Naughty and Nice 2017 #4: General Geekiness

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Naughty and Nice is back with more news you need to know.

Well, we try to do Naughty and Nice. But man, today’s is just wild with the same news making BOTH lists.

What to do? How to make sense of this madness?

I have no strings feelings one way or the other, but my gut says “maybe.”

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1. Neutral No More

The repeal of Net Neutrality was a huge upset when the FCC voted to end it on December 14. For most following the news closely, the results shouldn’t have been a surprise given how the FCC under chairman Ajit Pai dismissed public comment and outcry from the outset. Time and time again, Net Neutrality was called a partisan issue that has harmed ISPs and innovation. This despite a clearly bipartisan outcry and the fact that ISPs are doing just fine. The only bright spot in this fiasco is the planned litigation from tech companies, activists, and an appeal to congress to block the repeal from taking place. In the meantime, the internet seems like a more pessimistic place than ever.

2. Hacks today, Hacks Yesterday, Hacks Tomorrow

Seems like I’ll be putting hacks in my naughty list from now until eternity. Every year is a bad year, but 2017 is particularly notable, with 2018 promising to be worse. So far we’ve seen the NSA, the CIA, Merck, Uber, Equifax, Yahoo, HBO, and many others hacked. Equifax was one of the worst examples, given the number of victims and all of the data that the thieves have access to. There were also numerous ransomware attacks, such as Wannacry. Hacks have just become a way of life on the internet. At this point it’s only a matter of when or how badly a company is hacked, not if.

3. Apple is Riddled with Bugs

For the sake of not being disingenuous, most software has bugs. As a Windows and Android user, I’ve experienced more than my fair share of them. However, Apple has a reputation of being a company that makes premium products known for their quality. However, Apple had a quality control problem earlier this month with the release of MacOS High Sierra. We had people being able to gain system administrator privileges on Mac and iPhone crashing bugs along with autocorrect problems. To be fair, the problems were fixed quickly once Apple discovered them.

1. Make My Home Smarter, Please

I’m not going to lie, I’ve been struggling to find nice news for 2017, but there are some feel-good stories out there. First, is the rise of the smart home and cool gadgets for the home. If you’re a techie and you want a connected home, you have your pick of options. This year we saw the releases of the newly improved Amazon Echo, the Amazon Cloud Cam (with free storage!), the WeMo mini Wi-Fi smart plug, the Philips Hue light bulb, and the Google Home Max with pricey, but really nice speakers. With all of this tech, it feels like part of the future imagined decades ago in sci-fi is here.

2. Patreon Furiously Backpedals

Patreon almost went in my naughty list. Earlier this month, the crowdfunding service announced changes to pass on service fees from creators to supporters and to end the batching of payments. What the end result would have been is a 2.9% + a $0.35 fee added to EVERY pledge a supporter made and payments would be taken out on the anniversary of a pledge, instead of the first of the month. If supporters only pledged to one or two creators at higher payments, the fees would have been miniscule. Those who supported multiple creators with small pledges would have seen their payments rise dramatically. (Someone paying $10 per month to a single creator would pay $10.64 after fees, someone else paying $10 per month spread out over ten $1 donations would pay $13.80 after fees.) After a furious outcry and creators losing supporters, Patreon dropped the planned fees and apologized. As a further apology they sent out emails to people who dropped pledges, encouraging them to return to creators. In the end, trust was broken between Patreon and its users, but at least the situation isn’t hopeless.

3. Samsung Makes a Notable Return

2016 was a bad year for Samsung. The Note 7 was supposed be the company’s premium product and it generally enjoyed all-around praise. However, things began to go south weeks after release when the phone started catching fire. Recalls and repairs were made, but thanks to a flaw with the battery design (which caused it to explode), all of the phones had to be recalled for good. In September the Note 8 was released to positive reviews and months later, there are no reports of major problems. It seems that Samsung learned its lesson from last year and Note fans can enjoy one of the best (and most expensive) phones on the market.

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1. Net Neutrality

Okay, this one’s the most obvious one and since everyone else is going to mention it, I won’t need to spend much time on it. Basically, the Republicans were bribed — er, I mean they were lobbied — to stack the deck so that the FCC could vote to repeal Net Neutrality, a provision that was supposed to prevent ISPs from holding the Internet’s data for ransom. If I understand it correctly, with Net Neutrality in place, they can’t force you to pay a Netflix access fee on top of your basic monthly bill while offering their own streaming service for no additional cost. Without it in place, there’s nothing preventing them from price gouging their customers unless the repeal can be overturned.

2. Patreon

So Patreon decided to make patrons pay transaction fees. That was a thing that almost happened. It was such a bad idea that patrons withdrew their support well ahead of when the new fees would’ve been introduced, so Patreon ultimately decided to scrap the whole idea.

Here’s the breakdown: the fees would’ve amounted to both a 35 cent flat fee on all transactions on top of an additional 2.9% fee. If one was donating $100 to someone, they were then going to have to pay $103.25, which all told would’ve been an additional 3.25% of the total. However most can only afford to give the minimum amount possible, $1, so those patrons would end up paying $1.38 per transaction, a 38% tax. One hundred donations of $1 would end up costing $138.00.

Naturally, the ones angered the most were those patrons who were sending out a lot of $1 donations and they immediately withdrew their pledges. However, while they were doing this to protest against Patreon itself, the ones who suffered the most were the content creators who were counting on that money to pay their bills. Between that and YouTube aggressively demonetizing videos to deny people any money they would’ve made on them, it’s been a bad year for independent content creators on the Internet.

There is a little good news, though: Patreon heard the feedback loud and clear and decided to scrap the whole idea. This is cold comfort for those who lost a substantial portion of their monthly income over the whole controversy.

3. Politics in the Age of the Internet

Am I the only one sick and tired of it? The Internet was already a war zone last year when Republicans and those affiliated with them spread as much fake news about Hillary Clinton as they possibly could during the election. This year, though, the divide has been further widened. The label of “fake news” was hijacked by Donald Trump and the Republican Party to describe those news outlets calling out Trump and his administration for their lies and misinformation. Antifa and the alt-right took to Twitter, Facebook and America’s streets in a culture war that’s showing no signs of stopping. And to top it all off, even the furry fandom isn’t immune, for the so-called “alt-furry” has taken to donning as close to Nazi attire as they possibly can while not actually adorning themselves with swastikas in order to claim they’re not Nazis when someone calls them out for it (they’re totally Nazis).

Speaking of putting politics where it has no right to be…

4. The Fight Against Climate Change

In a world that may already be irreparably damaged by climate change, it’s disheartening to see how the current US government has treated the concept. The Republican party has long believed that climate change is a hoax and with Donald Trump in the White House for hopefully only three more years and not the next seven, the party extended their censorship of the concept to the official EPA website. The Environmental Protection Agency is now not allowed to acknowledge that climate change is a thing.

The United States has also withdrawn from supporting the Paris climate agreement and became the only country in the G20 to fail to pledge to protect the environment. That is, to quote Trump back at him, sad.

1. Star Trek: Discovery

The return of Star Trek to television (here in Canada, every episode made so far was broadcast on Space) had all the signs of being a bad idea. Announcements made during production made it sound like they were playing fast and loose with canon. Key members of the production crew were abandoning ship. What was going to be a January debut got pushed back several times until it finally premiered in September.

But it was good. Wow, was it good. The first episode brought us back into the prime Star Trek universe in the right way: by showing us two members of the crew of the USS Shenzhou improvising their way off a planet at the end of a mission of mercy. Over the course of the episode, an encounter with the Klingons turned bad, but one member of the crew had a solution, one for which the episode was named for: They should try what came to be known as a Vulcan Hello. This was where the episode subverted expectations, for in the past, the idea would’ve worked and a crisis would be averted. Instead, the captain overruled the idea, for the Vulcan Hello was basically a show of aggressive strength towards the Klingons and that wasn’t how the Federation conducted themselves. The crew member tried it anyway, but rather than succeeding, she screwed the situation up and got thrown into the brig. Episode two then killed off most of the cast introduced in episode one, destroyed several ships and the crew member was court marshalled and kicked out of Starfleet.

Did I mention this crew member is the main character of Star Trek: Discovery? The first two episodes were definitely a change in tone from past instalments in the franchise.

2. A Fantastic, Marvel-ous Development

Marvel and Disney made it just in time to make my Nice list for the year 2017 with the announcement that the film rights for the X-Men and Fantastic Four are being brought back under their control. Disney had already managed to secure the rights to bring Spider-Man under the MCU umbrella and now they’ve purchased back the X-Men and Fantastic Four from Fox. Well, they’ve purchased pretty much all of 21st Century Fox and the idea that Disney now owns what used to be a rival company is probably not as good as you think it is, but it’s good for fans of the Marvel superheroes, for Fox had yet to make a good Fantastic Four film and the X-Men films varied in quality.

Disney is yet to announce what they’re planning to do with their recently acquired heroes, especially given that the MCU is planned out for the next few years, so any new films this deal will make possible probably won’t happen until at least Phase Four of the MCU, whatever form that’s going to take.

3. Jeopardy! Cares

Most people watching Jeopardy! this year will remember the very charismatic contestant known as Austin Rogers, he won 12 games and then lost just in time to qualify for the 2017 Tournament of Champions. Or they might remember this year’s College Champion, Lilly Chin, because she is apparently the spiciest memelord. However, this story isn’t about them, it’s about a champion named Cindy Stowell. She won six games in late December of 2016 and finished her run just a few days too late to be included in last year’s Naughty/Nice Geek News column. After losing in her seventh appearance, Alex told the viewers at home that while taping her episodes, Cindy was suffering from stage IV cancer and died just a week before her first episode was to air.

She was a very optimistic person even though she knew she was dying. “Even when you think the odds are completely against you, somehow… you know, via luck or, or something, things can work out.”

Since she had more than qualified for a Tournament of Champions that she did not live to see, Jeopardy! decided to donate $10,000 to the same charity that Cindy pledged to donate her winnings to, the Cancer Research Institute. The qualifying contestants also honoured Cindy in their own way, by wearing blue ribbons during the two week tournament. She may have been gone, but her presence was still felt during her Tournament.

4. The Russell Howard Hour

After being off the air for a year when the BBC declined to renew Russell Howard’s Good News at the end of its 2015 series, Sky One commissioned a series structured in much the same manner as Good News, calling it The Russell Howard Hour. For his international fans, he has been uploading the episodes onto YouTube after they air, with the penultimate episode of the first series being uploaded yesterday. The final episode is set to air on the 21st before going into hiatus until sometime in 2018.

My favourite thing about the new series is that Russell takes to Twitter to ask his fans about their good deeds, then airs the responses he gets. It’s a great little uplifting segment of his show and a much needed antidote to all the negativity and cynicism being thrown around these days.

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1. A war on the planet

We’ve heard about how serious of an issue climate change is for over the last decade, yet for stupid and corrupt reasons, anti-intellectualism is the flavor of the moment for the US government. Throughout this year, we’ve pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord, and the EPA has a stooge who hates the organization at the helm. There are so many more examples of stupidity here that I could fill the remainder of the “Naughty” list with them, but it won’t. Despite signs of the climate changing all around us, it’s frustrating to see too many people at the top doing their best to destroy the planet (and, hell, everything else) for those below them.

2. Dismantling of net neutrality

The new FCC dismantled net neutrality under the guise that it would return freedom to those surfing the web, which was a pack of lies. What they’ve done is destroyed the free and open internet we’ve enjoyed for decades, and have given that power to the barren number of internet service providers the US has. Worse, many areas in the country only have one available ISP, meaning when one of them does something stupid, there aren’t any other options. The internet in the USA will be a more miserable experience in the near future, unless you’re a big corporation.

3. China’s AI Advances

In the last several years, China has made serious technological advances with sophisticated AI capabilities. The newest large one is iFlyTek, an AI program that’s a sight to behold and read about, especially its voice recognition software. But it’s also been used by the Chinese government’s security forces to keep a close watch on their citizens, particularly those with a penchant for activism, making it the kind of Orwellian program pulled right from a dystopian cyberpunk story. As China slowly becomes the world leader, expect them to share this technology with several other countries in the world, which will increase the chance of other governments becoming more authoritarian.

4. Disney purchased 21st Century Fox

This deal could be good for nerds (for now, anyway), but it’s bad for a plethora of other reasons. This will reduce the number of major players in the movie industry from six to five, and Disney may not want to handle all the movies and TV shows they’ve acquired simultaneously, so riskier options could go on the backburner. Media consolidation is also rarely a good thing, as it often results in fewer options for the consumer and creators, and analysts say this could result in the loss of 5,000 to 10,000 jobs soon. Not to mention how Fox was willing to invest in R-rated movies while Disney isn’t, meaning projects like Logan and the Deadpool films could be the last of their kind. With Disney increasing in size to the level of a megacorporation, others will find it difficult to compete with them.

1. Wonder Woman is a good DC movie

For a short while, Warner Bros. production teams struggled to adapt their superheroes to movies. Man of Steel generated a mixed reaction, but Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad received mostly negative ones, despite being heavily anticipated and having good previews. Fortunately, Wonder Woman broke the trend, with the movie being rewarded with good critical and commercial receptions. It looks like an anomaly with Justice League being nearly as disappointing as the aforementioned two films, but WB is restructuring the way they produce movies to increase their quality to Wonder Woman’s level, so the future could be bright.

2. The #MeToo movement

With how 2017 was going, who knew this would be the year where women being sexually harassed in the workplace said “enough already” nearly in unison? While it was mostly reserved to popular figures or those in places with more influence than the average worker, it was encouraging to see several women (and some men) finally pay a price for being creeps. Given how this is progressing, this string will continue into 2018, and ideally until the people responsible stop engaging in these actions.

3. The rising amount of diversity in movies

The #OscarsSoWhite campaign made Hollywood studios and execs take notice of how movies were a little too, um, vanilla, and how the movies receiving awards at shows were too homogenous in color. As a result, studios have started including more minorities in movies and at the helm of them, seen this year though Hidden Figures and Get Out. It also fueled movements for more Asian, Latino, and LGBT representation, who’ve also made worthwhile advancements. Progress still needs to be made, but we’re on the right path.

4. Disney purchased 21st Century Fox

Plenty of nerds were hoping the rights to the X-Men and Fantastic Four would go back to Marvel and Disney soon, but who knew that would come in the form of this massive purchase? If this merger is approved, Disney will have far more entertainment franchises under their banner than they know what to do with. Given their commitment to quality movies and TV shows (including recent efforts like Coco and Star Wars: The Last Jedi), we can expect to receive even more from them in the near and distant future.

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