Ad blockers want you to see this ad

What is an ad blocker supposed to do? It’s supposed to block adverts. Simple. But one such operation – AdBlock – has replaced the blocked ads with…adverts. In short, they don’t want you to see the blocked adverts, but they do want you to see theirs.

From the always enlightening Register:

AdBlock replaced blocked ads with ads for Amnesty International

You should control you computer … except when we feel political says AdBlock CEO

AdBlock has replaced blocked ads with ads it wants you to see.

The advertising-blocking company on Saturday continued to block ads but replaced them with “banners linked to articles written for Amnesty International by prominent privacy and free speech advocates like Edward Snowden, Ai Wei Wei, and others, instead of the peaceful, blank spaces you’re accustomed to not noticing.”

The Amnesty ads protest censorship and “click through to content from people who governments have tried to silence.”

(From my perspective, they really add insult to injury by promoting Amnesty. Couldn’t they have chosen something less offensive, like a campaign advert for Donald Trump?)

Read it all here, and try not to get too upset by the hypocrisy.

Death in the Dordogne – Martin Walker

Martin Walker is a journalist turned writer, who took his love for the Perigord region of France and its people, and used it as a setting for a series of crime books featuring Bruno Courrèges. Bruno is the chief of police (and the solitary policeman) in St Denis, a small town with all the quirks and delights you might expect, and more. For example, there is an abundant supply of good weather, fine food, beautiful scenery, and people with less than a total adherence to the rule of law. The visit of European civil servants is handled with all the charm of a reluctant, rebellious population.

Bruno’s back story is that he is a former soldier, way overqualified for the post, who has suffered his own tragedy. He settles for the quiet life because it suits him. He is smart, caring, and fits in well to St Denis life.

This peaceful existence is broken by the murder of a somewhat reclusive local war hero. It brings the forces of law and order in from the big city, and sets off racist demonstrations and tension. Bruno navigates through these choppy waters, encounters a love interest, and handles it all with relative ease.

The writing flows, as does the story, with the background often threatening to overshadow efforts at building up the characters and the dynamics of St Denis. However, the author does as good a job as his police hero, and seems to balance all the elements with care and thought. It’s an often gentle, loving book, with a great sense of calm amidst the chaos of the big bad world outside.

At the end of the book, presumably much to the delight of the Perigord Tourist Board, there’s a comprehensive holiday guide about the place. And, there are several more books in the series, so the joys of the region are there to be savored anew.

Good stuff.

Five for Friday

Herzliya Marina - March 2016

Herzliya Marina – March 2016

So this Friday began with an early morning bike ride, out to Herzliya and back. I was glad not to be out in the car, as the traffic was in gridlock due to the Ra’anana road race. By the time I returned, it was worse. There is a special joy in riding your bike past a long, long tail of traffic.

I then spent too long putting new bike stands together. Nobody warned me about the assembly required. Grrrr. But, at the end, there’s just that little bit more space in our machsan (storage room).

So, having safely returned to the comforts of home, it’s time to get FFF done. Here are the regular offering of links. I hope you get something out of them.

Shabbat Shalom!

Baby, you can drive my car

automobiles-cover

This week’s session saw new arrival Automobiles going through a test drive, courtesy of Peleg, Sheer, and I. The game was designed by David Short, and is published by AEG. Was it a smooth ride, or did we crash and burn? Read on and find out…

Automobiles is a neat twist on a deck building game. Here, the cards are fixed and never enter your hand. Instead, you have colored cubes – each colored cube matching a single action card – which you acquire, and put in your very own draw bag. The actions may help your car move on the race track, or do different things dependent on your current or used cubes. Each turn, you draw seven cubes from your bag, and take actions according to those cubes. You do not have to use all the cubes each turn, with the remainder being available to purchase new cubes. When your draw bag is empty, you put all the cubes back there, and continue.

To match the race car theme, some actions and movement on the race track force you to acquire wear cubes. These are not good to have. Think Curse cards from Dominion, and you get the idea.

There are several types of card for the colored cubes, and the mix and match interaction has echoes of other deck building games. So, while some combinations are given, you can experiment to your heart’s content. Also, because there is only one card for each color, it is a whole lot easier to come up with home brewed variations, since there is no need to manufacture a ton of cards, with the need to replicate shape and quality.

The winner is the first past the post, or furthest past the post if there is more than one finisher. The game can take five – though annoyingly my copy only came with four draw bags – and has a low to medium complexity.

So, how does it play?

Overall I would say that it is a good game, with lots of challenging decision making, and a hefty does of fun. It’s easy to play, but not so easy to play well. The components are high quality, clear, and easy to use. However, I hear I am not the only one to suffer from a missing draw bag. The rules are clear, especially after you take the time and trouble to properly sort the cards before playing. (That’s an in joke at my expense. I complained there was no clear way to use the cubes for third, fourth, fifth, and sixth gears. Then I bothered to check the cards.)

The one potential blot is that it may take too long to play for four or more players. With three players, we managed a couple of complete three lap games – some card sets come with a recommendation to do five laps – inside two and a half hours, including rules explanation. In theory, because you can see your cubes in advance, you should be able to plan your turn ahead. In practice, I found myself checking out the board to see what the others were doing, and that slowed things down. I would try it with four, at least once, but maybe there’s a reason there were only four draw bags…

automobiles

Anyway, true to form, Sheer cracked the right combination in both races, and won. He was untouchable in the first. In the second, both Peleg and I did better, and were in contention until the last couple of turns.

I definitely want to try this again, as it was fun, and it’s been the most successful race game experience I have had in quite a while.

The Organized Mind – Daniel J Leviten

organized-mind

The strapline – Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload – is key. Here you have a scientific approach, complete with answers, and fully backed up by sources for the science, about memory, organization, and coping with life’s challenges. But this is not a dry, dull, book. It’s entertaining, sometimes funny, and sharply written. It is packed with meaningful material, plenty of food for thought, and tons of fascinating facts and theories. In addition, there are straightforward explanations about why certain things happen in our lives – Where did I put those keys? – with practical tips and potential solutions.

I especially enjoyed the disclosure that in the world of high tech achievers, the humble pen and paper has a prominent role. However, those owning up to such practices were keen to keep it a secret. After all, it’s better for them if we believe these smartphones, tablets, and computers are a universal solution – even if they are not.

And his observations on the effects of email were similarly entertaining. He has a special ability to offer a fresh perspective on the mundane aspects of modern life, highlighting how and why they became mundane, and the advantages and disadvantages.

I bought this on an impulse, and am oh so glad I did. It has made a significant difference to my understanding of many aspects of thinking and memory.

While the overall quality of the book is excellent, even from that high standard there is one chapter that is even better: What to teach our children. Educators the world over should be forced to read this and take on board what Leviten says. It’s powerful, life changing stuff.

I don’t normally post about non-fiction books, as most of my reading of that type is military history, and that does not seem to have a wide appeal. But this book should be given the widest publicity possible. It’s more than a breath of fresh air; it’s a whirlwind of wonder and enlightenment. I highly recommend it.

Ortus Regni

ortus-regni

Out of the shipping box and wrapper is Ortus Regni. It’s a card game with a medieval theme, designed by Jon Sudbury and produced by him. To quote from BoardGameGeek:

Ortus Regni is a novel card game inspired by the late Anglo-Saxon period of English history. A time of warring Earls, claiming whatever lands they could… establishing fiefs, cultivating powerful vassals, fighting and engaging in endless political struggles. All while Vikings roamed not just the sea, but the land. It is truly a Dark Age. Or is it? Lasting for 600 years, until the Norman Conquest of 1066, this era decided the future of a great kingdom that would become England.

Designing your Earl Deck before play begins is one of the key features of the game. Ortus Regni is a deck-design game, rather than a deck-building game. That is, you are entirely in control of the deck that you will begin play with in a game of Ortus Regni.

There are several canonical Ortus Regni deck design concepts—such as a Lord deck, an Army (Land) deck, a Politics deck, or an Emissary (Monk) deck, and more. But such concepts are only the start of your design options. The Earl Deck you put together can be a subtle hybrid of several concepts, or something entirely different and unusual.

I have only had time to open the boxes – the basic game is for two player, and each expansion adds the capability for another two players – and check out the contents. Stunning. The quality of the artwork, the design, and the attention to detail in the package is outstanding. If the game play is even half as good, this will be a great game. I think I know what we might be playing next week…

And I would be remiss if I did not mention the excellent customer service. Top notch. Thank you, Jon.

Black and white nonsense

She's an actress.

She’s an actress. Source: Wikimedia

The complaint by some so-called anti-racist campaigners that Zoe Saldana is not black enough for the role of Nina Simone (in the film of her life), is political correctness gone mad. It’s also racist nonsense.  Brendan O’Neill at the Spectator nails it, concluding as follows:

“Some of us don’t want to be racially aware. We don’t want to judge people according to their skin colour. And when Nina comes out, we will see, not a ‘half-black person’ mimicking a ‘real black person’, but a good actress doing her very best to capture the soul and life of another human being. That’s what humans do — we reach across made-up racial and cultural boundaries in an effort to understand and feel what other people feel.”

Brilliant.

Do also check out this Harry’s Place piece.

To finish, here’s a trailer for the film:

Shueb Salar is bound to be an Amnesty supporter

The British Labour party has been having a tough time of it. For now, let’s pass over their leader’s issues with apparent support for undesirable elements, their youth wing’s tolerance for antisemitism and bigotry, and switch our focus to Sadiq Khan. He is their candidate for the London mayoral election. Earlier this week he had to fire one of his speechwriters/advisors, Shueb Salar, for homophobic, racist and sexist tweets. Hold that thought.

Where are we? We are at the higher echelons of the mainstream left wing political party in the UK. A party built on the fight for individual rights. Would it be too much to say life, liberty, and equality?

So how does Salar’s bigotry remain undetected until now? It surely cannot be that his previous behavior was exemplary. It surely cannot be that he never before let loose his lips to deliver some of that bigotry in the presence of friends and acquaintances. It surely cannot be that Labour party members didn’t hear such stuff from him. So, why did nobody do anything? Could it possibly be that his friends and acquaintances see nothing wrong in that bigotry? I mean, surely not…

As a separate issue, the Mirror article that revealed much of the detail, includes this:

Mr Khan has faced controversy before over his links with Islamic extremists he defended in his former job as a solicitor dealing with human rights issues.

And:

Before joining Mr Khan’s Westminster operation, 24-year-old Mr Salar also worked for a solicitor’s company specialising in human rights.

The bigot used to work in the field of human rights. Wow. I bet Shueb Salar is an Amnesty* supporter!

[*See here, and here. Guy Fawkes‘ blog has more material on the bigoted Mr Salar, here.]

Dead Steve Jobs is still a crook

The title of this post is taken from a post at the Register (here) reporting on the end of Apple’s attempts to evade responsibility for illegal price fixing of electronic books. Jobs was a talented man, but he was no angel. I don’t want to demonize his memory, but neither should it be a whitewash that leaves out all the nasty bits. For all the people that criticize Amazon for their business practices, there are too few that do the same to Apple. Dead Steve Jobs is still a crook is a worth partial redressing of the balance, and a reminder that the honest view is always behind the glossy press releases, slick marketing campaigns, and even the must have products.

Someone Else’s Skin – Sarah Hilary

The book begins with a flashback as we follow DI Marnie Rome to her home – a place that has become the scene for a dreadful crime. Five years later, she and her colleague DS Noah Jake are visiting a women’s refuge when there is a violent encounter between one of the residents and her husband. Right time, right place? Rome and Jake are working two cases that pull them along – though not in the expected direction – towards a shocking finale.

The central theme is domestic violence, and the author does an amazing job of handling the topic with tender care and attention, while not shying away from the violence, and the after effects. It’s also important to note that the blood and guts is not overdone, and fits well into the narrative. The plot ducks and dives a bit before coming to its first major twist, but it is cleverly done, and the whole tale is a satisfying reading experience. The two police characters are well drawn, believable, and interesting.

The only part of the book that was less than excellent for me, was just before the final encounter. Rome is trying to work out something (he said, while not trying to spoil the plot) and seems to become less than the highly intelligent policewoman we know her to be. She eventually cracks it – surprise! – but that struggle did not convince me.

Truly that is a minor blot on the landscape. And what a cracking landscape it is. A fine debut, and another author to follow.