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Mozilla to enable Click to Play for all Firefox plugins by default, except the latest Flash version (Updated)

by Emil Protalinski Tweet — 29 Jan '13, 05:17pm in Apps

Mozilla on Tuesday announced a massive change to the way it loads third-party plugins in Firefox. The company plans to enable Click to Play for all versions of all plugins, except the latest release of Flash.

This essentially means Firefox will soon only load third-party plugins when users click to interact with the plugin. Currently, Firefox automatically loads any plugin requested by a website, unless Mozilla has blocked it for security reasons (which it has for old versions of Java, Silverlight, and Flash).

Going forward, Mozilla will essentially be blocking all plugins except the very latest version of Flash. The company won’t say why it is exempting Adobe’s plugin, but it’s most likely because users expect their videos to play automatically (and advertisers expect their ads to load automatically).

Firefox will thus only load plugins when you take the action of clicking to make a particular plugin play. Alternatively, you can also configure Click to Play so that it always run plugins on a particular website .

To implement this change, Mozilla still has to do the following:

  1. Set Click to Play for old versions of Flash (versions Update: This is done now, see below).
  2. Complete final UI work.
  3. Set Click to Play for current versions of Silverlight, Java, and Acrobat Reader and all versions of all other Plugins.

Mozilla says this new stance will help increase Firefox performance and stability, which is understandable as plugins often bog down a browser (when they are loaded and unloaded or just lead to high memory usage while browsing) or render it unusable (poorly designed third-party plugins are the number one cause of crashes in Firefox). The company is looking to significantly cut down on all of these by only loading plugins that the user wants to load.

At the same time, Mozilla says it will be providing more control over plugins to users. This is technically true (users will be able to fine-tune the behavior of each plugin per site) but it’s also a bit of a stretch (most users won’t do this).

The real reason is lumped in with all the rest: “provide significant security benefits.” After all, that’s exactly what Mozilla used Click to Play for last time; when Java exploits got out of hand earlier this month, it added all recent versions to Firefox’s blocklist .

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Click to Play is very useful as a prevention mechanism against drive-by attacks (such as urging users to click on a video link that is almost never what it claims to be or hiding in ads on a legitimate website) targeting plugins that are known to be vulnerable. Mozilla’s explanation of these scenarios is worth quoting in full:

One of the most common exploitation vectors against users is drive by exploitation of vulnerable plugins. In this kind of attack, a user with outdated or vulnerable plugins installed in their browser can be infected with malware simply by browsing to any site that contains a plugin exploit kit. We’ve observed plugin exploit kits to be present on both malicious websites and also otherwise completely legitimate websites that have been compromised and are unknowingly infecting visitors with malware. In these situations the website doesn’t have any legitimate use of the plugin other than exploiting the user’s vulnerable plugin to install malware on the their machine. The Click to Play feature protects users in these scenarios since plugins are not automatically loaded simply by visiting a website.

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For those who are unaware, Click to Play has been available in Mozilla’s browser as of Firefox 17. Here’s what it looks like in action:

Currently, the prompt tells you that the plugin is vulnerable and thus Firefox has stopped it from loading automatically. This message will likely be updated with something more generic given that Mozilla is essentially looking to block almost all plugins from loading by default.

If there is an update available, you will be prompted to update the plugin. Either way, you will be able to use the plugin by clicking on the blocked grey box if you want to, but many will find this to be a bit of a hassle.

Mozilla would not reveal when this change will come into effect, but we can assume it will be made in the next few weeks or so. We’ll see soon enough how Firefox users react to it.

Update at 2:50PM EST. Mozilla has completed step one outlined above. The company has enabled Click to Play on old versions of the Adobe Flash Player plugin; for versions 10.2.* and lower, whenever you load a page that uses the plugin, you will see the prompt shown above. If you want to avoid this, update your Adobe Flash plugin.

Does Bad Behavior Cause You to Avoid Online Games?

Most of us are pretty comfortable with the idea that video games can provide arenas for transgressive play that allows people to explore taboos and societal no-no’s with impunity. I can mow down pedestrians in Grand Theft Auto, get the delicious thrill of doing something I would never, ever do in real life and then go back to my usual existence of not even being able to kill ants in my kitchen without feeling guilty about it. There are even those that suggest that these types of activities fill an important psychological need: in most animals play is preparation for real life.

I even wrote a paper about this recently – I summarize some thinking on play and its role in human development:

To overlook play as a critical component of the human experience is to miss an opportunity to leverage an inherent human capability for learning that is also a drive rooted in basic survival strategies. Play, as a state, is simply an opportunity for unfocused, open-ended experimentation, often in an environment that has been designed to allow for a range of experiences, some prescribed, but some almost entirely emergent… With respect to this alternative framing, rather than to say that one is ‘at play’ it would be more descriptive to say that one is ‘in play’, that is, one is carving out a space in which experimentation is safe and possible – this state is non-linear, unfocused on a particular end result, and allows for creative thinking, innovative problem solving, and shifts in perspective… Play also serves as a motivating force, but it is most powerfully an apparatus for allowing experimentation outside of limitations of physical practicality or other opportunity barriers, e.g. the difficulty of training for natural disasters, that arise from needing to develop competency in an area that is highly dependent on experiences that are not frequently encountered.

Okay, so here’s an opportunity barrier: how often do we get to see what happens when we are jerks to others? (Unless we spend all of time being jerks, which I suppose some people do). One of my hypotheses is that there is not so much a griefer archetype, so much as there are people who play at griefing just to see what happens when they do. Wreaking havoc in the real world just carries too high a cost. For some people, the temptation to be a little bit evil is overshadowed by a more pragmatic drive to conform to societal norms. But games let us play at being evil! And that means a lot more than picking the bad faction. For many there is a larger game of general obnoxiousness and seeing how people respond to our barbs.

We can argue all day long about whether there are people who are inherently evil, but the truth is that most people aren’t. It doesn’t make evolutionary sense to be mean to others when our survival is so often rooted in the cooperation and fitness of the group. But (warning: I’m going all post-modern here) this sort of play is just as integral to the development of identity in a complex society as play-fighting is for lion cubs. How do people respond if I do something? What can I get away with? What behaviors subject me to a penalty of some sort? This is especially important for young people who are in the process of identity formation. There are billions of options for how to be. Which ways work best, make one feel the best, allow for maximum success? Which contribute to Shirky’s advantages of youth. Is it good for the doormat to learn a thing or two about steamrolling their way through life?

Or maybe, as Conor Murphy suggested in a recent article. there is a cathartic effect at work? Isn’t it better to take out my aggressions in some PvP rather than beating my wife or kids, or pulling someone out of their car and beating the bejeezus out of them when they cut me off in traffic? The world is a horrible, frustrating place. Where else is that anger going to go? In Killing Monsters. Gerard Jones notes that catharsis comes from the Greek word ‘katharsis’, meaning ‘a release of dangerous emotions’ (Artistotle was apparently a fan; Karl Lorenz made it a theory), and requires that ‘emotions be stimulated before they can be released’. And yes, this thinking has been generally applied as a justification (controversially, to say the least) that violent videogames aren’t so bad after all. So let’s say there’s something to it. Could it also be applied to these nasty social interactions? Or does allowing them to happen perpetuate more of the same, a game of hateful, desensitizing one-upsmanship? Is there any rationale for applying what Jones says about violence to social transgression as well?

Anthropologists and psychologists who study play, however, have shown that there are many other functions, as well — one of which is to enable children to be just what they know they will never be… Playing with rage is a valuable way to reduce its power. Being evil and destructive in imagination is a vital compensation for the wildness we all have to surrender on the way to being good people. (p. 11)

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I agree with momgamer that it sucks that well-meaning people get driven away from environments overrun by nasty people who have no qualms about ruining everyone’s fun. A new sheriff (and lots of deputies) might be just the thing. Cultures are mutable. They are a collective creation of the individuals who contribute to them: their beliefs and other patterns that emerge over time. Change can be effected, but to do so requires speaking up. You want a voice of non-bigoted reason in the Barrens chat? Then speak up. Find facing the Warthog repulsive? Go ahead and say so. Silence is sanction to continue. Model some positive behavior. But let’s also accept that every game culture doesn’t need to be palatable to everyone. I’m sure that none of us really think that stealing police cars and running over innocent people is okay, but is there perhaps a place for it in certain digital spaces? Instead of knee-jerk reactions to transgression, how about asking why we do it? That’s much more interesting.

Genre Shift

Wait a minute, wasn't this supposed to be a harem comedy? I-is that the same little boy.

(a montage of people driving in cars)

Narrator: I am your permit, your license, your permission to drive. I am a privilege, and an obligation. Your obligation to drive skillfully, carefully, and legally.

(Someone suddenly gets into a car crash, with quick cuts to up-close shots of innocent bystanders reacting, before settling on a long shot of a traffic light in a fog of smoke.)

Josh Way: Suddenly, Fritz Lang 's directing. (sigh) It's no time to get arty, movie.

The weird cousin of Executive Meddling. except it can be planned in advance by the writers.

Controversial or extremely different ideas are very hard to get past sponsors and audiences suspicious of anything new and unfamiliar. An easy if sneaky way around this is merely to present the beginning of the story as something familiar. However, once the main plot kicks in, your audience is hopefully loyal enough not to notice the quick shift in tone and pacing. If you did it well, in hindsight they might notice little hints you dropped about what was to come. As a side effect, the story will probably also undergo Mood Whiplash.

Genre Shifts are sometimes used in Sequel stories.

Genre Shifts sometimes occur at the ends of a series when the writers finally get around to soapboxing their opinions. Many fluffy, over-the-top comedies will suddenly find their last episode making an attempt at drama. On the other hand, some cutesy or romance-based stories can experience Genre Shift simply because they start running so long the writer figured if they have to derail the original plot, they might as well do it with something creative.

It is possible for this to work, as long as the creators know what they're doing, and it can pay off quite well at times. Usually, however, this requires planning it from the start, allowing the writers to set up the genre shift ahead of time so it doesn't feel like it comes out of nowhere. Because of their sudden onset, Genre Shifts motivated by Executive Meddling are likely doomed.

Even worse is if a genre shift is used as the solution to a plot point. which just feels tacky.

If this happens one time only in a series before reverting back to the main genre, it's an Out-of-Genre Experience. If it happens before the work is released to the public, it's a case of Mid-Development Genre Shift. If an Eldritch Abomination suddenly appear without much foreshadowing, its Cosmic Horror Reveal.

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