Monthly Archive for November, 2006

Russia controlled by nationalist zealots

Andrei Nekrasov, a Russian film maker and an outspoken critic of the Putin dictatorship, has sent an open letter to Helsingin Sanomat, the leading newspaper in Finland.

The letter was sent from the deathbed of the former KGB spy, Alexander Litvinenko, who died this Saturday after being poisoned with radioactive poison earlier in the month. Mr. Litvinenko was a friend of Mr. Nekrasov’s. Before he died Mr. Litvinenko claimed he was poisoned by orders of Vladimir Putin.

The letter by Mr. Nekrasov is one of the most direct and outspoken criticism directed towards the power elite of Moscow. It’s a must read for anyone interested in the decline of democracy in Russia. Mr. Nekrasov is saying Russian democracy has regressed back to Stalin’s ideas for democracy.

Mr. Nekrasov is a brave man. Critics of Putin and his cronies have had a habit of dieing lately. And yet the European Union, under the leadership of Finland, is still talking with Russia about a new partnership agreement between EU and Russia. Politics as usual, I suppose. Money trumps little problems like murdering dissidents.

-TPP

The coolest thing ever

A friend of mine posted about a live video feed of a African watering hole on the Internet a day or two ago. I’ve been mesmerized since (yes, I’m a geek).

Africam has set up the first live video feed, with audio, filming a watering hole in South Africa. The video stream is active 24/7 and its video and audio quality is excellent. The video feed is coming from Nkorho Pan, which is a natural water hole in the prestigious Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve, in South Africa. Nkorho pan is named after Nkorho bush Lodge which gets it name from the Shangaan derivative for the call of the yellow-billed hornbill, a common and unusual looking bird from this area.

The camera is apparently operated by someone pretty much around the clock as it pans and zooms around following the wildlife around the watering hole. The audio really makes you feel like you’re almost there. The cricket noise at night is ear piercing and the bird noises and a pack of hyenas laughing is really cool.

At the time of writing this post, I’m watching about 10 zebras, a dozen giraffes and maybe 20 antilopes having breakfast together in the grasslands surrounding the watering hole.

It may not be edited as nicely as Animal Planet documentaries, but it’s LIVE. Everything you see on your screen is happening right at the same time half way across the world. It’s truly amazing. I’m not someone easily impressed by technology, but this thing is just great.

-TPP

Up yours, spammer scum

Christopher “Rizzler” Smith has been found guilty of conspiracy and illegal distribution of prescription medications.

I believe he still has to stand trial for trying to arrange threatening and/or killing witnesses in this trial. Nobody ever said spammers are smart.

May you rot in jail forever, Rizzler!

-TPP

Online gaming to be the first casualty if net neutrality is scrapped

RampRate.com has published an excellent paper on the likely impact of lack of net neutrality on online gaming.

The paper argues online gaming will be killed, if net neutrality is not enforced. The argument made in the paper says unlike for practically all other low latency services over the Internet, online gaming has no other alternatives, so it will be effectively killed, if ISPs start charging premium fees for online gaming packets.

-TPP

Screw the Customer – Reality Life Show – The Video Game Episode


This week is big in the video gaming industry. There are two new video game consoles coming out in the US this week. The Sony PlayStation3 (PS3) is getting released this Friday, and the Nintendo Wii this Sunday. The demand is expected to be high, and the supply, especially for the PS3, is expected to be low.

Nobody really was surprised to see scalpers (*spit*) crawling out of everywhere and reselling PS3 and Wii pre-orders on eBay for more than 100% profit. What people didn’t really expect is to see mostly reputable retailers getting in on the act and royally screwing up their customers.

Let’s start with our first contestant: CompUSA

CompUSA has decided it doesn’t want to just sell the PS3 (at $600 + games and accessories) to customers. No, no, $600 is way to little money to spend on a gaming system. Instead they’re bundling their PS3 with a 40″ Sony HDTV. If you don’t order the 40″ TV, which has a 15% restocking fee in case you decide to return it, you can not buy a PS3 from CompUSA. How brilliant is that?

Our second contestant is Fry’s Electronics.

Fry’s wants you to REALLY enjoy the PS3, so they have you buy 8 games for your PS3 (see upper right corner of the ad). What makes this forced bundling really interesting is that there are only 13 games available for the PS3 at launch. Furthermore BestBuy got into a LOT of trouble with forcing bundles on their customers when the XBox 360 was launched. You’d think retailers would’ve learned from their mistakes. I guess not.

Our third contestant is NovaDataCom, a “network technology warehouse” (aka technology product distributor).

NovaDataCom is holding a PS3 launch party at a dance club called Ultra Bar in Washington DC this Thursday night. Each party goer has the privilege of buying one of the 1,000 PS3s available through NovaDataCom for the low, low price of $1,200 (MSRP is $600). Way to go NovaDataCom!

Our fourth contestant is GameStop / EB Games.

Their chances of winning the contest are somewhat difficult as they got some help from Sony on this one. Just like with the pre-orders for the XBox 360, GameStop recently announced that a lot of people who pre-ordered a PS3 from them are not getting one on the first day as promised. It turns out Sony cut the shipment quantities quite dramatically earlier this week. Still, you can’t help but wonder what exactly did GameStop learn from their mistakes during the XBox 360 launch. I have friends who waited for four months for their pre-ordered XBox 360 from EB Games.

Our fifth, and final, contestant is Toys’R’Us.

Toys’R’Us was wooing potential Nintendo Wii buyers with some attractive offers for free games and other goodies. Well, they changed their minds. No more free games for you, our valued customer. Go Toys’R’Us!

Who will the winner be? Will we get new contestants? Who knows, but we do know, the customer always gets screwed.

[Update 1, 11/15/2006 4:22pm]

We have a new contestant! I’m so excited!

Our sixth contestant is an enterprising scalper scum from Inwood/Washington Heights in NYC.

He’s selling his spot on the PS3 purchase line for a mere $2,000. He’s not selling a PS3 that he owns, or a pre-ordered PS3…he’s selling his spot on the line to buy a PS3. For $2,000. You still gotta pay the $600 to actually buy the PS3. The thing is…he’s 30th in line at this retailer. Very few retailers are getting that many units to sell on Thursday. There is absolutely no way in hell whoever buys his spot is getting a PS3 at this location. Consider this Craigslist ad gone as soon as the content cops at Craigslist get to it.

[Update 2, 11/15/2006 4:34pm]

That was quick. The Craigslist ad is now gone.

[Update 3, 11/19/2006 9:35pm]

Another new contestant, FYE.

FYE is running a classic bait-and-switch scam on Nintendo Wii pre-orders. When people who ordered a Nintendo Wii try and pick up their system, the retailer is forcing them to buy accesories and games with the system bringing the total price of the package from $250 to about $400. No mention of the bundling was made at the time of the pre-order. Scamalicious!

-TPP

Kontrol Freek – reprieve for gamers’ thumbs

If you play a lot of video games, you’re undoubtedly familiar with what the controllers do to your thumbs. Marathon sessions in games that require a lot of lateral movement (e.g. racing games and tennis games) will completely destroy your thumbs. Your thumbs will literally hurt after a few hours, and they will continue hurting well into the next day. It’s very uncomfortable.

A friend of mine has a great little product that almost completely eliminates the soreness. It’s a little U-shaped add-on that attaches itself on top of the thumbstick. It’ll allow you to control the thumbsticks with less pressure and force. It works with the “S” controller for the XBox and the XBox 360 controllers.

I beta tested the product for my friend and found it doing exactly what it was designed to do.

His company is called Kontrol Freek and the product is called U-150. Go take a look and pre-order one, if you like what you see.

You can also read a review on IGN.com.

-TPP

Politkovskaya’s Murder Was a Stark Message to Putin

[by Kerkko Paananen, originally in Finnish]

Novaya Gazeta’s reporter, Ms Anna Politkovskaya, was shot in Moscow on President Vladimir Putin’s 50th birthday on 7 October 2006. Anyone responsible for the murder was fully aware of this.

About a week before her death, Ms Politkovskaya appeared on Radio Svoboda’s talk show, where she expressed her wish to see Chechnya’s Prime Minister and strongman, Mr Ramzan Kadyrov, stand in front of a judge accused of war crimes on his 30th birthday.

Ms Politkovskaya called Ramzan a “coward armed to the teeth”, a brutish torturer, and the “Chechen Stalin”. Ramzan needs to be very worried about his own life, given the number of Chechens he has killed, Ms Politkovskaya added.

It is wrong to assume that because Ramzan is Chechnya’s Prime Minister, i.e., holds a high public office, that he would be capable or even willing to act like a statesman; that he would be above these sort of personal insults.

The Russian Union of Journalists has an audio tape of Ramzan directing threats against Ms Politkovskaya after Radio Svoboda’s talk show. Any serious criminal investigator would certainly be interested in such a tape.

Moscow has succeeded in Chechnya where the US failed in Vietnam: Russia has “Chechenised” the war.

The civil conflict and terror are now directed by Chechen groups against each other and their civilian backers. The role of federal troops remains to prevent the war from spreading outside Chechnya.

The central government has almost no political role in Chechnya; it has no real possibilities to influence the political situation inside Chechnya; its influence is purely military.

Ramzan’s armed militia has shown time and again that he is Chechnya’s real ruler, not Moscow’s puppet. His militia has repeatedly kidnapped federal soldiers for ransom and killed them just “for fun”.

Mr Vadim Rechkalov, a reporter who appeared on Radio Svoboda together with Ms Politkovskaya, said Ramzan is stronger in the whole of Russia’s Northern Caucasus than Mr Putin is in Russia. Ramzan is a product of Mr Putin’s weakness.

Chechnya is being ruled by several criminal groups, who have formed a loose alliance, and whose principal source of revenue is criminal activity: large-scale embezzlement of state funds, illegal oil trade, kidnappings for ransom, slave trade, and trade in narcotics.

The relationship between the central government and Ramzan is not one of mutual trust; it is a tactical alliance between two criminal organisations that are, in fact, the closest enemies.

Moscow’s biggest enemy in Chechnya are not the guerilla fighters (there are very few left), but its main ally, Ramzan, since he is the only one with the power and ability to oppose the central government.

The central government lost Chechnya when it decided to “Chechenise” the war after the death of Ramzan’s father, Akhmat Kadyrov: by doing so, the central government gave up on its goal of “winning” this war, which cannot be won militarily.

Russia is politically weak in Chechnya, and the only means for it to influence events is through violence, i.e., militarily. Now even this option is melting away. Chechnya has ceased to be part of the Russian Federation a long time ago.

Ramzan turned 30 on 5 October 2006, just two days before Ms Politkovskaya’s murder. Under Chechnya’s constitution, Ramzan is now eligible to be elected President of Chechnya.

If Mr Putin refuses to appoint Ramzan as President of Chechnya, Ramzan either takes power himself or Mr Putin orders him killed. This will not, however, alter the situation in Chechnya one way or the other: Russia has lost Chechnya for good a long time ago.

See:

Politkovskaya’s last article in Novaya Gazeta (28 Sep 2006)
Politkovskaya’s last appearance on Radio Svoboda (05.10.2006)

-KJP

Israel let off the hook for murdering UN peacekeepers

An expert group assembled to investigate the murder of Finnish peacekeeper Jarno Tapio Mäkinen in Khiam, Lebanon on July 25th 2006 has completed its report and handed it over to the Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen today.

They concluded the attack on the United Nations base did result from an error and that there is no evidence of it being done intentionally.

The expert group asked followup questions from both the United Nations and Israel. None of the questions were answered.

One has to assume one of those questions would’ve been why did Israel continue shelling the UN base after the United Nations repeatedly asked them to stop. In fact reports indicate they continued shelling the area even when a separate United Nations group came in to recover the bodies from the bunker.

Apparently the root cause for the error was errors in manually entered target coordinates and outdated or missing information about the location of the UN base in the area.

Before the precision guided bomb hit the base, the peacekeepers in the base had reported Israeli grenade launchers had four direct hits on the base. The information was relayed to the Israelis, but they continued shelling the area eventually leading into the release of the precision guided bomb that hit the base.

I’ve written about the Khiam murders before:
Israel murders Jarno Tapio Mäkinen, a Finnish UN peacekeeper, in Khiam, Lebanon

-TPP

Three years too late

Rumsfeld is gone. Long live the New Rumsfeld.

He should’ve, of course, been fired almost four years ago when he made his infamous “Old Europe” comment at the time the United States was busy trying to build the alliances to attack Iraq. Typical Rumsfeld, always the diplomat. Not.

-TPP

Dirty politics – who else but the Republicans

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) was running a robo-dialing campaign that had purposedly designed the automated messages to sound like they were coming from the Democratic candidates. The robo-dialing was done in such an obnoxious manner (sometimes calling as many as 18 times in a row) it was probably designed to make the recipients annoyed at the Democratic candidate whose name was mentioned at the beginning of the message.

NRCC’s defense: “We did nothing illegal”. That’s right. Politicians, in their infinite wizdom, have made themselves exempt from many of the anti-annoyance laws they’ve passed over the years. They can spam, while nobody else can. And they can robo-dial to their hearts content.

I’m not sure how all this jives with the Family Values campaign the Republicans are running though. I wonder if the Family Values according to Republicans include deceipt, unethical campaigning and annoying others as they please?

Update: Washington Post picked up the story as well.

-TPP




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