Tag Archives: Microsoft

The Pirate Bay

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THE PIRATE BAY: It’s web piracy for dummies

IN December last year, I wrote an article about the mysteries and uncertainties of what is known as the Dark Net or Deep Web. I have since taken a dive into the murky online waters and have been astounded to discover how easy it is to become a web-pirate. It was like jumping into a dark lake fully expecting to sink deep, only to discover that the water barely reached my ankles.

Over the holidays, I heard of a Swedish-run website called The Pirate­ Bay (www.thepiratebay.org). The popular site has mimicked Google by offering an easy-to-use search bar on its home page. In place of the comforting Google logo is a pirate ship and just below the search bar is a link to a step-by-step guide on how to download movies­, music, games, TV series, applications and more.

The Pirate Bay

The Pirate Bay homepage

How it works
Websites such as The Pirate Bay are known as BitTorrent trackers. BitTorrent is a file-sharing protocol whereby computer users are able to upload and download (‘share’) computer software with one another over a network. Each individual is allowed complete anonymity and does not need to register to participate.

However, there is a shared understanding among Pirate Bay users — a sort of pirating etiquette — that an individual should make a certain amount of their own content available for others to download if they wish to download software themselves. But this is not an enforced requirement.

There is no cost involved for those wishing to download content and the website earns its revenue by displaying certain adverts alongside torrent listings. In an investigation in 2006, Swedish police concluded that The Pirate Bay was generating roughly $150 000 per year from advertisements. This figure is likely to have tripled since then.

The Pirate Bay is still primarily funded by advertisements but supporters or users also have the option of donating money towards the pirate cause. There are also Pirate Bay T-shirts available for purchase off the website — which, in effect, spreads pirating awareness.

I’m confident that anyone who might consider themselves as technologically incompetent would be able to engage in such activity. You only need to be able to read, write (search) and click a mouse.

Who’s involved
Initially established in November 2003 by Swedish anti-copyright organisation Piratbyrån (The Piracy Bureau) The Pirate Bay has operated as a separate organisation since October 2004. The website is run by Gottfrid Svartholm (aka anakata) and Fredrik Neij (aka TiAMO), who have both been charged with assisting in making copyrighted content available due to their involvement in The Pirate Bay.

The members of The Pirate Bay represent a broad, global spectrum of file sharers and there are currently more than four million registered users. However, because registering is optional and not necessary to download content, the total number of users is likely to be far higher than this figure.

The site gets huge influxes of frequent traffic, so much so that the service is often unavailable at certain times. However, the site claims this never lasts for more than a few seconds.

Legal issues
The thing that I find the most astounding about The Pirate Bay is its completely fearless attitude. The creators have faced several lawsuits and have been to court on more than one occasion. Their argument is that no illegal material is stored on The Pirate Bay server. Rather it operates as a tracker — providing users with the correct paths to find content on other users’ PCs and download directly from them.

According to their disclaimer (if one can call it that) “only torrent files are saved at the server. That means no copyrighted and/or illegal material is stored by us. It is therefore not possible to hold the people behind The Pirate Bay responsible for the material that is being spread using the tracker. Any complaints from copyright or lobby organisations will be ridiculed and published on the site”.

This last line illustrates my point about the fearless attitude. They have received several legal threats via e-mail from companies such as Microsoft and DreamWorks, which have been published on the website along with their cheeky responses for all Pirate Bay users to see. It appears that their trump card is claiming that U.S. infringement laws to not apply in Sweden and they seem to have Swedish lawers on their side.

Rebuttal of legal threats
To illustrate, here’s what was written in response to an e-mail by DreamWorks:

“As you may or may not be aware, Sweden is not a state in the United States of America. Sweden is a country in northern Europe. Unless you figured it out by now, U.S. law does not apply here. For your information, no Swedish law is being violated. Please be assured that any further contact with us, regardless of medium, will result in:

a) a suit being filed for harassment; [and]
b) a formal complaint lodged with the bar of your legal counsel, for sending frivolous legal threats.

“It is the opinion of us and our lawyers that you are … morons, and that you should please go sodomise yourself with retractable batons.”

This next snippet was part of an e-mailed response to Sega after they threatened to sue The Pirate Bay in 2006:

“Please sue me in Japan instead. I’ve always wanted to visit Tokyo. Also, I’m running out of toilet paper, so please send lots of legal documents to our ISP — preferably printed on soft paper.”

The Pirate Bay shows no signs of slowing down and remains the world’s largest file sharing server to date. I leave you with a snippet from The Pirate Bay’s 2009 Christmas letter to its users.

“We believe that we have changed something. Not just us, but all of us. The Pirate Bay has always been something extra … We wanted it to mean something. And you, our users, have helped us with that. The history of the bay is still being written. It’s way too early for a conclusion.”

Shiver me tibers.

IMPORTANT NOTICE
The downloading and distributing of copywrited software IS illegal, despite what websites such as The Pirate Bay might say. The use of such websites is done at your own risk and can lead to a criminal record. Ye have been warned.

Related article: The Dark Web explained

Microsoft Surface – touch technology

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MICROSOFT SURFACE: Getting to grips with new touch technology

EVEN as a twenty-something, I can fully understand the anxieties experienced when new technologies are released that we would like to try for ourselves, but which seem rather complex and perhaps difficult to handle. Anything that’s more complicated than a remote control has the potential to put anyone who considers themselves as “technologically illiterate” into a mild state of depression.

To generalise, teenagers seem to have a natural ability to immediately grasp and take control of new techno devices without ever having to consult a manual or use the help function. Having to read a manual for anything digital seems like avoidable homework to me, but lately I find myself having to refer to at least three pages of one before I feel that I have at least come close to mastering it.

Technology developers know about this consumer anxiety and most go as far as they can to keep things “simple-stupid”. We don’t necessarily need to understand how a piece of tech works to enjoy the benefits of it, but in order to operate most devices effectively, we do need to know how it communicates.

We are all naturally adept at reading body language and understanding hand gestures, which is something that is now being taught to computers. Touch technology is becoming a revolutionary method of naturally communicating with computers and represents a fundamental change in the way we interact with digital content. This is all becoming possible with Microsoft Surface.

Microsoft Surface

What is Microsoft Surface?
Microsoft Surface is a multi-touch computer that responds to natural hand gestures and real-world objects, helping people interact with digital content in simple and intuitive ways. With a large, horizontal user interface, multiple users can collaboratively and simultaneously interact with data and each other.

It’s as easy as grabbing digital content with your hands and moving information with simple gestures and touches. Surface is also able to “see” and interact with objects placed on the screen, allowing you to move information between devices such as cellphones and cameras.

The technology has been increasingly employed by businesses worldwide as it has proven to be a more efficient method of delivering information and services to customers. Because the interface is so intuitive, people generally find it easy to learn. The multi-touch and multi-user capabilities also help create a collaborative experience, helping to rid one of any anxieties.

How does it work?
As I mentioned, one doesn’t usually have to know how a piece of tech works in order to enjoy the benefits of it, but I can relate to those who have a burning desire to know how everything works.

Microsoft Surface computerMicrosoft Surface uses cameras and image recognition in the infrared range to recognise different types of objects, such as fingers, tagged items and shapes. This input is then processed by the computer and the resulting interaction is displayed using rear projection. The user can manipulate content and interact with the computer using natural touch and hand gestures, rather than using a typical mouse and keyboard.

Microsoft Surface represents a leap ahead in digital interaction, with the ability to wirelessly connect with several other devices such as printers, networks, mobile devices, card readers and more. The sophisticated camera system of Surface sees what is touching it and recognises fingers, hands, paintbrushes, tagged objects and a myriad of other real-world items.

Key capabilities
Microsoft Surface has four key capabilities that make it such a unique experience. (The following is adapted from the Microsoft Surface website):

  • Direct interaction: users can grab digital information with their hands and interact with content on-screen by touch and gesture — without using a mouse or keyboard.
  • Multi-user experience: the large, horizontal, 75 cm display makes it easy for several people to gather and interact with Microsoft Surface — providing a collaborative, face-to-face computing experience.
  • Multi-touch: Microsoft Surface responds to many points of contact simultaneously — not just from one finger (as with a typical touch screen), but from dozens of contact points at once, 52 to be exact.
  • Object recognition: users can place physical, digital objects on the screen to trigger different types of digital responses — providing for a multitude of applications, such as the transfer of digital content to a mobile device.

Under the hood (sofware specs)
Microsoft Surface is based on the Windows Vista SP1 operating system. The rugged table-top structure has powerful processors, a streamlined operating system and intuitive interface, which makes it unlike any computer on the market today.

The current version for the software platform is Microsoft Surface 1.0 Service Pack 1, which gives Surface an enhanced user interface, improved manageability to help reduce the cost of ownership, broader international support, and faster, easier ways to design innovative applications.

Tagged object recognition
TOR is a particularly innovative feature of Microsoft Surface. The tag is what allows Surface to uniquely identify objects — helping the system tell the difference between identical-looking bottles of wine, for example.

Applications can also use a tag to start a command or action. By simply placing a tagged object on the screen, the tag can tell Surface to display unique information about that tagged object, such as showing more information about a bottle of wine, the wine grower, and even the type of grape and vintage.

A tagged object might also identify a cardholder so they can charge purchases. There is a video I saw of Bill Gates demonstrating this by ordering drinks for himself and an awestruck reviewer, and then paying for them by placing his credit card on the computer’s surface.

With capabilities such as direct interaction, multi-touch, multi-user, and object recognition, as well as the means for application deve­lopment, Microsoft Surface certainly represents the next stage of computing. It is also certainly one new piece of technology that we can all get to grips with.

Related article: The Apple of my iPad

Weird Wired World

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Gadget blessings: Shinto priests protect electronics from bad mojo

I HAVE always had a fascination for religions other than the one that I was force-fed at school. I am not an unruly atheist, but simply feel that one should understand or at least lightly explore the views of religions other than your own before deciding what to believe.

To totally refute the beliefs of other religious groups is, as history will tell, sadly often the cause of futile conflict. It always seems that people who want to share their religious views with you never want you to share yours with them …

ShintoismAnyhoo, I have recently developed an interest in the religions of the Far East, specifically Japan’s Shinto religion. A core belief of Shinto is that all objects — living or not — have spiritual properties, and can thus be blessed. With the increasing introduction of electronics to Japan, there has been an interesting fusing of technology with the practices of Shinto.

Specifically since the introduction of Windows XP to Japan, more and more consumers have been taking their laptops and electronic devices to Shinto priests to be blessed against system crashes and technical failures.

A writer for Wired Magazine took his cellphone to a Shinto Priest to witness this phenomenon first-hand and provides a first-hand account of the whole experience …

Blessed are the Geek

'My cellphone sits in a lacquer tray waiting to be blessed by a Shinto priest. Late last year, I visited the ancient Kanda shrine, located in the heart of Tokyo’s consumer electronics district. The shrine does boffo business offering charms and ceremonial purifications that protect cellphones and laptops and even blogs and ISP services from bad mojo.'

'My cellphone sits in a lacquer tray waiting to be blessed by a Shinto priest. Late last year, I visited the ancient Kanda shrine, located in the heart of Tokyo’s consumer electronics district. The shrine does boffo business offering charms and ceremonial purifications that protect cellphones and laptops and even blogs and ISP services from bad mojo.'

Brian Ashcraft

Boom! … Boom! … My chest reverberates with the thumping of a huge wooden drum as two robed holy men shuffle across tatami mats. They kneel in a vermilion-coloured alcove, while an assistant announces that the ceremony has commenced.

The priests begin bowing and chanting rhythmically. I’ve been given a white “robe of cleansing” to wear. Actually, it’s more like a smock. I’m not sure what I should be doing. I bow a couple of times.

I’ve come to the 1 270-year-old Kanda Shrine in Tokyo to purify and bless something very near and dear to me: my cellphone. I’ve had hellish luck with cellphones over the past year. I left one on a ride at Universal Studios Japan. Its successor suddenly (and mysteriously) died. The next one accompanied my pants into the washing machine, and its replacement went awol in less than a week. Divine intervention was needed, and pronto.

Japan’s Shinto religion holds that nearly every object in the world, animate or inanimate, has a spiritual essence. Therefore, anything can be blessed, from a newborn child to an automobile. Priests at the Kanda Shrine, which overlooks Akihabara — Tokyo’s Mecca for consumer electronics — offer prayers for the well-being of gadgets.

Kanda found its calling in metaphysical IT work seven years ago, when Microsoft XP went on sale in Japan. The shrine created talismans to prevent system crashes, and they were snapped up by the throngs of nerds who prowl Akihabara for the latest gizmos and porn comics.

Soon requests were pouring in for priests to perform purification rites on laptops, cellphones, even web-portals. Today Kanda offers microchip-shaped good-luck charms for ¥800 (about R64) and private ceremonies for ¥5 000 (about R400).

Back in the great hall, an older priest waves a giant wand — essentially a mop of white parchment streamers — over his counterpart. Thus cleansed, the younger priest rises and carries my phone on a tray to the main altar. He begins a low-pitched chant, invoking the shrine’s deities to “watch over and protect Brian Ashcraft’s cellular phone”.

As the sound of plucked koto strings echoes through the hall, the assistant jingles gold bells over my head. I’m told to approach the altar and am given a tree branch — an offering to the shrine’s deities. A priest painstakingly instructs me to turn the branch 180° —no, no, clockwise— and place it on the altar. I am then told to bow deeply twice —that’s good — and clap twice.

Most Japanese people would probably stumble through this intricate ceremony as clumsily as I do, but the tenets of Shinto are deeply ingrained in their consciousness. It occurs to me that this must affect how they view their little electronic helpmates. Perhaps gadgets really do have souls. Maybe my problem isn’t bad luck, maybe I simply haven’t been giving my phones the respect they deserve. I bow again, and the ceremony concludes.

Near the great hall’s exit, I am presented with a wooden plaque certifying that my cell has been purified. Over a cup of sake, senior priest Katsuji Takahashi chuckles as he tells me, “I’ve lost my phone twice, but both times it turned up.”

Seven months later, my blessed cellphone is still with me.

We really do live in a weird wired world.

www.wired.com

Google sounds the bugle!

GOOGLE WAVE: The clash of the computer titans is on. Google has taken on Microsoft by announcing that it’s launching its own operating system — free of charge. The war between the two software giants is likely to change the world of the Internet forever

Alistair Fairweather

IF business is war then two of the world’s biggest companies have finally stopped skirmishing on their borders and brought out the heavy artillery. On July 7, Google fired the first shell by announcing that they will begin offering their own operating system in mid 2010.

Bling bling babyThe warhead — called Chrome OS  — is aimed straight at the heart of Microsoft who have built their entire business around operating systems since the 70s, first with MS DOS and then the globally-dominating Windows series.

But while Microsoft have always charged for their software, Google plan to give theirs away free of charge. What’s more, Google are starting from a completely fresh perspective — one with the potential to undermine Microsoft’s entire business model and loosen their foothold on the software market.

If the name “Chrome” sounds familiar, that’s because it’s also the name of Google’s web browser. And this isn’t just a case of lazy naming. By evolving Chrome into an operating system, Google are planning to turn the entire software world on its head and make browsing the centre of computing.

An Introduction to Google Wave
There is a full 1 hour 20min presentation on YouTube which Philc7753 has kindly and painstakingly edited down for our short attention spans  

Hang on, isn’t an operating system a lot more complicated that a browser? Doesn’t a browser need an operating system to, well, operate? That’s the whole genius of the plan. Google are betting that the centre of influence in computing is moving out of personal computers and into the massive computing power of the Internet, known as the “cloud”.

That means that in future, computers will be dumber and cheaper. They will rely on the enormous banks of computers that power the Internet to do much of their thinking for them.

This is already happening. One of the fastest growing sectors in computing is netbooks — smaller, cheaper, less powerful portable computers with speedy connections to the Internet that focus on tasks like e-mail and browsing the net.

The wave is coming...Currently, Microsoft is tussling with free operating systems such as Linux for ownership of this market, and Google wants its own share of the pie. So what? There’s nothing particularly revolutionary about a free operating system. They have been around for longer than Microsoft have been in existence, let alone Google. And some of them are backed by huge companies such as IBM and SAP.

Yet none of those other companies is as heavily invested in cloud computing as Google. And it’s cloud computing that poses the greatest risk to Microsoft’s dominance.

Microsoft’s bread and butter has always been its desktop applications —  programs such as Word, Outlook and PowerPoint. Operating systems are like plumbing — expensive but necessary — and Microsoft have lost money on them for years. This was justified because they knew that by owning the platform they would be able earn it all back on desktop applications.

Google Docs, on the other hand, is nearly as good as Microsoft’s Office but is free and requires no hard-drive space and much less power (and therefore can run on a cheaper computer). It’s a true “cloud” application  — its platform is the Internet.

So Google have, in effect, pulled Microsoft’s own trick on them but in reverse, and for free. And given how quickly Microsoft are losing market share in the browser market (it’s now just above 50%), they have real cause for concern. If Chrome OS takes off, Google will start to hurt more than Microsoft’s pride.

That’s still a big “if” though. For all their mistakes Microsoft are still the top dog of software. Despite the current media hyperbole about Chrome OS, Windows still commands 90% of the market share in operating systems. Even if Chrome lives up to the hype, it will still take years to get a foothold. Only one thing is certain about this battle — peace talks are unlikely to begin anytime soon.

We’re in for a long slog and I don’t think anyone can accurately predict a winner. What we can be sure of is that the conflict will change software (and the Internet) forever.

– Alistair Fairweather writes for The Witness
newspaper in Kwa-Zula Natal, South Africa

Lucky Number Seven?

REVIEW: A quick look at the all new Windows 7 operating system

Windows 7IF there is to be any war that is sustained longer than the Iraqi war, it will be the war on Microsoft.

There is a growing group of Windows users who would eagerly take up any opportunity to assassinate Bill Gates for all the pain and frustration that his Microsoft operating systems have caused. The numerous versions of Windows that currently exist attest to the fact that the operating system has never quite been perfected.

Windows Vista is one such version. What was expected to be the crème de la crème of all Windows operating systems — the one version to rule them all — it was met with countless bugs, system crashes, and several instances of users’ pulling out their own hair.

Vista is going down in Windows history as a failed project and we are entering into a new operating system era with the instalment of Windows 7. But we’re going to have to wait a little bit longer.

Windows 7 RC
Microsoft has launched the release candidate (RC) version of its forthcoming Windows 7 operating system. The RC version, which will be available as a free download until July, is the “next-to-final” release of the operating system that will likely replace Windows Vista on most desktops in the coming years.

According to mybroadband.co.za, there is much to like about Windows 7, just as there was much to dislike about Vista when it was first released. The initial impression offered by Windows 7 RC is that of a “lighter” operating system.

Among the complaints about Vista is that it does not work with some software designed for the previous operating system, Windows XP, and that it is it too much for netbooks or older computers to handle.

Gone are the heavy-handed and memory-demanding approaches of Vista in favour of a desktop that is clean and attractive without feeling bloated. In its place is a desktop that feels pared down with just the necessary controls in sight.

Some cool windows 7 concept art 

Performance
A central impression that Windows 7 offers is one of speed – lite-speed in comparison to Vista. Starting with the install, which needs just a handful of clicks and enough time for a cup of coffee, right through to a running desktop, Microsoft has succeeded in getting Windows 7 to feel really nimble.

Running on a desktop PC with 2GB of memory and a dual-core Intel processor running at 2,53GHz, Windows 7 is quick in responding to commands and loading applications.

One of the major drives behind Windows 7 has been to ensure that the operating system boots up and shuts down as fast as possible — something Microsoft has managed to get right. With the growing market for netbooks (ultra-portable laptops), modern operating systems are being designed to take advantage of new processors like Intel’s Atom and startup and shutdown within seconds. Windows 7 RC already boots a lot faster than Windows Vista and, depending on hardware, starts up in similar times as Windows XP.

Desktop appeal
The desktop is not noticeably different to the beta release version of Windows 7 and is still appealing to the eye. It borders on the “minimalist”, but still manages to add to the overall sharp impression.

The most obvious benefit of Windows 7 is the significant reduction in what could be called “interference”. Microsoft has been working on reducing the levels of interference for users by limiting the number of pop-ups and warning notices — a common occurrence in Vista.

This is all to do with the changes to “user account control”, which, instead of constantly popping up warnings of impending doom and danger, are slightly muted and less obtrusive. They’re still there, but definitely not with the same vigour as before.

Windows 7 is currently being tested on netbooks, which are increasingly popular, low-cost mobile computers designed essentially for accessing the Internet and running a few simple programs.

The taskbar in Windows 7 is a great deal better than the taskbar offered by Windows Vista or XP. However, it has a tendency to undermine itself with its own cleverness, something you’ll either love or hate.

For the uninitiated, the taskbar operates as a series of “flyouts”, which are smaller representations of open Windows. They’re pretty and functional, but could be just as effective without the flashy popup windows.

One complaint about the taskbar is that by default the open windows are all crammed together on the taskbar, which can make it messy if you have too many windows open. Fortunately the default settings can be tweaked to “group-open” windows — based on applications when a threshold number has been reached.

The president of Microsoft has made just as many promises as any other. Let’s hope this one sticks to his and that the war on Windows can finally end.

— Original article at: www.mybroadband.co.za

  • THE Windows 7 release candidate (7 RC)version can be downloaded for free until July this year and is available as both a 32-bit and a 64-bit version. The 32-bit version comes in at a little under 2,5GB, while the 64-bit version is a lot bigger at 3,2GB.
  • Interestingly, Microsoft has said that users who download Windows 7 RC will be able to run the software for free until June 2010 before being required to purchase a copy, which is a very long trial period given that Windows 7 Final is expected to be released later this year.
  • Windows 7 RC can be downloaded from http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7/download.aspx

Related article: Windows 7 beefs up multimedia

g.O.d

ALTHOUGH the gaming market tends to ignore female gamers when it comes to ‘boys’ games, there are female gamers, such as those belonging to “girlz Of destruction” (g.O.d.), who are beating the boys hands-down.

This gaming group is a 7-member, international all-girls PC gaming clan hailing from seven different countries (Canada, China, New Zealand, Russia, Spain, Sweden, and the USA), who are widely regarded as the highest level professional female QUAKE 4 players.

g.O.d. are taking the gaming world by storm, showing that there are girls who like to slaughter mutant humanoids & cap the odd nazi just as much as any guy.

Girlz of destruction:

Gaming usually brings to mind anemic looking teenage boys hiding out in their parent’s basements for extended periods of time, while ogling busty heroines traversing the barren landscapes of World of Warcraft.

While this stereotype may have been accurate at one time, it no longer holds true, as more and more women are joining the gaming fraternity. According to the Entertainment Software Association, 38% of gamers nowadays are female, and what’s more, they spend up to 7.4 hours a week playing games.

Women’s interest in gaming is obviously growing, but we must ask ourselves then, why do marketers insist on compounding the stereotypical idea that if women do enjoy gaming then they must enjoy playing games relating to cooking, family, animals and strategic games?

One common way in which marketers often exclude the female market from popular shooting and racing games, is by representing female characters as being scantily clad, with under-developed hips and over-developed breasts, and by posting those same female forms on billboards, street lights and posters.

This kind of marketing is rather short-sighted as it ostracises a potentially huge market by not appealing to, or talking to women gamers.

Concentrated marketing to the male group, on the other hand, could stem from the fact that although more women are enjoying gaming, on the technical side it is still very much a male-dominated industry.

A survey commissioned by Sony Online Entertainment revealed that more than 60% of female students that enrolled in game design programs at The Art Institutes say they believe male dominance in the industry is a deterrent to women pursuing a career in gaming.

While many companies may be displaying a certain amount of arrogance towards the female market, it’s good to know that certain conglomerates, such as (believe it or not) Microsoft, are doing their best to encourage female gamers.

One initiative taken in this direction is evidenced by the ATI/AMD Cyber X Games: Windows XP Championships in Las Vegas, where Microsoft Windows XP are a title sponsor, and whose sponsorship has led to the creation of new categories for female gamers, such as the Windows XP Female Pro Gaming Quake 3 Competition, and the Windows XP Female Counter-Strike Team Event.

With incredible prize money as a little incentive, Microsoft is at least encouraging women in an area where they have previously been ignored.

rAge is South Africa’s largest interactive gaming and technology expo and is the ideal place to see female cyber athletes in action. To find out more about the South African gaming industry and trends, check out the gaming event of the year taking place in Johannesburg from the 3rd to the 5th of October at the Coca-Cola Dome in Northgate.

For more info visit: www.rageexpo.co.za

Sweden seems to be taking this whole thing rather seriously:
Girlz of Destruction get 24/7 training house in Sweden

Related posts: • All the rAge right now • Gaming…an Olympic sport?