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Wikinews interviews Aurélien Miralles about Sirenoscincus mobydick species discovery
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Thursday, January 24, 2013

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A group of researchers published a paper about their discovery of a new species of Madagascar mermaid skink lizards last December. The species is the fourth forelimbs-only terrestrial tetrapods species known to science, and the first one which also has no fingers on the forelimbs.

The species was collected at Marosely, Boriziny (French: Port-Bergé), Sofia Region, Madagascar. The Sirenoscincus mobydick name is after the existing parent genus, and a sperm whale from the 1851 novel Moby-Dick by Herman Melville.

This week, Wikinews interviewed one of the researchers, French zoologist Aurélien Miralles, about the research.

((Wikinews)) What caused your initial interest in Madagascar lizards?

Aurélien Miralles: Well, I would say that since I am a child I am fascinated by the biodiversity of tropical countries, and more especially by reptiles. I did a PhD on the evolution and systematics of skink lizards from South America. Then, I get a Humboldt grant to do a postdoc in Germany, at the Miguel Vences Lab, in order to study Malagasy skinks. Madagascar being a fabulous hotspot for reptiles (and not only for reptiles actually), it was a very nice opportunity. Professor Vences proposed me to associate our complementary fields of expertise: he is expert in herpetology for Madagascar, and I am expert in skinks lizards (family Scincidae). It was a very fruitful experience, and many other results have still to [be] published.

((WN)) How was the new species discovered?

AM: By a very funny coincidence actually. In 2010, I went to Madagascar for a long trip through the south of the island, in the semi-arid bush for collecting lizards and snakes samples. Then, during the last days, just before coming back to Germany, I have visited by coincidence the zoological collection of the University of Antananarivo. In that place, I found an old jar of ethanol with two weird little specimens previously collected by a student who didn’t realize it was something new. Being expert on skinks, I immediately recognised it was something very probably new, very different from all the other known species.

((WN)) What does “Sirenoscincus” stand for?

AM: I am not the author of the genus name Sirenoscincus. This genus name was already existing. It has been described by Sakata and Hikida (two Japanese herpetologists). “Sireno” means mermaid. “Scincus” means skinks, a group of little lizards on which I am particularly focusing my studies. So, Sirenoscinus means “mermaid skink”, in reference to [the] fact it has forelimbs but no hindlimbs.

((WN)) How deep underground do the lizards live?

AM: Hard to answer this question because nothing is known on the ecology of this species. But more reasonably, we can hypothesize, by comparison to similar species of skinks, that it is probably living just under the sand surface, [a] few centimeters deep, probably no more, or below [a] rock, leaf litter, or piece of dead wood.

((WN)) What do the lizards eat?

AM: Again, by analogy, I would say most likely small invertebrates (insects, larvae, worms etc…).

((WN)) What equipment was used during the research?

AM: Classic equipment (microscope) and also a state-of-the-art device: a micro CT-scan. It is a big device producing [a] 3D picture of the internal structure without damaging the specimen. It is actually very similar to the scanner used in human medicine, but this one is specially designed for small specimens. Otherwise, I am currently studying the DNA of this species and closely related species in order to determine its phylogenetic position compared to other species with legs, in order to learn more about the evolutionary phenomena leading to limb loss.

((WN)) There are several news sources that have a photo of the species. Is it a photo as seen in a CT-scan?

AM: No, this picture showing a whitish specimen on a black background is not a CT-scan. It is a normal photograph of the collection specimen preserved in alcohol (the one that was in the jar). You can see the complete of picture (including CT-scan 3D radiography, drawing…) in the original scientific publication.

((WN)) Do you know when the newly discovered mermaid skink species was put into the jar? Do you have its photo (of the jar)?

AM: No, I have no picture of the jar. The specimen has been collected in November 2004.

((WN)) What were the roles of the people involved in the research? What activity was most time-consuming?

AM: As first investigator, I did most of the work…and the longest part of the work was to examine closely related species in order to do comparisons…and also to check the complete bibliography related to this topic and to write the paper.
Mrs Anjeriniaina is the student who […] collected the specimen a couple of years ago.
Mrs Hipsley and Mr Müller learnt me how to use the CT-scan, and helped me concerning some point relative to internal morphology. Mr Vences helped me as supervisors. Additionally, all of them have corrected the article, and gave me many relevant advices and corrections, thus improving the quality and the reliability of the paper.

((WN)) Did you get in touch with an external entity to get the new species officially recognised?

AM: No. In zoology, it is only needed to publish the description of a new species (and to give it a name) in a scientific journal, and to designate a holotype specimen (= specimen that will be the official reference for this species), to get this new species “officially” recognised by the scientific community. That does not mean that this new species is “correct” (it might be invalidated by subsequent counter-studies), but that means that this discovery and the new name of [the] species are officially existing.

((WN)) Are there any further plans on exploring the species habitat and lifestyle?

AM: No, not really for the time being, because ecology is not our field of expertise. But other studies (including molecular studies) are currently in progress, in order to focus on the phylogenetic position and the evolution of this species.

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UK Home Secretary announces ID card pilot launch
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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

U.K. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has announced a voluntary pilot scheme for identity cards. Greater Manchester has been chosen for the pilot and passport holders over sixteen will be able to submit applications for the card at post offices and pharmacies.

A number of other high street retailers are negotiating with the government to be permitted to take photographs and fingerprints for the scheme.

Opposition leaders stand against the planned compulsory nationwide scheme, calling for the £5.3 billion programme to be scrapped. The pricetag does not include the costs that agencies and other government departments will incur procuring equipment to verify the cards.

The trial is also supposed to be in effect at London City and Manchester airports. This is opposed by the British Air Line Pilots Association (BALPA), claiming it is effectively compulsory; in order to get airside passes pilots will have to produce one of the new national identity cards.

When any old chemist in Wythenshawe or Ancoats is responsible for collecting personal information that is supposed to be private and secure, there is a real chance for that information to be used for fraudulent purposes

BALPA general secretary, Jim McAuslan, emphasised some of the concerns of the association’s members, “Like every other citizen, they ask themselves what will happen to the data they are coerced into providing; whether it will it [sic] be safe, whose hands might it fall into, and what might they do with the data?” As do many of the ID card scheme’s detractors, he made the Orwellian comparison, “Our members increasingly have a sense that a line is being crossed in the relationship between state and citizen; a sense that Big Brother knows best.”

Wikinews contacted NO2ID about the proposal, and received feedback from their press spokesman, Michael Parker. He emphasised that this announcement is not a sure sign that the cards will actually be available later this year. Regarding the choice of post offices and chemists to serve on the front line of issuing the cards he said, “…it totally undermines the whole idea of the project as a ‘gold standard’ ‘unbreakable’ ID card that would guarantee we are who we say we are. When any old chemist in Wythenshawe or Ancoats (Manchester districts) is responsible for collecting personal information that is supposed to be private and secure, there is a real chance for that information to be used for fraudulent purposes.”

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Are the concerns expressed by NO2ID and others justified?
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NO2ID is an independent group set up to campaign against the ID card system, and what they describe as the ‘database state’. When Wikinews asked if they trust the UK Government with a database of 60 million individuals’ details his response was cutting and blunt, “I would say ‘Not as far as I could throw them’, but then it would be easy to download 60m peoples’ details onto a CD and then throw that quite far…”

Despite the existence of pressure groups such as NO2ID, the government asserts that there is broad public support for the introduction of compulsory ID cards.

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Rescue workers search wreckage of Brazilian air crash
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Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Gol Transportes Aéreos Flight 1907 crashed 1,750km (1,100 miles) north-west of Rio de Janeiro killing all people onboard, on Friday September 29. National Civil Aviation Agency (ANAC) has confirmed that the crashed Brazilian airplane did crash into a smaller aircraft. Rescue workers and air force personnel are searching the wreckage for bodies

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SpaceX scrubs Falcon I rocket launch
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Monday, November 28, 2005

SpaceX called off the much-delayed inaugural launch of their new Falcon 1 rocket on Saturday from Kwajalein’s Omelek Island launch site. The intent was to launch the U.S. Air Force Academy’s FalconSat 2 satellite, which will monitor plasma interactions with the Earth’s upper atmosphere and magnetosphere.

The launch was delayed, then finally cancelled after an oxygen boil-off vent had accidentally been left open. The oxygen was unable to cool the helium pressurant, which then proceeded to evaporate faster than it could be replenished. A main computer issue, probably serious enough to cause a scrub on its own, was also discovered.

This long-anticipated flight was originally expected to be launched in January 2005, however a series of setbacks forced a series of delays, with the flight most recently scheduled to be in early 2006. It was intended to be launched from the Kwajalein atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

The maiden voyage was originally intended to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California with a Naval Research Laboratory satellite and a Space Services Incorporated space burial payload.

BP report into Gulf of Mexico disaster lays blame on other contractors

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BP report into Gulf of Mexico disaster lays blame on other contractors
Published in April 18th, 2019
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Friday, September 10, 2010

BP released their report into the causes of the Deepwater Horizon disaster earlier this year on Wednesday, and shifted much of the blame for the explosion and subsequent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry, onto Transocean, the company managing the rig. The report concludes by stating that decisions made by “multiple companies and work teams” contributed to the accident which it says arose from “a complex and interlinked series of mechanical failures, human judgments, engineering design, operational implementation and team interfaces.” The report, the product of a four-month investigation conducted by BP’s Head of Safety Operations, Mark Bly, criticizes the oil rig’s fire prevention systems, the crew of the rig for failing to realize and act upon evidence that oil was leaking from the surface of the ocean, and describes how BP and Transocean “incorrectly accepted” negative pressure test results. The document goes on to note that the blow-out preventer failed to operate, likely because critical components were not operational.

Bob Dudley, who will become chief executive of BP, described the accident as “tragic”. He said, “we have said from the beginning that the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon was a shared responsibility among many entities. This report makes that conclusion even clearer, presenting a detailed analysis of the facts and recommendations for improvement both for BP and the other parties involved. We have accepted all the recommendations and are examining how best to implement them across our drilling operations worldwide.” The report included 25 recommendations, according to a press release, “designed to prevent a recurrence of such an accident.” The oil company has previously blamed Transocean and Halliburton, the well contractor, for the disaster and BP executives feel they have been unfairly blamed by US politicians for the disaster, and the report continues this view.

Tony Hayward, who was fired from the position of BP’s chief executive following multiple public relations issues, squarley places the blame for the disaster on Halliburton. “To put it simply, there was a bad cement job,” he said in a statement, also claiming that BP should not be the only company to take the blame for the explosion. “It would appear unlikely that the well design contributed to the incident,” he argues. The report blames the type of cement used by Halliburton, designed to prevent harmful hydrocarbons from reaching the seabed, as well as criticizing the crew of Deepwater Horizon, for failing to realize for forty minutes that oil had started to leak from the well, and once it was realized, the crew “vented” the hydrocarbons “directly onto the rig”.

Describing how the explosion, which killed eleven rig personnel, occurred, the report states that “the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system probably transferred a gas-rich mixture into the engine rooms,” where the hydrocarbons ignited and a fireball engulfed the rig. But, the report states, the blowout preventer, the ultimate failsafe on the Deepwater Horizon failed, likely due to the fire on the rig. An automated system was not operational because the batteries powering it, located in a control pod, had gone flat, and another control pod contained a faulty solenoid valve.

The report was likely, however, written with the company’s legal liability for the disaster in a prominent position, since they are facing hundreds of lawsuits and criminal charges as a result of the spill. The executive summary is four and a half pages long and the first page is made up entirely of legal disclaimers saying if BP was found to be negligent in their operations of the rig, they could be fined a good deal more.

Questions have also been raised as to why BP has chosen to release their report before authorities examine the blowout preventer. The energy editor of The Guardian, Terry Macalister, wrote that the “catalougue of errors – both human and mechanical” in the report “demolish” the oil industry’s “much quoted mantra” of safety first. “It may come first in the board room but it does not down at the wellhead where the real dangers are faced,” he wrote. “It is worth remembering that BP, its rig operator Transocean and the main well contractor Halliburton are the blue chip companies in the wider oil and gas sector. If the shoddy work practices highlighted here are what the best-in-class do, then what is happening in the lower reaches of this industry?”

HAVE YOUR SAY
What do you think of Transocean’s claim that BP made “a series of cost-saving decisions that increased risk”?
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Transocean described the report as a “self-serving” attempt to “conceal the critical factor that set the stage for the Macondo incident: BP’s fatally flawed well design. In both its design and construction, BP made a series of cost-saving decisions that increased risk – in some cases, severely.” In a statement, the company listed five issues they felt had contributed to the disaster that were no fault but BP’s. “Transocean’s investigation is ongoing, and will be concluded when all of the evidence is in, including the critical information the company has requested of BP but has yet to receive.” Members of Congress, who are also carrying out a review into the disaster, also dismissed the report. Ed Markey, the Massachusetts democrat who has been investigating the spill in Congress, said that he felt the report was simply a lengthy defense of the oil company’s handling of the spill. “BP is happy to slice up blame, as long as they get the smallest piece,” he said.

Bly acknowledged during a press conference in Washington that the report did not detail the charges raised against the company in Congress and that BP permitted a culture of recklessness to flourish. He did, however, reject suggestions that cost-cutting had put lives at risk and the rig was a disaster waiting to happen. “What we see instead is, where there were errors made they were based on poor decision-making process or using wrong information,” he said. The Guardian reported that “the report is narrowly focused on the final days before the explosion rather than on earlier decisions about well design and safety procedures. It is also closely focused on the rig itself. No BP officials have been sacked for their role in the explosion, and Bly said there was no indication of any blame beyond the well-site managers.”

The Associated Press reported that Bly “said at a briefing in Washington that the internal report was a reconstruction of what happened on the rig based on the company’s data and interviews with mostly BP employees and was not meant to focus on assigning blame. The six-person investigating panel only had access to a few workers from other companies, and samples of the actual cement used in the well were not released.” The report continued, “Steve Yerrid, special counsel on the oil spill for Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, said the report clearly shows the company is attempting to spread blame for the well disaster, foreshadowing what will be a likely legal effort to force Halliburton and Transocean, and perhaps others, to share costs such as paying claims and government penalties.”

Head of Greenpeace’s energy campaign Jim Footner said that it was “highly likely that a truly independent report would be even more damning for BP.” However, he said, “the real problem is our addiction to oil, which is pushing companies like BP to put lives and the environment at risk. The age of oil is coming to an end and companies like BP will be left behind unless they begin to adapt now. The time has come to move beyond oil and invest in clean energy.” Alfred R Sunsen, whose oyster company operating in the Gulf of Mexico is facing the prospect of going out of business after 134 years, reacted angrily the the report. “The report does not address the people, businesses, animals, or natural resources that have been impacted by the disaster and will be dealing with the consequences of their inadequate and slow response to the disaster,” he said. The New York Times said that the report is “unlikely to carry much weight in influencing the Department of Justice, which is considering criminal and civil charges related to the spill,” and described it as “a public relations exercise” and a “probable legal strategy as it prepares to defend itself against possible federal charges, penalties and hundreds of pending lawsuits.”

Wayne Pennington, head of the geological engineering department at Michigan Technical University, also alleged that BP was wrong to blame other parties involved with the disaster. “The blowout and subsequent explosion and spillage appear to the result of an overall attitude that encouraged unwarranted optimism in the quality of each component of the job, allowing the omission of standard testing procedures, and the misinterpretation of other tests in the most-favorable light.” He continued: “Instead, skepticism should reign on any drilling job, and testing and evaluation at each stage of the drilling and completion would then be routine; instead of questioning the need for such things as the cement bond log, the companies involved should insist on checking and double-checking quality at each step of the process. This was clearly not done, repeatedly, in the case of the Macondo well, and disaster resulted.”

4.9 million barrels of crude oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico, causing damage to marine and wildlife habitats as well as the Gulf’s fishing and tourism industries. Extensive measures were used to prevent the oil from reaching the coastline of Louisiana, including skimmer ships, floating containment booms, anchored barriers, and sand-filled barricades. Scientists have also reported immense underwater plumes of dissolved oil not visible at the surface. The U.S. Government has named BP as the responsible party, and officials have committed to holding the company accountable for all cleanup costs and other damage.

Dudley went on to say that BP “deeply regret” the disaster. “We have sought throughout to step up to our responsibilities. We are determined to learn the lessons for the future and we will be undertaking a broad-scale review to further improve the safety of our operations. We will invest whatever it takes to achieve that. It will be incumbent on everyone at BP to embrace and implement the changes necessary to ensure that a tragedy like this can never happen again.”

News briefs:May 27, 2010

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News briefs:May 27, 2010
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English court jails policeman over insurance fraud

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English court jails policeman over insurance fraud
Published in April 17th, 2019
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Thursday, July 1, 2010

A court in England, UK has jailed a policeman for ten months after he was convicted of defrauding his car insurance company.

Police Constable Simon Hood, 43, arranged for a friend who dealt in scrap metal to dispose of his Audi TT, then claimed it had been stolen.

Hood had been disappointed with the car’s value when he tried to sell it two years after its purchase in 2008. He arranged for friend Peter Marsh, 41, to drive the vehicle to his scrapyard in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. Marsh then dismantled the vehicle with the intent of disposing of it, but parts were later found wrapped in bubblewrap at Ace Tyre and Exhaust Centre.

Marsh picked up the TT from outside nearby Gorleston police station. Records show mobile phone conversations between the conspirators that day in March, both before and after the vehicle was reported stolen. The pair denied wrongdoing but were convicted of conspiring to commit insurance fraud after trial.

The fraud was uncovered after Hood told former girlfriend Suzanne Coates of the scheme. It was alleged before Norwich Crown Court that he had confessed to her in an effort to resume their relationship. Coates said that after the pseudotheft, Hood told her “he didn’t want to look for it. He said it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack, which I thought was a bit strange.”

You knew throughout your career that policemen that get involved in serious dishonesty get sent to prison

Shortly afterwards Hood suggested they should become a couple once more, she said; she challenged his version of events regarding the car: “He said he did it but I couldn’t tell anyone. He said he did it with Peter. Peter had a key and took the car away and it was going to be taken to bits and got rid of so it was never found.”

Hood was defended by Michael Clare and Marsh by Richard Potts. Both lawyers told the court that their clients had already suffered as a result of the action in mitigation before sentencing. Clare said Hood had resigned from the police after fifteen years of otherwise good service and risked losing his pension. “It is not a case where his position as a police officer was used in order to facilitate the fraud,” he pointed out. “His career is in ruins.” Hood is now pursuing a career in plumbing.

Potts defended Marsh by saying that he, too, had already suffered from his actions. His own insurers are refusing to renew their contract with him when it expires and his bank withdrew its overdraft facility. His business employs 21 people and Potts cited Marsh’s sponsorship of Great Yarmouth In Bloom as amongst evidence he supported his local community.

Judge Alasdair Darroch told Marsh that he did accept the man was attempting to help his friend. He sentenced Marsh to six months imprisonment, suspended for two years and ordered to carry out 250 hours of community service. He was more critical of Hood:

“As a police officer you know the highest possible standards are demanded by the public. You have let down the force. You knew throughout your career that policemen that get involved in serious dishonesty get sent to prison.”

Wikinews interviews Spain’s most decorated Paralympian, Teresa Perales

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Wikinews interviews Spain’s most decorated Paralympian, Teresa Perales
Published in April 17th, 2019
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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Zaragoza, Spain — On Thursday, Wikinews traveled to Zaragoza, Spain to interview the nation’s most decorated Paralympian and IPC Athlete Council representative Teresa Perales. A wide range of topics about the Paralympics and sport in Spain were discussed including the evolution of Paralympic sport, disability sport classification, funding support across all levels of elite sport including the Paralympics and Olympics, the role of sportspeople in politics, sponsorship issues, and issues of gender in Spanish sport.

Contents

  • 1 Evolution of the Paralympics
  • 2 Sponsorship
  • 3 Classification
  • 4 Mixing sport and politics
  • 5 Funding Spanish sport
  • 6 Being an elite female athlete
  • 7 Related news
  • 8 Sources

Fake impotence drugs linked to low blood sugar outbreak

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Fake impotence drugs linked to low blood sugar outbreak
Published in April 16th, 2019
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Thursday, February 12, 2009

An article in the February 12 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine reports on an unusual cause for an outbreak of low blood sugar among men in Singapore: illegal use of sexual performance enhancement drugs that were contaminated with a diabetes drug.

Between January and May 2008, 149 men and one woman between 19 and 97 (mean age 51) were admitted to five public hospitals for unexplained low blood sugar. Similar cases were reported in media reports from Hong Kong. Seven Singaporean patients remained in a coma because of prolonged sugar starvation of the brain, and four subsequently died. The diabetes drug glyburide was found in blood and/or urine samples in 85% of cases; 30% admitted having used illegal sexual performance enhancers.

The contaminated products were a counterfeit version of the drug Cialis (meant for the treatment of genuine erectile dysfunction), and three purported herbal preparation (the affected brands included Power 1 Walnut and Santi Bovine Penis Erecting Capsule). All four preparations additionally contained Viagra in varying concentrations. Two herbal products contained traces of the weight loss drug sibutramine, a compound related to amphetamines.

The drug packaging mentioned names of non-existent overseas production facilities, so the source of the contamination with the diabetes drug could not be established.

The authors underline the risks that is known to be associated with purchasing drugs from unreliable providers or from online resellers. The clandestine use of impotence drugs as sexual performance enhancers seems to have provided a good illustration of this problem. They further call for more efforts by national and international health and law enforcement agencies to curb the manufacturing, international transport and sales of untrustworthy medication.

Gamespy, IGN award Galactic Civilizations II expansion Editors’ Choice

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Gamespy, IGN award Galactic Civilizations II expansion Editors’ Choice
Published in April 14th, 2019
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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Plymouth, Michigan, United States – This week, independent software developer Stardock released Galactic Civilizations II: Dark Avatar, an expansion to their PC turn-based strategy game Dread Lords. Industry websites IGN and GameSpy responded with Editors’ Choice awards, while UGO gave it an A. The expansion had previously been named as one of GameSpy’s Most Wanted Games of 2007.

Reviewers cited the significant increase in customization options, better artificial intelligence, and an improvement in graphics quality as decisive factors. UGO’s Adam Swiderski noted that “if creating a fleet of death-dealing starships sounds like fun to you (and it really should), this is your dream playground,” while GameSpy’s reviewer suggested that “after a week of playing Dark Avatar, you may forget Master of Orion altogether.” Criticism mostly revolved around “uninspired” ground combat, a too-generic tech tree, and the continued lack of multiplayer support.

The original game received some publicity for its lack of copy protection, but gained far more by the actions of a StarForce forum administrator, who made a post linking to an illegal BitTorrent download of the game. StarForce developer Protection Technology later claimed this to be a poorly-considered attempt to demonstrate the result of not using their software, which is designed to prevent software piracy. The result was a media backlash against the company, including satirical commentary by gaming webcomic/blog Penny Arcade describing the action as “extortion.” Its writer, Jerry Holkins, asked that “publishers distance themselves from a company that has shown such contempt for their industry.”

The expansion is available as an online purchase in CD or digital download form through Stardock’s gaming subsidiary, TotalGaming.net. A compilation of the original and expansion has also been released as Galactic Civilizations II: Gold Edition and is available in stores, say Stardock. Their retail game releases still contain no copy protection, but online activation is required to download updates.

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