Interview: Wafaa Bilal casts himself as terrorist in Virtual Jihadi

By Brian Boyko
Contributing Writer, GAS
and Editor of Network Performance Daily

You may not remember the name Wafaa Bilal, but you probably remember the Iraqi-American who locked himself in a room with a paintball gun controlled by random individuals on the Internet for thirty days – that was him, and it’s now nine months later and he’s unable to sleep at night without medicine. Now Bilal has a new controversial art piece that has caused the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s College Republicans to call the college’s Arts department a “terrorist safehaven” for exhibiting it.

In 2003, a forgettable budget first-person shooter game called “Quest for Saddam” was released by a programmer using the Duke Nukem 3D engine. “Quest for Saddam” featured ethnic stereotypes, crude ethnic slurs, and “humor” characteristic of those who find Ann Coulter funny. The developer, Jesse Petrilla went on to found the “United American Committee,” which is most famous for hanging Osama bin Laden in effigy outside a mosque in Culver City, California.Wafaa Bilal as “Virtual Jihadi.”

This game should have faded into obscurity, except that a group called the “Global Islamic Media Front” transformed “Quest for Saddam” into “Quest for Bush” by replacing all the textures. Press coverage immediately slammed “Quest for Bush” as an Al Qaeda recruiting tool, while generally ignoring the content of the original “Quest for Saddam.”

Gameology has more information in a well researched article on both “Quest for Saddam” and “Quest for Bush,” as well as this line:

“Creating a game that repeatedly portrays the killing of a specific individual or ideology and then distributing that game in a context that sincerely advocates the killing of that individual or ideology precludes any claims about that game’s facetiousness.”

That line should be plastered above the door of every FPS shooter game development company as a litmus test.

Bilal’s new art installation takes the game and hacks it to create “The Night of Bush Capturing: A Virtual Jihadi.” Through the game, which will be revealed this Wednesday night, March 5th, 2008 at Rensselaer, Bilal casts himself as a suicide-bomber.

Here’s a description, from RPI’s Arts Department:

After learning of the real-life death of his brother in the war, he is recruited by Al Qaeda to join the hunt for Bush. This work is meant to bring attention to the vulnerability of Iraqi civilians to the travesties of the current war and racist generalizations and stereotypes as exhibited in games such as Quest for Saddam; along with vulnerability to recruitment by violent groups like Al Qaeda because of the U.S.’s failed strategy in securing Iraq. The work also aims to shed light on groups that traffic in crass and hateful stereotypes of Arab culture with games like Quest for Saddam and other media.

I’ll admit that even I wasn’t comfortable with the medium and thought that the message might be lost in the controversy over Bilal casting himself as would-be assassin in work of interactive fiction. Still, I sat down for a phone interview with Wafaa Bilal about the project – and its decidedly controversial nature.

I’m still not sure if I’m comfortable with the work, but at least I know more about the thought process that went into it.

You can find that interview below.

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Geek Support: Can an iPod Classic be made to work on Ubuntu 7.10?

By Mark O’Neill and Mackenzie Morgan

Geek Support has its first question from one of our readers!

It comes from Flor in Mexico City :

My best friend just made the switch to Linux. After much brainwashing from my part, she decided to switch to Ubuntu 7.10. We had tons of problems on her laptop, an Inspiron 1520. Between my boyfriend and me, we have pretty much solved most of them. However, there’s still one problem we can’t solve and we don’t know why. We can’t synchronize her iPod Classic with her laptop. I thought it would be as easy as plug and play, just like my iPod. I own an iPod Photo 40gb and use it perfectly. Her iPod Classic 80gb just doesn’t work. Whenever we plug it and I transfer any songs from my computer, her iPod just doesn’t work. After we disconnect it and all, we browse on the iPod and realize that all the data it had was erased. None of the music we transfered is present and even more, all the data that was there before connecting it is no longer present. We then connect it again but in Windows Vista and the iPod is not detected, just in disk mode. What we usually end up doing is resetting the iPod from iTunes.

We’ve tried everything, gtkpod, using libgpod script…nothing. We have the same problem over and over again. My question is: is there a REAL way to make an iPod Classic work on Ubuntu 7.10? It’s so frustrating, all the how-tos i’ve found they say it works perfectly but we just can’t make it work.

Mark says : Hmmmph…..typical….first question and I can’t answer it! I haven’t installed Ubuntu on my PC so I can’t claim to know anything about it. I’m too attached to my Windows XP. I know, pathetic….

My first instinctive response in this situation is to run a virtual Windows session on the Linux system. So she can run her iPod on iTunes inside a virtual Windows and then use Linux for everything else. To me this would be the easiest solution of the lot. There are plenty of programs out there that can help Flor achieve this. I suggested VirtualBox. Flor said she would give it a try.

Mackenzie says : Try using Rhythmbox instead of trying to just drag n’ drop. If Flor doesn’t like Rhythmbox as her main music player, check out Banshee, Exaile, and Amarok.

Also, maybe try the libgpod upgrade since resetting it may have made it start to behave like a brand new iPod. Also, be sure to eject the iPod properly. Linux (or OSX) does not sync changes to the disk immediately. They are kept in a buffer, so no data is written until you eject.

The outcome : all the options have been passed onto Flor and she’s been asked to let us know if any of them work. We’ll keep you updated.

Meanwhile, if any of you have any alternative ideas on how to solve Flor’s problem, let us know in the comments! Do any of you have any geeky hacks that Flor can take advantage of?

How to create your own laser home alarm system for under $20

Here’s a short video tutorial that will teach you how to build a cheap laser alarm system. Total cost of the project: $20. This thing may not warn the cops when burglars break into your home, but it will probably set their heart pumping and make them run away in panic from your den when its siren starts screaming into their ears.

Geek Support is now standing by to take your call

By Mark O’Neill

dogbert_techsupport.jpgI have been thinking for a while now about how to engage the GAS readers more and answering Melvyn’s question in the last post made me decide to bring this idea forward now.

As a writer for GAS, I often wonder what you would like to read more about. What’s on your mind Mr and Mrs Geek? What would you like to see more of on this blog? Do you have unanswered questions driving you crazy that you would like to see as articles on GAS?

That’s when I came up with the idea of a “Geek Support” feature (which Kiltak loves the idea of) where you send me your burning questions and I will do my best to answer them and do an article on them. A bit like Melvyn wondering if podcasts to email were possible, I looked into it and did an article on it. It even hit Lifehacker just now. So it’s a win-win for everyone. You get your answers and GAS gets its online glory. Oh and I get paid!

So if you have a tech / internet / geek -related question that you don’t know the answer to and you would like to see an article on it, just get in contact with me with details and I will see if I can find out the answers well enough to write an article for Geeks Are Sexy. If I feel unqualified to answer your question, I will try to find somebody who can answer. Perhaps one of the other GAS writers might want to write the article or we can find an outside expert who has the knowledge necessary to put your mind at ease.

Of course, you will be mentioned by name in the article (if you want) and all the other readers will have the opportunity to chip in via the comments if they have something to contribute.

It doesn’t have to be a tech question. It can be anything at all. As Darth Vader says, “search your feelings”. Tap your inner geek, work out what question you most want answered and ask. We’ll then see what we can do. No charge.

Have podcasts delivered directly to your email

By Mark O’Neill

A recent comment by Melyvn on one of my past articles got me thinking. The article was about the built-in MP3 player in Gmail and Melyvn asked if it was possible for podcasts to be delivered directly to email. My instinctive reply was “no” but then I thought “was it actually possible?”.

I found out that it actually is (to a point) using a service called either ZapTXT or RSSFwd. Both of these services are ones which take your RSS subscriptions and sends them to your email. Steve Rubel of Micro Persuasion is a big fan of RSSfwd and I too have often found it useful for maintaining an email archive of Lifehacker posts. But lately I have been won over by ZapTXT which seems to be a lot more reliable and faster. Plus the team behind ZapTXT are extremely nice.

So you would basically subscribe to the desired podcast using their RSS feed and then run it through one of the RSS to email services.  As I said, I personally prefer ZapTXT but RSSFwd is OK too.

Note however that the podcast itself would not actually be physically downloaded to your email (that would require your email password and FTP access), but instead, the podcast link would be emailed to you. A pathetic cop-out you say? Not really. If you use Gmail (and what self-respecting geek doesn’t have Gmail?), the MP3 player is automatically attached to the email if a MP3 file or link is detected.


So using the attached Gmail MP3 player (which works remarkably well), you can listen to the podcast inside your Gmail account without having to download it first.  So in that way, the podcast has been delivered to your email for you to listen to.

But if you wanted to save the podcast for archival purposes, you would have to right-click on the “original audio source” link and save the file to your computer.

So probably not exactly everything that Melvyn was looking for but not bad either.

9 Reasons why you shouldn’t hire that web designer

If you’re a business owner, or have simply been wanting to set out on a new venture, chances are you’ve had to deal with pesky web designers. This variety of geek isn’t very difficult to find, but when it comes to good ones – the roster is pretty short.

CSS Zone has put together a handy list of what to look out for when in the market for a web designer. Surely if your designer spends most of his time hacking MySpace layouts, he might not be the best choice for your purpose. Most of the items mentioned really are common sense. The bottom line is, if a person has an empty portfolio and “friend-of-a-friend” references, you should probably look into hiring someone else.

In all, it’s an excellent read so check it out and see if you’ve got the right person!

9 Signs You Shouldn’t Hire THAT Web Guy

Prying Eyes Are Watching You

Infoworld reports on a new survey of corporate enterprises and the monitoring of their employees. Specifically, it addresses employee network activities and penalties for violating acceptable usage policies.

According to the survey, one third of companies surveyed have fired employees for misusing their internet access, and a quarter of them have canned people for abusing their e-mail account privileges.

From Infoworld:

A new survey found that more than a quarter of employers have fired workers for misusing e-mail, and one third have fired workers for misusing the Internet on the job. 304 U.S. companies of all sizes were surveyed.

84 percent said the employee was fired for accessing porn or other inappropriate content. As many as 34 percent of managers in the study said they let go of workers for excessive personal use of the Internet.

Among managers who fired workers for e-mail misuse, 64 percent did so because the employee violated company policy and 62 percent said the workers’ e-mail contained inappropriate or offensive language. 22 percent said their workers were fired for breaching confidentiality rules in e-mail.

Twelve percent monitor blogs to track content about the company, and 10 percent monitor social-networking sites.

The technology used to monitor corporate usage is increasingly aggressive. Newer monitoring packages can capture all VOIP activity on a network too, so your manager may be able to listen to recorded phone conversations. And if you spend more time chatting with your honey than making sales calls, you might get a pink slip.

What’s more, tools that may potentially protect your privacy on the job are banned from many networks. Monitoring tools easily detect TOR sessions (they can’t read the content though), and employees aren’t the only ones that know about open proxies on the Internet. If you send too many encrypted e-mails, which also leave a telltale signature, the monitoring team may call for an audit of your hard drive next time you call in sick, so they can see what all the secrecy is about.

And if you think your personal thoughts on your own free time are your own, think again. Some bosses monitor what you post on your blogs or MySpace pages.

So how should you protect your privacy? If you must browse personal Web sites at work, use a mobile device with its own web connection—like an iPhone. Just don’t get caught syncing your personal devices to the corporate network without permission. You should also be diligent about staying anonymous on the Internet when it comes to your private life. Don’t tell your coworkers or your boss about your personal blogs or social-networking sites, and make sure they don’t show up when doing an Internet search of your own name.

Create an Internet handle, or nickname, for yourself and use that name for your personal sites. Tie your social networking sites and blogging accounts to an open, anonymous e-mail account like Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail. Don’t disclose your Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail address to your employers, and don’t access those accounts from the corporate network or send data to those accounts if you want them to remain private, because each of those e-mail accounts usually ties into other profile information about you.

Create an online professional profile of yourself using your real name. If you use LinkedIn or other professional development and social sites, use your corporate email address and not your personal one to keep your personal and professional life segregated online. This way, a Google search on your name turns up only clean, professional results, not links to your LiveJournal page with photos of you doing Jello shooters off a co-ed’s tummy in 2002. And always remember, you really are being watched.