March 11, 2005

LinkNews Digest [03/11/2005]

Israel Bans D&D Players from Army

Thousands of youth and teens in Israel play D&D, fighting dragons and demons using their rich imaginations. The game has also increased in popularity due to the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

However the IDF does not approve of this unusual hobby and prevents D&D players from being considered for sensitive army positions by labeling them with low security clearance.

"We have discovered that some of them are simply detached from reality," a security source told [us]. Game enthusiasts are aware of their problematic image in the army and prefer to maintain their anonymity. Many of them are from the former Soviet Union, where the game is very popular.

In Israel there are thousands of players, between the ages 16 to 35, and include lawyers, high-tech workers and businessmen. Matan, 22, and Igor, a 21-year-old IDF soldier, organize activities for groups of players. Soon hundreds of fans are expected to meet in a forest in the southern part of Israel for a two-day game of pure fantasy. (LINK)


Pentagon Dodges Audit Scrutiny with 'Future Combat Systems'

As Inside Defense notes, under Defense Department rules -- specifically, Federal Acquisition Regulation 12 (FAR 12) -- everyday, "off-the-shelf" items can be bought with a minimum of paperwork and oversight. Filling out endless forms just to buy new copies of Microsoft Word doesn't make much sense, after all.

But neither does applying FAR 12 to Future Combat Systems (FCS), a program which encompasses everything from fleets of new robotic vehicles to a whole new architecture for battlefield communications to new uniforms for the troops.

"The FCS system is being included in the fiscal '06 budget as a commercial off-the-shelf item. That means that they are relieved of the obligation to [give] cost and purchasing data to military auditors," Sen. McCain told Army Secretary Francis Harvey during a March 3 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. "Tell me, Mr. Secretary, where might I be able to purchase such a vehicle commercially?"

"It's not -- it's certainly not off the shelf," Harvey replied. "Senator, you know that. It's a very heavy technology development program."

"I really think we’re going to have to change this designation," answered McCain, who's already planning on holding hearings on FCS. (LINK via DefenseTech.org)


This Year's Hot VideoGame Property: Emily Dickinson

SAN FRANCISCO -- In this era of first-person shooters, successful video games seem to require lots of shooting, explosions and other assaults on the senses. But who says you can't write a game about the poetry of Emily Dickinson?

That was the question put to some of the biggest names in gaming during a special panel discussion Wednesday at the Game Developers Conference here. "The Sims" creator Will Wright, "Black & White" designer Peter Molyneux and "Splinter Cell" lead designer Clint Hocking were set the task of developing a game concept based on the reclusive poet.

Splinter Cell's Hocking, the first to present, said his initial thoughts had been an Emily Dickinson poetry slam. That, he joked, would pit Dickinson against fellow writers "Mark Twain, aka Fathom," and "Robert 'Iceman' Frost."

Then came [Wright's] idea to put the player in the role of Dickinson's therapist. The game, he said, would be stored on a USB flash drive. "As you interact with her, you start with a cordial relationship," he said. "She (either) becomes romantically obsessed with you, or goes into a suicidal depression, and at the end, she can delete herself from the memory stick." (LINK via Wired)


Technology Mimics Harry Potter Magic

Microsoft introduced many "New" ideas in their annual TechFest, but this one has a striking resemblance to the Weasley's Clock from the Harry Potter books:
The people-tracking clock is an idea out of Microsoft's research laboratories in Cambridge, England. Technology in cellphones these days can easily track a person's location, and that information could be sent to the clock to be seen by those at home.

"It sounds very trivial but it has very nice properties," said Andrew Herbert, the managing director of the Cambridge lab. "You can glance at it and know where everyone is." (LINK)


CNN Refuses to Show Controversial Land Mine Video

The scene opens on some neightborhood girls playing soccer, when one of them steps on a land mine.
The explosion appears to kill and injure some girls, sparking panic and chaos among parents and other children. Shrieks of horror are heard through much of the spot, and a father is shown cradling his daughter's lifeless body, moments after celebrating a goal she had scored.
It closes with a tag line reading: "If there were landmines here, would you stand for them anywhere? Help the U.N. eradicate landmines everywhere." ( Video)
I whole-heartedly support the cause. A good part of Hawaii's islands are still inaccessable today because of Land Mines that the army planted there as a deterrent to invasion in WWII. It's sad to see huge chunks of that beautiful land just fenced off, and I can't imagine what it would be like to live in fear of them randomly scattered on the landscape.

Plague Resitance key to AIDS Prevention

Europeans who survived the Bubonic Plague usually developed a specific gene called delta 32, and hopefully passed it on to their children.
HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, tricks the immune system in a similar manner as the plague bacterium, targeting and taking over white blood cells. Virologist Dr. Bill Paxton at the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center in New York City noticed, "the center had no study of people who were exposed to HIV but who had remained negative." He began testing the blood of high-risk, HIV-negative individuals like Steve Crohn, exposing their blood to three thousand times the amount of HIV normally needed to infect a cell. Steve's blood never became infected. Paxton began studying Crohn's DNA, and concluded there was some sort of blocking mechanism preventing the virus from binding to his cells. Further research showed that that mechanism was delta 32. (LINK)
Since this plague never infected Africa or India, this gene never appears in their indigenous populations, which provides some insight into their unusually high mortality rate.

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