark Zuckerberg — No, Not That One
Mark Zuckerberg, meet your Israeli doppelganger, Mark Zuckerberg
Barely Half of U.S. Adults Are Married – A Record Low
FIFA threatens to ban Swiss over Sion
Judge stays Barry Bonds’ sentence
MLB owners ratify labor contract

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