Oct 31, 2011

In a station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd ;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
— Ezra Pound


This is just a short post to let you know what I've been doing. It's extremely exiting for me, but unfortunately not very photogenic: a subway.

Here's a wall in my underground base:



I've now turned it into a staircase that goes down to my first subway station:



My idea is to eventually have multiple parallel tracks, but I'm starting with one. What you need to get started is a button or lever, a powered rail and a minecart.



Then plonk down 37 regular iron rails after it (for optimal speed!), followed by another powered rail, this one permanently powered by a redstone torch:



And you're away! Traveling by minecart is much faster, and on a properly constructed track, safer, than on foot. Some engineering may be required; for instance, I had to build this bridge over my chasm:



Of course, while digging that secure track, you might run into some unexpected surprises.



I wrote about mob spawners in my last post, and I've now gone from never having seen a dungeon in my life to running into one every time I start digging...

But in the end, this is what you get: a quick and safe underground ride in a minecart.



As I said, digging this damned long tunnel was neither very interesting or photogenic in itself, but it's very rewarding. I have a subway system! Here's an approximation of where the line runs on my composite map, with the "stations" marked in. As you can see, I've nearly reached Epic Island!



The one at the bottom (furthest west, that is) is my underground base; the next station down is the latest tower I've built, and the last one, well, you'll see!

Oct 28, 2011

Finland's idiotic Pirate Bay ban

Just this week, the Helsinki district court has ordered Finnish ISP Elisa to block access to the Pirate Bay. Torrentfreak has the story in English.

As Ville Oksanen points out in his blog, the court decision goes to some lengths to justify the ban, even though they're aware that it won't work. They expect the ISP to block access to a website, without specifying either the domain names or IP numbers to block, or specifying the means to use. Indeed, the presiding judge admits that the block will be ineffective, but astonishingly, insists on it anyway.

Perhaps the best outcome is that the Finnish copyright lobby managed to elicit this public statement from one of the country's biggest telecom companies (via TF):

In a response to the ruling Elisa immediately announced that it will appeal the District Court’s decision. The ISP claims that among other things, the ruling is very unclear as it doesn’t state the specific domain names or IP-addresses that should be censored.

Elisa further says that the decision is practically irrelevant in the broader fight against online copyright infringement.

“The industry should focus on measures that can truly reduce piracy in practice, such as making content available online at a reasonable price and without artificial delays,” Elisa’s Henri Korpi said.

In other words, as Valve recently put it, "piracy is a service issue". That's pretty much what, for instance, various Pirate parties have been saying all along, but it's good to hear it from a big ISP.

This is just the latest chapter in an ongoing saga of Finnish Internet censorship. Previously, a "child pornography" blacklist was set up, and then used to go after a Finnish activist who criticized the police. The police defended themselves by saying that "collateral damage happens". We went to a demonstration on his behalf.

It was later found that blocking access to activist Matti Nikki's website was, in fact, illegal, but this being Finland, the police officers in charge of violating the law to infringe on Nikki's rights to free speech were let off, and he had to pay his own court costs because, really, it wasn't the police's fault that they flagrantly and intentionally broke the law.

The whole child pornography blocking scheme, with its secret blacklists of websites and whatnot, has since been abandoned, but the next step in implementing Internet censorship is being taken by the copyright lobby. In all this, the one thing that's remained abundantly clear is that no-one in the political or judicial process represents the interests of us, the citizens of this miserable country. Legislation, court decisions and everything else is dictated by the interests of the police and the copyright industry. This isn't how a democracy is supposed to work.

Oct 24, 2011

Brief book review: Joe Haldeman's The Forever War

I've been catching up on some cyberpunk classics this fall, but I also finally got my hands on Joe Haldeman's Forever War.


The Forever War is one of the classic works of military science fiction, but with the distinction that the author served in Vietnam as a combat engineer. It's that experience that lends strong verisimilitude to much of the story, especially to anyone who's ever been involved with a real-life military organization. Also thankfully absent is the macho chest-pounding that is so disgustingly prevalent in the genre, especially in its more ludicrous offerings.

There's an afterword by Peter F. Hamilton, where he says:

Unlike a lot of books written in the early seventies, he's managed to create a functioning universe and human society which has barely dated. Yes, the actual dates are wrong. We didn't have interstellar ships in the mid-nineties (shame!). But anyone picking this up fresh today would be hard pressed to know that it was written long before the internet, mobile phones and iPods were in existence.


I liked the book, but we have to call bullshit on this one. Parts of the novel haven't aged that well, such as the emphasis on sex and sexuality, and there is an expansive section set on Earth that serves its dramatic purpose excellently, but falls apart under critical scrutiny. While it does an excellent job of conveying the alienation soldiers feel on returning to civilian life, the details of the dystopic world Haldeman depicts just don't hold water. Also, exactly contrary to what Hamilton says, it's painfully obvious at times that Forever War was written before the information revolution.

While it's often depicted as a Vietnam war analogy, which it in some sense is, The Forever War is first and foremost a great novel. I was steeling myself for the possibility that it would be Space Vietnam, with Space Cav troopers flying into a space jungle in space helicopters, but the Forever War is proper science fiction, not just an analogy in space. It should be required reading for anyone interested in science fiction.

Oct 21, 2011

Happy birthday Jessica Michibata!

I can't believe we've neglected the devastatingly cute Jessica Michibata, a beautiful Japanese model and girlfriend of F1 world champ Jenson Alexander Lyons Button MBE.



It's her birthday today, so it seems like a good time to correct our mistake.



Happy birthday!

Oct 19, 2011

The future of manned aircraft

This past summer, the Economist decried the expense of the F-35, and chided the American military for spending too much money on what would be "the last manned fighter". I'm willing to stick my neck out on this and say that they're wrong. There will still be at least one generation of manned fighters.



The Economist is wrong because they underestimate two important factors, of which the most important is sheer bureaucratic inertia. In practically all western air forces, the career path of high-ranking officers is that of a fighter pilot. Decades of propaganda and bureaucratic infighting have established the fighter pilot as one of the celebrated heroes of the modern military, and the core identity of the air force. That won't be given up easily. The move to unmanned aircraft would mean that bold, gutsy and manly fighter pilots will be replaced by guys with Playstation controllers, and even if the latter are more effective in combat, they're just not cricket. In Top Gun 2020, the young fighter jocks won't barge their way into a bar, drink like mad and wow the girls with their rendition of Great Balls of Fire on the piano; they'll sit in the corner, order some apple juice and turn up the J-Pop.



Bureaucratic inertia is made even worse by the fact that air forces the world over are still, to some extent, young services fighting to establish themselves. Go back 50 years and witness the intense fighting on both sides of the Atlantic: in the States, over whether the army is allowed to operate fixed-wing aircraft or not, and in the UK over who controls naval aviation. That may seem like a long time ago, but in both countries, there is a level at which air forces still perceive themselves as younger and less secure services than the other two. Unmanned aircraft question the very existence of a separate air force: if, after all, you're just going to fly drones, then the army already has people doing just that. Why would they need a special service of their own? The navy could easily ditch naval aviation in favor of NCOs flying drones off their ships. It's not just the pilots that will go, after all, but nearly all of the support staff and facilities will be rendered irrelevant. The massive fixed airbases that were such a huge liability in the cold war will finally meet their end.

It's a well-established fact of defense policy that the armed services will, in the pursuit of administrative goals and inter-service rivalries, make inefficient decisions. What makes this even worse is the lack of a real military-technological rivalry to drive development forward. Unlike in the cold war, the US doesn't have a real technological challenger. The Russians can still produce very good aircraft, but nothing with which to really challenge the F-22 and F-35 in terms of pure technology. In its current decrepit state, Russia is still years away from being able to mount any kind of challenge to US air superiority, and China is much further away.

Remember that in the cold war, Western fighter development was basically driven by intelligence panics. A new Soviet prototype would show up on the runway at Ramenskoye and be spotted by a US reconnaisance satellite; then the intelligence guys would try to figure out what characteristics it had. Because of the difficulty of getting solid intelligence out of the Soviet Union, this was mostly guesswork, and regularly led to incredible overestimates of Soviet capabilities. The actual characteristics of a plane like the Su-24 Fencer had almost nothing to do with the intelligence projections, but because all they had to go on were the more-or-less informed guesses of their intelligence, Western aircraft were produced to face a much more powerful threat than the real one. For instance, the F-15 Eagle, which some people consider the greatest air superiority fighter of the 20th century, was essentially created to meet and defeat what the West imagined the MiG-25 Foxbat to be. The MiG-25 was seen at a runway somewhere, and the intel guys panicked. "It's got swing wings and two engines OH MY GOD IT CAN DO MACH FOUR AND HAS MISSILES THE SIZE OF MY HOUSE!" The actual aircraft was, well, different, but the threat of the imagined MiG-25 drove the US to create the F-15. There's nothing like the Ramenskoye panics driving aircraft design now.



This combination of a lack of research impetus and real air threat simply means that the Americans can be quite content with a substandard jack-of-all-trades, master-of-fuck-all aircraft like the F-35, and even inflict it on unsuspecting allies at a gigantic price. Even if drones would be cheaper and more effective, the West can settle for the far more expensive and ineffective manned aircraft, because they're good enough. It also, in all likelihood, means that since a new generation of pilots will be trained up on the F-35, they will fight just as hard against the inevitable as their predecessors did, and will probably manage to secure a next generation of manned aircraft for themselves. After all, think of all the jobs that would be lost.

As a side note, maybe this could restart the US space program. After all, the air force will need something to do.

In summary, assuming, say, the US Air Force will switch to unmanned aircraft in the near future assumes a level of rational decision-making that is totally alien to any peacetime military establishment. As a piece of military hardware, the manned aircraft will far outlive its usefulness. As the Economist put it in a more recent piece, the pilot in the cockpit may be an endangered species, but he's surrounded by a gigantic bureaucracy dedicated to his preservation.

**

And besides, the drones will just get taken over by Skynet anyway.

Oct 17, 2011

Beverly LaHaye and lesbians

I'm reading Michael Lienesch's Redeeming America, an excellent book about the Christian right in the United States.



It features several quotes from Beverly LaHaye, a Christian conservative activist and wife of Tim LaHaye, co-author of the dispensationalist book series Left Behind. They've both written several self-help guides for Christian couples, covering everything from child raising to sex positions, all in a very Christian way, of course. Here are some of her thoughts:

Thus Beverly LaHaye goes on to warn single women about the attractions of lesbianism: "Beware of an improper physical attachment between you and your roommates. Sad to say, this sometimes happens in today's world, especially if one is lonely, overly affectionate, and lacks a sense of security." In fact, there is a presumption that single women are often lesbians.

Lienesch 1993, p. 71


When I read that, I hear the actress who played Sister Miriam in Alpha Centauri reading it out loud in my head. That would be a fantastic introduction for a porno.

"Lesbianism lurks in the colonies as it lurked in the sororities of yesteryear. But it was never the sororities that were evil."

- Sister Miriam Godwinson, "A Blessed Struggle"

There's more, too. Not only is Beverly LaHaye deeply concerned about young women being drawn to the attractions of lesbianism, but she also pays close attention to young girls' breasts:

Beverly LaHaye is particularly interested in alerting teenage girls to their own seductiveness. She writes reprovingly:

I have seen lovely girls conduct themselves in such a manner that they turn fellows on and cause them to have problems with lust and evil thoughts. One charming lady was walking out of church with her hand in her date's arm and was very carelessly allowing her breast to rub against the boy.


It's good that the Christian Conservative movement has someone who lectures young women on the attractions of lesbianism, while keeping a firm eye on their unruly bosoms.

Oct 14, 2011

Jessica Drake and Bianca Beauchamp

Sorry if that got someone overly exited; as far as I know, these two beautiful ladies just happen to share a birthday.

The beautiful Jessica Drake is one of the hottest porn stars in the world:



Bianca Beauchamp, on the other hand, is the most beautiful fetish model ever.




Happy birthday!

Oct 12, 2011

It's dangerous underground

There's one constant in a Minecraft dude's life: mining. Amidst all these surface escapades I've been chronicling in this blog, I've also been regularly returning to my big dig and carrying on digging, with the occasional company of underground chickens:



Mining is necessary. Sure, I've got plenty of rock, but all the good stuff is down at the bottom of the map: redstone, gold, diamonds... Not to mention the lava I need to build my portal to hell!

It's not all work and goodies: here's what I ran into!



The fiery box next to the chest is a mob spawner, which creates monsters to ruin your day. You can do all sorts of clever things with them, mostly by devising fiendish traps to kill the spawning monsters and get the loot they drop, but that's a project for another day. For now, I've walled it off with an earthen bank.

As I kept digging, I started hearing a funny squelching noise from above. I went back to look:



Slimes! They're a rare beast; I knew they existed, but never saw one before. Now there's two!

Slimes only appear in certain chunks of the map, and at its very lowest levels, so it looks like I'm lucky enough to have a slime-generating chunk directly below my main base, and that I'm very close to the bottom! And, after a sequence of events, I find myself with some slimeballs:



They're useful for piston-related purposes, and somewhat rare. So when and if I decide to immerse myself in the wonderful world of pistons, they'll come in handy.

And soon enough, I've hit rock bottom:



The dark squares there are impenetrable bedrock. That's as deep as the map goes; there's nothing under those blocks. Here's the view from the bottom:



It kind of looks like a chasm, even if I say so myself. Frankly, I was a little disappointed at not finding any of that elusive lava that I'll need to get to hell, but luckily, as I expanded my dig, I came across this:



Next time on my Minecraft posts: some Ezra Pound.

Oct 11, 2011

Oct 10, 2011

The Steve Jobs thing is going too far

I freely admit I write provocatively, and sometimes I've even been rude, but this time around, I genuinely do not want to offend anyone. However, the beatification of Steve Jobs is getting so far out of hand that I have to say something.

A blogger for the Economist pushed me over the edge with this:

Prospero: Beautiful gadget, no manual necessary
He put Apple's great achievement better than anyone I've heard, and so I paraphrase it here: it used to be that when you got a computer or a gadget, you had to read a long manual or spend forever fiddling with it to learn how to use it. One person in the family might take the time to do so, and then spend the rest of the Christmas holiday teaching everyone else how to do the things they wanted to do.

Apple changed all that.

He then goes on to claim that the success of Nintendo's Wii console is due to Apple and Steve Jobs:

The Wii game system has made Nintendo a fortune in recent years. How did Nintendo know it would be a hit? Elderly members of the company's board delighted in picking up the controller and simply moving it around to play the simple, intuitive games. I've never heard someone from Nintendo say they got this from Apple, but the influence is clear enough. These days whether you're a Mac or a PC, an Android or an iPhone, you play by the delightful rules Steve Jobs set for us all.

Okay. Stop.

First of all, the Apple Macintosh was introduced in January 1984. The Nintendo Entertainment System that we grew up with was introduced in Japan in 1983. Remember how with the NES, you had to read a long manual and spend forever fiddling with it to learn how to use it? You know, until Steve Jobs came along?



Steve Jobs, or anyone else at Apple, did not invent usability, intuitiveness, the graphical user interface, or really much of anything that goes on on your game console, PC or smart phone. Neither did he "revolutionize" any of the above. Obviously he's influenced the entire computer industry, but it's getting a bit too thick to give him credit for everything.

Most of the really innovative things Apple "came up with" for the Macintosh, such as the easy-to-use GUI, were stolen from Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center. These days, whether you're a PC or a Mac, or anything else, you're operating within a framework invented at PARC. If you don't know that, you have no business blogging about Steve Jobs's or anyone else's impact on the computer industry. Let alone claiming that the Nintendo Wii is influenced by Apple.

In general, it would be nice if more people read, say, this Gawker piece on Steve Jobs. It reminds us, among other things, of the human cost of those nice, shiny devices. Here's a quote from a Daily Mail article from last June's launch of the new iPhone:

Daily Mail: Revealed: Inside the Chinese suicide sweatshop where workers toil in 34-hour shifts to make your iPod

Yet, amid all the fanfare and celebrations this week, there was one sour, niggling note: reports of a spate of suicides at a secretive Chinese complex where Jobs's iPhone, iPod and iPad - Apple's new state-of-the-art slimline computer - are built and assembled.

With 11 workers taking their lives in sinister circumstances, Jobs acted swiftly to quell a potential public relations disaster.

Stressing that he found the deaths 'troubling' and that he was 'all over it', the billionaire brushed aside suggestions that the factory was a sweatshop.

'You go in this place and it's a factory but, my gosh, they've got restaurants and movie theatres and hospitals and swimming pools,' he said. 'For a factory, it's pretty nice.'

His definition of 'nice' is questionable and likely to have his American workers in uproar if such conditions were imposed upon them.



For, as Apple's leader was taking a bow on the world stage, the Mail was under cover inside this Chinese complex. And we encountered a strange, disturbing world where new recruits are drilled along military lines, ordered to stand for the company song and kept in barracks like battery hens - all for little more than £20 a week.

In what's been dubbed the 'i-Nightmare factory', the scandal focuses on two sprawling complexes near Shenzhen, two decades ago a small fishing port and now a city of 17 million people.

This is the epicentre of operations for Foxconn, China's biggest exporter, which makes products under licence for Apple using a 420,000-strong workforce in Shenzhen. They have 800,000 workers country-wide.

And as Jobs was speaking in San Francisco, new measures were being secretly introduced at Foxconn to prevent the suicide scandal from worsening and damaging Apple sales globally.

Astonishingly, this involves forcing all Foxconn employees to sign a new legally binding document promising that they won't kill themselves.

Yeah. Isn't it funny how when Apple gets exposed for using child labor and sweatshops, the Western left reacts by sipping their lattes while smugly using their iPhones?

I'm not saying people shouldn't mourn, or that instead of eulogizing Jobs we need to vilify him. I'm just asking for some balanced coverage here. He was a man, not a saint. It's testament to the strength of the reality distortion field around Jobs that he's being given posthumous credit for inventing sliced bread, actual innovators like PARC are forgotten, and that inconvenient facts like the horrifying sweatshops that assemble your iPads are brushed under the carpet. Just because someone dies doesn't mean we shouldn't be honest about what he and his company did and didn't do. Eulogies are journalism too.

Oct 9, 2011

Happy birthday Jayden Cole!

Another porn birthday: the beautiful Jayden Cole!



She's starred in a movie called Bikini Frankenstein, and if that's not enough of a character reference for you, then I don't know what is.



Happy birthday!

Oct 7, 2011

Jari Kurri's number

Now that the NHL premiere is in Helsinki, hockey fans in North America can once again see Hartwall Areena, the current home of six-time Finnish league champions Jokerit. NHL.com ran a couple of stories over the past week, and here's an excerpt from one:

NHL.com: Selanne adored as a national hero in Finland
Jari Kurri's No. 17 hangs from the rafters at Hartwall. Twice in fact -- once for his exploits with Jokerit and the other for his contributions to Suomi with the national team. Kurri was the first Finnish player to become an NHL legend, and Selanne is the second and his No. 8 will surely be there soon after he retires.

The funny detail is that while it's true that Jari Kurri used the jersey number 17 in the NHL and in the national team, he never used that number in Jokerit. Before his NHL career, he used #11, and during the 1994-95 lockout, he wore #71. Speaking as a lifelong Jokerit fan, it's just stupid that they've retired the number 17 for Jari, who never wore it in Jokerit.

An even more questionable retirement is Esa Tikkanen's #5. Tikkanen is a great player and a five-time Stanley Cup champion, but he only ever played 43 career games for Jokerit. In fact, his junior team was next-door HIFK, an elite Swedish-language yachting club. By rights, that's where his number should be.

Confusingly, while Tikkanen wore #10 in the NHL and #5 in Jokerit, Jokerit chose to retire his SM-liiga number, but in Jari's case, they left his SM-liiga number and retired his NHL number. That just doesn't make sense.

Oct 5, 2011

Mojang vs. Zenimax: the court papers

We've been posting about Minecraft for a while now on this blog, but we haven't really talked about Mojang's ongoing lawsuit with Zenimax Media, owner of game studios like id and Bethesda. Frankly, we think the whole thing is stupid, and have been hoping that Zenimax would come to their senses. If you don't know what's going on, in very brief summary, Mojang are releasing a game called "Scrolls", and Zenimax are suing them over it, claiming it violates the copyright on the "Elder Scrolls" series.

Yesterday, Kotaku ran an article on the lawsuit that took a new slant on things by painting Mojang as the villain of the piece. Titled Mojang v. Bethesda, or: I Hate it When Mommy and Daddy Fight, in it author Russ Pitts makes the case that Zenimax are merely defending themselves against a nefarious bid by Mojang to "patent" [sic] the word "Scrolls" and thereby, in fact, sue Zenimax.

If one were to attempt to judge based solely on Twitter and the blogs, Zenimax would appear to be the bad guy here. Notch, perhaps attempting to bolster that perception, has put on his hurt face, claiming Zeni is "picking on the little guy." But after looking at Mojang's "Scrolls" patent application, I'm not so sure the case is as black and white as many would seem to believe.

(...)

In other words, Mojang intends to own the word "scrolls" in pretty much every form of visual entertainment media, not just in videogames. This means that, if the trademark is upheld, the company could rightly take action against anyone else using the word "scrolls" in any form of media whatsoever. Now, that would only be a problem if you were a successful media company planning to use the word "scrolls" in some form of entrainment media … Oh wait … that's right. If you're Zenimax, this trademark fucks you. Hard.

The Kotaku piece has generated some acrimonious commenting and twittering, including several people attacking Notch and calling him a liar. Now we're going to participate in the discussion! To be specific, three things annoy us about that article:

1) the cavalier approach it takes to intellectual property law

2) its misrepresentation of events

3) the fact that Kotaku freely admit they can't read the legal documents, but write about them anyway

For the last point, simply see Kotaku's article Notch Vs. Bethesda: The Court Papers, where they link to said papers, but admit they don't know what they say.

While Kotaku has the documents in question, no one here speaks Swedish.

That, of course, doesn't stop them from running an article where they make Mojang out to be the bad guys.

On this blog, however, we can read Swedish, so we've had a look at the court documents. You can find them here. They tell a story that's quite different from the one invented by Mr Pitts.

A disclaimer: we're not lawyers. We're just reading what we've been shown. This blog post simply consists of our personal opinions on the case and on Mr Pitts's article about it. As we've understood things, the legal documents published by Mojang are in the public domain.

**

Mr Pitts's allegation is that Zenimax are suing Mojang over Scrolls to prevent Mojang from, in turn, suing Bethesda over The Elder Scrolls. He puts forward the notion that Mojang's ""Scrolls" patent application" [sic] is so broad that if Zenimax doesn't sue to stop them, they will be in a position to stop Zenimax from releasing Elder Scrolls games.

If the trademark is valid, Mojang would be able to claim infringement and potentially take Zenimax to court. They might not win, considering Zeni's ownership of the trademark preceded Mojang's, but Mojang could force Zenimax to settle or face an injunction which would keep all of those millions of copies of Skyrim off of store shelves and out of the hands of gamers, depriving Zeni of many, many millions of dollars in revenue.

He goes on:

Seem unlikely? Think again. Companies do this all the time.

Using the power of hypertext, Pitts links to four examples of "companies doing this all the time" from that sentence. Let's look at them.

#1: Trench vs. Trenched

MCV: Trenched blocked by board game trademark

Upcoming XBLA title Trenched has been blocked from release due to a trademark dispute with a board game.

Eurogamer reports that the game clashes with trademarks held by an abstract Portuguese board game Trench. The trademark was filed by Trench's designer Rui Alípio Monteiro in 2007 and covers both board games and computer games.

Like Double Fine's Trenched, the board game is based on military strategy and is set during World War I.

The video game Trenched was eventually released as Iron Brigade. This doesn't seem to me to be a case of a company maliciously suing another to cause millions of dollars of damage; instead, the Portuguese board game's designer had a pre-existing trademark on a World War I game of practically the same name, which he was planning to expand into a video game. It seems reasonable that his claim would be upheld.

#2: Apple vs. Amazon

CNN Money: Amazon wins skirmish in 'App Store' battle with Apple

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Apple has been dealt a blow in its "App Store" trademark case, with a federal judge denying its request for an injunction to stop Amazon from using the term.

Apple filed a lawsuit against Amazon in March, saying that it has used the term "App Store" since 2008 and applied for a trademark at that time. Apple argued that Amazon's "Appstore," an Android marketplace that launched in March, infringes on the trademark and is confusing to customers.

Amazon fired back, saying the mark is generic and therefore not protectable -- and even if it weren't generic, Apple "cannot demonstrate any likelihood of confusion."

Judge Phyllis Hamilton mostly sided with Amazon in her ruling on Wednesday in California district court, in which she denied Apple the injunction it sought.

Hamilton wrote that she "does not agree with Amazon that the mark is purely generic," but also said that "there appears to be no need for a leap of imagination to understand what the term means."

Apple failed to prove its main points, she said, including: that Amazon's "Appstore" name will confuse customers, that it infringes on Apple and that it dilutes Apple's brand.

Here we have Apple being the evil corporation that we consider them to be, effectively trying to make the word "app" an Apple trademark instead of a generic term. Again, I'm not sure how Amazon and Apple fighting over a word are anything like Zenimax and Mojang. Note, if you like, that even though the court didn't agree that the term is generic, they still denied the injunction.

#3: Tim Langdell vs EA

Techdirt: Court Denies Injunction Against EA Over Tim Langdell's 'Edge' Trademark; Slams Langdell

We've covered a few different stories about a guy named Tim Langdell who held a trademark on the term "edge" in video games, which he had used many years ago, and still sorta kinda maybe uses as part of his operation, "Edge Games." And yet, he seemed to think that trademark law means he owns the word, as it relates to video games, forever. So he's been threatening iPhone developers and sued EA, claiming the company's Mirrors Edge series violates his trademarks. EA has fought back strongly against the claims, and Brian alerts us to the news that a court has denied Langdell's injunction request and slammed Langdell in the process, suggesting underhanded practices which could result in criminal penalties.

(...)

When a judge calls you a troll and threatens you with criminal penalties in a lawsuit you initiated... you've got problems. Reading through the actual ruling is incredible, in what it describes about what Langdell has done.

The article describes Dr Langdell's doctoring of evidence, including sending the court photoshopped images (!), which in our opinion is more like fraud than a legitimate copyright case. Essentially, Dr Langdell claimed that his trademark on the name "Edge" stops EA from releasing Mirror's Edge, because it contains the word "edge". His suit was thrown out of court.

Dr Langdell is especially relevant to the case at hand, because Mr Pitts refers back to him later. But we'll get to that.

#4: Activision vs EA

Joystiq.com: Activision 'Rocktober' trademark conflicts with EA's Brutal Legend marketing

When Activision sent out a press release this morning regarding a Guitar Hero DLC discount, we couldn't help but notice a tiny trademark symbol dangling precariously above the term "Rocktober™." That got our mind grapes juicing: Isn't that the term EA has been using to market Brütal Legend's upcoming [strikethrough: October] Rocktober 13 release? It is!

Lo and behold, we turned up an Activision trademark filing for "Rocktober" dating all the way back to 2007. An EA representative was unable to comment at the time of this posting, but assured us we'll have an official statement from the publisher soon. We've also reached out to Activision for its side of the story. In the meantime, we've dropped the text from Activision's press release -- or as it's no doubt being dubbed by lawyers, Exhibit A -- after the break.
Activision press release:

The article doesn't actually mention either company suing the other, i.e. "companies doing this all the time"; what it says is that a third party noticed both EA and Activision were promoting their games using the word "Rocktober", which Activision had apparently filed a trademark on. This doesn't seem to have anything to do with the Zenimax-Mojang case.

**

Having provided these links, Mr Pitts goes on to directly compare Mojang to Dr Langdell:

Besides, if Mojang were as naive and innocent as Notch claims, why the far-reaching trademark application? If one were being generous, one could assume that Mojang is simply attempting to cover all potential bases, which, for a game as potentially all over the map as Scrolls could make sense. But if we're drawing comparisons to the case of Tim "Edge" Langdell (and I am), it pays to remember that Langdell was the one who applied for broad and far-reaching trademarks on the use of a single word, who attempted to sue EA over Mirror's Edge and Future Publishing over Edge Magazine and many, many other companies large and small, and who, ultimately, was pilloried for obfuscation and fraud.

While the comparison may seem attractive on the surface, it's rather more complicated than that. Dr Langdell seems to have effectively run a phantom game company, given that he had to photoshop and otherwise concoct evidence that he was actually doing any real business. As the court ruling puts it:

...given the suspect nature of Dr. Langdell’s representations to both the USPTO and the Court concerning plaintiff’s current and future sales and business activities, it is an open question whether plaintiff’s business activities legitimately extend beyond trolling various gaming-related industries for licensing opportunities.

The court effectively found Dr Langdell to be a copyright troll who maintains a fake game company solely in order to sue real game developers. So drawing a direct analogy to Mojang is a substantial accusation that we feel shouldn't be made lightly, or in fact at all.

**

So Mr Pitts's scenario is that Mojang are copyright trolling by launching a game called "Scrolls" and trying to trademark the name, planning to later sue Zenimax for infringing it with the Elder Scrolls series.

That's nonsense. Not because of any knowledge or assumptions I have about Mojang, as Mr Pitts puts it:

This begs the question of whether or not Mojang would ever do such a thing. "Surely the cute and fluffy, fan-friendly designers of the cult-hit Minecraft would never play such a down-and-dirty trick," you might say, and I, for one, would love to believe that to be true. But if you're Zenimax, and you're sitting on a multi-million dollar videogame franchise with the word "scrolls" in its title, you can't take that chance.

It's nonsense for a simple reason:


Mr Pitts doesn't seem to understand what a trademark is. Indeed, throughout the article he seems to confuse trademarks with patents. Trademarking a name doesn't give the trademark holder sole authority to decide who gets to use that name for any purpose. Mr Pitts claims:

In other words, Mojang intends to own the word "scrolls" in pretty much every form of visual entertainment media, not just in videogames. This means that, if the trademark is upheld, the company could rightly take action against anyone else using the word "scrolls" in any form of media whatsoever.

This is absolute rubbish. It is, however, delightfully taken to its logical conclusion in one of the comments to Mr Pitts's article:

They would own the trademark to anything with "Scrolls" in it. Not just use of the word "Scrolls" on its own.

Including libraries of historical documents.

Yes. Because that's exactly how trademarks work.

A trademark protects against products that might be confused for the trademarked product. For example, in one of the cases Mr Pitts quoted, a Portuguese game company successfully filed suit for trademark infringment against another company. The case was upheld because the WWI computer game "Trenched" was so similar to the WWI board game "Trench" that they might be confused for each other; someone buying the computer game might think it was based on or affiliated with the board game. That seems perfectly reasonable. It doesn't mean that no-one can ever use the word "trench" in the name of a game, let alone that the Portuguese company suddenly "owns" all World War I books or trench coats. Using Mr Pitts's logic, however, the Trench trademark would mean that no-one can ever include the word "trench" in the title of a video game. Trademark law simply doesn't work like that.

Mojang's trademark for Scrolls doesn't mean they've somehow "patented" the word "Scrolls", as Mr Pitts implied. It also doesn't mean they "could rightly take action against anyone else using the word "scrolls" in any form of media whatsoever". It doesn't even mean that they can sue anyone who has the word "scrolls" in the title of their game. No: it means that if someone else releases a game called Scrolls or something very similar, that consumers will mistake for Mojang's Scrolls, then Mojang can take action.

Under US law, in a case of trademark infringment the plaintiff has to prove the infringing trademark is the same as, or similar to, their trademark. The court determines whether the trademark has been infringed upon by using the "Sleekcraft factors", so named after a Supreme Court case that set them out. Those factors are:

1. Strength of the mark
2. Proximity of the goods
3. Similarity of the marks
4. Evidence of actual confusion
5. Marketing channels used
6. Type of goods and the degree of care likely to be exercised by the purchaser
7. Defendant's intent in selecting the mark
8. Likelihood of expansion of the product lines

In other words, in a trademark infringment case, the party bringing the case has to prove that they have a valid, pre-existing trademark, and the product they claim is infringing on their copyright is sufficiently similar that consumers can be misled into thinking they are buying one when in fact they are buying another.

Mr Pitts's scenario of Mojang suing Zenimax over, say, Skyrim, is patently ridiculous and would be thrown out of court in any jurisdiction. Zenimax have been publishing "Elder Scrolls" games for 17 years and, indeed, own the trademark to "The Elder Scrolls". To obtain an injunction, Mojang would have to demonstrate that their trademark to "Scrolls" (from 2011) is stronger than Zenimax's far older, better-established, multi-million-selling "Elder Scrolls" trademark, and that Zenimax are intentionally selling and marketing Skyrim in such a way as to confuse consumers into buying it, thinking that they were buying Scrolls. The very idea is laughable. We don't, for one minute, believe that Zenimax's lawyers really feel that a trademark on "Scrolls" would threaten their upcoming release of Skyrim.

Such a hypothetical lawsuit would be dismissed as pure trademark trolling, exactly like Dr Langdell's suit against EA was. Given that Mr Pitts diretly refers to Dr Langdell's lawsuits and the Trench-Trenched lawsuit, it's puzzling that he doesn't seem to understand how trademark law works. Mojang could not "rightly take action against anyone else using the word "scrolls" in any form of media whatsoever", because they don't have, and couldn't get, a trademark on the word "scrolls" in "any media whatsoever".

Mr Pitts makes much of the fact that Mojang's trademark application includes things like TV shows and clothing, again failing to understand that this trademark would only cover TV shows, movies, clothing and whatnot directly related to the game "Scrolls". It doesn't cover any movie or clothing line that uses the word "scrolls" in any context, just ones that could reasonably be thought to be related to the game. Just yesterday someone tweeted to Notch, saying Mojang's trademark of Scrolls "would even be hurting book writers". Again, this would only be true of books that could be reasonably thought to be connected with the game Scrolls, not any book with the word "scrolls" in it.

In coming up with a scenario like this, predicated on the false assumption that "Mojang owns the rights to the word "scrolls"", Mr Pitts is simply demonstrating his ignorance of trademark law. His notion that succesfully trademarking "Scrolls" would jeopardize Zenimax's Elder Scrolls franchise is nonsense. Notch has also since stated that Mojang offered to drop its trademark of Scrolls in exchange for Zenimax dropping the lawsuit, but this was rejected. That would seem to be the final nail in the coffin of Mr Pitts's theory

**

While we're puzzled as to why someone would write a lengthy attack on a game company engaged in a trademark lawsuit without even seeming to know what a trademark is, we're even more confused that the same author would posit motivations for Zenimax in filing the suit without having even read the papers they filed. As we mentioned earlier, they are available online, and make for interesting reading.

Zenimax's case against Mojang is based on the allegation that Mojang are deliberately releasing a game called "Scrolls" to fool customers into confusing it with Skyrim. Yes, you read that right. Far from claiming that Mojang intend to trademark troll them, as Mr Pitts maintains, they are postulating a conspiracy by Mojang to confuse customers.

Zenimax are claiming that Mojang are using the name "SCROLLS" to market "identical or similar" goods to those covered by Zenimax's trademark for "THE ELDER SCROLLS". Both terms are capitalized throughout. They assert (sections 3.1-3.5) that they own the trademark to "THE ELDER SCROLLS", have been releasing Elder Scrolls games for 17 years and sold millions of copies. That's fair enough, but then things start to get interesting.

They maintain that Mojang are using the "confusable" title "Scrolls" to market their video game to be published in 2011 (3.7), despite knowing about Zenimax's plans to publish an Elder Scrolls game in 2011. They quote an interview with Notch, where he says he's played Oblivion, to prove that Mojang know about the Elder Scrolls series (3.8).

In section 3.9, the conspiracy theory begins. We'll quote:

Vidare är klarlagt att Mojang är metvetna om den kommande lanseringen av THE ELDER SCROLLS V: Skyrin och att Mojang har för avsikt att dra fördel av kännedomen om spelserien THE ELDER SCROLLS. Efter att ZeniMax tillkännagav att THE ELDER SCROLLS V: Skyrim skulle lanseras den 11 november 2011 tillkännagav Mojang att de skall lansera den slutliga versionen av sitt första spel MINECRAFT på samma datum. Vid tillkännagivandet uppgav Markus Persson att datumet sammanfaller med lanseringen av ett par andra spel och filmer, däribland Skyrim, och att den inofficiella motiveringen var "us too" (Sv "vi också"), bilaga 9. Mojang har därefter antytt att spelet inte kommer att lanseras på detta datum. En samtidigt lansering av MINECRAFT och THE ELDER SCROLLS V: Skyrim utgör visserligen inte direkt intrång i ZeniMax varumärkesrättigheter. Det är emellertid uppenbart att Mojang därigenom avser att i konsumenternas ögon koppla samman lansering av MINECRAFT med lanseringen av THE ELDER SCROLLS V: Skyrim och därmed dra fördel av den internationella kännedom som upparbetats kring spelserien THE ELDER SCROLLS.


Our boldface. Translated, the last two sentences read approximately:

A simultaneous release of MINECRAFT and THE ELDER SCROLLS V: Skyrim does not really violate Zenimax's trademark rights. It is, however, obvious that Mojang intend thereby to join in the consumers' eyes the release of MINECRAFT with the release of THE ELDER SCROLLS V: Skyrim and thereby take advantage of the international fame of the game series THE ELDER SCROLLS.

That's... ridiculous. They're really saying that Mojang picked 11.11.11 as the release date for Minecraft in order to leech on Zenimax's PR, as opposed to picking it because, well, it's 11.11.11.

As a note of legal interest, they run through the criteria for trademark infringement, including similarity between the marks, the actual goods or services, and how well they're known on the market (4.2). And further, in 4.3-4.5, they make the case that the overall judgment on the case must take into account the likelihood that the "average consumer" will confuse the two marks.

The document refers to some cases brought before the European Court of Justice. In Gut Springenheide GmbH and Rudolf Tusky v Oberkreisdirektor des Kreises Steinfurt - Amt für Lebensmittelüberwachung, the ECJ ruled the following:

37 The answer to be given to the questions referred must therefore be that, in order to determine whether a statement or description designed to promote sales of eggs is liable to mislead the purchaser, in breach of Article 10(2)(e) of Regulation No 1907/90, the national court must take into account the presumed expectations which it evokes in an average consumer who is reasonably well-informed and reasonably observant and circumspect. However, Community law does not preclude the possibility that, where the national court has particular difficulty in assessing the misleading nature of the statement or description in question, it may have recourse, under the conditions laid down by its own national law, to a consumer research poll or an expert's report as guidance for its judgment.

Our boldface. This is effectively the same requirement as the wonderfully named "moron in a hurry" rule of English case law. Wikipedia:

It appears to have been used first by Mr Justice Foster in the 1978 English legal case of Morning Star Cooperative Society v Express Newspapers Limited [1979] FSR 113.[1] In this case, the publishers of the Morning Star, a British Communist party publication, sought an injunction to prevent Express Newspapers from launching their new tabloid, which was to be called the Daily Star. The judge was unsympathetic. He asked whether the plaintiffs could show:

a misrepresentation express or implied that the newspaper to be published by the defendants is connected with the plaintiffs' business and that as a consequence damage is likely to result to the plaintiffs


and stated that:

if one puts the two papers side by side I for myself would find that the two papers are so different in every way that only a moron in a hurry would be misled.

The "moron in a hurry" was also cited in the Beck v. Eiland-Hall case, featuring the infamous Glenn Beck.

So under trademark law, when Mojang has a trademark for "Scrolls" and Zenimax has a trademark for "Elder Scrolls", it doesn't follow that Mojang's trademark means they automatically own the rights to everything with the word "Scrolls" in it. Instead, as explained in Sabel BV v Puma AG:

Mere association alone is not enough to justify a finding of a likelihood of confusion

As we explained, Mojang's trademark for Scrolls doesn't mean they can sue anyone who has the word "scrolls" in the title of their game. It means that if someone else releases a game called Scrolls or something very similar, that consumers will mistake for Mojang's scrolls, then Mojang can take action.

Similarly, Zenimax's existing trademark on "The Elder Scrolls" doesn't mean they "own" that phrase or any of the words in it. Instead, to uphold their claim of trademark infringement against Mojang, they must demonstrate that a "reasonably well-informed and reasonably observant and circumspect" consumer would mistake Mojang's Scrolls for Skyrim.

This is what Zenimax sets out to prove in the papers they filed in Stockholm, and frankly, we find it amusing. The best part is 4.14:

Även innehållet i de dator- och videospel som tillhandahålls eller planeras att tillhandahålls under de motstående kännetedknen uppvisar stora likheter. Båda är exempelvis äventyrsspel som innefattar magi och utspelas i en bergsrik fantasivärld. Dessa likheter är uppenbara vid jämförelse mellan den officiella trailern för ZeniMax spel THE ELDER SCROLLS V: Skyrin som lanserades 23 februari 2011 och den första trailern för Mojangs spel SCROLLS som lanserades den 25 augusti 2011. Representativa skärmbilder och kopior av respektive trailer lilägges, bilaga 13-15.

In this section, Zenimax claims that the content of the games is very similar. The boldfaced sentence reads: "Both are, for example, adventure games that include magic and take place in a mountain-rich fantasy world." As proof, they offer the official trailer for Skyrim, which has mountains, adventure gaming and magic in it, and the Scrolls teaser, which has no gameplay footage at all, but admittedly does include some mountains.


This is where it all gets really stupid. On scrolls.com, the game is described as follows by Jakob Porser, its lead designer:

The game we envisioned had elements from the collectible card game genre as well as from traditional board games. It would be a strategic game with a strong foundation in tactical game play but with a touch of random and chance guaranteeing a never-ending stream of curve balls. You would control the outcome of battle by creating, modifying and refining your arsenal to overcome the obstacles in your path. The game would challenge you with ever changing content and let you explore the world and cleanse the lands of harm, one monster at the time. It would give you the opportunity to test yourself with your peers by battling other players using a long list of tournament templates ranging from friendly matches to ranked league matches. From quick, small sized tournaments to world championships!

Notice that it says "collectible card game genre" and "traditional board games". Here's how the game was discussed in an article on Wired UK this March:

Wired UK: Scrolls: Minecraft creators reinvent collectible card games

Swedish independent games developer Mojang, which is behind the phenomenally-successful Minecraft, has announced its newest title -- Scrolls.

Scrolls will be a hybrid of collectible card games, such as Magic: The Gathering, and boardgames. Players place different units, buildings and siege weapons on a virtual gameboard, assembling a collection of scrolls to play from before the battle begins. To win, you'll need to balance up spells, units, equipment and resources. Some sample cards can be seen in the gallery above.

"I don't think there are many similarities between Minecraft and Scrolls, if any," Jakob Porser, lead designer on Scrolls told Wired.co.uk. "I guess you could say that both games encourage the player to actively take part of the game and not just sit idle as a story unfolds in front of them, but as for genre they really do not have anything in common."

Where, in all this, do you get an adventure game set in a mountain-rich environment? Here's some sample cards from Scrolls. Cards, because it's a CCG.


How can anyone in their right mine confuse that with Skyrim? To paraphrase the "moron in a hurry" idea, how much of a moron, and in how much of a hurry, would you have to be to think Scrolls was Skyrim?

Here we'll gladly submit ourselves as evidence. It should be obvious to anyone reading this blog that its authors are complete morons. Yet even we never confused Scrolls for Skyrim. The short introductory text on the scrolls.com website was enough for us to realize that Scrolls is a lame Magic: The Gathering rip-off, and we're not interested. Meanwhile, we've been under the constant impression that Skyrim won't be a collectible card game but, in fact, a role-playing game. Or, if you like, an adventure game involving magic and all that.

As we said earlier, The Elder Scrolls series is a 17-year-old, multi-million-selling game series of no small fame in the gaming community. Indeed, Zenimax themselves allege just this in the papers they filed. Yet they're claiming that gamers will accidentally go online and download Scrolls, thinking that they're going on Steam or down to the shops to buy Skyrim. Further, they're saying that Mojang are deliberately trying to confuse people into doing that.

They go even further in 5.5, where they maintain that Mojang's plan to give out alpha versions of Scrolls at Minecon 2011 will "dramatically increase the damage to Zenimax".

**

In our opinion, there's no way any "reasonably well-informed and reasonably observant and circumspect" average consumer is going to accidentally download Scrolls, thinking that they're buying Skyrim. Surely gamers can tell the difference between a downloadable card game and a mass-marketed computer role-playing game. What makes the Zenimax case totally ridiculous is that they either don't realize that Scrolls is a collectible card game, or they're deliberately misrepresenting Scrolls to the court. We anticipate Mojang should have a fairly easy time pointing out that Scrolls is not, in fact, an adventure game involving magic, set in a mountain-rich environment.

Only a complete moron with their hair on fire could possibly buy Scrolls and think he had bought Skyrim.

We think - and this is pure speculation - that Zenimax were gambling on Mojang not risking a court case and the risk of substantial damages. Now that they are going to court, in our opinion Zenimax's case rests entirely on substantiating a plot by Mojang to deliberately hoodwink customers into confusing Scrolls and Skyrim. We find it hard to imagine that succeeding. Apparently Mojang feel the same way, which is why they're going to court. We applaud their bravery in doing so.

We don't know why Mr Pitts wrote his uninformed attack on Mojang and attempted to brand them as dishonest trademark trolls, and it would be illiberal of us to speculate, let alone to speculate on the motivations of people who were prompted by Mr Pitts's article to attack Notch on Twitter. We don't want to make the opposite case, either, and claim that Zenimax is an evil corporation bullying independent game developers around with its legal department, even if we wouldn't be the only ones saying that. We don't know if there's a villain in this story at all. Maybe Zenimax genuinely do believe that Mojang are dealing dishonestly, although we find that difficult to swallow. It's even harder to believe the case Zenimax are making. For all we know, though, they may even be right. We can't claim any insight into Mojang's operations.

Overall, we find ourselves at an uncomfortable impasse, because even though we think Mojang's Minecraft is one of the best PC games ever made, we think The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind shares that distinction. We were also pleasantly surprised by Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, both excellent Bethesda games published by Zenimax.

Even if there isn't a villain in this story, though, in our opinion Zenimax is certainly acting like one. Unless their claims of Mojang's malicious intent are conclusively and thoroughly upheld in court, this will look like a big game company trying to trample all over a popular independent developer. Even worse, they're grossly misrepresenting what Scrolls is in an attempt to get money from Mojang. If they were really this concerned about the integrity of their trademark, wouldn't they go after, say, the browser game "Scroll Wars"? That actually is an RPG, unlike Scrolls.

In this day and age, we think few people are going to side with the big corporation making unreasonable accusations against the cheerful, sympathetic indie developer. It's a virtual certainty that the bad PR from this lawsuit has already caused far more damage to Zenimax than any hypothetical Skyrim sales lost to Scrolls ever could.

As for Mr Pitts's article and the people attacking Notch and Mojang because of it, we can only bemoan the fact that in the Information Age, people can't even be bothered to find out what a trademark is before accusing Mojang of "trying to patent a word". Clearly these people have access to the Internet; they could try to make at least some effort to understand how trademarks work before, say, writing an article that tries to make Mr Persson into Dr Langdell. It reflects poorly on Kotaku that they should publish such an ill-informed personal attack during a fairly high-profile court case.

Oct 3, 2011

Happy birthday Talia Shepard!

Freeones.com tells me today is the gorgeous Talia Shepard's birthday. She was on the cover of Hustler in April 2010:



So, without any further ado, happy birthday!