It’s starting to look a little spooky around here.

I’ve always enjoyed the holidays and while Christmas is the one I focus the most attention on, I’ve been very excited to have a house to decorate for Halloween too. Our collection of Halloween decor is still small compared to Christmas, but we’re slowly adding to it. I have a white jack o’ lantern I picked up at a Cracker Barrel years ago that has an orange light bulb that flickers on and off. A couple of different door/wall hanging items, a lantern with a haunted house motif that I swap out for the usual solar lantern on the shepherd’s hook next to the front porch, and a fake tombstone with skull and skeleton arms that’s new this year. You get the idea.  

The one decoration I’m most excited about, however, is one I’ve owned the longest. It’s only a couple of years younger than I am and it fits in nicely with my retro house. An original Pumpkin Scarecrow blow mold from the Empire Plastics Company circa 1969. Check it:

How friggin cool is that? Still glows like he’s powered by a nuclear reactor. This will be his first Halloween in a couple of decades because he was packed away in boxes that were, until last summer, last stored in my Mother-in-Law’s basement. This will be his year to shine anew. In part because he has a brand new light fixture inside him as the original was lost ages ago. 

He’s not particularly collectable — the company made tons of them and you can find him on eBay for $15 or less depending on the condition he’s in — but he’s definitely nostalgic for me. The fact that I’ve had him for almost my entire life adds to that. OK, I’m not sure he was “mine” back when I was a kid, but he’s been with me for a long time and I’m putting him back into service. 

I hope to pick up a fog machine before the big day arrives as well. I used to have one, but forgot to empty it out one year after the evening was over and the fluid gummed it up. I’ve not gotten into the Halloween colored string lights yet as that’s too weirdly close to Christmas decor for me, but I’m softening on it. As I get more stuff put up I’ll probably do another entry with a few more pics. 

Clearly we have moved into the schizophrenic part of autumn.

Here’s the high and low temps for the next 7 days in my little Michigan suburb:

Up! Down! Up! Down! I should be losing weight from this.
Click to embiggen.

Yes, I’m blogging about the weather. Sue me. It’s content.

This just in: FOX News is stunned that smartphone cameras can be used to record the police.

Help me out here, the year is still 2018, right? I only ask because apparently the folks at FOX & Friends First are very alarmed by the fact that smartphones have cameras on them. Cameras that can record video clips. Cameras that can record video clips of police officers. Almost like, *GASP!*, BODY CAMERAS!

DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNNNNN!!!!!

To be fair, they’re freaking out over a shortcut some dude came up with for the iPhone that makes recording an encounter with the police very easy by simply saying  “Hey Siri, I’m being pulled over.” 

Here’s why this is stupid: First, cell phones have had cameras capable of recording video since at least 2005, though video recording capabilities wouldn’t become commonplace until a few years later. The original iPhone, for example, had a 2MP camera and couldn’t record video. Still, it’s easily been doable for over a decade now. 

Second, being able to start recording a video with a voice command has been a thing since at least 2014. With my Pixel 2 in my shirt pocket all I need to say is “OK Google, record a video,” and it will launch the camera app in video mode and start recording immediately. In most of my shirt pockets the phone is just tall enough to peak over the top of the pocket. This makes it trivally easy to start a recording without making it obvious that I’m doing so. At least so long as the target is out of earshot as I have to issue the command and the phone acknowledges that it’s launching the app. Once I stop recording my phone is set to immediately back it up to my Google Photos account. The one drawback to this is that if it’s been awhile since you unlocked the phone then you may need to unlock it before it’ll start the app, but with the fingerprint reader that’s pretty easy to do.

Third, this isn’t something that can only be done on the newest iPhones as the report above suggests. It’ll work on any iPhone running iOS 12 and the Shortcuts app. It’s not even the only shortcut that’ll do this. The I Got Pulled Over shortcut is also available. 

The big innovation here is that the Police shortcut pauses music you may be playing, turns down the brightness on the iPhone, turns on “do not disturb” mode, starts recording with the front facing camera and sends out a text message to a friend letting them know where you are and that you’re recording a police encounter. Guess what? There have been apps that will do similar things for quite some time now.

On Android there’s Legal Equalizer which will text a contact of your choice, record the encounter and upload it to cloud storage, advise you of your rights and what to say, and even help find a lawyer.

Also, there is the Mobile Justice app developed in association with the ACLU which has been around since 2012. There are multiple versions of this app as each is specific to a state (here is the link for Mobile Justice: Michigan on Android and here’s the iPhone version). This app is more for activists as in addition to recording video and uploading straight to the local chapter of the ACLU, it has the ability to let you know when someone else is involved in a police encounter nearby so you can act as a witness.

That’s just two examples of dozens of apps. The point being that this isn’t anything new. So why is FOX acting like this is some shocking new affront to the police? Well, it turns out that lots of news organizations are reporting on it because the shortcut has shot up to become the third most popular one available at the moment. Business Insider did an article on it where they even show you how to make the shortcut yourself, USA Today wrote about it, Car and Driver got in on it, etc. and so on. The difference here is that FOX & Friends First decided to play it off as something bad because it’s FOX News: Propaganda Arm of the GOP since 1996.

Video gamers are so spoiled today.

As many of you know, I cut my video gaming teeth on the original Atari 2600 — or at least the Sears branded version of it — so I remember the good old days (ha!) of 8 bit gaming. Had you shown 10 year old me what current generation video games would be like, I wouldn’t have believed it possible. 

These days, video games have advanced to the point where highly detailed 3D worlds full of NPCs and tons of interactive objects are the norm. Naturally, our expectations of what a game should look and play like have risen accordingly, but there are times when I think we’ve gotten a little spoiled by the riches of modern gaming.

Take, for example, Marvel’s Spider-Man. Which has a brand new game launching on the PS4 today. I’ve been licking my chops waiting for this title to drop as the E3 demo from last year looked fantastic and it’s going to be a bit before I can get my hands on it. Probably not until Christmas as we’re at that point in the year that I tend to stop buying games for myself lest I screw up someone’s Christmas gift for me. It’s gonna be difficult to be patient because the demos I’ve seen are amazing. Which is why I’m surprised to find out some gamers are complaining that the game has been downgraded. 

Apparently, it all started with a post on Reddit that was just the screenshot I’ve included below. As you can clearly see, Spider-Man’s suit isn’t as shiny in the shot from the release version of the game as it was in the E3 demo. Also, where’d all that water go? 

It’s a Spider-Scandal! Click to embiggen.

Thus started the conversation about how the release version of the game had been “downgraded” graphically. Presumably for performance reasons. I say “conversation”, but that’s probably being way too generous. Basically, some fans went apeshit and proclaimed loudly that they were going to cancel their preorder and so on and so forth.

Eventually someone took to Twitter to send the screenshot to the developer, Insomniac Games (who are responsible for some of the best Playstation games ever including the Ratchet & Clank and Resistance series) and asked why they downgraded the graphics to which Insomniac replied that they didn’t downgrade anything.  Which didn’t really help and the “debate” raged on. 

To be fair to the folks crying foul, there is a rich history in the video game industry of final releases that didn’t live up to the demos that developers had used to build up hype for the game. Probably one of the best known examples, that also helped sell a lot of PS4s in anticipation of its release, was Watch Dogs which allowed players to live out their super-hacker dreams in a GTA-style open world. When it was unveiled in 2012 the graphics in the demo were amazing, but the final release looked more like a port from the PS3 than the next gen title it was supposed to be.

Another example is The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The initial footage wowed gamers in 2014 so gamers were surprised when the 2015 release had graphics that had been pared back. It was still an incredible looking game and it went on to great success, but there was no denying it didn’t live up to the initial footage even after developers released a patch that improved things. 

Maybe it’s because I’m old and I come from a time when ads for games often didn’t use actual screenshots or had simulated representations on TV, but even with the examples above I think folks are being nitpicky and this is especially true with the just released Marvel’s Spider-Man. Sure, I was underwhelmed by Watch Dogs once I got my hands on it, but that was due more to the fact that the gameplay wasn’t quite as varied as they had suggested. As for The Witcher 3, I had no problems with the release version’s graphic fidelity, but that hasn’t stopped me from only playing it for a few hours. For fuck’s sake, I played Spider-Man on the Atari 2600 and it looked like this:

Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does some of the things a spider can.

Granted, that’s an 8 bit game written in just 4K memory circa 1982, but it wasn’t half-bad for what it was. It played a bit like the arcade game Crazy Climber in that it had bad guys showing up in windows who would cut your web lines and bombs from the Green Goblin you had to defuse while scaling the building. By comparison, the amount of detail and just sheer things you can do in Marvel’s Spider-Man is insane. Who the fuck cares if it isn’t quite as detailed as the E3 demo from last year? You get to swing from spider webs around a detailed 3D recreation of New York City beating the shit out of bad guys, finding collectables, and enjoying a narrative story that is more than a blurb on the back of the box the game came in. OH NOES! THE PUDDLES AREN’T AS DETAILED AS THE DEMO! I’M NOT PLAYING THIS CRAP!

There’s a group out there called Digital Foundry that came together in 2004 specifically to analyze video games and settle arguments such as the one about downgraded graphics in the final release of a title. A couple of days ago they released their video on Marvel’s Spider-Man and they argue that not only is the final release not downgraded, but it’s an improvement over the E3 demo in a lot of areas.

I don’t watch a lot of their videos, but I thought I’d check this one out given all the noise that’s been made about it. It was during that viewing that it occurred to me that video gamers have gotten spoiled. The DF folks do an amazing job of pointing out all the details that are in this game and the methods used to achieve those effects. You don’t have to fully understand what a Cube Map is to appreciate what it adds to the visuals when it’s pointed out to you. For a game that expects you to spend a lot of time swinging between buildings high in the air, there’s an amazing amount of detail at street level when you opt to just walk around a bit. From the number of unique and varied NPCs to the amount of traffic to the various storefronts, this looks and feels like a living world.

The DF folks show where you can see how the underlying game engine works to compromise between realism and playability in areas such as the reflections of other buildings in the windows of the one you’re climbing up and it’s the sort of thing you’re only likely to notice if you were looking for it. In the heat of gameplay it’ll probably never catch your attention and it shouldn’t matter that much if it does if the gameplay is fun. That stupid Atari 2600 game was as basic as you can get, but it was Spidey’s first video game and it kept us entertained for awhile and it’s nothing compared to this. Here, check out Digital Foundry’s video for yourself:

Holy shit! We have come a long way since 1982.

Isn’t that amazing? The detail on his costume alone is something that would’ve been impossible 10 years ago. It’s also a detail you’ll probably notice once before your eye is overwhelmed by all the visual candy on display. Now we’re on the verge of having real-time ray tracing in video games that only looks to make for another big leap in visual quality as it’ll help to eliminate some of the limitations current games have to work around. 

All of the reviews I’ve read for Marvel’s Spider-Man have it pegged as arguably the best Spider-Man game ever made.  So quit yer bitchin’ and appreciate what you’ve been offered here. While you’re at it, get the hell off of my lawn!

What if English were phonetically consistent?

I’ve not posted anything in awhile so when I came across this YouTube video by Aaron Alon I thought it would make a good SEB post. 

In it he demonstrates just how weird English would sound if it were phonetically consistent the way that languages like Japanese are. He gives examples of how each vowel can have multiple sounds then picks one and proceeds to use that single vowel sound for all instances of that vowel in the words that follow. Things get increasingly weird as the video progresses. 

Oh hey, look, it’s July already.

Man, time sure does fly when every day is a new waking nightmare, eh? Once again I’ve allowed myself to get sidetracked and not blog at all for a whole month. Part of it is there’s so many terrible things happening with our government right now that I don’t have time enough to finish one entry about the latest outrage before two more have occurred. So I end up trashing what I was working on to try and write something that covers the latest shitstorm and nothing ever gets finished.

So too have my attempts at vlogging and streaming fallen by the wayside. I’ve got no excuse not to be doing those things as I have a pretty good setup for it these days. I just haven’t been doing it. Sadly, I’ve fallen off the bike riding bandwagon as well. It’s been over a month since I last got on that and peddled around. I step outside and it’s like walking into an oven and I turn around and go right back inside.

This week I’m on vacation and the only really notable thing I’ve done was had my first, small LAN party yesterday. Friends Bob, Greg, and Andy came over and we were all really bad at surviving in Left4Dead 2 and then, after Bob had to leave, we played a little bit of Diablo 3 as I helped Andy get back into playing it.

Other than that it’s been eat, work, play video games, sleep, repeat for the past few weeks. Anne has been unemployed so we’ve not been going out and doing things because the budget is tight. All in all, other than keeping up with politics, my life has been relatively quiet. I will try not to let it go a month without posting something again.

Is SEB affected by GDPR?

Back in 2016 the E.U. passed a new law to protect user’s data called the General Data Protection Regulation that goes into full effect on May 25th, 2018. This is why you’ve been getting emails from so many online businesses on their Privacy Policies and how they handle your personal information. According to Wikipedia, the general gist of the law is this:

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (EU) 2016/679 is a regulation in EU law on data protection and privacy for all individuals within the European Union and the European Economic Area. It also addresses the export of personal data outside the EU and EEA. The GDPR aims primarily to give control to citizens and residents over their personal data and to simplify the regulatory environment for international business by unifying the regulation within the EU.[1]

Superseding the Data Protection Directive, the regulation contains provisions and requirements pertaining to the processing of personally identifiable information of data subjects inside the European Union. Business processes that handle personal data must be built with privacy by design and by default, meaning that a system must be designed from the start to adhere to the principles of data protection, and use the highest-possible privacy settings by default, so that the data is not available publicly without explicit consent, and cannot be used to identify a subject without additional information stored separately. No personal data may be processed unless it is done under a lawful basis specified by the regulation, or if the data controller or processor has received explicit, opt-in consent from the data’s owner. The business must allow this permission to be withdrawn at any time.

A processor of personal data must clearly disclose what data is being collected and how, why it is being processed, how long it is being retained, and if it is being shared with any third-parties. Users have the right to request a portable copy of the data collected by a processor in a common format, and the right to have their data erased under certain circumstances. Public authorities, and businesses whose core activities centre around regular or systematic processing of personal data, are required to employ a Data Protection Officer (DPO), who is responsible for managing compliance with the GDPR. Businesses must report any data breaches within 72 hours if they have an adverse effect on user privacy.

When I first heard about the law my first thoughts were, “Well, I’m not in the European Union so this doesn’t apply to me,” but it turns out that there’s a chance that it might. So much so that WordPress has had new features put in place specifically for creating a Privacy Policy and giving users the ability to see what data has been collect and export that data from the blog. There’s been a ton of articles out there on what the GDPR is and how it might affect bloggers, but all of the ones I’ve seen so far assume you’re blogging as a small business. I’ve yet to find a clear article on what it means for someone who does it as a hobby.

From what I’ve been able to gather, any website that captures so much as the IP address of someone visiting it is at risk of being in violation of this regulation and thusly possibly liable for fines for up to €20 million for non-compliance.

Now, I’d be surprised if the E.U. suddenly decided to come after me and the blogs I host for myself and friends and family as we’re decidedly small fish in the ocean of the Internet, but I’ve noticed a sudden influx of new user registrations on SEB from a bunch of people all using the same domain name which is a known SPAM account domain and I have to wonder if there’s going to be a trend of scammers trying to blackmail non-compliant bloggers into coughing up some dough. Which is why I’ve been trying to learn more about how this law applies to people like me.

In short, the whole thing is a huge pain in the ass and could bring about the end of Stupid Evil Bastard if I can’t figure out what I need to do to be in compliance. Turning off user registrations and disabling comments wouldn’t be enough as IP addresses would still be captured and that’s enough to be an issue. Short of blocking all traffic coming from the E.U. (and that wouldn’t stop users on VPNs), I don’t see an easy way to deal with this and I’ve got three days to figure this out.

Considering I’ve been researching it for a couple of months already, I’m not sure I”m going to be compliant in time.

UPDATE: It turns out that WordPress’s privacy policy tool helps you to set one up with suggestions that take into account what plugins you have installed. You can see SEB’s shiny new Privacy Policy here.

It’s back! Return of the Son of the SEB PODCAST!

Despite it being almost three years since the last one and no one suggesting anything for us to talk about, Dave Hill and I managed to blather on for an hour about whatever we wanted to including some spoilery talk on Avengers: Infinity War. You’ll find it embedded below and the spoilers start at 47:17 so skp the last 13 minutes if you don’t want to hear them:

The Return of the Son of the SEB Podcast.

Hey, remember how Dave Hill of ***Dave Does The Blog and I would occasionally get together online and talk about stuff that you guys wanted to hear our opinions on? Remember how the last time we did it we were both shocked and appalled that it had been three years since the previous podcast?

Well, fuck me if it hasn’t been almost three years again since the last one.

So it’s about damned time that we get together for another one. The last one was accomplished via a Google Hangouts live stream and, other than a small technical hangup audio-wise early on, it worked pretty well so we’re doing that again!

That means we’re once again looking for suggestions of things you’d like to hear us talk about whether we’re qualified to pontificate on it or not. Given the political prediction I made during the last one that I was completely and totally wrong about, you can be sure I’ll probably be completely wrong about something I say during this one.

You can leave your suggestions in the comments here, on ***Dave Does the Blog, or on our social media accounts if that’s what suits you. We’ll scrape ’em together and see what kind of trouble we can get into with them.

The actual live stream is set for 1PM EDT on Sunday the 6th of May so you’ve got some time to think up something good. I’ve got an event for it on G+, but it’s currently set to private. If there’s sufficient interest in watching it live as we stumble through it I can always make the event public. Let me know.

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It’s the end of the world and I feel fine.

If you’re reading this then chances are the world failed to end on April 23rd, 2018. Again. This time courtesy of “numerologist” David Meade. According to Mr. Meade, today the sun, the moon and Jupiter will line up in the constellation Virgo fulfilling one of the signs from Revelation 12:1-2. Specifically, the bit about a woman appearing in the heavens “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.” Thus heralding in The Rapture via the appearance of the mythical Planet X passing by the planet causing all sorts of holy hell to break out.

By Brad – Revelation 12 Daily, CC0, Link

One small issue: the sun, the moon and Jupiter won’t actually line up in the constellation of Virgo today. Jupiter will be in the constellation Libra, the moon in Gemini, and the Sun in Aries. At least from the Earth’s perspective. Also, Planet X is a myth.

One other small issue is that this isn’t the first time Mr. Meade has made this prediction. He made a similar claim last September and when, spoiler alert, the world failed to end he tried to shift the date around a couple of times, but the world persisted in spite of his predictions.

Hopefully, you didn’t sell all your belongings in preparation for this latest apocalypse as some folks have done in the past. It would’ve been a real shame if the world had ended today as this is the first really nice weather we’ve had this year and I’m planning on riding my new bicycle.

Plus, had it ended before I got to see Avengers: Infinity War I would’ve been super pissed.