Nerds of the Round Table

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Category Archives: Technology News

The Day the LOLcats Died (due to SOPA/PIPA)

I realize that yesterday was the internet blackout in opposition to SOPA/PIPA but I’m not done sharing my opposition yet.  But this time its in a funny video form that is just too good to pass up sharing.  Please everyone, lets save those LOLcats.

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On Strike to Oppose SOPA and PIPA

I’m sure those of you in the United States have heard about the two pieces of legislation attempting to be passed.  This would be the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA).  Both of these pieces of legislation threaten to fundamentally break the Internet.  But why should people be opposed to either SOPA or PIPA?

Here’s a simple takeaway of how SOPA will affect the internet courtesy of Wikipedia.

The originally proposed bill would allow the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as copyright holders, to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. Depending on who makes the request, the court order could include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators from doing business with the allegedly infringing website, barring search engines from linking to such sites, and requiring Internet service providers to block access to such sites. The bill would make unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content a crime, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison for ten such infringements within six months. The bill also gives immunity to Internet services that voluntarily take action against websites dedicated to infringement, while making liable for damages any copyright holder who knowingly misrepresents that a website is dedicated to infringement.

The spirit of the law is to protect copyright holders which is a legitimate thing.  However, the method used to enforce these copyright protections is far too  punishing.  One provision, which seems to have been shelved for now, is the ability for the US government to blacklist DNS addresses.  Specifically if one of my writers posted an article that linked to a YouTube video or picture that someone makes a copyright claim on I am held liable.  This could even be held true if someone links a YouTube video or copyrighted image in a comment.  Not only am I held liable but the US can then choose to blacklist my domain name.  This means that if you’re in the US and you type in http://www.nerdsoftheroundtable.com or search for it on Google you will not be able to find the web-site.  The internet is fundamentally broken by this action!

There are many people who oppose both SOPA and PIPA.  This includes sites such as Google, Yahoo!, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, LinkedIn, eBay, Mozilla Corporation, Roblox, Reddit, the Wikimedia Foundation, and human rights organizations such as Reporters Without Borders, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the ACLU, and Human Rights Watch.

To show support for the defeat of SOPA and PIPA some web-sites are even shutting down for a day.  Earlier this month Reddit announced plans to shutdown their site for the entire day on January 18th.  Additionally, Wikipedia announced that in an unprecedented move they would shut down their site for the entire day on January 18.  WordPress has also announced methods to express you opposition to SOPA and PIPA.  I will be making use of their tools to this and if you use WordPress I encourage you to do so as well.

Personally, I think it would great if sites like Facebook or Google shutdown for the day.  Can you imagine the impact if people couldn’t update their Facebook status or search Google for things?  SOPA has the ability to damage both these sites and showing just how much they would be missed would have a great impact on people.

I have been opposed to SOPA since I first read of it and heard a good deal of background on This Week in Tech (TWiT).  To show my opposition to the act I even updated the site logo to reflect opposition to censorship.  Clicking on this link leads one to AmericanCensorship.org, a site dedicated to the opposition of both SOPA and PIPA.  This site also features multiple ways to oppose both SOPA and PIPA.  My hope would be that if you oppose these pieces of legislation check the site to see how you can help defeat the passing of these laws.

In an effort to express my support in defeating both SOPA and PIPA the Nerds of the Round Table will be going dark on January 18th.  No new posts, no tweets, no Facebook updates everything will be shutdown for the day.  I have no expectation that I have anywhere near the influence of Wikipedia or Reddit but I want to do my part to help defeat SOPA and PIPA.  Please join in and do that same.

RIP Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

I’m sure I’m not the first, nor will I be the last, to post about the passing of Steve Jobs today.  Steve Jobs was a visionary and is responsible for many of innovations we’ve come to take for granted nowadays.  Without Mr. Jobs, we would never purchase music online to play on our mp3 players nor would the smartphone revolution have led us to where we are today.

I was not a fan of some of the design decisions Mr. Jobs had made during his tenure at Apple but it is hard to deny the bulk of his ideas were fairly successful.  The passing of Mr. Jobs is something people knew would happen, but it’s still rather shocking.  He had fought cancer for years but always seemed to come back stronger.  When he resigned as CEO of Apple a little while ago I think I lot of people began to think Mr. Jobs time was coming to an end.  He had always been committed to leading Apple and had begun to realize his body was failing him.

Not to sound morbid, but it’s almost fitting that Mr. Jobs lived to see his successor, Tim Cook, assume the role of CEO and unveil the iPhone 4S.   Mr. Jobs may have passed away but his legacy will continue to influence all of us for many years to come.  RIP Steve Jobs.

Marvel Comes to Netflix

I’ve never made it a secret that I’m a big fan of Netflix’s streaming service.  I use it all the time to catch up on older TV shows and movies that I have missed out on.  Between my Xbox and iPhone I’m pretty much able to watch whenever I want.

Netflix has done a fantastic job of continuing to add to their online library.  When the streaming service first began I didn’t purchase it because there wasn’t a lot of selection.  Once Netflix began adding more content I gave it a chance and was hooked.  I always keep my eyes open to see what new content should be coming that I want to watch.

Netflix has made a deal with Marvel Comics to obtain the rights to stream Marvel content.  This includes such ‘classic’ shows like the X-Men and Spider-Man cartoons from the 90s.  I grew up watching those shows so I’ll be making time to re-watch the cartoons I loved as a kid.  There’s a lot of additional content that has been added:

Arrived April 29:

  • The Incredible Hulk (1996-97)
  • Spider-Man Unlimited (1999-2001)
  • Iron Man: Extremis – Marvel Knights Animation (2010)
  • Astonishing X-Men: Gifted – Marvel Knights Animation (2010)
  • Spider-Woman: Agent of the S.W.O.R.D. – Marvel Knights Animation (2010)
  • Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes (2006)
  • Silver Surfer (1998)
  • Black Panther – Marvel Knights Animation (2010)
  • Iron Man: Armored Adventures Season 1 (2009)

Coming throughout the summer:

  • Marvel Action Hour: Iron Man (1994-96)
  • The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes! Season 1 (2010)
  • X-Men Evolution (2000-3)
  • X-Men (1992-7)
  • Spider-Man (1994-‘98)
  • Spider-Man (1967-‘68)
  • Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends (1981)
  • Spider-Man (1981-‘82)

Coming in the fall:

  • Iron Man (1966)
  • Thor (1966)
  • Captain America (1966)
  • Hulk (1966)
  • Sub-Mariner (1966)

This will be my first chance to watch the motion-comics that Marvel has been releasing.  Iron Man: Extremis was a great story in the comic books, it should translate fairly well to the TV screen.

Kudos to Netflix for continuing to expand their selection of movies.  It’s quite exciting to see them make a deal with Marvel to show a lot of the Marvel properties on Netflix.  With the DC animated movies that are already online and all the Marvel content that is being added it looks like I’ll have a lot to watch this summer!

Robotics Merit Badge

Little known fact about me, is that I am an Eagle Scout.  As such I remember my scouting days quite fondly.  BSA has always been good about adding or removing merit badges based on current cultural influences.  Now they’ve added a new merit badge for Robotics.  Honestly, if I were still a scout I would make sure I earned this merit badge.

An example of some of the badge requirements shows that it’s no cakewalk to earn this merit badge.  Some of the requirements include:

  • Explain and discuss hazards and safety prevention
  • Explain how robots are used today
  • Discuss three of the five major fields of robotics (human-robot interface, mobility, manipulation, programming, sensors)
  • Design, build, program, and test their robot
  • Demonstrate the robot, and share the engineering notebook for that robot
  • Attend a robotics competition or do research on robotics competitions
  • Discuss career opportunities in robotics (Must include information on the education, training, and experience required.)

There’s some fun looking stuff to do there.  The only problem is, this won’t be a cheap merit badge to do.  It’s definitely not one that you would be able to earn during a one-week Scout Camp.

It’s also impressive to note some of the organizations that helped develop the merit badge requirements. Definitely lot of robotics experts weighed in.

  • AUVSI Foundation
  • Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy
  • Carnegie Science Center, Roboworld
  • iRobot Corporation
  • LEGO
  • Education North America
  • Museum of Science, Boston
  • NASA
  • National Electronics Museum
  • National Robotics Week
  • Robotics Education and Competition Foundation
  • University of Texas-Dallas, Science and Engineering Education Center
  • VEX Robotics, Inc.

For more information on the merit badge I encourage you to read the Press Release regarding the Robotics Merit Badge.

Kindle Gets Ads

For those of you who follow me on Twitter you might have noticed my repeated profession of love for my 3G Kindle.  Well that and a list of all the Zombie books I’ve completed lately.  There’s just something I enjoy about being able to have thousands of books in one tiny device.  And being able to read the same books on my iPhone is also a definite perk.

The one thing I never particularly cared for about the Kindle was its price.  At $139 for a Wi-Fi only version or $189 for 3G the price is a bit high.  Honestly, I think the magic price point for the Kindle would be $99.  I think a lot more people would be interest in buying a Kindle of their own for that price.  Luckily, Amazon is working to decrease the price of the Kindle.  The trade-off is that some folks might not like the method Amazon has chosen to reduce the retail price.

Starting on May 3, Amazon will begin selling an ad-embedded version of the Wi-Fi Kindle for $114, a $25 price drop off the original Wi-Fi Kindle.  And yes, you did read that correctly I said ad-embedded.  This version of the Kindle will feature ads that display on the title screen and that function as the screen saver of the device.  The ads will display as a small banner on the home screen.  However, the screensaver ads  will cover the entire screen.

As of right now Amazon is using full-size ads to promote special features that customers might want to purchase.  For example one of the featured ads is a $20 Amazon giftcard for $10.  In addition to special deals there will also be ads from featured companies.  The nice thing is the ads will not change while the device is on standby.  That means no draining your battery to have rotating ads on a Kindle in standby mode.  An example of the full-page ads can be seen below.

All in all, it’s not too intrusive but it’s still ads on a product I own.  There’s just something that rubs me the wrong way about having ads shown to me on a platform I have spent so much money on.  For me the $25 price difference does not overcome the annoyance factor of having to look at advertisements on my Kindle.  I’m sure other people think differently and hopefully a cheaper version of the Kindle is able to bring more users to the platform.  It’s a wonderful way to read books.  I think that placing ads on the device is a slippery slope though.  How long until there start being ads placed into a book I’m reading.  I can’t help but think that would ruin the reading experience of the books I have been reading on my Kindle.  Hopefully Amazon doesn’t start allowing ads to be placed within books, or if they do hopefully its only on the ad-embedded version of the Kindle.  That will keep me quite happy to have paid full price for my device!

Kindle with Ads

Netflix Makes a Big Move

I haven’t talked about it much on the blog, but I’m a big fan of Netflix and its streaming services.  When the capability to stream content to the Xbox 360 first debuted  I bit the bullet and decided to give Netflix a try.  It was nice getting DVDs in the mail but the instant gratification of being able to watch a movie or TV show is what sold the service for me.

Needless to say I’ve been pretty happy to see how Netflix’s streaming options have increased.  Now I can stream Netflix on just about every device in my house.  Things like my netbook, iPhone/iPod, PS3, and Xbox are all able to let me watch whatever I want when I want.  Netflix on the iPhone has saved my sanity on more than one occasion.  Recently I’ve been watching the entire run of Scrubs via the streaming service.  I really have missed that show, but that’s a topic for another time.

Streaming has become the main source of revenue for Netflix and they even instituted a streaming only plan for $7.99 a month.  In fact, that’s the plan I’m on right now since most of what I would watch is available streaming or on one of the channels I have on cable already.  Eventually I might cut the cord on my cable subscription, but I’m too much of an HD snob to do so right now.  There are a lot of HD selections on Netflix to stream but not everything is HD yet.  Bear in mind I truly am an HD snob.  I won’t watch shows on TV unless they are available on one of my HD channels.  There are of course a few notable exceptions.

Rumors were flying around the web last week that Netflix was bidding against cable content providers like HBO to secure the rights to a new TV show entitled House of Cards. To be honest I didn’t think Netflix stood much of a chance going up against heavyweights like HBO.  But, I was wrong Netflix has secured the exclusive right to air (in this case stream might be the better word) the David Fincher developed series starring Kevin Spacey.  Netflix has committed to 2 13 episode seasons of the new show and it will be made available to all 20 million Netflix subscribers.

Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s Chief Content Officer gave some more information regarding the purchase of House of Cards on Netflix’s Blog:

We’re delighted to tell you that in late 2012 Netflix will be bringing to our members in the U.S. and Canada exclusively “House of Cards,” the much-anticipated television series and political thriller from Executive Producer David Fincher and starring Kevin Spacey. We’ve committed to at least 26 episodes of the serialized drama, which is based on a BBC mini-series from the 1990s that’s been a favorite of Netflix members. Originally written as a novel by former UK Conservative Party Chief of Staff Michael Dobbs, “House of Cards,” explores the ruthless underside of British politics at the end of the Thatcher era. Reset against the backdrop of modern-day U.S. electoral politics, this new one-hour drama follows Spacey as an ambitious politician with his eye on the top job. Fincher, the Oscar-nominated director of “The Social Network” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” will direct the pilot written by Beau Willimon (“Farragut North” and the upcoming George Clooney-directed “The Ides of March.” )

I think this has the potential to reshape the landscape when it comes to TV shows.  This might be the next step for Netflix to put a bigger hurt on the cable industry.  In the past Netflix has provided content that has already been seen on broadcast TV.  Now, the only way to see this new show is stream it via one of the multiple devices that support Netflix.  I am very curious to see what other shows Netflix will try to gain the rights to, and to see how much this hurts the cable industry.

Picks of the Week – 17 December 2010

With the week coming to an end and the holidays just a snowball throw away, here are the Picks of the Week for the week of December 17, 2010.  We at the Nerds of the Round Table, have scanned and scoured through the web, online stores and movie rental databases to bring you the best of the best of all things nerdy or just plain cool.  Enjoy!

Please feel free to drop a comment if you see something missing or should be included in this list.

iPhone App of the Week:

Application Name:

Infinity Blade



4.5 out of 5 Nerd Round Tables

Summary:

For untold ages, the God King has ruled with an iron fist – his power is incalculable; his followers, legion. Now you must journey to the Dark Citadel to battle his Titans, one by one, until you face the tyrant himself. As it has been for all in your bloodline, this is your birthright – to free your people from an endless legacy of darkness. The immortal can be vanquished – but only if heart, mind, and steel are one.

Price:

  • $5.99

Pros:

  • Graphics look AMAZING!
  • Game play is a lot of fun.
  • Plenty of potential for expansion.

Cons:

  • No free range movement.  All movement is limited to pre-determined areas
  • Requires a newer iPhone or iPod touch.
  • Price is a bit high.

Read more of this post

Mankind is in Jeopardy Against Machine

Place your bets folks!  Cylons versus man.  Deep Blue versus Kasparov.  T-1000 versus Connor.  Hal 9000 versus Dave.  You guessed it, man will face off against a machine, yet again.  This time in the game show Jeopardy realm.

Two of the venerable game show’s most successful champions — Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter — will play two games against “Watson,” a computer program developed by IBM’s artificial intelligence team. The matches will be spread over three days that will air Feb. 14-16, the game show said on Tuesday.

Let’s meet the contestants…

Ken Jennings:

Jennings had the game show’s longest winning streak, taking 74 games in a row during the 2004-2005 season.

Brad Rutter:

Rutter has won more money than any other “Jeopardy!” player, nearly $3.3 million during his original appearance and three subsequent tournaments.

Watson:

“Watson” is named for IBM founder Thomas J. Watson. It will look nothing like the computer “maid” on “The Jetsons.” Rather, IBM said its on-screen appearance will be represented by a round avatar.  The computer has already been tested in some 50 games against past “Jeopardy!” champions. But neither IBM nor “Jeopardy!” representatives would say what “Watson’s” record was.

While you’re deciding the new Jeopardy Champion check out this cool video on the background of Watson.

Why IBM Watson Was Built for Jeopardy! @ Yahoo! Video

Who do you think will win?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.

WordPress Outage

Some of you may have noticed yesterday that WordPress was down for a while.  Seems it was down for about 110 minutes, but now things seem to be working properly.  Kudos to the WordPress folks for getting us back online so quickly.

My main concern was whether this WordPress failure would result in a data loss.  This is mostly because my backup of the site is about 1 months old.  The lesson learned here, is to backup whenever possible so that if there is a catastrophic data loss you can rebuild.  I know I’m planning on keeping to a much stricter backup schedule now.

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