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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or have an extraordinarily large amount of spare change, you’ve probably at least heard of piracy in some form, if not taking part in it. Unfortunately, pirates are always looking for new ways to circumvent modern copyright-protection measures coded into software, and it’s an ongoing battle between the two sides.

With the advent of broadband Internet, web-based distribution of software became feasible, and services such as Steam and GameFly have made buying PC games much more accessible. Many companies are also putting their software products online for direct download. Another way to encourage people to buy games instead of download copies is the locking of updates and online play in pirated copies of the game, and for non-game software, online registration and activation.

One fairly creative copy-protection system I’ve come across is that of the Bohemia Interactive games ArmA and Arma 2. If the game detects that it is a copied version, something like this will happen. Pretty neat, I must say. It’s a really great game, too, so if I had a better PC that could actually run it (my old one was able to), I would definitely buy it.

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The trade deadline has once again come and gone, and this year the rumor mill was churning fast as ever, especially with many teams still reeling from the effects of the 5-month long lockout on player conditioning and wanting a fresh start. We have access to extremely “rapid” forms of media (e.g. Twitter and Facebook), where updates, once posted, are accessible instantly to hundreds of millions of people worldwide. As a fan, I couldn’t tell you enough about how exciting it is to be able to follow the action, almost live, via these services. The advent of internet-enabled mobile phones only add to the accessibility of these forms of media. Contrast this to less than 20 years ago, when we got this kind of news once a day via newspaper, and maybe twice or three times by television news. The only way to receive more frequent updates short of being in the newsroom would have been to subscribe to a dedicated sports television network.

While it is great for the fans to be able to keep in touch with their favorite teams and players, do you ever wonder about how players feel about this kind of openness? While there are still a few examples of some transactions being conducted behind completely closed doors (e.g. the Blazers-Bobcats deal that brought Gerald Wallace to Portland, of which even Wallace himself had no idea about until it was finalized and publicized), more often than not, as soon as a word is uttered by an agent, manager, or player, it is immediately published to the world and picked apart in speculation. All of this happens usually before anything is ever made official.

We also must remember that the players that are subject to the trade rumors themselves have access to everything that us fans do. For some, the possibility of being dealt to another team and the loss of perceived stability that comes especially if he has enjoyed a long and successful tenure on his current team, is serious enough to affect his play on the court. One big name in this year’s rumor mill was Pau Gasol, who’s perhaps best known as Kobe Bryant’s number-two man on the Laker’s 2009 and 2010 NBA championship teams. His name has been tossed around since the beginning of the season, and it has lead to a noticeable decline in quality of play this season. In the end, those rumors amounted to nothing. We hope that a renewed sense of stability will help his game improve to his previous peak levels.

Another hot player on the trading block, Jamal Crawford of the Trail Blazers, stated in a radio interview that while he didn’t like hearing about the trade rumors, the ubiquity of media today makes ignoring them impossible:

It used to be a time… that that you could kind of shut out from reading the papers or reading the internet, but now it’s everywhere… So it’s kind of hard to be oblivious to the whole thing.

While it’s impractical to suggest a wholesale ban on social media for the agents and managers involved in trade rumors, we have to remember that NBA players (and athletes of other professional team sports as well) are people too, and are affected by emotions. Unfortunately, other than being more mindful of players’ requests for privacy, there is not much that we can do to quell their uneasiness, but Crawford has his way of dealing with it:

So you just try to do your best to stay professional and worry about the things you can control.

Just a little musing on how we take technology for granted today. A lot of people raise the question of whether computers and modern technology really benefits society. When I think of that question, the first thing I think of is that society functioned perfectly well without much of the technology that we deem to be normal and even necessary today. People had forms of entertainment before television, and managed to communicate before the advent of email or even telephones.

But when you really think about it, there is no denying that modern technology, especially the Internet, is extremely beneficial in the sense that it just makes communication so much easier for people with access. And with the number of people with Internet access growing at such a great rate, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that this benefit has permeated every level of society. Yes, it can be, and has been, abused, but it is humans that abuse technology and use them for evil, analogous to the almost-cliched, but true, saying, “guns don’t kill people, people do”.

Everything has its pros and cons; we have to weigh them and take advantage of the pros accordingly. And the advantages of our digital age for communication is far too important to be marred by abuse. Anyway, as hackers find ways to defeat systems, so can security experts who maintain and patch them, to keep problems to a minimum.

As computer users (and students), we usually try to get things as cheaply as possible. So when it comes to software, we usually look to free alternatives before forking out hundreds of dollars on commercial programs. And as we know, most of the best free software are open source projects created and built up all while keeping the source code of the program available to the public to improve upon, or use as a base for their own projects. While a great concept when everyone cooperates, there have been examples of abuse of the open-source concept.

One fairly well-known example of such abuse is the long-running program Pro Flight Simulator (http://www.proflightsimulator.com/). The PC flight simulation industry has long been dominated by two products: the semi-professional X-Plane series, and the (now-defunct) consumer-level Microsoft Flight Simulator. However, for over a decade now, there has been a third player,FlightGear(http://www.flightgear.org/), which is an open-source flight simulator program that attempts to replicate most of the features found in commercial flight sims. While it has never enjoyed the popularity of X-Plane and MFS, it has nonetheless going strong, with an active development community.

Because of its open-source nature, anybody is able to modify and recompile the code and distribute it in any way they like. A few years ago, one such program appeared, calling itself Pro Flight Simulator (http://www.proflightsimulator.com/). It claims to be most accurate and detailed flight sim program on the market, directly comparing itself to Microsoft Flight Simulator. However, according to several users on major flight enthusiast community boards, Pro Flight Sim looks and plays identical to FlightGear. The only difference is that while FlightGear is freeware, Pro Flight Sim costs $49, not to mention its website looking like the style of a paid infomercial on television. FlightGear’s own developers have also noticed this, and have indeed confirmed that as far as anyone could tell, Pro Flight Simulator is just FlightGear with a different name, and costs money (http://www.flightgear.org/flightprosim.html).

Unfortunately, the recompilation and commercialization of Pro Flight Simulator is completely legal, due to it being based on (virtually identical to) the open-source FlightGear and its licensing agreement. But this issue does raise the question of whether drastic action should be taken against these kinds of scams. Of course, it is understandable when one makes a new program based on an open-source project and markets that, but in the case of Pro Flight Simulator, they are trying to profit from little effort, and no one wins. We can only hope that word-of-mouth on message boards will get through to people considering buying the program, and cause them to reconsider.