Thursday, December 31, 2009

Celebrating 2010 in a banana republic

Happy 2010! I hope everyone had a fun and safe New Year's Eve, and that today's hangovers aren't too bad (as long you didn't wake up to find a tiger in , you should be okay). Let's all hope the coming year is full of more good than bad.

For me, 2010 is already set to be great as I'll finally accomplish the goal I've been working toward for literally half my life. My book comes out in March and, as I've said before, if it doesn't sell a single copy, I'll still be incredibly proud and immensely fulfilled. For me, March can't get here soon enough.

As luck would have it, I ended 2009 on a good note - I finally got the last of my photos and illustrations together and sent them off to Penguin. The last thing I have to do is write up the captions and credits for those photos, which I plan to do over the weekend, and then I'm pretty much done the book. The next time I see Sex, Bombs and Burgers, it'll likely be in galley form in late January. Hallelujah!

But as the new year dawns, it's not all roses and sunshine. Our government here in Canada decided to give us a belated Christmas present just before the new year: no government at all! Alas, if only it were some sort of new anarchical experiment, but the reality is we're once again facing the suspension of democracy, which is something I find very, very concerning, and - at the risk of sounding like a party pooper on a day that is supposed to be all about hope for the future - it's also very, very depressing.

If you live outside of Canada and don't know what's going on, or if you're typically Canadian and just don't care enough to know, what's happened is that our government on Wednesday decided to prorogue Parliament. That actually has nothing to do with pretending to be Han Solo in a professional manner, but rather it means a suspension of all Parliamentary activity, in this case for the next two months. That means no new laws can be discussed, and any that were under discussion must go back to the drawing board when Parliament eventually reconvenes.

Proroguing has historically been used rarely, and in most cases only when the government had accomplished most of its agenda... a vacation of sorts for a job well done. But now, for the past two years, it's been used as a political tactic by Stephen Harper's minority Conservative government. Last year it was used to head off a coalition government being formed by opposition parties, and this year it's being used to avoid having Harper and his pals answer uncomfortable questions about torture in Afghanistan.

Doing it once for such self-motivated reasons is outrageous, but twice is completely reprehensible. The Globe and Mail ran a rare front-page editorial yesterday condemning the move as an "underhanded manoeuvre" that will "diminish the democratic rights of Canadians." Exactly.

What's worse is when you consider this in a broader sense. In the most recent 2008 election, fewer than 60 per cent of eligible voters turned out to cast their ballots - a record low that amounts to only about one-third the population. There's only one reason for such low turnout in any country: people are jaded about their politicians and don't believe their vote counts. Put another way, Canadians believe that it doesn't matter who's in power because they're all the same.

Our successive governments have given us plenty of reasons to believe this. Remember that the previous Liberal government got booted earlier this decade largely thanks to a sponsorship scandal. What's worse: misusing public money or misusing Parliamentary procedure? Take your pick or don't, which is the option an ever-growing number of Canadians are going with.

So what does this have to do with Sex, Bombs and Burgers? Very little, but it has a lot to do with technology - and more specifically, the economic, social, educational and cultural opportunities that technology provides us. Canada is way behind the rest of the world in many technological measures: cellphone usage, internet speeds, venture capital investment, research and development spending, web usage by business, and the list goes on. These are all issues that government can and should play a role in, and it has - in other countries.

Unfortunately in Canada, our technology policy is run by lobbyists, who very rarely have our national interests at heart. Consider the recent launch of Wind Mobile, the upstart company that plans to be Canada's fourth (almost) national wireless company. In early December, the Harper government stepped in and overruled our national telecommunications regulator and allowed Wind to open up shop. The regulator had previously rejected Wind on the grounds that it was financed by an Egyptian company, and therefore not Canadian enough to operate here (that's an absurd rule, but besides the point here). Wind wasted no time in launching and there were cheers from every Canadian who doesn't cut a cheque from one of the existing cellphone providers.

Was it a good move by a government that was in touch with what the people wanted? For sure. Too bad, as the Globe and Mail reported, that it was the well-connected-to-Harper lobbyists hired by Wind that likely did the trick. In other words, it didn't really matter that Canadians wanted more cellphone competition - that demand just made Wind's excellent lobby job an easy sell to the public. (Interestingly, the Globe apologized for and retracted that story - we don't know why but I'm guessing it was the implication that Wind's parent company Globalive did something improper, which by our lobbying laws, it didn't. It is worth noting that Globalive registered at least 25 official meetings with government officials and bureaucrats in 2009, a number surpassed in the telecom industry last year only by Bell Canada's 30+.)

Does that sound overly cynical? Perhaps, but consider another decision on internet access the government made the very same day it gave Wind its blessing. Despite mounting evidence that Canada is falling behind in the internet access it provides to its citizens (some of which was excellently done), and despite close to 100,000 letters to politicians from concerned internet users, the government effectively ruled that small internet resellers are parasites to the networks owned by phone companies. The government told the regulator to reconsider whether these small ISPs, who rent portions of large phone companies' networks to provide their own services, should be allowed to continue doing so on a regulated basis.

The rationale was telling: the government said the regulator needed to reconsider how these so-called open-access rules diminish phone companies' incentives to invest in new infrastructure. That's language directly from the mouths of phone company lobbyists (I've heard it many, many times over the years, and some simple will turn up dozens of examples). What's most ironic about the situation is how the small ISPs reacted: they were bang on when they suggested the government was using a double standard. While three cellphone providers was insufficient choice for consumers and therefore the government had to step in, they pointed out, two internet providers (a phone company and a cable company) was plenty. Something about that does not compute, so it's hard to come to any other conclusion than lobbying was at the heart of both decisions.

Let's not pretend this is endemic to the Conservatives. Back in late 2007, the government decided it would open up Canada's wireless market to new companies by reserving a portion of airwaves for them in an auction to be held in 2008. Liberal Industry critic Scott Brison stood up at the press conference and said it was a bad move, that it represented a "$200 million windfall for the new entrants." I asked him three or four questions - things along the lines of "but won't this ultimately be good for customers?" and the like - to which he kept coming back to the same $200 million sound bite. Not only was it clear that he didn't know what he was talking about, he had also been fed the line by the existing cellphone companies, who had been trumpeting it for months beforehand.

And why shouldn't politicians parrot what their lobbyists are saying? The Conservatives are the government despite only getting 5.2 million votes in the last election - or 15 per cent of the population. There is no realistic reason to expect that our political situation will change any time soon, that an effective opposition party will emerge, or that Canadians will suddenly care enough to elect one. What we're left with, at present and for the foreseeable future, is a government that doesn't speak for or represent the people.

In the realm of technology, a government that is listening to the wrong voices means we are at risk of falling even further behind economically, socially, educationally and culturally. I'm not qualified to say how our apparent democratic failure will affect us in other ways, but I'm fairly certain there are far more serious - and potentially dangerous - issues that can and inevitably will arise.

What is a banana republic? Other than a source of modern, refined clothing for men and women, plus shoes and accessories, it's a term often reserved for the sorts of corrupt, politically unstable countries found in Central America. Popularly, though, it's often used to describe a country where democracy simply isn't working for one reason or another - like Canada. If that isn't enough to depress you as we enter this new decade, I don't know what is.

As someone said to me earlier this week, if we're going to live in a banana republic, shouldn't the weather at least be nicer?

Top 10 posts of '09: lots and lots of porn

As the year (and decade) winds down, everywhere we look it's lists, lists, lists. Lordy knows I've written my share - here's my games of the year and of the decade, if you're curious. That said, this blog is just about nine months old... or old enough to warrant my own list. Here are the ten most-viewed posts of the year, or three quarters of a year anyway. See if you can detect a pattern:

10. Jesse Jane talks tech, Mar. 2
Clips of my interview with porn star Jesse Jane.

9. You can't ban porn on the internet, June 16
A rant about how porn and net neutrality often intersect.

8. Grand opening, March 2
My very first post, detailing what the blog and book are all about.

7. Porn parodies proving to be a gold rush, Aug. 28
A look at the x-rated spoofs of sitcoms and movies that are proliferating.

6. CBC journalists reign supreme, May 20
A totally self-indulgent post about winning a journalism award along with fellow CBCer Bruno Guglielminetti.

5. The Wii of porn. And I do mean wheeee! Mar. 20
A look at AEBN's virtual motion-synced vagina, the Real Touch.

4. India, Afghanistan cracking down on porn, May 28
Pretty much a self-explanatory post.

3. 3D porn on your iPhone, Mar. 16
A very short post about porn producer Pink Visual teaming with Toronto's Spatial View to present three-dimensional adult films and pics on the iPhone.

2. Stoya talks tech and sex, Apr. 6
My interview with porn "it" girl Stoya, where she gave her thoughts on technology.

1. Porn producers anxious for Palm Pre, May 15
Some news about how adult companies were looking forward to putting their content on Palm's new smartphone.

Wow, 8 out of 10. That's a lot of porn. Some analysis and explanation: most of these posts did not immediately draw traffic on the day they went up. They accumulated it over time, which means pretty much one thing that should come as a surprise to no one: people are searching for porn on the internet.

The number one post, meanwhile, can be explained by its linking in a number of Palm forums. Palm is sort of like Apple - it's a company that has a very devoted following, and its devotees like to chat about all aspects of its devices. It's not surprising they latched onto the idea of porn on the Pre.

It is good to see that my very first post explaining the book is up there, so people are at least reading up on the whole point of this blog.

In any event, I hope everyone reading (including you porn searchers) has a great New Year's Eve! Here's hoping that 2010, the year we make contact, is good to everyone!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

McD's new snack wrap packs Olympic punch

Is Canada turning into a test market for McDonald's? It's possible, given a number of recent new products released here but not elsewhere. There was, of course, the Big Mac Snack Wrap earlier this year (my verdict: blah) and now, the Chicken Parmigiana Snack Wrap.

I noticed the new Chicken wrap walking by a food court McDonald's yesterday (okay, I lied... I had a Big Mac) and dutifully set to researching it afterward. It appears the wrap is somehow part of an Olympics promotion, and is one of several new items that will be added to Canadian menus, including two new McNugget dipping sauces - spicey szechwan and zesty mango, coming in February - to mark the occasion.

I'm not sure what the Olympics connection is, but the new chicken wrap looks mighty tasty in the photo. Unfortunately, it suffers from the same problem as all of McD's wraps: it's too pricey. If you're like me and conduct a careful return-on-investment, hunger-alleviation-versus-expenditure comparison with your fast food, then the $1.99 price tag isn't worth it. Consider that a McDouble (double cheeseburger) goes for $1.39 and provides a much more bloated-and-contented feeling.

Of course, then there's the more complicated price-to-hunger-to-nutritional-abomination ratio. As with many new products, there doesn't seem to be any nutritional information available for the Chicken Parmigiana. There also doesn't seem to be an easy way to deconstruct it, like I did with Burger King's Bourbon Whopper the other day. The closest comparison I can make to an existing McDonald's menu item is the Caesar Chicken Snack Wrap, which packs about 1/7th of your daily calories, 28% of your daily fat and about one third of your daily sodium intake.

Given those numbers, these snack wraps look like the cheapest possible way - other than downing a can of Spam - to obesity that you can find. Which is very ironic: isn't it always the way that the thing that fills you up the least is the worst for you?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Rice Krispies, Nescafe and vibrators

I hope everyone had a good holiday. Mine was particularly restful and allowed me to get all those small, nagging chores done, like securing all those damn permissions to use certain quotes in my book, which I whined about before. I only have a few last photos to nail down and then, hopefully, my book will be done this week and ready to print (it's actually going to the printer mid-January).

I'll save the "I'm finally done" retrospection for another time as today we have some interesting news out of Finland. While working on my book, I found tons of ties between war and sex, and between war and food, but very few between sex and food (other than, of course, ). So I'm always excited when a story like this comes along.

In what is being considered a first for Nordic countries, the Finnish supermarket chain CityStores will soon stock sex toys. That means that right there on the shelves, next to the Rice Krispies and Nescafe, will be vibrators and lube.

According to Iceland's IceNews, Swedish "enlightenment" organization RSFU will market such items at grocery stores because a large proportion - about 65 per cent - of Finns surveyed said they would be in favour of it.

"Supermarkets already serve people's needs in health and well-being. Therefore it is appropriate to bring products that promote sexual well-being into the selection," an RSFU spokesperson said.

Wow, first the country makes internet access a legal right and now this? Finland sure seems to be full of progressive thinkers. So what's with the high suicide rate?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Peace, goodwill and body armor

I hope everyone is having as restful a holiday as I am. I'll get back to proper blogging tomorrow, as today is statutorily Boxing Day, so I'm still off. In the meantime, enjoy this Onion report - hilarious as always - where American troops send home their holiday wishes. (If this video doesn't look right on your screen, you can watch it properly formatted here):


Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Catmas!

It took a look of doing to get our cats, Brash and Monkey, into these silly hats but the result is worth it. Merry Christmas everyone!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

NORAD and Google tracking Santa

Christmas is almost here (well, for those of you living in the future, a.k.a. Australia and New Zealand, it is here) and I don't know about you, but I'm really jazzed for it this year. Not for the presents or family time, yadda yadda, but mostly for the time off. It's been a crazy year and the past few months have been craziest, trying to juggle work with production on the book.

I'm reeeeeally looking forward to the world shutting down for a few days and getting some rest. I'm planning to do some reading - I'm currently on fellow Penguin author Richard Poplak's The Sheikh's Batmobile, which is about American pop culture's impact on the Middle East. Fantastic reading, so far.

I suspect there'll also be a healthy dose of Call of Duty playing, and perhaps some watching of the new Blu-ray movies and shows I should be getting (or at least I'd better be getting, if my loved ones know what's good for them!).

But just because it's Christmas doesn't mean we're shutting down here at Sex, Bombs & Burgers - be sure to come back tomorrow for a special holiday greeting from some special guests.

As for today, don't forget about a special Christmas-themed melding of military and consumer technology. Google and NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) have once again teamed up to "track" Santa Claus's journey around the world. Their website not only details his co-ordinates in real time, it's also chock full of information - like full technical specs on his sled - that's good for some chuckles.

Here's a cheesy video from NORAD and Google:



You can also track Santa using , if you've got it installed. I'll be on it all day, awaiting my copy of The Office Season 5!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bourbon Whopper: heart attack in a bun

If you're a fast-food aficionado, you know that Wednesday is Whopper Day at Burger King. It's the day when Burger King restaurants - at least those in Toronto that I know of - make Whopper combos nice and cheap... you can get the burger, fries and pop for less than $5. So with Burger King on the brain today, I thought I'd point out the chain's latest monstrosity: the Bourbon Whopper.

I noticed it a few weeks ago and have seen TV ads airing over the past few days. I'd embed the ad here or link to it, but it appears that this particular burger is only being sold in Canada for now. And as we should know by now, if something doesn't exist in the U.S., it doesn't exist period... so no video for you.

Anyway, the essence of the Bourbon Whopper is that it's a Whopper with cheese, and bacon, and onion rings... in the actual burger. The "bourbon" comes from its tangy sauce.

If that sounds like a heart attack in a bun, well you're right - it very well may be. Not only could I not find a video of the burger, I also couldn't find any nutritional information on it. In the interest of science, I tried to reconstruct the nutritional information on the Bourbon Whopper using Burger King's existing menu. Here's what I found:

Bourbon Whopper
Whopper with cheese: 760 calories, 47 grams of fat, 1,320 milligrams of sodium.
Bacon, 40 calories: 2 grams of fat, 150 mg of sodium.
Onion rings (small): 200 calories, 10 grams of fat, 390 mg of sodium.
Barbecue sauce: 40 calories, 310 mg of sodium.

Totaling that up, we have 1,040 calories, 59 grams of fat and 2,170 milligrams of sodium. Now if you get a standard sized combo, you add in:

Fries (medium): 350 calories, 17 grams of fat, 790 mg of sodium.
Coke (medium): 230 calories, 50 mg sodium.

Which brings us to a grand total of 1,620 calories, 76 grams of fat and 3,010 milligrams of sodium. To put it into perspective, the Dietary Reference Intake (as developed by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences) recommends a daily dose of 2,000 calories, 65 grams of fat and 2,400 mg of sodium. In other words, eating this one meal will put you well over the fat and salt limit you're supposed to eat in an entire day, and very close to total caloric intake.

On the one hand: man, that's gross.

On the other: anyone else getting hungry?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The death of editing is a bad, bad thing

If a blogger blogs on the internet, but no one is there to read it, did he really blog in the first place? That's what I'm wondering as I write this post and contemplate how no one is going to read it thanks the holiday slowdown taking place everywhere online.

That said, when I started this blog back in March, I vowed to myself that I would post something every single weekday until the launch of my book, and somewhat beyond, even if it killed me. Aside from one day where I moved (and was thoroughly sick), I've actually managed to keep that promise. I've done daily blogs before so I knew what kind of a grind it can be. Ultimately, blogging is a lot like pancakes, to paraphrase the dearly departed : at first, it's really exciting, but after a while you get f*%$#@ sick of it!

Yet here we are, 210+ posts later. Indeed, there have been many days where I've wanted to bash my head into the computer rather than blog, but at the same time, it's become pretty habitual, like going to the bathroom or sleeping (half my posts are probably a combination of the two).

Given that no one is likely reading this, I'll take the opportunity to rant about a topic that no one besides writers likely cares about: editing.

First, the bad news. On the journalism side of things, it's getting really bad. Good journalism - the sort of in-depth, investigative and critical stuff, like the Globe and Mail's expose of the abuses at the Toronto Humane Society - is not simply the product of a good reporter. The reporter might get all the glory, but a good editor is always behind the scenes. A good editor guides the reporter, shapes and refines the story, asks questions, sets boundaries and exerts some authority when need be. Good journalism is thereby a product that may only have one byline, but it's a team effort.

Editors are proving to be the biggest casualty of news' shift to online from print. As we learned last month, the Toronto Star is outsourcing a good portion of its editing to the Canadian Press. While the stories will still get edited, the paper's union was right in saying that the outsourcing removes much of the personal teamwork that goes into crafting news. Also, the CP editors likely already have their hands full. The increased workload means they'll be spending even less time on each story.

I jumped into the online world a little over two years ago after a decade in newspapers. I used to have my stories read by at least three separate editors. There were many, many times when editors saved my ass beforehand, or came to my defense after the fact. Now, with a decrease in the number of editors available and an increase in the quantity of stories they each have to edit, that old regime seems like the luxury of a bygone era. Worse still, it's sending a chill through the kind of news reporters are looking to write. Are they going to investigate "real" news when they don't have editors backing them up? I don't know too many reporters who are willing to stick their necks out like that. The result is an environment where misdeeds by those with power can flourish.

Needless to say, that's bad. What's the solution? No one is sure, but I suspect it will have to work itself out some way. Real journalism is an absolute necessity in a democratic society, so we either have to figure it out soon or we might as well start learning how to speak North Korean (I realize that's not actually a language, but you catch my drift).

The good news is, it's still the exact opposite in book-land. Thus far, I've had my book edited by my agent, two publishers' editors, a copy editor, two colleague editors and a couple proofreaders thrown in for good measure. I can't even count how many times the thing has been edited and I'm actually almost sick of reading the damn thing! I just finished going over the first set of printed proofs last week and will be getting galleys soon, which means I'll have to read Sex, Bombs & Burgers yet again. By the time the thing is released, I'll probably be ready to chuck it into the lake!

But seriously, this illustrates a fascinating difference in priority. Books (non-fiction, at least) have always been considered historical documents, which explains all the effort into making sure they're correct. Books are permanent and pretty much unchangeable once they're put into print. Newspapers, on the other hand, have traditionally been more impermanent. Get something wrong and you can correct it in tomorrow's edition.

"Never wrong for long" has been the motto, which is now even more appropriate online. Clearly, that's how news media management is looking at it, and that's really too bad. There's no replacement for making sure the information is correct in the first place, which makes it much easier to defend after the fact. And if you can't or won't defend it, then there really isn't much point to what you're doing in the first place, is there?

Monday, December 21, 2009

The science of Avatar

It's a little bit of a departure today from the usual sex, bombs and burgers fare, but I had to take the opportunity to rave about Avatar, James Cameron's new . You've probably heard all of the critical praise already, but if I could add my humble two cents worth: it may just be the best movie ever made.

Oh yeah. I said it. I saw Avatar on Friday and, during parts of it, I couldn't help but think that I was watching a magic show rather than a movie. While leaving the theatre, I had that "I just witnessed something important" feeling, which I can't say I remember having after any other movie. Like the ads say, Avatar is going to change movies. However, I think it can be compared to Apple's iPhone - it's so far ahead of the game, it's going to take others a long time to make anything comparable. It makes Star Wars and Lord of the Rings look like they created in some garage by a pair of a hobbyists.

So what makes Avatar so amazing? It's Pandora, the alien world that is so fully realized that it immerses the viewer and makes them really feel like they're there. The luscious planet teems with plant and animal life that is on the one hand utterly fantastical, but at the same time incredibly realistic. And of course, the big bonus is that it's all in 3D - those crazy alien tigers and rhinos seem amazingly lifelike, and there's amazing depth as the characters run and fly through the jungles.

The Discovery Channel has a short report on some of the science that went into the movie, with Cameron talking about the effort that went into making the planet real:

Friday, December 18, 2009

PlayStations & iPods: new weapons of war

While it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who reads this blog that military technology often rolls out into the mainstream, The Economist has an interesting article on how things are starting to go the other way. The magazine reports that the military is starting to use off-the-shelf technology, such as PlayStation 3 video game consoles and Apple's iPods and iPhones, rather than building its own gear.

In the case of the PS3, the U.S. military is looking to build supercomputers from clusters of the consoles, to conduct research and development on things like high-definition radar. Apple products, meanwhile, are being used in places like Afghanistan for translation and calculating bullet trajectories. According to The Economist: "An iPhone app called Bullet Flight enables snipers to calculate range and trajectory for their shots, and built-in satellite-positioning allows local weather conditions to be taken into account."

That's cool stuff, but it also highlights two things: how closely industry is working with the U.S. military these days, and how the military is under mounting pressure to pare costs by using commercially available stuff. Giant contractors - the likes of Boeing, Lockheed and Raytheon - have historically custom-designed most of the military's required hardware, which typically has to meet some pretty stringent standards. Those lofty requirements, and the fact that much of this gear is produced in relatively small quantities, means that military technology often ends up being pretty expensive.

That partially explains why the military has originated so much technology. They've fronted the bill on all of the expensive R&D work, and once the stuff works, it can be easily spun off into the consumer world. John Hanke, the guy who led the creation of Google Earth, put it thusly when I interviewed him earlier this year:

[The military is] willing to pay millions of dollars per user to make it possible. Things have this very high value that you don’t necessarily see in the consumer space. Once the technology and the basic R&D is paid for, then companies start looking for those secondary markets where you can take the things they know how to do.


But, as The Economist article points out, those days of milk and honey are changing, at least somewhat. The military is increasingly looking to save money by repurposing commercially available technology to its own needs.

Also part of the issue, as I've blogged about before, is that commercial companies such as Apple and Sony design their products with the end user in mind, so they're sleek and easy to use. Military technology often ends up being too complicated, so a little consumer know-how is often a welcome thing.

I don't think the military will stop being a major source of technological innovation, but it's becoming pretty obvious that the ties with industry are only getting stronger and deeper.

UPDATE: Mega-military contractor Raytheon has released an iPhone app that lets soldiers tracks allies and enemies. War? There's an app for that.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Smartphone users who give a toss

I'm going to have dinner with a bunch of porn stars again in January when I'm down in Las Vegas for the annual Consumer Electronics Show, which means that I'm starting to get some rather amusing press releases from adult companies (the industry holds its own concurrent event, the Adult Entertainment Expo, at the same time as CES).

The funniest one came the other day from Pink Visual, an innovative porn producer that I've mentioned in these parts before, about a new "masturbation" app for smartphones including the iPhone, Palm Pre and Motorola Droid. The app, called FapMapper, is ostensibly a social-networking tool for people to share their sexual exploits, whether they're solo or with others. The word "Fap," apparently, is being used by the young, web savvy crowd for what the older generation would typically refer to as "tossing off."

The tool, available at Fapmapper.com for the really curious, uses the smartphone's GPS to track users on a map. Users can input where they've experienced a particular, ahem, situation, which can then be read by other users. So, for example, you could be walking down the street and looking at the app on your iPhone, only to realize, "hey, some dude yanked it right where I'm standing." In most cases, that would probably be pretty nasty. In others, it could be kind of funny.

It's also highly probable if you live here in Toronto. Pink Visual says a Toronto fellow named "Bigbwoy" is the current leader on the Frequent Fapper chart. Yeah Toronto - we're number one! California is the top state and San Antonio has the most "Fap pins" placed so far.

I have to hand it to Pink Visual - they know how to write a press release. I read about how new technology products are coming out of their "beta" test periods all day long. It's not often, though, that I hear about a product being released from "mastur-beta." Ha!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Windows 7 Whopper: "A tower of cardiac arrest"

I love my fast-food monstrosities here at Sex, Bombs & Burgers, which explains why friends are always sending me them. A friend passed this one on the other day: the Windows 7 Whopper, featuring - of course - seven burger patties.

Microsoft partnered with Burger King on this beast in Japan back in October to promote the launch of its new operating system. The burger was only offered for a limited time but apparently sold well, according to Business Week. Japanese people tend to eat light, so Microsoft figured it could get major media attention by debuting the mega-burger there (it packed an astounding 2,120 calories - more than you should consume in a full day).

And attract attention it did. Here's a video of someone trying to actually eat the thing:



Of course, the media attention may not have been what Microsoft was hoping for. Crunch Gear called the burger a "tower of cardiac arrest," while another blogger said the tie-in suggests that "Windows 7 is one big fat over-the-top mess."

And what's with Burger King anyway? First those risque ads in Singapore, and now this?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Internet censorship on the rise

If you thought only totalitarian nations such as North Korea and China are censoring internet use, you're very wrong. According to Ron Diebert, director of the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, internet censorship is on the rise big time - and certainly in developed countries. While only three or four countries censored in 2002, the number is currently 30 and growing.

Diebert, who is a member of the OpenNet Initiative (ONI) - a censorship watchdog - gave a presentation at Google's headquarters recently. The search giant is a fan of keeping the internet open, not only because its business interests depend on it, but also because many of the people who work there are legitimate backers of things like free speech and the power of a free internet. Google has a commentary on Diebert's presentation, as well as his full 44-minute video, on its public policy blog.

In a nutshell, many developing countries that are only just now getting online are already investing in sophisticated technologies that allow governments to block objectionable content. "These governments are 'baking in' tools to co-opt Web 2.0 features rather than play catch-up after criticism has been aired," Google says.

Developed countries, meanwhile, are blacklisting sites without even telling the public about it, so people have no idea what they're missing. This is resulting in dirty tricks being played against the people. "In the next few years, the ONI predicts that we will see more targeted surveillance and malware tactics like spamming to make monitoring and documenting government censorship more difficult."

It's pretty shading sounding and, as ONI reports, North America is not exempt. While internet service providers here don't engage in widespread technical filtering, "the internet is far from 'unregulated' in either state," ONI says. Internet censorship here is usually justified by one of four rationales: national security, intellectual property, computer security, and of course, child protection and morality.

The ONI cites one known case where authorities tried to proactively filter child pornography, but ultimately managed to catch legitimate websites in their net as well. The Pennsylvania Attorney General's office had its efforts shut down by a district court in 2004 after its list prevented access to many websites that had nothing to do with child porn.

The case illustrates the thorny issue of how porn is often the thin edge of the wedge - the cause of protecting children, which nobody in their right mind can dispute, is often used to leverage the erosion of other rights. How to eliminate horrible content like child porn while maintaining individual freedoms is perhaps the one burning question brought forward by the internet.

The above stuff is just a snippet of the ONI's report on North America - they've got reports on individual countries which, if you're interested in free speech, make for some amazing reading. I highly recommend it.

UPDATE:
And wouldn't you know it, Australia goes and announces today that it will enact internet filters. The reason given: protecting the children.

Monday, December 14, 2009

2009 a tough year, even for fast food

Well, 2009 is almost over and with the state of the economy as it was, I don't think too many people will be sad to see it go. Virtually every industry has had a tough go of it this year, and the fast-food business has been no different.

We heard back in October that McDonald's was pulling out of Iceland. Wendy's is now retreating from Japan, where the pressure to compete with McDonald's is just too great. The chain, which has been in Japan since 1980, is going to close all 71 of its stores there come the end of the year.

While this is bad news for investors in these companies, it's music to the ears of people who like to eat at their restaurants. McDonald's has announced that starting in January, it'll be beefing up its $1 value menu with breakfast items. Breakfast sales are down, evidently because so many people have lost their jobs. (Perhaps that means these people are sleeping in till lunch?)

I'm not sure if these deals will be extended outside the United States, but it has got me thinking about McDonald's and its Canadian profitability. A few months ago, I read From Russia With Fries, which is of McDonald's Canada (and Russia) founder George Cohon. In it, he boasted about how the Canadian wing of the chain was among its most profitable.

I suppose that shouldn't be a surprise given that the $1 American value menu goes for $1.39 here in Canada, despite the exchange difference being only about 5 cents. Is this another sign of how Canadians get hosed for everything? (i.e. our cellphones)

Friday, December 11, 2009

McDonald's food safer than school food

The folks at McDonald's and other fast-food chains must be smiling this week. A headline on a USA Today story the other day pretty much said it all: "Fast-food standards for meat top those for school lunches." To echo the reaction I'm sure many fast-food executives had when they saw it: Ha!

An investigation by the paper found that fast-food companies such as McDonald's and Burger King test their beef five to 10 times more than the meat that is bought for schools by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Same goes for chicken. The USDA supplies schools with meat from old chickens - so-called "spent hens" that are past their egg-laying primes - whereas KFC won't touch them. As J. Glenn Morris, a professor of medicine and director of the Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida, puts its:

We simply are not giving our kids in schools the same level of quality and safety as you get when you go to many fast-food restaurants. We are not using those same standards.


If you're too lazy to read the in-depth USA Today report, you can watch an ABC News report that distills it down into a minute-and-a-half (in a way that only television can) by going here.

This goes to show that while fast food may generally be high in calories, fat and salt, it is - thanks in large part to technology - generally safe and won't poison you. Unlike the lunch lady.

(Image courtesy of DaniDraws)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A real-world Iron Man

In the course of checking out some new photos from next summer's Iron Man 2 movie, I was reminded of the fact that military contractors are working on real-life exoskeletons. While these things are a far cry from Tony Stark's flying, repulsor-shooting armour, they are pretty damn impressive.

I've mentioned Lockheed Martin's Human Universal Load Carrier - which is of course known as "HULC" - before, as well as the efforts of Japanese car makers' to create robotic legs that can be worn by people.

It was Raytheon, however, that got attention when the first Iron Man movie came out in 2008 for working on the real thing. A number of media outlets had stories on it while Wired did a nifty video. Check it out - a real-world Iron Man in action:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Is Japan gearing up for sex robots?

Reuters (or as a friend recently called it, "Rooters") has a cool report from the Tokyo robot festival last week. The video takes a look at how Japan is aiming to transform its industrial robots into home robots over the next few years.

Speaking of transforming, the coolest robots in the report are those that actually change shape, Optimus Prime style. You can check it out (I'd embed it, but those damn folks at Rooters have disabled that functionality).

All of that may be so, but as Elie Mystal puts it over on the Above the Law blog, "the robot sex slave ... will (obviously) hit the market long before any robot intended for purely family use."

To that effect, the has a report on how sex robots are very close to becoming reality:



How long till there are sex robot brothels? If people are already paying to have sex with dolls, I'd wager it won't be much longer.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Fat chickens, war or environmental ruin?

The National Post kicked off a series on the environment yesterday with a great story (and when I say "great," it's because I totally agree with it) on food technology. The story looks at various aspects of reducing waste and environmental degradation through food production methods, whether it's bio-engineered crops or land-based fish farms.

The story, which runs in what is generally considered a right-wing newspaper (although it never felt like that when I worked there), looks at the funny way in which food has become a pet cause for the left. In summary: "While Western environmentalists lionize unrefined, organic farms, one of the best ways to protect our environment is by spreading 21st century farming technology and corporate agricultural products." To put it another way - the left's position has usually gone something like: organic food = good, genetically modified food = bad.

(For the record, I consider myself a centrist - right on some issues, left on others. When it comes to food, I'm definitely a big proponent of more technology, not less. I'm also an animal lover, but I recognize our place atop the food chain.)

One of the interviewees is Patrick Moore, the former Canadian president of lefty poster people Greenpeace and now chairman of a communications company called Greenspirit Strategies. Moore takes the rather surprising view that technology, especially when applied to food, is a key tool in preserving the environment. "Intensive agricultural production is the key," he says. "It's simple arithmetic: the more food you grow per acre, the less natural world you have to clear to do it."

Such a view creates a perplexing dilemma for the left. On the one hand, genetic engineering - the kind that makes chickens so fat that they can't even stand up - is bad because it's cruel to animals. On the other hand, it's good because it uses less land to produce food and creates less polluting waste. So what's it going to be: animal cruelty or environmental destruction?

If you think that's a tough choice, wait till the effects of food shortages sharpen. One aspect the National Post story doesn't touch on, which I get into in my book, is how a lack of food can lead people into war and terrorism. The world's population is growing, and so is the lack of food. So what should we do when faced with the choices of war and terrorism or environmental degradation?

Those fat, misshapen chickens don't look so bad now, do they?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Gay elves? Call in the censors!

It's good to see video games don't just get unfairly singled out for their violence - they also stir up the holier-than-thou crowd just about any time they deal with sex, too. Especially if it's gay sex.

Both the New York Times and the Globe and Mail in recent days chose to spotlight Dragon Age: Origins, a role-playing game where - if you play your cards right - you can have your character engage in some hot elf-on-elf action. The kicker is, both characters involved are male.

The game is from Edmonton's Bioware, the studio that's created such kick-ass RPGs as Neverwinter Nights and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. The Dragon Age situation is certainly not Bioware's first gay-sex barbecue, so to speak - they first stirred it up back in 2007 with the science-fiction RPG Mass Effect, where players could also role-play their way into girl-on-girl-alien action. (UPDATE: I'm told Knights of the Old Republic was actually Bioware's first foray into same-sex situations... Mass Effect simply got way more attention.)

Then, as now, the studio responded to criticism by suggesting that they wanted to create an immersive, realistic storyline that dealt with character relationships in mature, meaningful ways. Of course, the idiot contingent out there accused Bioware of being smut peddlers pushing a gay agenda onto children. My personal favourite was Fox News, the game was "Star Wars meets Debbie Does Dallas."

Regular readers know I'm a big proponent of treating video games the same way that other media are treated. Maybe some day we'll get there. In the meantime, here's a juxtaposition of clips (both are safe for work) - one is the gay elf sex scene from Dragon Age, the other is from a certain Oscar-winning gay cowboy movie:



Friday, December 4, 2009

50 Cent settles Taco Bell lawsuit... whew!

Taco Bell employees can all sleep easier now, knowing that rapper 50 Cent has settled a lawsuit with their employer. Mr. Cent, or "Fiddy" as he likes to call himself, launched the lawsuit in June last year after Taco Bell used his likeness without his permission.

The problem was that Taco Bell, the purveyors of fine Mexican food, ran an ad campaign that offered Fiddy $10,000 if he would change his name to 79 Cent, 89 Cent or 99 Cent for just one day to promote its value menu. (In Canada, after factoring in exchange, he would have had to have gone by 83 Cent, 93 Cent or the awkward 104 Cent.)

I suspect the 10 big ones is chump change to Fiddy, who probably has his , and he obviously didn't go for it. He sued for $4 million and settled for an undisclosed sum last year. When the lawsuit first started, he told a rap magazine that "When my legal team is finished with them, Taco Bell is going to have a new corporate slogan: 'We messed with the bull and got the horns.'"

Well, losing the money is better than the alternative, which was 50 Cent blowing all those b$#^#@%s away, motherf#%@%$^#! Ironically, this hilarious video was circulating among my colleagues this week:

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Armed robots: thank you for your co-operation

A friend sent me a link to a video yesterday about a guy in Tennessee who not only makes guns, but also robots to put them on. The video, embedded below, is a really interesting report on how this sort of thing is the future of warfare.

The first half of the report, which looks at inventor Jerry Baber, is interesting enough in that it focuses on his latest creation, a fully automatic shotgun. It's hard to grasp what a fully automatic shotgun really is until you actually stop to think about it. First, you have to picture how destructive a single shotgun blast is... then, you have to think about how a machine gun works simply by pressing the trigger and keeping it held. Now combine the two - nasty!

The second half of the report gets into the robots armed with these things. The thought of that alone ought to be enough to dissuade some insurgents from joining up with al Qaeda or the Taliban. Here's the video:



The use of armed robots is spreading quickly. There are, of course, the Reaper and Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, but there are also armed ground robots slowly being rolled out. Check out this video of Foster-Miller's MAARS (Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System), which is a small robot that resembles a tank and is capable of "full escalation of force."

Armed robots in the sky is one thing, but machines wielding weapons on the ground, where they're much closer to everyone, makes some people nervous. After all, everyone has seen the Terminator or Robocop (and the frightening ED-209).

Joe Dyer, a retired Navy vice-admiral, now an iRobot executive, explained it all quite succinctly to me when I interviewed him back in April: "Almost every technology that finds itself in military service starts with reconnaissance and evolves to strike. It becomes so frustrating to be able to see but not to act that it invariably moves to strike capability."

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Presenting: the Australian cover

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, which is good because that means today's blog post can be really short. At long last, here is the nearly-final cover for my book from Allen & Unwin, as it'll appear in Australia and New Zealand:



Penguin is working on a very different take for Canada, which I hope to be able to share soon. In the meantime, please pipe up with your comments. Like it? Hate it?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Porn store opens for Android phone owners

The most-viewed post I've ever had on this blog is one from May about how porn producers were looking forward to the launch of the Palm Pre smartphone, which promised more openness than the Apple iPhone. Downloadable software, or "apps," has been one of the major reasons why smartphone sales (particularly the iPhone) are going bananas. Apple, however, has taken a lot of criticism for being very tyrannical about which apps it allows on the iPhone, which is particularly the case for any sort of porn software. Palm, on the other hand, seemed to extend an invitation to porn producers to come and develop apps for its flagship phone, and the porn producers were suitably excited about it.

As it turns out, it looks like the Palm Pre was the wrong horse to back for porn companies. Not only have sales of the phone been poor, but the crop of phones based on Google's Android operating system are proving to be much more... well, sexy.

A Seattle start-up called MiKandi, which is run by former Microsoft and T-Mobile executives, is offering an app-store-within-an-app-store for porn. Here's a video that explains it (don't worry, it's safe for work):



In a nutshell, MiKandi is looking to become the one-stop porn portal for Android phone users. "[MiKandi] wanted to find a niche that was not currently being served and adult applications were at the top of the list," one of its founders told PC World. "There are no other adult app stores out there to meet this need of users and developers. So we entered the market with MiKandi to provide value to the mobile application ecosystem."

For porn producers, this app store is an intriguing idea. On the one hand, they can choose to develop software for MiKandi and let that company take care of all the potential headaches that will inevitably arise when dealing with phone companies and/or Google. On the other hand, if MiKandi can create a porn-based app store on Android, why couldn't a company like Playboy or Vivid field their own individual apps and keep all the money they might make from them? Ultimately MiKandi is looking to be a middle man here, which could be a good or bad thing.

For phone users - while MiKandi is promising to extend its app store to other smartphones (including presumably the iPhone) - I'm betting this is something that phone companies and/or Google clamp down on quickly. I mean come on, it's porn, the scourge of our civilization!