Friday, October 30, 2009

My very first porno: why the industry is suffering

Ah mainstream media... how clueless you are (and I say this as someone who works in the MSM, as the social networking kids are calling it these days). The folks over at CNN have finally realized there's a recession going on... in porn.

Here's the video report, which covers pretty much the main topics - i.e. how the recession has hit the porn industry as well, and how piracy is a big problem:

It's ironic because the CNN report came the day before everybody in the U.S. was howling over the official end to the recession. It's also funny because we've for ages.

What the report came within a hair's width of noticing, but still missed, is that the adult industry is in a recession and losing money to piracy because the barriers to entering porn have never been lower. Anyone with a cellphone can now make their own.

To prove the point, may I present to you, my first ever (and unbelievably bad) porno movie:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

KFC sends a delegate to the UN

And the fast-food hits just keep on comin'. As a bunch of media picked up this week, a man dressed as Colonel Sanders made it in to the United Nations on Monday, getting as far a handshake with UN General Assembly president Dr. Ali A. Treki of Libya.

The whole thing was apparently a publicity stunt by KFC, which was looking to promote its "Grilled Nation" chicken products. What made the whole thing all the more funny, though, was how seriously UN staff took it after learning they had been duped.

"It should not have happened - that I will stress, and very strongly," a UN spokesperson said, according to the National Post. "The UN cannot be involved in a commercial venture. Period. This is being touched upon by our legal department."

Apparently Dr. Treki shook the Colonel's hand and posed for the picture because "he's a very polite man." Hey, at the least the Colonel didn't try to set up a tent in his home country.

Aw come on United Nations, get a sense of humour! You got suckered good, might as well laugh about it!

Speaking of KFC - a colleague sent me a link to this Saturday Night Live skit following on the Double Down the other day. Check it out, it's hilarious. You just know that someone, somewhere is thinking this is a good idea:

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Uniformity, not profit, may be key to McD's pull-out from Iceland

The big fast-food news yesterday was that McDonald's is pulling out of Iceland. As several news reports noted, the franchisee who owns the three McD's outlets in Iceland decided that importing all of the ingredients necessary for Big Macs and the like was simply too expensive - he couldn't make enough profit to justify keeping them up and running.

There appears to be more to the story, though, which many media reports seem to have missed. As the Globe and Mail story pointed out, Jon Ogmundsson, the franchisee in question, is planning to convert the three restaurants into his own burger chain that will serve "very similar products like McDonald's." Burger King also pulled out of Iceland late last year for the same reasons, yet its franchisee also converted restaurants into a localized version.

What's probably at play here is the big chains' insistence on maintaining product uniformity. McDonald's famously revolutionized Russia's agricultural system when it set up shop in the country in the early 1990s. The chain imported the special potato seeds it needed from the Netherlands in order to get the fries to taste just right.

It's pretty clear that burger chains can exist in Iceland, but the country's difficult climate and terrain probably make it impossible to locally grow the sort of ingredients the chains need in order to make the food taste just like it does in the U.S. of A. In the end, it looks like they'd rather pull out than make food with locally produced ingredients that tastes different from what people are accustomed to.

Interestingly, Subway's fortunes in Iceland would seem to lend credence to this theory. The chain, which is set to McDonald's as the largest purveyor of fast-food in the world - at least by total restaurant numbers - has 18 outlets in the country. Subway, with its generally fresher ingredients, is far less dependent on the sort of technologically produced and preserved goods made by McDonald's and Burger King.

By the way, songstress Bjork has nothing to do with this story. But, as with using a picture of the Sydney Opera House to illustrate any story about Australia, her inclusion in any post or article about Iceland is also a semi-official media rule.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

KFC doubles down on horror

My favourite KFC monstrosity till now has been the infamous bowl 'o food that comedian Patton Oswalt so aptly referred to once as a . I stand humbled, though, after recently learning of KFC's latest creation: the Double Down.

I wasn't aware of the Double Down, probably because it's being quietly test-marketed in a few U.S. states. The Huffington Post covered it back in August, and you can check that out here.

Basically, the Double Down takes the idea of a chicken sandwich and replaces the buns with... what else? Fried chicken. That's right - a couple strips of bacon, cheese and sauce are sandwiched between two chunks of chicken. As the ads down in the test markets say, the Double Down has "so much 100 percent premium chicken, we didn't have room for a bun."

The Vancouver Sun did a quick health check on this beast and found it contained somewhere around 1,200 calories and about 125% of your daily fat and sodium intake. A KFC spokesman corrected the newspaper's calculation and said the sandwich only contained about 590 calories. Taking a look at it, that lower number looks somewhat hard to believe.

[This blog post has been slightly modified from the original since, as it turns out, the person who originally made me aware of the Double Down wasn't entirely comfortable being named.]

Monday, October 26, 2009

Talking net neutrality on CBC's Spark

Last week was a big week for net neutrality, with rulings coming down in both Canada and the United States. I've blogged about net neutrality and before. If you still don't know know what it is, in a nutshell it's about keeping the internet free from interference by the companies who own the pipes it runs on. That said, I'm on CBC Radio's Spark program talking about it this week - I'm on around the 32:10 mark, just after Tim Berners-Lee, the fellow who invented the web, and his definition of net neutrality. (The program also has a cool bit about geoblocking and why we Canadians can't access websites like Hulu - check it out).

I got asked a few times last week what I thought about the different developments in Canada and the U.S. Basically, what happened is that Canada's regulator, the CRTC, issued a new set of rules that internet service providers have to follow. ISPs must first use "economic measures" to try and control congestion - in other words, they have to build more capacity into their networks or charge customers by how much they download. If those moves don't alleviate congestion, they can try "technical measures" such as traffic shaping and throttling. In any event, they have to be transparent in what they're doing and tell customers about it.

A day after the Canadian ruling, the CRTC's U.S. counterpart, the FCC, approved a process that will ultimately establish similar rules, probably by next summer. The FCC has proposed a bunch of rules and there will now be several months of lobbying from both ISPs and net neutrality advocates before there is a final framework.

So what do I think? Well, the FCC's proposed rules are considerably stronger than the CRTC's official rules - they prohibit ISPs from blocking any sort of legal traffic or content. The CRTC rules do too, sort of, but ISPs do get the "technical measures" out - if they can prove a particular application is harming their network, they can effectively cripple it.

Moreover, the intent behind the FCC's proposed rules is also much stronger - Barack Obama net neutrality during his election campaign, and he's got ties to big supporting companies like Google. In Canada, our government continues to be mum on the subject.

(On a related note - there is some disturbing news coming from my old colleague , who hosts the Search Engine podcast for TVO. Last week, Jesse tweeted some highlights from an interview he did with CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein, who admitted he hasn't seen any studies that have criticized Canada's broadband situation. That's pretty shocking. Jesse tells me his podcast will be up on Monday - I'll post a link to it here as soon as I see it.)

It'll be interesting to see whether this apparently strong political will for concrete rules in the U.S. will get watered down by lobbying over the next couple of months. Heck, even acknowledged John McCain has joined in on attacking the FCC's proposed rules.

Meanwhile, here in Canada we're going to go with that old cliche - only time will tell.

UPDATE: Here's the link to Jesse's interview with the CRTC chairman. Some great questions in there.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Prostitute customers use the internet! Gasp!

A colleague pointed me to an interesting study yesterday from Michigan State University on prostitution and the internet. The study, researched by an MSU assistant professor of criminal justice, found that Johns (the customers of prostitutes) aren't actually lone wolves. They often use the internet to provide each other with information, which makes them more difficult to catch.

The report also says that these Johns have formed a sort of online subculture, complete with their own jargon and code, and that they generally help each other out.

Well, duh. The mid-nineties called: they want their news back.

Online subcultures for every sexual predilection have existed for just about as long as the internet has been around. Remember when the internet was mostly text-based Usenet bulletin boards like and alt.fetish? In 1995, four of the ten most popular Usenet boards were sex and porn-related (it's in the book). Many early internet users used those boards to talk about their sexual preferences, and to share information. Doubtlessly, some of these boards shared prostitution info. At the risk of sounding like the sort of typical anonymous douche-y comment found on just about any online story you'll find, "Why is this news?"

The real issue I had with the MSU report is some of the language used by its researchers. In describing some of its key findings, Thomas Holt, one of the leads on the study, said, "The growth of these deviant subcultures has made it more difficult for law enforcement. On the other hand, it gives us a new opportunity to use the way the offenders communicate to better target their activities."

MSU's press release continues with: "The study also said the Johns place significant value on the notion that paid sexual encounters are normal and nondeviant. 'These Internet communities help these individuals justify their behavior,' Holt said."

As far as I'm concerned, any time you use the word "deviant," you're asking for trouble. While the word really means something that deviates from the norm, the real-world connotation of it is usually quite negative; a synonym for degenerate or twisted. In this sense, that is much too broad a brush with which to paint every John. Just like with the sex robots , there are a number of good reasons for a person to seek the services of a prostitute, not the least of which might be that they are socially or physically incapable of getting sex in what would be considered the "normal" way.

Attitudes toward prostitution are also completely cultural - what is "deviant" behaviour to a particular MSU researcher is perfectly acceptable and legal in many countries - it's even fine in parts of the U.S. (what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas).

No doubt there are considerable ills that come from the world's oldest profession, and surely many Johns are in fact low-life deviants. But the use of such rhetorical language in a broad sense suggests something more is at play with this report. I don't follow this sort of thing closely - thankfully - so I'm not sure what that something is, but I'd be willing to bet it's part of some sort of lobbying effort. There's a lot of that going on these days.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

UFO cult pitches sex robots for priests

When I started this whole book project, I never thought I'd find myself referring to the Raelians, but here I am doing it - and not for the first time! , a colleague on Twitter, pointed me to this press release from the Raelians this week that advocates supplying Catholic priests with sex robots, to steer them away from paedophilia. Wow.

Okay, first up - the Raelians are a UFO cult that believe in humanity having had previous contact with aliens. Their leader, Rael a.k.a. Claude Vorilhon, is a French-born former journalist and race car driver who is (mostly) based in Montreal. The Raelians are involved in a number of far-out causes, including the cloning of humans through the controversial company Clonaid, which they see as a step toward achieving immortality.

When last we left the Raelians, they were from a porn magnate in New Zealand for another of their pet causes - Clitoraid, an organization set up to help people deal with genital mutilation.

Now, they're looking to raise money to build sex robots for Catholic priests who, like Nova Scotia bishop Raymond Lahey, just can't seem to stay away from child porn and paedophilia. The problem, the Raelians say, is that priests are denied natural sexual gratification - something that robots could safely satisfy:

Our governments should spend less time questioning themselves about the existence of religious minorities, and instead draw the obvious conclusions given the innumerable crimes committed by a religion that has lost all contact with the initial teachings of its prophet Jesus. In the meantime, while we wait for the international authorities to focus on the Roman Catholic doctrine and closely examine it against Human Rights, as we have been asking for a long time, a few well distributed robots should give a break to the children in our neighbourhoods.

We've talked about sex robots quite a bit here, and the topic is covered fairly extensively in my upcoming book. The long and the short of it is, sex with robots is a question of ... and some would say it's even somewhat possible today. While a normal, right-thinking person might be inclined to think that sex with a robot is sad or pathetic, the Raelians do actually have a point in that there are actually many reasons for why it could be a good thing. Sex robots - especially once they get really life-like - could fulfill the natural gratification needs of people who simply can't get it from real people. That covers people who are socially, physically or morally incapable.

As for the Raelians... you have to hand it to them. They may pick some really bizarre causes to support, but at least they seem to have their hearts in the right place.

In the meantime, what would Jesus say about having sex with robots?

[Image is copyright Corbis]

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A real-life lightsaber?

Is there anyone on Earth who wouldn't want a lightsaber? I definitely can't think of anybody... and if such a person exists, I wouldn't want to know them anyway! The lightsaber is only the coolest fictional invention of all-time (slightly ahead of adamantium claws housed in one's forearms), so it was with great excitement that I read a post on Wired's Danger Room blog about the "plasma knife." The article even had a picture of Luke Skywalker sporting his green Return of the Jedi lightsaber.

Danger Room likes to talk about technology the military is developing, and its pop-culture ties. Connecting the plasma knife to the , though, is a bit of a stretch. The knife has been developed as a portable surgical tool for troops in the field. It cauterizes wounds, or effectively burns them closed. Sort of like applying a red-hot metal to the wound, like Rambo did in a couple First Blood movies. Still, the device does produce a "blade" of glowing ionized gas, so the comparison isn't completely out of line.

That said, it would be uncharacteristic of military scientists to concentrate on finding only defensive or palliative uses of a new technology. Surely someone must be thinking about how to take this idea further, to creating true and proper lightsabers. Combine that with some of the new bionics the military is working on, and perhaps some genetically engineered superhuman abilities, and maybe we can get us some living, breathing Jedi knights.

If better and deadlier robots aren't scaring the Taliban and Iraqi insurgents, why not unleash the Force on them?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The coming war on salt

I don't know about you, but the colder it gets, the more my hankering for soup increases. I'm not sure why that is - in the winter, I tend to like hot soups while in the summer I gravitate towards lighter fare, like maybe a salad or something. It's weird - in the hot months, I hate soup.

In any event, if you like soup - particularly the store-bought kind - be sure to take a look at the label. What you see there may just stop your heart: literally. Store-bought soups are a major source of salt, or more specifically, sodium. Too much sodium can cause hypertension or heart disease. I went grocery shopping the other day and found one can of a popular brand of soup contained nearly 50 per cent of the recommended daily sodium intake. Yikes. has some great reading on sodium - I recommend checking it out. Food processors, who are responsible for more than three-quarters of the sodium we consume, are coming under increasing pressure to cut back on the stuff. Sodium, which combines with chloride to form salt, is used in just about every food to help preserve it, and to give it flavour. Food processing generally takes the flavour out of a lot of foods - salt puts it back in. As such, Americans (and Canadians, one would assume) are consuming around 50 per cent too much salt each day.

ConAgra, one of the biggest food processors in the world - and maker of such brands as Chef Boyardee, Orville Reddenbacher's and Hunt's - has announced it is cutting back the amount of salt it puts into its products by 20 per cent by 2015. That's about 8 million pounds of salt in the United States alone. Consumer demand for low-salt products is on the rise, which follows the previous trend of people wanting low-fat foods.

I found this particularly interesting because when I interviewed Dr. Michele Perchonok, one of NASA's head food scientists , she told me about how astronauts have to eat low-salt foods while up in orbit. Weightlessness causes bones to weaken, as does sodium. A combination of the two could have very bad effects on the astronauts. NASA and food processors have therefore historically been on very different wavelengths as far as salt was concerned. But, Perchonok said, that is changing: “I have a feeling we’re going to be working together in that.”

I suspect ConAgra may be calling up the space folks to find out how they make tasty, well-preserved food without all that salt.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Voting for vibrators

One of the great things about the United States is that truly anyone can run for public office. If you doubt that, consider the fact that Stepfanie Velez-Gentry - who organizes sex-toy parties for a living - is running for a vacant seat in the New Jersey state assembly.

It's true - Velez-Gentry is the proprietor of Nookie Parties LLC, which hosts Tupperware-like parties... except instead of showing off plastic containers, she demonstrates the latest in vibrators and butt plugs. As her website says, "We are in the business of Romance Enhancement & believe that if we can help improve your romance our job is done."

According to Xbiz, Velez-Gentry is a Republican - which I find pretty shocking given her occupation. She told the website that her Nookie Parties has given her a venue with which to commune with potential voters. “When other women voters see me at a party they always say ‘you go, girl’ and say ‘knock ‘em dead,’” she said. “I always get a high-five and lots of support where ever I go.”

Publicly, though, she doesn't exactly promote what she does for a living. According to Xbiz, she bills herself simply as a small business owner. Which reminds me of someone else running for office...

I believe I've made the connection between sex and pro wrestling on this blog before, and here we have another one. Linda McMahon, wife of wrestling kingpin Vince McMahon, recently resigned her position as chief executive officer of World Wrestling Entertainment to run for the U.S. Senate in her home state of Connecticut, also as a Republican. While you can find references to wrestling on her website, they're not exactly front and centre.

She isn't hiding the fact that she's made her name and fortune by broadcasting shows where nearly naked men bash each other on the head with chairs while wearing spandex, but she certainly doesn't seem overly proud of it. The sex folks often take a similar tactic when trying to make it in the mainstream. I can't say I blame either. Sex and wrestling aren't exactly vote-getters (although don't tell Jesse "the Body" Ventura).

Friday, October 16, 2009

China knocking off U.S. drones too

So you think cheap knock-offs of DVDs and Rolex watches are the best fakes the Chinese can do? Nah, not by a long shot. A couple of blogs have posts about China's growing fleet of copied robot recon planes, also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

Wired's Danger Room and Defense News both give a quick rundown of what China is working on. Danger Room says China's Xianglong looks a lot like the U.S. Global Hawk while the Yilong bears an uncanny resemblance to the Predator. Defense News says China has been copying Western military designs since the 1960s. While China recently showed off its UAVs, the country doesn't seem to have put them into production, which the blogs say is evidence that they're being copied and not actually designed from the ground up. "The companies displaying these are probably trying to elicit foreign investment and probably do not have an actual prototype," a Chinese military analyst told Defense News.

While the United States is the far-away leader in UAV technology, accounting for about 60 per cent of the market, China is going to catch up quickly because of major investment in the area, according to Defence Professionals. Chinese officials stated in 2007 that it would take the country about 10 years to get fully up and running.

UAVs, of course, need a solid satellite system to be of any use. Is it any surprise that China is also investing heavily in its space program?

Time to learn Mandarin. If anything, it'll help you get a better deal on those DVD knock-offs.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Microwaveable pork rinds? Yuck

There is seemingly no end to the variety of technologically-engineered products that can be created by imaginative food companies. The latest: microwaveable pork rinds. I loves me my bacon as much as the next guy, but I give this one a big Blech!

Pork rinds generally aren't that popular in Canada - at least not here in Ontario. I hear they're eaten in Quebec, where they're called "Oreilles de Christ," or "ears of Christ," possibly because they look like ears and when you bite into them, you say "Christ, that's gross." (Okay, I admit it, I from David Lee Roth).

Pork rinds are essentially the skin of the pig, fried and salted, sort of like a potato chip. They're quite popular down in the southern U.S., where they're a staple of Cajun cuisine and soul food.

The folks at Lowrey's, which makes various jerky products, have created microwaveable rinds that come in a popcorn-like bag, and heated up in a similar fashion. The GrubGrade blog has a thorough review, complete with photos, and overall they give it a glowing recommendation: a rating of 9.25 out of 10. After heating, the rinds look sort of like rice chips and feature a bacon-y taste without any of the grease. In the words of GrubGrade:

Yes, the pre-eminent flavor was salt, but I didn't feel that it detracted from the actual taste, which was both meaty and fatty without being oily or chewy. Texture wise, these were superb. They are super airy and light, and amazingly they lack the grease which I have previously associated with and hated about bacon. The fully expanded pieces have a cheetoes-like crispiness, while the smaller pieces had a crunch almost like a kettle potato chip. In all seriousness, I could have devoured a kiddie-sized pool of these things. They were just that good.

Like I said, I love bacon, but the product just seems too artificial to get me salivating. At least it's not as gross as bacon cupcakes...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Editing is done, on to Europe

My manuscript is being handed off to Penguin's copy editors today, which means that the major editing phase is done. Another big milestone down. I'm told the copy editing - which are the simple corrections to spelling, grammar and style - will take about three weeks, and then it's off to design and proofreading. A cover should be coming down the pipe shortly. I can't wait to see what they cook up, and to be sure, I'll be posting it here as soon as I can.

Today is also another important day in that it's the start of the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany. The fair, which runs until Sunday, is a for books for the European market. My agents, Westwood Creative Artists, are taking snippets of Sex, Bombs & Burgers to Frankfurt in the hopes of getting some European publishers interested in it. I hope they have some luck as the only thing cooler than finally seeing my book in print would be to see it in a different language.

Fingers crossed. Hopefully European publishers can see that war, porn and fast-food are indeed universal!

In honour of the fair, I present to you this awesome video of Germany's favourite son, the one, the only, Mr. David Hasslehoff:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

PayPal could come in handy for porn sites

Last week I sat down with Andrew Nash, senior director of identity services for PayPal, and chatted about online security. Nash was in town to give a speech at SecTor, the Canadian equivalent of DefCon, which is essentially an annual hacker convention held in Las Vegas.

PayPal, if you don't know, is an online payment option used primarily by eBay users, but it's also starting to pop up on other e-commerce websites. Dell Computer, La Senza and Henry's camera stores are just a few of the online retailers that are using PayPal, which is owned by eBay.

We talked mainly about the company's plan to get web surfers onto a "single-user identity," which would eliminate the 25 or so multiple logins and passwords the typical person has to remember. Details of that part of the conversation can be found here in my CBC story.

At the end of the chat, we discussed adult websites and how a company like PayPal figures in. Part of that single-user identity plan would include age verification, which is of course a major problem with porn on the internet. While in the early days of the web, many porn sites required users to sign up for a paid age verification service, nowadays it's the Wild West out there. Accessing hard-core porn content is as simple as clicking a button that assures you're actually over 18. It's hardly an accurate system.

Here's what Nash had to say about PayPal, age verification and adult sites:

Oh yeah, by the way - I didn't have any luck finding one of those hot-dog . It looks like they're only deployed for big conventions. SecTor apparently doesn't warrant any robot food dispensers yet.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Turkeys, genetics and sex

In honour of it being Thanksgiving today here in Canada, I've got a couple turkey bits to share. First up is an article that ran in Wired last year about how our foods, particularly turkey, have changed over the past 50 years thanks to genetic manipulation. It's a lengthy article but well worth the read if you're at home doing nothing today, or if you're looking for ways to screw the pooch if, like me, you're stuck at work.

Some turkey highlights from the article:
-The United States pumped out 33 times more pounds of turkey at a lower cost to consumers in 2007 than its farmers did in 1929.
-Turkeys more than doubled in size in that time from an average of 13 pounds to an average of 29 pounds.
-If the trend continues, we could see an average turkey size of 40 pounds by 2020.
-A modern turkey can mature to a given weight at twice the pace of its predecessors.

Secondly, because we do deal with a few other specialty topics here - here's a video that, amazingly enough, combines turkey with sex. Enjoy!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Just the essentials: booze, Viagra and porn

Funny stuff coming out of Detroit: three people have been charged with an illegal scheme involving the swapping of food stamps for some decidedly not-essential items: booze, Viagra and porn.

Prosecutors have filed fraud charges against employees of Jefferson's Liquor Palace - a fine establishment from the sounds of it - for running a racket, according to the Chicago Tribune. The scheme worked like so: food-stamp recipients took their cards into the store, where they were swiped in exchange for large amounts of cash. The store was then reimbursed by the Department of Agriculture, as per how the food-stamp system works.

But as part of a sting operation, authorities' confidential informants found that the store would provide food-stamp customers with good other than cash: Viagra, booze, painkillers and, of course, porn DVDs. The store is now closed but prosecutors say it racked up more than $130,000 over two years using this scheme.

It's no secret that Detroit was one of the hardest hit U.S. cities (remember the stories earlier this year about how people couldn't give houses away?), but this takes the cake!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Fatty foods make better pilots: report

Remember that story about the military pilot who landed in a baseball field so he could get some A&W hamburgers? It all makes sense now. Pilots who eat the fattiest foods have the fastest response times, according to a new military-funded study.

University of North Dakota researchers have found that pilots who ate fatty foods such as butter and gravy had the quickest response times in mental tests and made fewer mistakes when flying in difficult cloud situations.

"We wound up analyzing the data every which way but upside down. It came out consistent every time," psychology professor Tom Petros told the Associated Press.

Pilots who took part in the test spent a week each on one of four diets - high-fat, high-carbohydrate, high-protein and a control diet - and performed tests in flight simulators. Test subjects on the high-fat and high-carb diets did quite a bit better than the high-protein eaters, while the high-fat dieters did a little better than the high-carb dieters.

The point of the study was to figure out ways of cutting down on human error while flying, which is the main cause of accidents. It looks like loading pilots up with Twinkies and pizza before they take off is the way to go.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Porn companies fend off a patent troll

The porn industry is usually a good one to go after with lawsuits of just about any sort since the companies involved rarely want the sort of exposure that comes with going to court. But from time to time, porn companies fight back - and sometimes they win, and win big. That's what happened last week in a battle with a patent troll.

For the non-techies and non-legal types, a patent troll is a company that has few - if any - products of its own. Its main business is acquiring patents to different technologies, then trying to charge licensing fees to any other companies using those patents. Failing that, the troll generates income by suing companies that allegedly violate the patents it holds.

Perhaps the best-known case of this was NTP, a Virginia-based company whose main assets were patents - including some in wireless phone systems. In 2000, NTP sued BlackBerry maker Research in Motion and, after six years of fighting it out, got a whopping $612 million out of RIM in a settlement.

Companies targeted by trolls usually assess whether any patents held are legitimate and if they are, they either license the technology or settle in the case of a lawsuit. When the patents held by trolls are deemed to be invalid, they usually fight. In RIM's case, the BlackBerry maker clearly made a bad decision - the case could probably have been settled for far less, but the company's brass decided to fight it out.

In 2002, another of these trolls - Acacia Research Corporation - decided to put patents it allegedly held on online streaming video technology to use by suing several porn companies. It followed up those actions by going after satellite and cable companies, as well as internet radio stations. Some porn producers capitulated quickly and paid Acacia licensing fees, but a few others decided that doing so would mark them as easy targets for any other trolls who wanted to take a kick at the can, so they banded together as the Adult Defense Group and fought.

The group, led by New Destiny Internet Group, reversed the case on Acacia and tried to have the company's streaming patents invalidated, which is what a U.S. court did last week. Porn companies were quick to proclaim victory. Scott Coffman, head of AEBN - which produces the Real Touch sex toy that before - said the battle brought some porn producers together:

They chose the online adult industry to go after because they saw us as low hanging fruit that would not want to go to court but would rather quickly capitulate and just pay their licensing fee... Over the long term though, this cost had to be weighed against the greater good, the cost of all adult online companies having to pay some percentage of their sales as a licensing fee. The other long term and potentially greater cost would have been saying to all other loosely related patent holders that Acacia was right, that the adult industry was an easy mark, not willing to band together and spend money to defend against unwarranted lawsuits. This would only have lead to much more bully litigation.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Going for a ride in the burger copter

I don't know about you, but there are times when I simply, absolutely must have a burger. I usually get the craving after a night of consuming one too many adult beverages. At times like those, nothing but grease will do.

Certain members of the Canadian military definitely agree - although the extremes some of them are willing to go to in order to scratch their itch are amazing.

According to a CBC story, a Canadian military pilot set his helicopter down on a baseball diamond in Kenora, Ont., last week so that he could hop on out to the nearby A&W joint. I've performed many times in the last couple Grand Theft Auto games, but to have it happen in real life... well, that's extraordinary.

What's even more extraordinary is how hungry the pilot appears to have been. "He ordered four papa burgers with cheese combos and two papa burgers on the side," the A&W server told CBC News. Either that or he had a whole squad of soldiers with him, which makes it even funnier. You can just imagine them flying around, listening to and deciding to go for burgers.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Humans bipedal because of sex and food?

I read last week's big science news, about the discovery of the oldest human skeleton - nicknamed "Ardi" for the Ardipithecus ramidus species - with great interest. I particularly liked a National Geographic story about why early humans first started walking on two feet, because it pretty well summed up everything in my book; it had everything to do with Sex, Bombs & Burgers.

In my book, I argue about how those have been the three major driving forces of technology. In the National Geographic story, Owen Lovejoy of Kent State University argues that those three factors go back even further, before technology and to the very roots of human evolution.

Lovejoy presents a fascinating run-down of the history of human mating. When the species that would become human still walked on all fours, females would mate with the biggest and strongest males, which were determined the old-fashioned way: through a knock-'em-down, drag-'em-out slobber knocker. The only way the smaller and less tough humans could get some action was by presenting the female with a gift, which was basically always food. In order to bring the female food, the males had to learn how to walk on two feet, thereby freeing up their hands to carry goodies.

In other words, humans became bipedal because of sex and food, and to get around having to go to war.

Pretty cool theory, huh? I sure like it.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Hot dogs from a vending machine

A couple days ago, my colleague brought to my attention a new hot-dog vending machine in operation here in Toronto. I went looking for it today with the hopes of procuring a video for today's post, but alas, no luck. They do exist, though.

The machines are made by Toronto-based Maven's Kosher Foods, which makes a variety of kosher foods. The particular sighting John mentioned was at a recent Microsoft conference at the Toronto Convention Center (thanks to Accordion Guy for pointing it out). I trotted over to the center today but couldn't find any trace of the machines. With a little further research, I learned that Maven's tends to rent them out only for special events. I'm heading to SecTor, Canada's version of DefCon - the black-hat hacker convention - at the Convention Center next week, so I'm still hoping to catch one in action.

Anyhow, I do have a video of the machine in action, courtesy of Maven's:

The machine dispenses three different kinds of kosher dogs - all-beef, spicy Italian and chicken - for $5 each, and it can dispense a total of 300 hot dogs before it needs refilling.

We've covered this ground here before - such as the being rolled out in the U.S. and Italy. If you provide these robotic machines with the proper, fresh ingredients, there's no reason why they can't make fast food that's as good - or better - than unskilled and teenage workers.

And since we're on the topic of vending machines, and we do tend to talk about sex here, let's not forget the machines in Japan that .

Ick. Just ick.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Moved in and no longer sick

Alright, I'm back in business. I've successfully moved house and unpacked, and have (mostly) gotten over my cold. I'll be back on a regular schedule as of tomorrow. I should have something neat - hopefully a video of a hot-dog-making robot.
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