Arkiv for English

Norwegian graphic novel wrongly rejected by App Store for being “extremely racist”

I’ve been covering the App Store censorship story for some time in this blog, but it took a Norwegian victim for it to gain traction in our local main-stream media. The comic “Wakan Unwanted” by Lars S. Nygård and Seth Piper, distributed by Oxicomics, was rejected by Apple’s App Store for being ‘extremely racist’.

What was missing in the general press coverage was an independent assessment of the actual comic. Few things annoy me more than discussions that begin with “I haven’t read the work in question, but…” So when the illustrator (Piper) offered me the chance to read “Wakan Unwanted”, I took him up on his offer. And frankly, I can’t see where the App Store bureaucrats are coming from.

“Wakan Unwanted” is the story of the wanderings of a black protagonist through a steampunkish, alternate-history American West. The tagline “It’s December 1870. The adventures of the last black man in America are about to begin” says it all, really. The story is brutal and the language crass, but no more so than your typical spaghetti western. The main character is portrayed in a heroic light. While some might take offense at the back story of an African-American genocide, there are enough decent white people to go around.

As far as I can tell, the only thing that could have triggered the accusation of racism is the frequent use of the “n” word. If this is the case, the reasoning is disingenious indeed. While the word is deeply offensive when used in a current setting, there is no denying that it is part of our history and literature. It is certainly defensible to use the word in a graphic novel set in the American West in 1870s, even more so when the general tone of the work is evidently non-racist.

The imagery in Wakan Unwanted is not racist by any reasonable standard.

In Norway, accusations of racism are no small matter. Public statements that denigrate people on the basis of skin colour can potentially land you in jail for three years. The writer and illustrator are not comfortable with being labeled racists (and by extension criminals) by a global corporation, and in the Anakata Comics blog Lars writes:

We strongly believe that the folks over at Apple are misreading Wakan Unwanted. We have sent them some more background materials as well as an outline of where the story is going. Hopefully, this will clear things up.We strongly believe that the folks over at Apple are misreading Wakan Unwanted. We have sent them some more background materials as well as an outline of where the story is going. Hopefully, this will clear things up.

Let’s hope it will. But to me, this case is yet another reminder of the fix Apple has gotten itself into by including the infamous clause 3.3.12 in its iPhone SDK Agreement. By granting itself über-editorial power, Apple is condemned to repeat mistakes like this in its quest to rid the App Store of  “obscene, pornographic, offensive or defamatory content or materials of any kind”.

The loss to the content producers affected is obvious. But ultimately, Apple also stands to lose. If not money, then credibility and reputation in its core “creative classes” market. Say what you will about censorship, but hip or cool it is not.

Share/Bookmark

The purrfect election storm :-D

cats for obama!

barack obama for president in 2008

Cats for Barack Obama ’08

Or how about this!

Review: “Blogging” by Jill Walker Rettberg

Surely I’m not alone among Norwegian bloggers in regarding Jill Walker Rettberg as our local “mother blogger” – by her own account she started blogging in October 2000. For years she has been a leading researcher in the field of online social media, and she is frequently invited to comment on these issues in main-stream media. Therefore, I was looking forward to reading her recently published book Blogging, and pleasantly surprised when I received a review copy in the mail some time ago.

The aim of this book aims to give the reader a deep and wide overview of blogging as a genre, its history and relation to other genres and media, both on- and offline. Walker starts by defining the term, and then explains in detail how and why blogs such as Dooce.com and Kottke.org are typical examples of the genre. She puts the blog genre in its proper historical perspective, and goes on to show the similiarities and distinctions between blogs and other social networks.

Citizen journalism, as represented by Salam Pax and students who blogged their reactions to the Virginia Tech massacre, is well covered, as is commercial blogging in its various shapes and forms. There is also a very interesting (especially to someone with a background in the natural sciences) chapter on the narrative aspect of blogging, with subchapters on blogging a self-exploration and the distinction between fact and fiction.

The text is written in a light and engaging manner, with many fascinating tidbits of information. I did not know, for instance, that the playwright Bertolt Brecht described a vision of radio very similar to podcasting in 1932. And the concept of the The Gutenberg Parenthesis was a real eye-opener. The idea is that blogs and other social media are taking us back to the state that existed before the dominance of printed text, when teaching and entertainment was mainly oral and therefore dialogic.

All in all, Walker Rettberg covers an impressive amount of territory in a mere 176 pages. If there is one aspect of blogging I miss, it would be the connection between newspapers and blogs we find in Scandinavia. Here, a large segment of the blogging community uses the services provided by Verdens Gang, Norway’s largest newspaper and most popular website, at vgb.no. My impression is that this close relationship does influence the choice of subjects, as well as the comment and linking practices of many of the bloggers there.

Twingly, a commercial trackback service used by an increasing number of online newspapers, is part and parcel of the same phenomenon. The trackback pings are integrated with the newspaper story, allowing the blogger to give her or his perspective. When pinging newspapers with Twingly, I’ve also found that journalists use the service to engage in dialogue by commenting in my blog. Although local to Scandinavia, newspaper blogs and Twingly are interesting examples of mainstream media trying to connect with the blogging community.

This is only a minor complaint, however. “Blogging” puts a genre that is so often ignored or ridiculed as “pajama media”, on a firm academic footing without inundating the reader with academic terminology. I warmly recommend it to anyone affected by the explosive growth of web-based media, including parents, journalists and – perhaps most importantly – teachers. From now on, this book should be on the reading list of every teacher’s training academy.

HOWTO: Get a T61 with Ubuntu to work with most projectors

Ever since I switching from a IBM Thinkpad T40 with a screen resolution of 1024×768, to a Lenovo Thinkpad T61 with a 1440×900 screen and NVidia graphics card, I’ve had problems with external projectors. Whether I’ve booted up the default OS, Ubuntu 8.04, or Windows XP, the projector usually shows a squashed wide-screen image or just part of an image. The laptop’s 16:9 screen just seemed terminally incompatible with every 4:3 projector out there.

But recently I stumbled upon a simple solution that so far has worked with every projector and external screen I’ve connected to the VGA port. Here it is, in three steps:

  1. If it isn’t already on, boot up you computer and log in.
  2. Connect the cable to the projector/external screen. That’s right: wait until you are logged in, do not connect the cable before you boot up.
  3. Restart X server, and log in again. To restart X in Ubuntu, just press Ctrl-Alt-Backspace.

By restarting X you will shut down Firefox, Openoffice and other applications that depend on the graphical subsystem. But most of Linux will be untouched, which means that the process should just take a few seconds. Anyway, in my experience it is far more predictable than running the projector application that launches in Windows XP when you press Fn-F5, and faster than using the NVidia application.

There might be a zeroth step here: My T61 is normally connected to an external 1680×1050 monitor, via the VGA port on a docking station. This meant that I initially had to use the NVidia X server Preferences application (normally found in System/Administration/NVidia X Server Settings or started by typing sudo nvidia-settings in a terminal window) to create a dual screen setup.

If you run this while an external monitor or projector is connected, you will see it listed along with the laptop screen when you press X Server Display Configuration. In the menu under the screen layout window, press “Configure” and choose “Separate X screen”, set the resolution to Auto and save the X Configuration file. With this setup as you standard xorg.conf file, the NVidia card seems to detect any new screens and change the resolution accordingly when you restart X.

Oooo – this stings…

cat
more animals

Where penguins fly

Switching from Launchy to Gnome-Do

As a first attempt at creating a cross-plattform application, Launchy for Linux has a lot going for it: it is small, fast and elegant, and has a nice selection of plugins and skins. But for the past couple of weeks, two major bugs have become really annoying: Launchy opens all application scripts in a text editor, which means that half of my applications fail to run, and for some reason several of my most important directories are never indexed.

There doesn’t seem to be a fix in the pipeline, and as a result I installed Gnome-Do instead. It seems just as snappy as Launchy, and although I haven’t been able to find a configuration menu the default installation runs all applications and opens most directories as it should. I qualify my statement, as there seems to be a problem with Gnome’s standard directories. Rather than opening /home/eirik/Documents, say, Gnome-Do opens /home/eirik instead. By default in version 0.4.* directories are opened with the “Reveal” option, and you have to tab to the Options window and type Open to get Gnome-do to truly open the directory. I upgraded to the latest version, and now directories are opened directly by default.

Who needs apple juice, when you can have Ubuntu Cola?

Ubuntu Cola is made with Fairtrade sugar (the kinder, gentler way to obesity), and AFAIK not available in Norway as yet (though Wikipedia says otherwise). Alas, as a can of cola is an essential accessory to any Linux install… ;-)

XO kitteh


It’s a truth as old as the hills: cats and computers, man.
In this case, a cat-sized and -priced computer.

The famous Cauliflower Cat

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

The original series documenting Linus’ hitherto undocumented veganism is flickred, of course

The Awful Truth: power history of a T61 with Ubuntu 8.04

The screendump above shows a pretty typical power history of my T61 for the two hours and fifteen minutes a full charge lasts. The variation is due to a mixture of writing, watching a an episode of a TV show (that’s the peak around 42 minutes) and talking to a fellow passenger (that’s the trough near the two hour mark). The screen brightness was between the minimum setting and 50 %. Both radio transmitters were switched off, which saves about 3 W. I am also running Powertop and CPU Scaling.

Powertop saves a couple of watts on my machine, while CPU Scaling has no discernable effect. All of which goes to show how bad things still are compared to XP, which gives me three and a half hours with the same kind of usage. This is not limited to Ubuntu or Thinkpad, of course. The one big downside to the success of the Asus Eee, is that it really showcases the Linux battery life problem. This is 2008 – we shouldn’t have to deal with this kind of thing…

Dude, where’s my battery life?

Seriously. I’ve been running Ubuntu 8.04 on my Lenovo Thinkpad T61 for some weeks now, and it really is the best release so far. But the battery life is making it harder to use Ubuntu without a power cable, which sort of defeats the purpose of having a laptop. I didn’t think I would say this, but whenever I travel I am really glad I kept my XP partition.

Case in point: a couple of days ago, I had a three hour wait at an airport. Of course there were no power outlets in sight, so I had to depend on the (brand new) battery. Running XP, I watched a movie for two of those hours, worked for an hour and boarded the plane with power to spare. With Ubuntu, I knew I would have been lucky to get two hours max, even with Powertop running.

ThinkWiki (indispensable for all Thinkpad users) has crunched the numbers, which show the stark contrast: Ubuntu consumes about 35 % more power with the same settings. I opted for an Nvidia graphics setup which is known to be power-hungry, and with everything but the radios turned to a minimum, my T61 still uses more than 20 Watts. Harder on the internal fan and the environment, as well as on my patience.

It didn’t use to be like this. On my previous Thinkpad T40, Ubuntu was as efficient as XP, which meant that it had a battery life of four hours. Even though my graphics card consumes more energy, the processor is much more efficient and the battery a great deal larger (it now sticks out on the back). Now, if I could only get the build quality of my Thinkpad with the power consumption of my XO… ;-)

Howto: Install TrackMania Nations Forever on Ubuntu 8.04

Via Lasse (in Norwegian) I discovered TrackMania Nations, a free arcade racing game for Windows. Partly as a challenge to him and myself, but mostly because it’s been a while since I took my PC for a spin, I decide to install it on my fresh installation of Ubuntu 8.04, AKA Hardy Heron. Below is the procedure I followed, which worked well except for lack of proper sound effects. Of course, before I did anything, I checked out the Wine AppDB to make sure that my work wouldn’t be in vain.

  1. If you haven’t done so already, install Wine. When it works, it’s a brilliant way to run Windows applications on Linux. Get it via the Applications/Add/Remove menu, System/Administration/Synaptic Package Manager or open a terminal window and type “sudo apt-get install wine
  2. Download the Trackmania Nation install file (its about 500 MB). I couldn’t get the website to work properly with my Linux browsers, but from Lasse I got this handy torrent link (which also is a nice example of legal torrent use, BTW).
  3. Install Trackmania by double clicking on the .exe file, or open a terminal window and type “wine tmnationsforever_setup.exe” . After installation, the files can be found in the directory /home/user/.wine/drive_c/Program Files/TmNationsForever/ .
  4. Trackmania also needs DirectX to run. You’ll find an excellent installation guide here. It’s actually easier than it looks at first sight, and well worth the hassle as so many Windows games depend on DirectX. (BTW: the two DLL files you are asked to copy to the Wine directory, can be found in C:\WINDOWS\system32)
  5. If TrackMania failed to install a desktop icon, you can open the folder mentioned above and double click TmForeverLauncher.exe . This starts the configuration utility, where you set screen resolution, sound, language etc.
  6. Double click TmForever.exe, and follow the instructions on the screen.

With a bit of luck, you’ll log on to the network and see something like this:

Yes, of course it works full-screen as well. With full resolution. :-)

Problems to resolve:

1. The sound doesn’t work on my install

2. I can’t seem to get softlinks to the application to work – no desktop icon, in other words

3. How to stop playing TracMania – it’s horribly addictive! ;-)

Question of the day: How do you turn this cat into a hunter?

2402456539_d2e8cf1961.jpg

Spring has arrived in Oslo, and with it a flood of fresh, juicy prey for Ada and Linus. After a wet and dreary winter, it’s lovely to see the cats enjoying the mild weather. Yesterday, Linus put all doubts about his hunting prowess to shame by catching a mouse and carrying it proudly into our living room. Problem was, the mouse was very much alive. I managed to get the frightened creature outside, where it was promptly rediscovered by Linus. Later, Ada joined the party, and for the next couple of hours they were chasing it around until the dinner signal lured them inside. This morning, the mouse was gone.

While I do see the problem with cats preying on a bird population under pressure, I have no qualms whatsoever about them going after mice or rats in an urban, rodent-infested environment. As long as they kill their prey, that is. And at the moment, Ada and Linus seem to have a hard time getting the job done. Of course they play with their food, in the sadistic manner you just have to ignore to be a cat lover. But to me, it’s pretty obvious that they don’t know how to kill a mouse.

I could blame their delinquent mother, who abandoned them in a barn long before they were able to cope on their own, let alone aquire basic hunting skills. But that really doesn’t help them. What they need is quite literally a kind of boot kamp for kitties. Or some friendly advice. Why isn’t there a real Cat Whisperer around when you need one? :-)

Fuq tal-linja: CC strikes again

The last week or so I’ve been Flickr-mailing with Edward from Malta, who runs the blog Fuq tal-linja. He has used some of the Creative Commons-licenced pictures I took on our holiday to Malta last August to illustrate postings about the fascinating Maltese bus network (yes, I’m a bit of a public-transportation geek myself). Now Edward has taken it a step further, and created a brand new blog theme based on my photos. No, I don’t speak Malti either, but it does look really, really nice. :-)