Large Hadron Collider Not a Doomsday Device Afterall

It turns out the Large Hadron Collider (LHC for short) isn’t going to kill us all, which is probably a great relief to those of you reading this. You can be rest assured that the experimental device near Geneva, Switzerland, has successfully smashed it’s first protons since the project was launched over a year ago and didn’t kill anybody in the process…never mind destroying the planet like some people were claiming.

The LHC is a gigantic particle accelerator, but its sole purpose is to smash particles against each other at high speeds, rather than just speed them up for less-risky types of physics experiments. It’s the largest (and most expensive…and most controversial…and most reputed…and…do you get the picture that it’s a big deal?) particle accelerator in the world, running a circumference of 27 kilometers (17 miles for those of you on the metric system) and has such a massive radius that it actually dips partially into France along the Swiss border.

This massive physics toy cost approximately 4.6 BILLION Swiss Francs (that’s about 3 billion Euros, which is about 4.5 billion US dollars).

By smashing particles at various speeds, the project was designed to simulate the Big Bang which supposedly created the universe. As cool as that is, there’s several problems with this idea – most notably being that the Big Bang was supposed to be a massive explosion…now I’m not sure about you but I don’t like the idea of somebody in Switzerland playing with a device that could create an entire solar system by flipping a switch – let’s just park it over by Greenland! There’s plenty of space to park a few planets and hundreds of stars!

European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN)
European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN)

And that’s what prompted Walter Wagner and Luis Sancho to file a lawsuit against the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN for short) – the creators and operators of this doomsday device. According to Fox News, the device has the potential to cause massive devastation and is extremely unstable. You can read about the details of the lawsuit on the Fox News website when they first covered the story back in 2008: Fox News – Lawsuit: Huge Atom Smasher Could Destroy World.

However, regardless of the risks, the scientists at CERN have spent the past year fixing some last minute problems with their new toy (if you could call a few hundred million Euro’s a last minute problem), and they activated the powerful machine just a few weeks ago.

On November 20, 2009 they proudly announced that their device hadn’t in fact destroyed the planet (that’s great news!), and they had successfully smashed (you’d figure physicists would come up with a more technical term than “smashed”) two protons and had learned a great deal about the nature of the universe. More experiments involving the smashing of protons are planned for the immediate future (which is good…otherwise they just spent close to 5 billion US dollars for something that took a week to actually do).

If you’d like to learn about the LHC and how it could blow up the planet with their next experiment, head over to the official website found here: LHC Official Website.

Osmos Review

The first time I ever heard of Osmos was yesterday, when it was part of Steam’s Five Day Long Sale. Originally the game cost $9.99, but the sale brought it down to $2.00 – which is 80% off. After watching a trailer and looking at the great reviews and 81/100 metascore, I decided to buy it since it was only $2. I think I am done with about 70% of the game, after about two hours of gameplay. Here is the link to Osmos on Steam. Screenshots are below, followed by the review.

Osmos comes from a small developer – Hemisphere Games. The game, however, is very good. It is difficult to describe it. Basically, you are an orb. You absorb orbs smaller than you. You get absorbed by orbs larger than you. There is antimatter, which shrinks as it absorbs. There are repulsive orbs, which are pushed away from you. There are “living” orbs, which are like you, but computer controlled – they can move around and think. When you move, you give off small orbs and that causes you to shrink. This means you have to navigate the map wisely, conserving “fuel”.

This is like a puzzle game, combined with the first level of Spore. Except you have no weapons or defenses – you either eat or get eaten – and that only depends on strategy. This game has great visuals and a great atmosphere to it – considering everything is essentially an orb. The music might get repetitive, but at least it’s not generic music like you get in every other game these days. The soundtrack is nice and calming, and it perfectly complements the atmosphere of Osmos.

Osmos combines space with living organisms. There are some levels in which you orbit around a “star”, but you can still move. Some levels have other artificial intelligence. It’s a very cool concept, and it definitely makes Osmos unique. There are at least 14 main levels, and each of those has between two and four sub levels. I say “at least” because I don’t know if I have unlocked all of the levels yet, but I think I have. The levels get more difficult as you play the game, but I feel that it kind of gets tedious. For the most part, you just start off as a smaller orb, so it’s more difficult to advance – the goal of most levels is to “become huge,” which means become the biggest orb on the map. This gets boring – they should have included new types of orbs, and maybe implemented weapons and defenses like in Spore – but I guess that would make this a completely different game.

Another interesting part of the gameplay is that when you move, the orbs you expel as you shrink can be absorbed back by yourself or other orbs. This means when you are fleeing from another orb that’s about to absorb you, that orb absorbs the small orbs you give off, which makes the enemy orb bigger. So when you flee, you are giving the “enemy orb” an advantage.

This game is definitely not meant to be played in one sitting. This is for those times when you don’t feel like playing, say for example, Counter Strike, and just want some quick game to relax with. Osmos is the perfect game for that. I believe it will also have good replay value, since you won’t be able to replay a level in the same way, simply because of the number of orbs on the map that all interact with each other and with you all based on your movements.

In conclusion, I’ve said the word “orb” way too many times in this article. Also, in another conclusion, Osmos is a great game that is definitely worth $10. Getting it for $2 is a steal. Get it while it’s on sale through Steam. Without this sale, the world might have never found out about Osmos. Osmos is definitely up there with World of Goo on the list of great indie games. However, because of how unique it is, many people might not like it or will find it boring. Personally, the only thing I see wrong with Osmos is some of the later levels which just make you start off smaller, but don’t add any new content. I will rate Osmos an 8.5/10. Definitely worth buying.

Insurance Company Cancels Benefits Thanks to Facebook Pictures

Imagine being in disability leave due to a medical condition and having your benefits taken away because of a single picture that appeared of you on Facebook. Suppose you are somebody who is indeed ill in one form or another, and you’ve been on long term disability for eighteen months thanks to that illness, and then suddenly your only source of income is ripped away from you.

FacebookThat’s what happened to Nathalie Blanchard, an IBM employee that was on long-term disability leave due to heavy depression. Nathalie was put onto disability leave when she became unable to work over a year and half ago, since then her insurance carrier had been paying her salary – until now.

Manulife Insurance, the carrier in question, recently discovered Nathalie’s profile on facebook and discovered pictures that were posted of her having fun with friends in social situations (“girls night out”), and also on a vacation she took to a tropical paradise.

“Her Facebook pictures were enough to prove that she is ready to return to work,” was the statement issued by Manulife when this hit the fan.

Going out and having fun was suggested to her by her doctor, as research has shown over the years that those diagnosed with severe depression will often seclude themselves to an extreme measure. By going out and socializing, it helps them cope with their situation while maintaining a social life.

In a statement issued to the CBC, Manulife stated “We would not deny or terminate a valid claim solely based on information published on websites such as Facebook.” However actions speak louder than words and it appears that it just takes a few pictures to make things more stressful than they already are.

Simply having pictures of you on a social network should not be enough to strip you of your insurance benefits. Not only can they be easily taken out of context (i.e. just because you see somebody happy and enjoying themselves for the 1 second that it takes to shoot a picture, it doesn’t mean they are like that for the other 3,599 seconds in the day), but it also invokes paranoia about using social networks because of cases like this.

Imagine if this was a life-or-death type situation where your insurance benefits covered special treatment or medications that are keeping you alive, and then suddenly that is taken away from you because of a few innocent pictures. What if you were on blood thinners to prevent clots, or you were about to go in for brain surgery to remove a cancer lump that was pressing dangerously on your brain stem.

The truth of the matter is that insurance companies look for any excuse to drop beneficiaries when they start to cost a significant amount of money. And unfortunately there is not much that anybody can do about it, as burried deep within your insurance contract there is almost always a tiny little clause that says something like “The insurer reserves the right to cancel benefits at any time with due cause.” Due cause has apparently shifted from medical doctor testimony and patient records to pictures posted on the web.

Ten Steps to Having a Proper Man Cave

Fact: a garage is the best type of man cave. If you are unlike the idiotic society of today which has no clue how to pump up a tire, you will want to make yourself a proper man cave. You don’t need to be a mechanic to have a good garage. Anyone who can use a power tool and has done so should have a proper man cave. Here are ten steps to having a proper man cave.

photo by serg312 on flickr

Garage Space

First off, and most important, is the cave itself. You should get a garage that can fit at least two cars. This is so you have plenty of room to work on your car. The more space you have to work with, the easier it is. If you have two cars, you can keep both in the garage, but when it comes time to do some wrenching, you will want to move the other car out.

Lighting

You can never have too much lighting. Your garage should be brighter than day so you can see through every opening under the hood. At the same time, you need to have full control over the lighting, which means installing dimmers instead of switches. You should also be able to control each light individually, or at least groups of lights that make up certain sections. And finally, you need at least three handheld wired lights, and one handheld battery powered light. This is for working under the car, or for directing light through areas where the normal lights cannot get through.

Air Conditioning & Heating

Having a way to cool yourself down while you work is more important than having a heating system. When it’s winter you can just put on more clothes. But when it’s hot, you are rendered powerless and there is nothing you can possibly do to properly cool yourself down. A simple fan won’t get the job done – you need air conditioning. And if you have air conditioning, it is only logical that you have heating. Plus with these two systems you can make sure paint dries faster.

Proper Garage Doors & Lasers

Yes, lasers. The last thing you want is for your property to get stolen. The first step to avoid that is having a good door. Don’t get the cheapest one you see. Generally, the heavier it is, the stronger it is. Which means it’ll be more expensive, but it’ll be worth it. Double doors (like barn doors) are classier, but require more space. Make sure to have a good lock or two installed. And for the perfect touch, add lasers. You can get a cheap laser system online. All it really requires is a bunch of small mirrors, a receiver, and a laser. You can probably make it yourself for less than $50. Or just get a normal alarm system.

Tools and Organization

You need tools, and the more tools you have, the better. You don’t necessarily need to go out and buy a thousand dollars worth of tools. You can slowly expand your collection when you find deals, buy online, find something at a garage sale, etc. You should have two or three car jacks and some axle stands. A welder and an air compressor would be good additions to your tool collection. Duct tape, JB Weld, and cable ties should always be available. And don’t forget to organize everything. The last thing you want is to spend an hour looking for a tool to complete a five minute job.

Spare Parts

You should have common parts available. Tire puncture repair kits, lights, fuses, and other small parts should be available without a half an hour drive to the store. These parts will of course depend on the vehicle you have.

Comfort

You need two or three good chairs. Sometimes you will want to take a short break, and you won’t want to sit on the floor. This is where garage space comes in.

Fridge

You will require a fridge. It needs to be packed with drinks and snacks – preferably something like Chex Mix. This solution is ideal.

Computer With Internet Connection

Sometimes you will need to look at a manual online, or follow a tutorial, even if you consider yourself too intelligent to do such a thing. To avoid printing out instructions, you will want a computer with internet. Bringing your laptop from upstairs won’t cut it, because you will get it dirty and covered in oil. Almost any laptop or desktop will do. You will want to get a spill-proof keyboard, or just put a clear plastic bag over an old keyboard. Get a cheap optical mouse, because a ball mouse will stop working from the dirt, as will a trackpad on a laptop. The best place for a garage computer is somewhere you can use it while standing.

Wall of Stuff

Just as mankind has been doing for thousands of years, you will want to customize your cave wall. A man cave cannot be decorated, only customized. You can hang random things on one of the walls – special priceless car parts, a license plate collection, random broken parts, clocks made out of used disc brakes, etc.

And that’s it. Now you too can have a proper man cave.

Class Action Lawsuit Against Microsoft for Mass Xbox Bans

Microsoft recently banned over 1 million Xbox Live accounts for using modded Xbox hardware. Some reports say the number is now over 2 million. Now there is a lawsuit against Microsoft for the bans. This might seem like a bad idea – after all, modded hardware is against the Xbox Live Terms of Service. However, many people who had their consoles banned are now reporting that not only were they banned from Xbox Live, but they were also banned from their consoles.

How can Microsoft ban you from your console? People are saying that their access to their console’s hard drive was blocked. That means they can’t access a key part of their console, which makes it almost unusable. What gives Microsoft the right to brick consoles for hardware modifications?

Some are reporting that their console was banned because of a simple fan modification. They upgraded the fan on their console to help prevent the infamous Red Ring of Death – RRoD – and now Microsoft apparently bricked their console. How is this fair at all, yet alone legal?

When you buy something, you own it. That is obvious. People who bought an Xbox are the legal owners of that property. How can Microsoft legally make that property unusable? They have the right to ban modders from Xbox Live, which is an extra service to the console. But they should have no right to damage or make unusable the actual hardware that people purchased. This is in effect the same as a Microsoft employee coming to your home and stealing the hard drive out of your Xbox.

I really hope this class action lawsuit goes to court, Microsoft doesn’t settle, and Microsoft loses. This would set a great precedent that would prevent companies from touching the hardware which you paid for and have every right to modify. Think of automobile companies for a second. Wouldn’t they rather have you buy a high-end version of their car for $10,000 more to get an extra 50 horsepower, than have you modify your car by yourself for $2,000 to get the same extra power out of it? Imagine if car companies installed chips in new cars that would disable the wheels from spinning if they detected a custom engine modification? Isn’t this essentially the same thing as Microsoft disabling your hard drive because they detected that you upgraded the fan on your Xbox?

Disabling hardware, your private property which you purchased, should be completely illegal. If these reports of Microsoft bricking consoles for hardware modifications are true, Microsoft should lose the lawsuit. And by the way, the Terms of Service and the EULA rarely hold up in court, because this type of agreement cannot overwrite laws.

Note: I cannot confirm if the reports of consoles being bricked are true, but people all over internet forums are saying the same thing.

Sources: Engadget, multiple forums

XBOX 360 logo copyright Microsoft

How to make text on your netbook or other small screen more visible and easier to read

If you are using Windows XP and are on a netbook or using a laptop with a small screen, text might seem difficult to read. The fix for this is to download ClearType Tuner from Microsoft’s XP PowerToys website. This is Microsoft’s own tool for using ClearType text on Windows XP. ClearType is a technology that makes text easier to read by using special antialiasing methods on text (just how video games use it to fix jagged edges.

Below are two screenshots of how ClearType works on the Acer Aspire One netbook.

Before:

After:

The difference this makes on an 11.6″ 1366×768 display is huge. And I also recommend to set the slider to the darkest option, otherwise the text looks a bit blue: