Amazing real footage of a ghost at a gas station!

At least that’s what the following news report would have you believe:

It’s amazing to me how many idiots you can find to put on camera and claim they just saw a ghost with even a pathetic bit of “proof.” And the news crew is doing nothing but encouraging the idiots to think like idiots. What could it possibly be? It’s so weird and spooky! It MUST be a ghost!

Fortunately, there’s still a few critical thinkers out there:

All it takes it stopping long enough to consider what you’re looking at before the answer becomes pretty obvious. Oh, but we can get on TV if we jump to stupid conclusions!

Found via The Friendly Atheist.

FEMA engages in a little self-promotion with a fake news conference.

The folks at FEMA must still be stinging from all the abuse they took over their handling of Hurricane Katrina as they seem desperate for a little positive press. So desperate, in fact, that they went through the trouble to hold a press conference about the California wildfires. Problem is they called it at the last minute and there weren’t any actual reporters around for them to talk to. So what’s a beleaguered government bureaucracy to do? They faked it themselves:

The agency — much maligned for its sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina over two years ago — arranged to have FEMA employees play the part of independent reporters Tuesday and ask questions of Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson, the agency’s deputy director.

The questions were predictably soft and gratuitous.

“I’m very happy with FEMA’s response,” Johnson said in reply to one query from an agency employee.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said it was not appropriate that the questions were posed by agency staffers instead of reporters. FEMA was responsible for the “error in judgment,” she said, adding that the White House did not know about it beforehand and did not condone it.

“FEMA has issued an apology, saying that they had an error in judgment when they were attempting to get out a lot of information to reporters, who were asking for answers to a variety of questions in regard to the wildfires in California,” Perino said. “It’s not something I would have condoned. And they — I’m sure — will not do it again.”

I’d probably be a lot more outraged about this if I wasn’t so busy laughing my ass off at it. I think it speaks volumes about how inept the people running FEMA actually are that someone(s) there thought they could pull a stunt like that and get away with it. It helps that I heard about this first on NPR’s All Things Considered which took a decidedly humorous tone with the story.

Couple of interesting developments in Tech today…

It appears that Gateway computers has been bought by Acer making the latter the new Number 3 PC maker behind HP and Dell. Acer’s been around for years pumping out various PCs from Taiwan and it’s done moderately well in the U.S.. Well, apparently well enough to gobble up Gateway which has been delisted from the New York Stock Exchange.

The other interesting bit of news is word that Best Buy is dropping analog TVs from their shelves. From now on they’ll be selling Digital sets only. It was pretty much a given that analog TVs would start drying up as the prices on digital sets come down so it was only really a question of when it would happen and who’d be the first. Now we know.

There’s some debate on the legality of web ad blocking software.

It seems the kerfuffle caused by fringe religious fundy Danny Carlton by his Why Firefox is Blocked site which I wrote about a couple of weeks back is still drawing some attention here and there. The New York Times wrote about it as did a couple of other news sites and now the folks at CNet.com has an article up that discusses the legality of the software:

Tomorrow’s legal fight may be over Web browser add-ons that let people avoid advertisements. These add-ons are growing in functionality and popularity, which has led legal experts we surveyed this week to speculate about when the first lawsuit will be filed.

If ad-blockers become so common that they slice away at publishers’ revenues, “I absolutely would expect to see litigation in this area,” said John Palfrey, executive director of Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

The article goes on to mention something I wasn’t already aware of which is that a few websites — MySpace.com, Six Apart’s Live Journal, the Chicago Sun-Times, and a Fox TV Houston affiliate — have language in their service agreements that says you agree not to block ads on their services. In some cases (MySpace.com) it appears to be directed more at the person setting up a profile page on the site than on the visitors, but some of them are aimed at visitors to the site.

For the moment, however, a lobbying group representing the online ad industry has said it doesn’t have any plans to sue anyone and would really rather not do so:

The Interactive Advertising Bureau, the lobbying arm for the online ad industry, says it isn’t readying a legal offensive at this point. Mike Zaneis, the organization’s vice president of public policy, says he wants to work with software developers and consumers to come up with a middle ground on what he calls “an issue that is just now ripening.”

“We don’t want to go down a route that would seem adversarial at all,” Zaneis said. “People are free to ignore ads, and they often do that, but when you have a third party blocking those ads, that’s the real problem.” He said IAB is “looking at all the options.”

Any lawsuit would likely invoke two arguments: copyright infringements are taking place (through derivative works), and the Web site’s terms of service agreement is being violated.

“From a pure legal point of view, a Web site can do anything it wants, so to speak,” said Michael Krieger, an intellectual property and business lawyer with the firm Willenken Wilson Loh & Lieb in Los Angeles. “That’s a little overstating it, obviously, but suppose to get into Google, you first have to click ‘I agree, I’m not blocking ads.’ I think it’s perfectly within their rights to do that.”

It may be a moot point to begin with, however, as even if they did sue the creator of AdBlock Plus it’s doubtful they could actually kill it thanks to it’s status as Open Source software:

While statistics for ad-blocking tools are hard to come by, an estimated 2.5 million users worldwide currently run Adblock Plus, and an even greater number has downloaded the utility, lead developer Wladimir Palant said in an e-mail interview. He estimated the product is attracting 300,000 new users each month after an initial spike in adoption attributed to users switching over from Adblock, a related utility with a development path that has diverged.

Palant said he believes Adblock Plus is in “no way illegal” and suggested that suing companies like his ‘out of business’ won’t do anyone any good. He added that no one to his knowledge makes money, directly or indirectly, off the software.

In addition, because the source code is publicly available, development would likely continue in another nation with different copyright laws. “The software that I am making is open source, even if I stop working on it—each Adblock Plus user has a copy, and any of them could develop it further,” Palant said. “If the advertisers have a problem, they will not be able to solve it in the legal way. As long as people want to block ads, they will be able to do this.”

Personally I don’t use ad blocking software myself, though I have tried it in the past. Most ads on websites are innocuous enough that I don’t have a problem with them and, though it’s rather rare, there has been the occasional ad that actually was something I was interested in. Some ads are more annoying than others, however, such as the interstitial ads that pop up when you’re browsing from one page on a website to another on the same site (or worse, pop up before you ever see any content at all), but most sites that use them have reduced the frequency enough that I can tolerate them. The two sorts that most tempt me to install ad blocking software however are the ones that make noise and, most hated of all, the ones that pop up over top of content requiring you to click a “close” button to get rid of the fucking things.

The obtrusiveness of ads actually goes a long way to determining what websites I’m willing to visit. I used to hit IGN.com’s sites daily, but they got so hung up on interstitials popping up every two clicks along with big loud flash overlays in the middle of whatever you were trying to read that I rarely go by any of their websites anymore. Their content isn’t that compelling that installing an ad blocker would be worth the effort, especially when the same news can be garnered from a dozen other similar sites without those annoying ads. It also helps that I do a lot of my reading via RSS feeds these days which has the benefit that A) very few of them have any ads at all and B) the ones that too are currently limited to static images at the bottom of an article every so often. That’s something I can easily live with.

The truth is I have no problems with websites trying to make a buck or two through advertising on their pages, hell I’ve got Google ads to try and offset the cost of running SEB myself so I’d be a hypocrite if I did, and I treat most of them the same way I treat most television commercials; as a necessary evil that I can usually live with and occasionally write snarky blog entries about. Whether or not it’s legal to block web ads is not something I could say either way, but I suspect that most rulings on the issue would be similar to ones in the past in regards to VCR users being able to fast-forward through ads. Back then the courts said not enough people did it to really bother with prohibiting it. And, as I said before, it’s not even clear that banning it would actually stop it from happening as the genie is already out of the bag.

As an aside, the Google ads experiment here on SEB has been a mixed bag so far. Since I put them on the site back in May I’ve earned in total to date a whopping $48.12, which is a bit over what it costs to run SEB for one month. The only problem is that Google doesn’t pay out revenue until you’ve earned up $100 so it may be awhile before I see it. That’s actually a better result than I had expected, though certainly nothing that would let me quit my day job and become a professional full-time blogger. It probably doesn’t help that I’ve only implemented the one ad in the left hand bar as opposed to the two or three instances they recommend, plus I’ve not put in AdSense search or a AdSense referral button which both would also add some revenue. Guess I just wasn’t cut out to be a dot.com millionaire.

“TIME” reporter Lev Grossman is a clueless ass about video games.

I knew there was a reason why I tend to prefer Newsweek over TIME magazine. Newsweek just seems to be more in-touch with reality than TIME does and I always thought it was some bias I held more so than any actual fact of the matter, but then I read an article by Lev Grossman on Microsoft’s money-printing franchise known as Halo called The Man in the Mask which is chock full of idiotic passages such as this (emphasis added) one:

There is an invisible subculture in America. Those who belong to it love it with a lonely, alienated, unironic passion. Those who don’t belong to it walk right by, uncaring, just as people walk right by that unmarked building in downtown Kirkland. It is the subculture of hard-core video games, and that oddly shaped building, which houses a company called Bungie, is one of its temples.

We start right off with a couple of absolutely idiotic statements. Does Mr. Grossman seriously expect his audience to believe that video gamers are an invisible subculture? Who the fuck in 2007, outside of Mr. Grossman obviously, doesn’t know that gaming is a hugely popular pastime among a good percentage of the population? Given all the negative attention the news media puts on video games anytime some nutcase who happened to play video games goes on a rampage it’s kind of hard to see how this “subculture” is all that invisible.

According to the Entertainment Software Association surveys show that 69% of American heads of households are gamers, the age of the average gamer is 33 years and they’ve been a gamer for around 12 years, 80% of gamer parents play games with their kids reporting that their families are closer as a result, and 49% play games online for an hour or more weekly. Lonely and alienated? Hardly. Much like my blogging habit, my years as a gamer has provided me with friends I’ve never met face to face but have spent hours gaming with and even a few that I have met face to face for offline non-gaming activities.

Bungie makes a series of video games called Halo that are among the most revered in the gaming canon. It’s doubtful that many people reading this could say exactly, or even approximately, what the Halo games are about.

If that’s true then apparently TIME has a much smaller readership than I thought, probably mostly idiots who don’t read mainstream newspapers or watch the evening news if Mr. Grossman is anything to judge by. Gamers come from all walks of life and more than a few of us take the time to read news magazines such as TIME. Considering the number of gamers out there it’s probably a safe bet that most of the folks reading Mr. Grossman’s article know more about Halo and its plot line than Mr. Grossman himself.

That much becomes clear once Mr. Grossman attempts to explain said plot:

IT’S DIFFICULT TO EXPLAIN THE STORY OF Halo, but that difficulty is in itself worthy of note. This isn’t Donkey Kong. The Master Chief is not an Italian plumber whose girlfriend has been kidnapped by a gorilla. His story is rich and complicated in ways that we’re not used to in video games.

You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. I’d be willing to bet, again, that more of Mr. Grossman’s audience is unfamiliar with the “story” of the original Donkey Kong, in as much as it could be said to have a story in the first place, than is unfamiliar with the plot of Halo. This would seem to indicate that Mr. Grossman may have once played a game or two back in the mid-80’s and probably hasn’t touched any since then. The fact that he claims Master Chief’s story is “rich and complicated” in “ways that we’re not used to” only serves to confirm that suspicion.

Maybe you aren’t used to it, Mr. Grossman, but I’ve played a lot of video games with some amazingly sophisticated story lines not the least of which would include the Splinter Cell series , the Hitman series, Silent Hill series, several of the Final Fantasy series (particularly FFXII), and many many others. Just because you’re ignorant of the current state of video games doesn’t mean everyone else is.

Moving on we come to another couple of stupid statements:

THE CLICHÉ ABOUT GAMERS IS THAT THEY’RE antisocial, if not sociopathic, but Bungie is very much a community.

The Bungies bring a grinding, jeweler’s meticulousness to what most people consider an unhealthy amusement for children.

A small reminder: 69% of American heads of households are gamers. I’d be surprised if “most people” consider video games an “unhealthy amusement for children.” Certainly some people view it that way, Mr. Grossman seemingly among their numbers, but not most nor even a majority.

We’ve got time for a couple more slams from Mr. Grossman before he wraps up his stunning display of idiocy:

This devotion is fueled by a belief, not shared by the world at large, that video games are an art form with genuine emotional meaning and that Halo 3 will be the premier example of that art.

There’s an opportunity beyond video games, too, for Halo to break out of the ghetto and become a mainstream, mass-market, multimedia entertainment property.

Not that the Bungies care. They don’t need to legitimize Halo by associating it with other, more respectable media. They sell enough units and make enough money. They’re happy in their invisible geek ghetto. But that’s the logic of the marketplace: it can’t leave subcultures alone; it has to turn them into cultures. It may be time for the Master Chief to come in from the cold and join the party, with the popular kids. Just don’t expect him to take off his helmet.

About the only way TIME could have come up with a more offensive column on video gamers would’ve been to invite Jack “Douchebag” Thompson to write it. As it is they should try to find someone who’s more familiar with video games beyond the likes of Donkey Kong for any future articles they decide to undertake. It’d be nice if he’d at least played something from this century before sitting down to bang out this tripe.

Maybe There Is A God After All…

Can it be? Is it really true? Yes, it appears that it is. An Iowa judge has allowed gays to marry in that state:

DES MOINES, Iowa – A county judge struck down Iowa’s decade-old gay marriage ban as unconstitutional Thursday and ordered local officials to process marriage licenses for six gay couples.

Gay couples from anywhere in Iowa could apply for a marriage license from Polk County under Judge Robert Hanson’s ruling.

Less than two hours after word of the ruling was publicized, two Des Moines men applied for a license, the first time the county had accepted a same-sex application. The approval process takes three days.

This is huge news, folks. Iowa is a red, culturally conservative state. If gay marriage has been recognized in Iowa, then hopefully it will be realized elsewhere in the country, including my home state of Kansas. I applaud Judge Hanson’s decision and his courage in undertaking it. I can only imagine that the Christian Right will be up in arms, with its more unhinged elements undoubtedly making claims on the judge’s life. I admire that he nonetheless capable and willing to do the right thing.

Alberto Gonzales resigns from his position as Attonery General.

Man, you take a couple of days extra off to get some work done and you miss out on all the good news:

WASHINGTON (CNN)—President Bush on Monday said he reluctantly accepted the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, whose “good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons.”

The irony of hearing President Bush complain about Gonzales’ name being dragged through the mud for political reasons when that’s pretty much been the M.O. of the Bush Administration and Karl Rove since Day 1 is too much to bear and I must go in the other room and scream until my throat is raw.

Be right back in a moment…

OK, now that I can’t talk I’d just like to say (in a hoarse whisper) to dear Mr. Gonzales, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. For his part he had the following to say:

Earlier in Washington, Gonzales announced his resignation, saying, “I have lived the American dream.”

Well, his version of the American dream at least. My version doesn’t involve rising to a high level of governmental power and then using that power to dismantle as much of the Constitution as I can manage before I have to quit. I’d be happy just to be well off enough that I can avoid working in an honest job and spend more time traveling, but that’s just me. The truly scary part about Gonzales is that he was Bush’s first pick for a Supreme Court nomination. Kinda grateful that one didn’t go through.

Though this news isn’t all good. We still have to put up with one more Bush appointee and if his track record is anything to go by then the next guy could be even more evil or, and it’s hard to say which would be worse, stunningly incompetent.

Taking a peek behind the NPR curtain.

I listen to National Public Radio a lot and I often marvel at how articulate everyone seems to be — not just the news reporters and interviewers, but the guests as well — and I’ve long suspected that there was some form of editing taking place to pull this feat off. As it turns out that’s exactly the case, but I didn’t realize just how much editing is done until I heard this segment from On The Media which describes how the editing is done and what some of the pitfalls of it could be. You can listen to the segment using the audio player below:

I think it’s pretty cool that NPR took the time to reveal that there’s some back room magic taking place to make such compelling radio as well as providing a means to embed the segment into your blog. It’s fascinating to get a look behind the scenes and reassuring to note that they are not trying to hide anything in how they do things.

Pop culture gave Boston a bomb scare today.

Seems the folks in Boston were scared out of their wits over a possible bomb threat today:

The discovery of a series of suspicious objects on bridges, near a medical center, underneath an interstate, and in other crowded public places have set off a wave of bomb scares across Boston, snarling traffic and subways across the city.

None of the suspicious objects have been determined to be actual bombs. It was not immediately clear if the incidents were connected or part of some elaborate hoax.

A law enforcement source who has been briefed on the investigation said officials have found “commonality” among some, but not all, of the objects recovered by Boston, state and transit police throughout the day.

None of the objects examined by police actually contained explosives, the source said.

Oh my! What could possibly be causing so much panic? Why none other than the Mooninites! More specifically it was a guerrilla marketing campaign for Adult Swim’s animated series Aqua Teen Hunger Force of which Mooninites are a couple of recurring characters. It seems some marketing types got together and made up some LED signs featuring a Mooninite that they hung up in various places around Boston—among several other cities—without bothering to actually tell anyone. Someone who doesn’t have a clue what a Mooninite is spotted one and alerted authorities who also didn’t know what a Mooninite is and things quickly spiraled out of control from there with a bomb squad blowing up at least one of the devices before determining that they were harmless.

Now I can understand that the authorities may not have been familiar with ATHF or Mooninites because the show comes out in the wee hours of the morning when most responsible people are asleep and even if they had seen the show they probably wouldn’t understand it anyway. I’ve watched several episodes and the damn thing still makes no sense to me whatsoever. What I don’t understand is why, when other cities have had the same sort of devices in them for a couple of weeks already, Boston was the only city to freak out over them and shut down roads and try to blow one up:

The first device was found at an MBTA subway and bus station located under Interstate 93 on Wednesday morning. The device was detonated and determined to be harmless, but as a precaution the station and the interstate shut down temporarily.

Then, around 1 p.m., four calls came into Boston Police reporting suspicious devices at the Boston University Bridge and the Longfellow Bridge, which both span the Charles River, and the corner of Stuart and Columbus Streets and at the Tufts-New England Medical Center.

Another device was found in Somerville under the McGrath Highway Bridge. The latest package was found outside Fenway Park around 5:30 p.m.

Mayor Menino said the hoax cost the state and cities about $750,000. He wants Turner Broadcasting to pay for it all.

“It is outrageous, in a post 9/11 world, that a company would use this type of marketing scheme. I am prepared to take any and all legal action against Turner Broadcasting and its affiliates for any and all expenses incurred during the response to today’s incidents. Boston will look to coordinate our efforts going forward with Cambridge, Somerville and any other affected agencies.”

Apparently they’re just a tad more skittish in Boston these days. For its part Turner Broadcasting has apologized for scaring the hell out of Boston’s powers that be and are providing information on the location of all the lights to local authorities in all cities if they want to remove them. Personally I find the whole thing to be pretty funny.

For those curious as to what these installations looked like, here’s a video clip by the folks who put the project together as they install them around what is reportedly NYC:

Links via Boing Boing.