By now we probably all know about Silk Road, but for those who do not, let me give you a quick overview. The site, founded by Ross Ulbricht, was a notorious hotbed of illegal drug activity. Aided by Bitcoin, the semi-legitimate online currency of underground activities, Ulbricht was able to keep his sales and clientele anonymous, amassing over 600,000 Bitcoins, valued at over $80 million.
The FBI, after discovering the site and identifying its founder, arrested Ulbricht, shut down the site and seized 26,000 Bitcoins that were in the site's wallet. As it turns out, the coins taken did not belong to Ulbricht, but instead to customers of the site, some of whom were purchasing drugs, but others were purchasing legitimate products - all losing their theoretical money.
Those coins, as all Bitcoins, are stored in an online wallet. The wallet is, supposedly private, but the clever people who use this service tracked down the FBI's wallet and have been harassing them over the seizure. Some are trying to encourage the government to return the currency citing possible legitimate purposes, while others are using the opportunity to protest the government's anti-drug policy.
All of this is being done through microtransactions, but not the kind that EA is famous for. Instead, users are transferring very small amounts of coin, somewhere in the vicinity of 0.00000001 BTC, into the FBI's wallet. Now, why would someone do this if they disagree with the FBI's seizure? Because, during a transaction, you can post a public message regarding the transaction. In this case, the comments are pretty interesting.
Supporting legitimate online purchases,
Many items sold through Silk Road were perfectly legal.
There is no way to know whether these funds were to be used for illicit purchases. Users should be allowed to withdraw their funds.
Supporting recreational drug use,
The only way to have a drug-free world is to have a people-free world. And even then, the animals will get stoned.
Prohibition goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man's appetite by legislation and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes. -Abraham Lincoln.
The notes continue from there, but they all seem to fall into those same 2 categories; some clever, some insulting, none persuading. Responding childishly to a potentially legal seizure of funds from a known drug dealer, however, is probably not the best way to convince people that Bitcoins are a legitimate currency and should be treated as such. With supporters like these, who needs detractors, right?
For years I have had a belief that there was a way to create a videogame that helps people learn the fundamentals of software design. At our sister software company,
Sumo Software, we have discussed how this could work; we even have a game in the works to help introduce people to logic through puzzles. It is a start, but how do you integrate actual CODE into a videogame?
Apparently by just going right for it and designing your puzzles around understanding a block of code and interacting with its public properties and methods. That is exactly what
Code is all about. Created by Trevor Rice, John Bair, and Daniel Romero-Quiroga for Richard their Experimental Game Design course at the University of Southern California, the game was submitted to IndieCade, and brought to my attention from there.
The game premise is simple: you control an @ symbol, in your case representing a memory leak, trying to escape from the evil garbage collector. You accomplish this by progressing from level to level by working through code puzzles, interacting with them as if you are outside code interacting with an object.
People who have actually played with Unity or C# go, 'Oh, is this C#? This seems like C#. The actual levels themselves were originally laid out just like the code for C# but we kind of made them a weird pseudo-code because there's a lot of information that confused players or didn't necessarily matter to the level itself.
Considering how many people have experience with a C language, especially JS or C3, it makes sense to model in that realm. The levels, however, are purposely not considered as code from the beginning, either. Bair, who is more of a designer than programmer, will come up with an idea,
What if here you have to tick something to a specific number and then that unlocks that door that then you can go through to beat the level?
That concept is then turned into pseudo code,
There's an integer variable that you can then adjust and then we have the Boolean that's private so the player can't change that. By changing the integer value it unlocks the Boolean which then takes you to the next level.
Now, if this all sounds like craziness to you, don't worry - the game walks you through the concept as you play. The hints are disguised as code comments and littered throughout the game. I have played the game demo, available at the link above, and playing it is definitely well worth the time, whether you know anything about programming or not.
Writing about Hulu is an emotional rollercoaster. Sometimes you get to write about
great new comedies available before premiere, and sometimes you have to write about selling the company ( twice) and then abandoning that sale ( twice).
This week, the news out of Hulu is a little of Column A and a little of Column B. Hulu, who currently has no CEO after Jason Kilar resigned, will be appointing a new CEO. In a move that will surely make Hulu co-owner Fox happy, Mike Hopkins, a former 21 Century Fox executive, is rumored to be appointed in the near future.
With a former Fox exec heading the company, this could give Fox a leg-up on the other owners: Disney and NBC Universal. In a scenario where three fierce competitors come together to create a mutual business, only to snake decisions out from under one another, being the owner whose former exec is running the company is a big bonus.
If this rumor turns out to be true, which of course it will, the next 12 months will be interesting for Hulu. The 3 owners have decided, after scrapping the sale the second time, that they are going to go all-in on the service. Now, with a new CEO at the helm who comes from the entertainment industry, specifically one who was responsible for distribution for Fox, it seems a smart guess that Hulu will be focusing on licensed content, most likely from its owners.
Hopefully this will not prevent the service from producing original content, as their
Battleground is one of my favorite series from any producer.
Google has struggled to get adoption on their Google TV brand of television-based operating system. They have had trouble getting content owners to produce platform-specific applications, with some producers
specifically blocking the devices. On top of that, Google hasn't had a lot of success convincing manufacturers to produce devices based on the platform, even canceling some of their own announced, and one time paid for, hardware.
So, what is a struggling platform to do? Rebrand. Since Google currently only has 3 brands, why not pick the one most people know and that the technology is currently based on: Android, and voila, Android TV is born. While not officially announced just yet, branding has been discovered showing the Android Marketplace coming to the television, as well as marketing collateral.
Google TV has been basically abandoned, or so it would have seemed, since it received its most recent update in 2011. In addition, existing hardware partners have stopped using the name already. Sony's new Bravia TV stick talks about the power of Google services, but does not mention Google TV by name. Google Developers have started using the new name on their job titles and even called a developer event Android TV Developer Day.
The new branding is expected to be announced officially at this year's CES in Las Vegas. Also expected, along with the official rebranding, is new hardware and partners. CES looks like it is going to be good for the Google TV team.
I didn't think I would ever say something like this but here it goes. If you want the true definition of
transparency, just ask Russia how they're doing it. That's because in preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia has said that their Federal Security Service (FSB) will be heavily and actively monitoring any and all communication from the Games' athletes, fans, directors and staff.
While the program's name, Sorm, doesn't rival that of the NSA's PRISM, it does bear a good resemblance to the US SkyNet, as Sorm is a joint effort from dozens of security companies and IT specialists. This team has given FSB the ability to see and hear anything from phone call data to Internet activity, and also includes a nifty little program that'll pick up pre-identified words or phrases in social media, emails and chats, among other activity on the net.
Russian security expert and journalist, Andrei Soldatov, put it like this:
For example you can use the keyword Navalny, and work out which people in a particular region are using the word Navalny. Then, those people can be tracked further.
Director of Citizen Lab and University of Toronto professor, Ron Deibert, said that Sorm is kind of like "Prism on steroids" and that,
The scope and scale of Russian surveillance are similar to the disclosures about the US programme but there are subtle differences to the regulations. We know from Snowden's disclosures that many of the checks were weak or sidestepped in the US, but in the Russian system permanent access for Sorm is a requirement of building the infrastructure. Even as recently as the Beijing Olympics, the sophistication of surveillance and tracking capabilities were nowhere near where they are today.
This is pretty intense, even for Russia. However, we shouldn't be too surprised that countries like this are going to be tracking and monitoring data, and are doing it so openly, especially when things like transparency reports are being released here in the States. This is such a strong effort though, that the FSB has been working on this system since 2010 and has been actively testing it since early last year.
The good news is that Russia issued a friendly reminder in form of a leaflet sent to the US Bureau of Diplomatic Security, warning travelers of what's going to go down once they step foot outside of Sochi's airport.
Business travellers should be particularly aware that trade secrets, negotiating positions, and other sensitive information may be taken and shared with competitors, counterparts, and/or Russian regulatory and legal entities.
So Russia will be spying on you, looking for your next Facebook or Netflix idea, while you're watching your favorite curling teams out-slide each other in a game of ice darts. At least the country also advised you to take the batteries out of your devices when you land, so as to not let them turn on your device remotely. I guess it would suck to have an iPhone if you're at the Games.