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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Facebook knows a lot about you even if you never fill in your profile


Facebook doesn’t have the best history of privacy, so it’s natural that some might feel an unwillingness to hand all of their private details over to Zuckerberg and Co. Who knows where they’ll end up, how they’ll be sold? That said, given Facebook’s ubiquity these days, even privacy-minded users often want to have a minimalist Facebook account just to see other people’s pictures. These accounts are usually created with temporary email addresses, employ aliases and don’t contain a lot of information in the profile.

Problem solved, right? Ha. You think you’re so smart, but a recent patent shows that even when your profile is populated with the absolute bare minimum of information, Facebook knows an alarming amount of information about you.

Here’s how it works: Facebook assumes that in the absence of information, your tastes are probably going to be similar to your friends. So, for example, if all of your friends like a movie, there’s a good chance you went to see that movie with them and probably like it too.

That’s smart. For one thing, it’s true: since friends usually bond over shared interests, interests that your Facebook connections have are likely to be yours as well. Even if they aren’t, though, Facebook’s seemingly banking on peer pressure as a way to figure out what you’re all about.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Google’s Nexus Two Android phone is a rebranded Galaxy S with video chat


The Internet’s been lighting up over the past few days with rumors that Google will soon be unveiling the successor to their so-called Googlephone, the HTC Nexus One. Scuttlebutt pegs the Nexus Two as launching on November 7th, the same day that Windows Phone 7 launches, but otherwise we don’t know much about it.

Gizmodo claims that a friend of theirs has gotten their hands on the Nexus Two and are quick to spill the details about what to expect. According to Gizmodo and confirming other rumors, the Nexus Two is designed by Samsung and is, in fact, a redesigned Galaxy S smartphone, albeit with a tapered design that makes the phone feel thinner.

The Galaxy S is still one of the most impressive Android handsets around, especially given its gorgeous AMOLED display, but Samsung is pushing the envelope a bit with the Nexus Two: according to Gizmodo, the handset will feature a front-facing camera to help Google compete with Apple’s Facetime, and that video chat on the Nexus Two will be achieved using the same protocol as Google Talk.

Otherwise, the Nexus Two doesn’t sound revolutionary… but given how strong the hardware line-up of the Android ecosystem is, that’s to be expected. My big question is whether or not Google will sell the Nexus Two unlocked, like the Nexus One before it: sure, Google boned that up, but an unlocked, top-of-the-line Android handset is a device to be coveted.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Nintendo’s Reggie Fils-Aime says Apple poses a bigger threat than Microsoft


Earlier in the week, Nintendo’s Reggie Fils-Aime sat down with Forbes to discuss the nature of competition in the gaming space. Fils-Aime’s specific message? While there are plenty of competitors out there, Nintendo’s not competing with anyone. Not for games, anyway. They’re competing for something even bigger, apparently. Time.

That’s a bit oblique, but what Fils-Aime was trying to get forward was that Nintendo is playing for the long haul, and that they aren’t actually thinking about the likes of Sony and Microsoft as competitors, but rather that Nintendo is competing with the likes of the Internet, social networking games and magazines, all of which might command a person’s spare time instead of video.

While Fils-Aime thinks this is a better way to look at success in the game space, he does believe that one challenger poses a bigger threat to Nintendo than either Sony or Microsoft: Apple, who has exhibited tremendous success with their iOS devices in the gaming space.

“Do I think that in the near term they can hurt us more than Microsoft?” Fils-Aime asked. “Absolutely.”

He’s right. The App Store can instantly deliver captivating mobile games at dirt cheap prices to a host of different devices and still turn a tidy profit for developers. That’s something the likes of the Nintendo 3DS can’t manage.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Piracy makes PSP games not even worth making, says God of War PSP developer


Yesterday, early reviews started hitting the web for the holiday season’s AAA game for the Sony PlayStation Portable: the latest God of War title, Ghost of Sparta.

I was amazed to start seeing them, because frankly, I’d completely forgotten that developers were even still making games for the PSP… but here, out of the seeming blue, comes a well-reviewed God of War game being harped by some as better than God of War III. How strange.

Well, don’t be surprised if you don’t see any more PSP blockbusters after Ghost of Sparta hits stores on November 2nd, because the guys who made the game — Ready at Dawn — are openly slagging off the PSP as a terrible system to make games for.

Why? Piracy. According to Ready at Dawn’s Ru Weerasuriya, piracy on the PSP is so rampant “it’s getting to the point where it doesn’t make sense to make games on it.”

About the PSP, Weerasuriya says, “It’s a tough call right now to say what’s going to happen to it and where it’s going to go, but it definitely hurts a lot of developers out there who are trying to make great games.”

Presumably this is an issue Sony desperately wants to fix with their upcoming PlayStation Phone, but things have gotten bleak indeed when even the PSP’s most prestigious developers are ready to throw in the towel on the console.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Cryptic to make Champions Online MMO free-to-play


At the beginning of September Cryptic Studios was celebrating the first anniversary of Champions Online going live. Early next year gamers will be celebrating not having to pay a subscription to play the MMO anymore.

Cryptic and publisher Atari have decided to switch to a free-to-play model for the superhero MMO. Revenue will be generated from an in-game store using real-world money converted to whatever currency the game uses. A subscription option will still exist, classed as “Gold status”, which will allow access to additional content and features that have yet to be defined.

Although no specific date for the switch has been given beyond Q1 2011, Cryptic will begin testing on November 9 with a set of existing players.

The decision by Cryptic comes after seeing a number of other high-profile MMOs switch to the freemium model. The most recent of those has been Lord of the Rings Online and Everquest II

Mac's Opinion:


With so many MMOs switching to free-to-play you have to wonder if we will ever see a subscription-only MMO released again. The only company that could release one with a lot of confidence is Blizzard, and that will probably be what happens with World of Warcraft II or whatever else they have planned in the near future.

I’m sure it used to be the case that free-to-play meant everything was free and there was the option of a shop to buy stuff rather than earn it by playing. Now that seems to have expanded to include optional subscriptions for extra content or more features. They are optional, but for the player who’s hooked on a game they are probably a must-have as well as spending money in-game regularly. Ultimately some players will end up spending more than a monthly subscription would have cost.

If free-to-play didn’t work then we wouldn’t see a growing number of publishers switching to use it. You have to wonder how many of these games the market can sustain, though?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Final Fantasy XIV player rage quits, sells $26 million of Square Enix stock



Usually when a player really hates a game and rage quits the publisher and developer just lose a gamer for future titles they release. If it’s a subscription-based game then it’s a more serious loss of revenue. But one player in Japan didn’t just rage quit, he sold millions of shares in the game’s publisher causing a drop in the value of its stock.

The name of the player is unknown, but the game is Final Fantasy XIV and the company stock is therefore that of Square Enix.

The player made the following post on October 2nd after what must have been a really infuriating session with the game:

First thing in the morning tomorrow, I intend to instruct those who manage my precious Square Enix stock (however little it may be) to arrange to sell all of it. To Square, thank you for the enjoyment of your products up until now, with the exception of this last one. Goodbye.

Such comments are a common site on forums from upset gamers, but this gamer was quite important to Square Enix. It turns out he owned 1% of the company’s stock, which equates to $26 million worth. He went through with the sale too, which saw the value of the stock fall from 1800 yen to 1735 yen–a major drop in value for the company.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Arctic Report Card: Region Continues to Warm at Unprecedented Rate


The Arctic region, also called the "planet's refrigerator," continues to heat up, affecting local populations and ecosystems as well as weather patterns in the most populated parts of the Northern Hemisphere, according to a team of 69 international scientists.

The findings were released Oct. 21, 2010 in the Arctic Report Card, a yearly assessment of Arctic conditions.
Among the 2010 highlights:
Greenland is experiencing record-setting high temperatures, ice melt and glacier area loss;
Summer sea ice continues to decline -- the 2009-2010 summer sea ice cover extent was the third lowest since satellite monitoring began in 1979, and sea ice thickness continues to thin. The 2010 minimum is the third lowest recorded since 1979, surpassed only by 2008 and the record low of 2007; and
Arctic snow cover duration was at a record minimum since record-keeping began in 1966.
There is also evidence that the effect of higher air temperatures in the Arctic atmosphere in fall is contributing to changes in the atmospheric circulation in both the Arctic and northern mid-latitudes. Winter 2009-2010 showed a link between mid-latitude extreme cold and snowy weather events and changes in the wind patterns of the Arctic, related to a phase of the Arctic Oscillation.
"To quote one of my NOAA colleagues, 'whatever is going to happen in the rest of the world happens first, and to the greatest extent, in the Arctic,'" said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D, under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. "Beyond affecting the humans and wildlife that call the area home, the Arctic's warmer temperatures and decreases in permafrost, snow cover, glaciers and sea ice also have wide-ranging consequences for the physical and biological systems in other parts of the world. The Arctic is an important driver of climate and weather around the world and serves as a critical feeding and breeding ground that supports globally significant populations of birds, mammals and fish."
In 2006, NOAA's Climate Program Office introduced the annual Arctic Report Card, which established a baseline of conditions at the beginning of the 21st century to monitor the quickly changing conditions in the Arctic. Using a color-coded system of "red" to indicate consistent evidence of warming and "yellow" to show that warming impacts are occurring in many climate indicators and species, the Report Card is updated annually in October and tracks the Arctic atmosphere, sea ice, biology, ocean, land and changes in Greenland.
The Report Card can be found online at http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/reportcard.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Google admits WiFi payload data included entire emails, passwords


Google has added a new post to its official blog covering measures being taken to create stronger security inside of Google and among its staff. The measures are in response to the WiFi payload data it mistakenly collected via Street View cars.

The post is notable for two reasons. The first is the length to which Google is taking new steps to ensure nothing like this happens again. The second is Google makes it clear not all of the data collected over WiFi is fragments and it actually contained full e-mails, URLs and password.

In the post Alan Eustace, senior VP of Engineering and Research at Google said:

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to update one point in my May blog post. When I wrote it, no one inside Google had analyzed in detail the data we had mistakenly collected, so we did not know for sure what the disks contained. Since then a number of external regulators have inspected the data as part of their investigations (seven of which have now been concluded). It’s clear from those inspections that while most of the data is fragmentary, in some instances entire emails and URLs were captured, as well as passwords.

Google intends to delete that data as soon as possible and has apologized again for collecting it.

As for the new privacy controls, Google is taking a three-stage approach to ensuring internal privacy and security practices are enhanced.

Stage one has seen Alma Whitten become director of privacy for engineering and product management. Google intend to ensure privacy control is built into every product and service it ships.

Stage two is an enhancement to the training select groups inside Google, including engineers, receive beyond the standard privacy principles and Code of Conduct rules. New training will have, “a particular focus on the responsible collection, use and handling of data.” All employees will also be required to undertake a new information security awareness program.

Finally, stage three includes adding a requirement that engineering project leaders maintain a privacy design document for every project they work on. It will detail user privacy control and be subject to regular review both internally and by independent teams.

With these new measures Google is sending a very clear message: user privacy is key to its future projects and it really doesn’t want to have to deal with a mistake like this again

Friday, October 22, 2010

AMD officially unveils the Radeon 6800-series of graphics cards


AMD only just began teasing their new Radeon HD 6800-series graphics cards a couple of days ago, but now they’re already ready to serve up the details of their latest line of polygon-blasting GPUs. Meet the AMD Radeon HD 6870 and AMD Radeon 6850.

Here’s what we’re looking at. As far as features, both cards pack a pair of DVI outlets, a full-sized HDMI out port, and two mini DisplayPort jacks. You’ll find each card supporting ATI Eyefinity multi-display technology as well as second-generation DirectX 11 architecture.

They are beefy cards, but they’ve got a consumer’s wallet in mind: AMD is starting these cards off at just $200. You can also expect the AMD Radeon 6800-series to start creeping into notebooks down the line, as the company has said they plan to bring the chipset to notebooks shortly down the line.

The only problem? These aren’t good cards for gaming. According to Hardware Heaven, who described gaming performance as a “disaster” on the Radeons they reviewed. If what you’re looking for is some solid GPUs for Blu-Ray and home video, though, the 6800-series looks right up your alley

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Samsung will start selling their 3D glasses in common prescriptions


One of the biggest problem with 3D in media is that while almost all of us without eyepatches can see in three dimensions in real life, the technology in the theater or living room is calibrated towards those with perfect eyesight. This wasn’t such a big deal when 3D was accomplished mostly by cardboard-and-plastic specs, which could easily be placed over your glasses, but now that we’re in the realm of expensive active shutter glasses, that’s a much less satisfying solution.

Samsung seems to have realized that if 3D is going to catch on for home consumers, they need to start convincing the majority of the population not boasting perfect vision. That’s why they intend on offering their line of 3D glasses in common prescriptions.

That’s pretty neat, but it still raises a lot of questions. For one, this doesn’t help those of us with uncommon prescriptions… like me. Second, Samsung’s glasses are active shutter affairs, and this technology is almost guaranteed to be replaced in the next few years with something better… making this an expensive niche product with limited usefulness.

Finally, there’s the price: who’s going to want to pay the price of a new pair of prescription lenses just to watch Avatar in their living room in 3D the once? Weird, but maybe some people will bite. Just don’t expect your eye insurance to cover it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Verizon announces 3G Network Extender to expand 3G network to up to six devices


3G is a neat product, capable of boffing your smartphone or laptop online at near-broadband speeds no matter where you are, but unless you’ve got the right gadget, it’s hard to share that connection. Verizon’s just announced the right gadget to pick up if you’re on their network and want to serve up a single 3G connection to up to six connected devices.

Otherwise, this is a pretty standard 3G extender, although it does feature the ability to offer up EV-DO coverage as well, just in case you happen to live in a vortex of 34G activity. The 3G Network Extender is made by Samsung, who says that the device will work up to forty feet away.

If you’re interested in the 3G Network Extender, you won’t need to pay any monthly fees outside of your existing contract, but there is a steep up front fee to actually buy the device: $249.99. If you’re interested, it’s now available for order from your local Verizon brick-and-mortar, or online.

Press Release

EXPAND YOUR 3G NETWORK: VERIZON WIRELESS 3G NETWORK EXTENDER NOW AVAILABLE

Newest In-Home Device By Samsung Enhances Both Calling & Data Capabilities

BASKING RIDGE, N.J. – The power to enhance wireless voice and data coverage at home is in customers’ hands with the launch of the Verizon Wireless 3G Network Extender.

Beginning today, customers who live in homes where location, geography or structural conditions interfere with reception can use the Verizon Wireless 3G Network Extender to instantly enhance the signal on their Verizon Wireless phones and smartphones. Now, with the new Verizon Wireless 3G Network Extender, customers can not only make calls and send text and picture messages, they can also download apps, browse the Web, send e-mails, download and play 3D games, and stream video using their home Internet connection.

Ideal for those customers who want to use their wireless devices in homes with structural barriers or homes located in remote, mountainous or hilly areas, the Verizon Wireless 3G Network Extender is easy to set up and can provide coverage within 40 feet of the Network Extender device.

The Verizon Wireless 3G Network Extender, a “mini-cell site” manufactured by Samsung Mobile, is about the size of a wireless router box or woman’s purse and routes Verizon Wireless calls through the customer’s home broadband Internet connection. Up to six Verizon Wireless customers can use their phones and monthly plans to place calls and access data using the Verizon Wireless 3G Network Extender. Customers can also use My Verizon (www.verizonwireless.com/myverizon) to set up a list of preferred users who will have access to their Network Extender. Customers do not need to update their plans or add minutes and will incur no additional monthly charges for using the Verizon Wireless 3G Network Extender

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fallout: New Vegas: Are you playing it?


Fallout: New Vegas came out today, which means you can be playing it right now instead of reading this article. And, unless you are a very talented multitasker, you aren’t playing it… but will you?

New Vegas doesn’t seem to have anything close to the hype of Fallout 3, which came out just around the time of two other major releases–Fable 2 and Far Cry 2–but managed to do quite well. The lack of mass excitement over FNV’s release shouldn’t be a huge surprise–we waited ten years for Fallout 3, but less then two for this. It’s also (basically) running on the same engine that powered Fallout 3 and Oblivion so no one is expecting any graphic magic.

To be fair, this week’s release isn’t Fallout 4 and it’s not a sequel to Fallout 3, rather it’s like Fallout 3.3. That is to say that it looks just like Fallout 3 but makes a number of minor of improvements on it. If nothing else, it’s lots more content for fans who got a ton of play time out of 3 and are ready to explore a explore a different part of the same world.

So far reviews have been good, but not great. Metacritic has it pegged at a respectable 85, and early reviews from individual outlets are strong but generally not glowing. CVG put it at 8.1 while Giant Bomb rated it 4/5. The Guardian gave it a 5/5, reminding us that some people still really like the first-person Fallout formula. On the downside Giant Bomb’s review noted some significant errors with the game’s coding which is disappointing from any release, let alone this one.

I’ve put a few hours into the game on the Xbox 360 and a few minutes on PC and so far I like it. It’s like seeing an old friend. I put a ton of time into Fallout 3 and the DLC, and New Vegas feels just like those. Sure, I’m a new character and now I have recipes I can use with campfires, but so far it’s just more Fallout. But guess what–that’s OK with me.

I’m sure the similarities between F3 and FNV will bother a lot of people, but upside is that the new game is all about the dialogue and the story, both of which seem improved from the last release.

What about you, dear reader? Planning on playing Fallout: New Vegas this week? Going to focus on Civ V or Medal of Honor and catch up with this one down the road? Tired of Fallout 3 and just waiting until a real sequel with a new engine comes along? I’m dying to know…

Monday, October 18, 2010

Facebook information spilled out through apps


Millions of Facebook users have had their personal information put at risk because of a security breach involving Facebook apps. It’s not a case of infiltration or malicious intent; rather, many Facebook apps have been found to be transmitting personal information despite Facebook’s policies, and regardless of any user-configured security settings. The personal information seems limited to users’ names and, in some cases, their friends’ names, but does not include sensitive contact or financial information.

The Wall Street Journal found that the 10 most popular Facebook apps were transmitting information to outside companies. Among them are Zynga’s popular Farmville game, which has millions of users on its own. Facebook IDs were sent to 25 different advertising and data companies, one of which used the IDs as part of a larger database of Internet users it sells for profit. The company, RapLeaf, has stated that the data compilation wasn’t done on purpose, and Facebook has stated before that it’s working on preventing RapLeaf from using any of the gathered data.

This breach comes just two weeks after Facebook implemented a control panel for managing privacy settings, and seeing what apps access what information. Facebook has shut down several of the apps that have been transmitting user information.

Updated MacBook Air arriving this week?

 All signs are pointing towards a refreshed MacBook Air being unveiled this week. Apple has yet to say anything official about the laptop but the rumor mill is pretty sure that it’s happening.

This rumor has been around for some time now, but it’s looking more likely with every passing day. Right now we know that the current MacBook Air has outdated specifications, it hasn’t been refreshed in months, and it’s been outclassed by the competition. And we also know that Apple has an event called “Back to the Mac” planned for October 20th and that over the past weeks supplies of the Air have been depleting. Interesting…

The most interesting report so far comes from Apple Insider who says that on Wednesday Apple will relaunch a the MacBook Air with a model that was “redesigned from the ground up”. This subnotebook will have an 11.6-inch display, which is smaller than the 13.3-inch one found on the original MBA. The new model will also only use solid-state storage, though not necessarily by means of a standard SSD. Apple might have something clever in the works, like an “SSD stick” which changes the shape of the solid-state storage to something streamlined for the Air’s super-slim unibody design.

CNET independently reported that the new Air will be smaller than the previous one and that the price will be “significantly lower” than the current MBA’s $1499. They place the size at something between 13.3-inches and the iPad’s 9.7-inches, which points again towards 11.6-inches but they were not able to confirm that number. The outlet also said to expect to see the Nvidia MCP89 chipset and Intel Core 2 Duo processor, the same gear found on the 13.3-inch MacBook and MacBook Pro.


Finally, Engadget uncovered what looks to be a shot of the underside of a new Macbook Air. They say their model looks like another 13.3-incher, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only Air being released. This computer puts the external ports on both sides, not just one like the original Air, and it has more than one USB port. Also spotted were an SD card slot and Mini DisplayPort. They say this runs the same Intel Core 2 Duo SL9400 processor that the current Air users, which would be a serious disappointment, or it’s just a sign that this model is an early prototype.

A clever reader at Macrumor’s forums did some measuring and doesn’t agree with Engadget’s assessment though. Basing his measurements on the 12mm width of a USB slot he says the system is 230mm wide, which would make for a 10.1-inch display.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

NY Times updates iPad app to offer complete content


The New York Times has released an updated version of their iPad application which offers a complete offering of content unlike the app’s previous version. The previous version of the app was criticized for only offering limited content as hinted by its previous Editors’ Choice title. In addition to being able to access full content, the NYTimes for iPad app also now offers access to photo slideshows within articles, access to all sections including 50 NY Times blogs, breaking news alerts and improved navigation and design.

Currently, the application is free, but it won’t be for long. The New York Times plans to put up a pay wall to its content online which will also cover the iPad application in early 2011. Though a subscription is not yet required, a registered account with the NY Times is if you wish to access all sections of the app.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Student journalist openly rebuffed by Steve Jobs wins Microsoft Twitter contest


You might remember the name Chelsea Kates Isaacs from the news lately. She’s the 22 year old journalism student who wrote Apple CEO Steve Jobs, complaining about how unresponsive their PR arm was to questions she had for them about campus Macs… and prompting an exasperated Steve Jobs to rebuke her with, “Please leave us alone.”


Apple is notoriously reticent to speak to even established press, let alone an indignant student, so to gadget bloggers, it was a bit of a laugh. It seems like Isaac’s little exchange, naive as it was, has resulted in her landing a “scoop” after all, though: she’s was picked by Microsoft to cover the official launch of Windows Phone 7.

She won the contest by sending in a 140 character statement over Twitter explaning why she should be picked by Microsoft to report on the event, all expenses paid.

Got that? Miss Serious Journalism Student’s first real world piece of journalism is going to be paid for by the very same company she’s supposed to be objectively covering. Way to turn in your ethics at the door there, Miss Isaacs.

Needless to say, though, Isaacs felt the need to prattle on:

“It’s been a really great challenge and exercise for me to just stay totally in the middle and not be totally biased toward Microsoft because I hate Apple, but I don’t hate Apple,” she said. Note that she doesn’t say it’s going to be hard to stay in the middle because Microsoft is paying for her hotel and in-room massages.

AlphaUI’s Back-Key is a keyboard for the back of your 7-inch tablet


Tablets are undeniably the new hotness, but no matter how hot the product, some debates don’t die. The debate in question: whether a soft keyboard as on a tablet touchscreen can ever be a proper tactile replacement for the oomph of a physical keyboard. Physical keys is a big reason why Blackberries and Android phones still sell… so it’s only natural that the same people who just need something physical to type on when it comes to the smartphone form factor would feel just the same way when it comes to a tablet.

Enter French Company AlphaUI with their Back-Type, a device designed to connect to the back side of a tablet. It contains 24 separate keys, which can be customized. According to AlphaUI, they’re confident that people can get so good entering text with these that they’ll be rattling out 250 characters per minute in now time.

We’ll take your word for it, AlphaUI, but none the less, we’re a little perplexed. How do you type with two less keys than there are letters in the Roman alphabet? And considering the fact that the Back-Type will only fit onto the back of a tablet measuring between five and seven inches, AlphaUI really seems to be betting that the form factor of 7-inch tablets like the Galaxy Tab will ultimately trump the 10-inchers like the iPad. That’s a pretty ballsy bet right there.

No price or release date, unfortunately, but word has it that the Back-Type will make a show at next year’s CES.

Friday, October 15, 2010

PSP Go may drop in price this weekend


If you’ve been thinking about getting a PSP Go you may want to wait to buy one until this weekend. That’s because Jostiq is reporting a rumor that the PSP Go is expected to drop in price today. The rumor is based on a tip from an employee who works at an Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES)-based store.

The employee backed up their tip by providing an image of a memo which outlines the price drop and its effective date of Friday, October 15th. The new price is expected to be $199.95. Other store contacts couldn’t verify the price drop, but Joystiq believes the rumor has been further substantiated by Sony’s silence on the matter since they have neither confirmed or denied the price drop.

Personally, I think the bigger story may be the fact that the U.S. military’s issue with leaks continue. The good news is that if true this is at least one bit of confidential military information that didn’t make it on WikiLeaks first.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Adobe Flash hits 1 million Android downloads


Some users are excited about the iPhone hitting Verizon at the end of the month. It’s a great device, with a front-facing camera, high-resolution screen, and hundreds of thousands of available apps, but it still can’t use Adobe’s Flash. Meanwhile, the Android market has enjoyed its 1 millionth Flash Player 10.1 download since its release. 1 million downloads is an impressive milestone, especially for an app that has contributed to the Android platform’s steadily growing market share.

Flash on Android phones feels very unpolished and inconsistent. Some web-based games don’t load. Some web-based video players don’t load. I tried loading Hulu, but got a message that it was unavailable for Android (but that Hulu Plus will get Android support in the future, if I want to pay for it). I loaded a video on The Spoony Experiment, which was extremely jerky but still watchable. As a Flash platform, Android is incomplete, albeit incomplete for over a million users now.

Sony unleashes new Blu-Ray laser capable of burning 128GB quad-layer discs


Burning Blu-Ray DVDs is about to get a lot faster and capacity is about to quadruple thanks to Sony’s latest innovation on their optical media technology.

This week, Sony launched the first commercial 400mW blue-violet laser diode for Blu-Ray, which will allow triple or even quadruple layer recording at speeds of up to 8X-12X, as well as beefing up the Blu-Ray standard’s already impressive capacity to an astonishing 128GB.

Called the SLD3237VF, Sony’s new blue-violet laser diode will be cheap at just $12, pretty much assuring its quick roll-out across the products of multiple hardware vendors. It comes with a new spec called BDXL which offers multi-layer read and write supports which won’t necessarily work with older players, but Sony still says that the new laser should allow for a greater range of lenses and prisms to be used in making Blu-Ray devices, possibly dropping costs.

This isn’t as good as it can get, though. Last year, Sharp beat the capacity last year with their 500mW blue-violet laser, which may be on target to ship this year. Even Sony knows it can do better, having crafted a 100W blue-violet laser… but something tells me that one isn’t going to cost a paltry $12 wholesale.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Philadelphia school district settles webcam spy suits for $610,000


Nine months ago, a 15-year-old high school student named Blake Robbins filed a lawsuit against his school district. He alleged that the Lower Merion School District spied on him through a district-issued laptop computer. The original claim was that the notebook was used as a tracker to monitor where Robbins was, but during the suit evidence was uncovered that the district used the computer’s own webcam to photograph him at home. The webcam took over 400 pictures of Robbins over a 2-week period. The district issues Apple notebooks to all of its students.

The school district finally settled Monday with Robbins and another student, Jalil Hassan, who also filed suit. The district will pay out $610,000 for the spying. Robbins will get $175,000, Hassan will get $10,000, and the remainder will go to their lawyer, Mark Haltzman.

The FBI investigated the case, but decided not to prosecute the school district. One must wonder the sort of penalty any other individual or group would have to pay for a similar transgression. Imagine “school district” isn’t in the story, and this was anyone else who used a computer to take photos of underage boys in their homes.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Nintendo: Piracy is not behind poor Wii and DS sales


More than any other console maker, Nintendo’s consoles are easy to pirate games for. While the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 require sophisticated hacks and mod chips in order to run unsigned code, getting pirated games to run on a Nintendo Wii is as easy as plugging in a modified SD card and a USB hard drive full of games, and the DS has long been plagued by affordable flash carts like the R4.

Consequently, Nintendo has always been touch on piracy, patching the software of their consoles as often as they can to thwart the latest hacks by pirates, as well as programming sophisticated anti-piracy DRM into their titles that allow games to be able to tell whether or not it is running off of a flash cart. They also sue the bejeezus out of anyone they do catch pirating… or selling hardware to aid in pirating.

You’d think, then, that given the recent slump of the Wii when it comes to console and software sales, Nintendo would be quick to point the fingers at pirates. But that’s not what Nintendo president Satoru Iwata had to say for himself at a recent Q&A session.

“I do not think we should attribute bad software sales solely to piracy”, he said, “It is true there is always the influence of piracy, but it is important for us to increase the number of our consumers who are willing to shell out their money to purchase our products. So, we do not intend to think that slower sales are solely due to piracy.”

That’s refreshingly blunt: the Wii’s slow sales are due to a lack of captivating content, and the DS is reaching the end of its life cycle. Somehow, I doubt that after next year’s debut of the 3DS that anyone will be complaining about slow Nintendo sales anymore, anyway.

Gap relents and drops new logo after online outrage



In the age before the Internet was available, social networks weren’t even invented, and we all got our news on paper, changing a product or company brand was a simple task. A design agency came up with a new design, the company did some advertising, and the new branding would become the norm. If you didn’t like it you could tell your friends in person, but beyond that only the odd review and sales would reflect how well a rebranding had gone.

Now we have the Internet and everyone can have an opinion. Gap found this out the hard way by attempting to change its logo from a blue box with the name written inside it to the name with a small blue box over the “p”. It was a change nobody seemed to like and the Internet was the place that opinion was vented.

The outcry was so great that Gap has now decided to backtrack and revert to the old logo. So you will no longer be seeing the new logo anywhere and the Internet masses can settle back down to await the next outcry.

In a press release Gap said:

Since we rolled out an updated version of our logo last week on our website, we’ve seen an outpouring of comments from customers and the online community in support of the iconic blue box logo … Ultimately, we’ve learned just how much energy there is around our brand. All roads were leading us back to the blue box, so we’ve made the decision not to use the new logo on gap.com any further.

Gap has not decided against a new logo completely, but the company has made it clear if it is ever considered again it will be handled very differently.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

FAA warns airlines batteries in cargo hold may ignite during flights

Lithium-ion batteries have been known to explode or ignite while in use in a laptop. But the Federal Aviation Administration is now warning airlines that these same batteries may ignite when not in use, but stored in a hot cargo hold.

The warning comes after a United Parcel Service 747-400 crashed last month travelling over Dubai. The cargo was a large shipment of lithium batteries, and both pilots were killed.

The problem stems from the fact cargo holds are not usually temperature controlled. So if a plane is in a situation where the hold can get hot any batteries have the potential to ignite by moving out of their normal safe temperature range. If this happens in-flight there’s a serious risk of further problems we don’t want to think about.

At the moment the FAA is advising companies who run aircraft of what they can do to minimize the risk. But keep this in mind if you are travelling, and if you can, keep your batteries in your hand luggage and the cool air conditioning of the passenger compartment.

Google and the BBB

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is an organization which allows businesses to be accredited based on their integrity and performance as measured by their ability to quickly and fairly respond to customer complaints. How well a company responds to complaints and upholds the basic principles of the BBB determines what grade the company receives by the organization. For the most part technology companies have done very well with the grades they have received, while on the other hand Google has barely received a passing grade.

Companies such as Yahoo!, Microsoft and AT&T Mobility have received an A+ while Apple and Verizon Wireless have received a B+ and B, respectively. Google on the other hand has received a C- from the BBB. Why? It seems the company has failed to respond to all of the complaints filed against it through the BBB. The information comes from the Understanding Google Maps & Local Search blog which also posted how the BBB described Google by saying:

Our complaint history for this company shows that the company responded to and gave proper consideration to most complaints. However, more than one complaint is unresolved meaning the company failed to properly address the complaint allegations or their response was inadequate.

In other words, all Google had to do to get a good score was to respond to all complaints. Their inability to do so shouldn’t be too surprising though. As the blog points out Google saves a ton of money by not having an adequate support department as was clearly evident when the company tried to release their own smartphone, the Nexus One.

Considering the bad PR a C- rating gives Google you would think the company could step up and get the adequate resources necessary to respond to all complaints. We’re not talking about a lot of complaints here. According to the blog it seems the company failed to respond to all of the 47 complaints it received. That’s a pretty low bar and it’s sad that Google can’t get over it

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Gearbox trying to get brick and mortars to honor Duke Nukem Forever pre-orders


Duke Nukem Forever has been in production for twelve years, and that means that companies like Gamestop and EB Games have potentially made millions of dollars accepting pre-orders for the game 3D Realms just never could get their act together enough to make.

It’s commonly been assumed that if you were foolish enough to pre-order Duke Nukem Forever, you may as well have flushed your money down the toilet. But Gearbox Software, which is now finishing up the title, is trying to get retailers to do the right thing.

“There are a lot of people who pre-ordered the game,” said Gearbox President Randy Pitchford. “We’ve been starting to talk with retailers because we didn’t take them directly, and 3D Realms didn’t take them, it was all retailers going ‘I’m going to take this guy’s money.’

“We’ve started to engage them, saying ‘Hey, you’ve got customers who you made a promise to, and any bad feeling they have will reflect on us, so can we work together to do something for those people?’

“I don’t know what we can do yet, but something should be done for the people who pre-ordered.”

Let’s hope they succeed. Companies have made a lot of money off of Duke Nukem Forever’s development hell.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Review: Dead Rising 2

 The original Xbox 360 zombie game is back in the form of Dead Rising 2. If you haven’t played this early hit for the Xbox 360, it was an enjoyable, though slightly tedious, zombie slaughter in which you defend yourself from the undead with whatever object was within arm’s reach, no matter how ridiculous. Dead Rising 2 is from the same mold, and is in many ways an improved version of the original. What’s important is that the mechanics of the game are pretty much the same and there is still the race-against-time component that some people will enjoy and others will not.

Dead Rising 2 has a very conventional zombie-based plot. Your area has been entirely zombiefied and you need to survive until the military arrives in 72 hours. Since you quickly find shelter you’d thing this would make for nothing more than a boring three days, but no. As super survivor Chuck Green you need to find Zombrex to stave off your daughter’s zombie-infection while clearing your besmirched name. You were accused of being the saboteur who released the zombies from their game-show imprisonment, which means you need to clear your name before the military shows up.

Dead Rising uses slow, stupid zombies that are basically just bags of meat that you dispose of. They are dangerous in swarms and there are a lot of them, but they aren’t very motivated so most ignore the living until a person gets within grabbing distance. For his part Chuck must run around the town completing tasks, like finding Zombrex. He can tirelessly (literally) kill zombies, thus gaining experience and leveling up, but as fun as this is you need to keep an eye on the clock. That means you can’t just hang around hitting zombies with spiked bats and drill buckets (don’t ask).


The game uses a distorted physics system that makes Chuck’s situation just about survivable. When he attacks with a baseball bat he swings right through the zombies around him, as if they were weightless, decomposing balloons. Anything within his swing’s arch will be taken down, though not necessarily killed. Minor details likes distance to the target don’t really matter and there is no consideration of momentum, which would make it impossible to drive a motorcycle through a crowd of zombies. But dealing with the living dead requires some suspension of disbelief so taking that one step further, and giving Chuck a chance against a swarm of zombies when he has nothing more than a fireman’s axe, isn’t so hard.The most impressive part about the game is the weapons. That is to say the objects scattered around the world, because almost everything can be used as a weapon. You can defend yourself with serving trays, firecrackers, waterguns, house plants, lead pipes, aluminum bats, rubber pylons, bowie knives, clothes hangers, plates, propane tanks, push brooms, and much more. The key is that the world has a lot of pickups, so there are always a few potential weapons lying about.
The thing to keep in mind is that the effectiveness of the weapons varies greatly–a wooden bat is a solid enough choice, but it mainly knock zombies down, as opposed to killing them. Switch over to a chainsaw or machete and with the same attacks you’re killing zombies, preventing them from surrounding you after they get up. Plus you are racking up experience points, which come from killing a zombie.




The big new addition to the game is item combining. This is allows you to create powerful hybrid weapons that give you a ton of experience. The most basic is the spiked bat, a combination of nails and a wooden bat, but they get increasingly crazy from there. This aspect of the game is fun, but the combination system isn’t as robust as you might expect, and not everything can be combined. As you level up you earn combo cards though, and these give you the instructions for building your next tool of destruction. This isn’t perfect, but is definitely one of the best parts of the game because the DIY weapons are awesome.
Past what’s mentioned above, Dead Rising 2 is largely about following an arrow at the top of the screen and completing your next task before the timer runs out. I found the map to be very difficult to use, so I didn’t tend to explore much, plus I was constantly worried about time, so I felt compelled to stick to my main goals without any delay. The game builds in some extra time for playing and rescuing survivors but to do that you’ll have to keep your mind off that ticking timer. This might be better for a second playthrough, when you have a better concept of the time you need to complete the main goals.
When playing the game you’ll die a few times. You can save your game at any bathroom, which means somewhat regularly, but not as much as you’d probably like. When you die you’ll have the option of restarting from the last save (a bit of a pain, but nothing terrible) or restarting the game with all the experience and upgrades you’ve accrued. The latter is a compelling option if you’re having trouble because it means you’ll start the game with some great weapon formulas as well as extra power and health. It’s a pretty tough game, so this is a worthwhile tactic.

All the other stuff–like characters, sound, and visuals–are pretty lackluster. They are good enough that they didn’t hurt my experience, but at no point was I wowed by any of them. Dead Rising 2 is about killing thousands of zombies and, more importantly, the mechanics that allow something so repetitive to stay fun. I found this amusing enough so long as the game kept progressing but when I died and had to do a section over or I hit a point of the game that I didn’t particularly like, it was a slog. That’s just me though–I could see people relishing the aspects of the game that I found tiring (like mini boss battles) and exploring a ton, finding some awesome weapons (the game has guns and dynamite, not just hand tools), saving all the survivors, and playing on once the main story is over.
Don’t forget that DR2 has online co-op and multiplayer. There is drop-in/drop-out multiplayer if a friend wants to help you out without furthering their own game as well as a versus mode based on the Terror is Reality gameshow. I wasn’t overly impressed with either, but they are ways to add playtime to an already considerable game experience.
Some quick notes before we wrap up… Remember that you can restart the game without losing your experience. This is something you’ll probably want to take advantage of as the game can be pretty brutal if you don’t. With my chronic fear of being late I constantly checked the clock, but you might want to play for a few hours, learn the world, and then restart. It’s a better way to experience the game. If you already got this introduction in Dead Rising 2: Case Zero (the $5 demo of the game) you might not be as interested. Finally, the game has a lot of loading, so if this drives you nuts, I’d steer clear because there is a few seconds of downtime every few minutes, as well as some framerate issues when the screen gets really packed with zombies.

Dead Rising 2 has some minor problems, but overall it’s a very good game. Some people might be putting a lot of hours into the title (especially if you want the achievements) while others will get the majority of their fun out of it with just a few hours of play. DR2 stayed true to the original but brings some nice improvements, making for a successful sequel and a game that is definitely worth trying out.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

100th Follower!

Hey everyone out there! Just thought id celebrate the first 100 people following this blog.

Thank you everyone, and look forward for the latest new tech news!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ultrasone’s Edition 10 headphones make for a luxuriantly opulent set of cans


Generally speaking, when people ask me for a recommendation for headphones, I endorse Koss’ PortaPro line, which offers excellent sound quality in a timeless design for a very affordable ($30) price. Why spend more for something that’s likely to break anyway?

Well, today, I’m eating my words, with the Ultrasone Edition 10 Special Edition, Ultrasone’s very first open back headphones. For can enthusiasts, these are undeniably sexy beasts, featuring Zebrano wood ear cup inlays as well as leather ear cup pads made of Ethiopian sheepskin leather. Additionally, the Edition 10 Special Edition contains titanium-plated drives, and Kevlar coated bullet proof cables.

Sounding expensive yet? Don’t guess the price just now: let’s throw some more specs at you. Each set of headphones contains titanium-plated 40mm drivers, specially designed so as to have a 10% more powerful magnet. Other features include S-Logic technology, MU Metal Bufferboard, and an impedance of 32 Ohm.

In addition, the Edition 10 Special Edition headphones are available in extremely limited numbers: only two thousand will be made, and each will have a serial number embossed on the set.

The price? A stagger $2,749. But my god… just look at these babies. Have you ever seen a more gorgeous set of cans?

Press Release

Uniquely designed open back earcups with Zebrano wood inlays and titanium-plated drivers

Only 2010 will be produced and each pair comes with a Zebrano wood headphone stand, wood storage case & is balanced input ready

Murrieta, Calif. – (October 4, 2010) – Ultrasone Inc., distributor for German headphone manufacturer Ultrasone AG, proudly announces the release of its first open back special edition headphone – Edition 10. The long awaited open back Edition 10 headphone boasts the most luxurious feature set of any special edition headphone to date. With Zebrano wood ear cup inlays, Ethiopian sheepskin leather ear cup pads, Titanium plated drivers, Kevlar coated cables and a limited number of 2010 units available, Ultrasone’s Edition 10 represent the companies most lavishly appointed and highly coveted speciality headphones ever created.

The Edition 10 is a result of years of painstaking R&D to ensure the first open backed special edition headphone met the rigorous standards set by its predecessors. The ear cups alone are a triumph in both form and function, resulting in a design never before created by Ultrasone’s engineers. Drawing inspiration from natural forms, the Edition 10’s ear cups feature high levels of air permeability through the grills, high specific torsion strength and extremely low resonance, all in a lightweight design.

The outer ear cup is finished with galvanic Ruthenium plating and with a Zebrano wood inlay, which is coated with eight layers of clear lacquer for protection. The Edition 10’s inner ear cup, as well as the head-pad, is adorned with reddish brown Ethiopian sheepskin. This type of leather is known for being the most supple leather available, achieving the maximum level of comfort and sound isolation.

The drivers selected for the Edition 10 have been specially tuned for open back headphones. The Titanium-plated 40mm drivers have been designed with a 10% more powerful magnet for enhanced sound pressure levels. Each set of drivers have been individually paired with a tolerance of +/- 0.4.

Attention to detail can be seen at every level with the Edition 10s and the cable is no exception. Ultrasone has incorporated silver-plated OFC 99.99% pure copper wires and utilized Kevlar as the casing, achieving increased current flow, improved flexibility and lower overall weight. In addition, the Edition 10 is designed to be balanced input ready, so audiophiles who wish to implement a balanced cable configuration do not have to change the entire wire, rather connect XLR connectors instead of the 6.3mm connector.

Ultrasone’s latest headphones employ S-Logic™ Plus technology, resulting in an impartial acoustic feeling that affords the listener the utmost spacious tonal perception. This gives users the advantage of wearing Ultrasone headphones for many hours without their ears hurting. Ultrasone’s newest headphones also contain MU-Metal shielding (ULE technology) that reduce the amount of radiation directed to the listener by up to 98%, as compared to conventional headphones.

Each Edition 10 headphone comes with a hand crafted Zebrano wood headphone stand and is housed in its own wooden box for safe storage and transportation. Only 2010 Edition 10 headphones will be produced, each one will be embossed with its own serial number.

Edition 10 Technical Specifications

Open-back deluxe headphones with reduced emissions using the ULE standard (Ultra Low Emission) and S-Logic Plus technology
S-LogicTM Plus technology
Dynamic principle, open
Frequency range: 5 – 45000 Hz
Impedance 32 Ohm
Sound pressure level 99 dB
MU Metal bufferboard,
Reduced field emissions in accordance with ULE standard
40 mm titanium-plated driver
Magnet NdFeB
Weight 282g (excl. cord)
Cord length: 3m
Aramid fiber enhanced
Silver plated high-flex cable
(OFC 99.99 % pure copper)
6.3 mm gold plated plug

A 1.6m tall powered exoskeleton for kids? This won’t end well


I’m not sure what toys young kids want nowadays, but if you showed them one of these mechanical walkers I think all other desires would disappear.

It’s called the Kid’s Walker, and it’s a bipedal mech suit for young kids. It’s an accident waiting to happen, but at the same time your child is going to be pretty safe walking to school in one of these things. It’s not until they get a bit older and start experimenting with NERF gun attachments that you should worry.

The manufacturer is Sakakibara Kikai who is better known for producing machinery for agriculture, but on their website is an Amusement section with the Kid’s Walker listed.

The suit measures 1.6 x 1.6 x 1.3m and weighs 180kg. Power is provided through a gasoline engine with no detail on exactly how fast it can go. We don’t see a version for adults, but I’m sure you could ride alongside on a bike. Getting your kid to stop doing something may be quite tough, though as they really do have the upper hand once strapped in.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Verizon to refund $50 million in rogue data charges to customers


Verizon customers will be receiving a refund after an FCC investigation found that the company had been issuing mystery charges that should not have been incurred.

A statement released by the Federal Communications Commission Enforcement Bureau Chief Michele Ellison confirmed a mistake had been made, and which will bring relief to millions of customers frustrated by such charges:

We can confirm reports of an FCC investigation into mystery fees that appeared on Verizon Wireless bills costing over 15 million Americans tens of millions of dollars. Questions remain as to why it took Verizon two years to reimburse its customers and why greater disclosure and other corrective actions did not come much, much sooner.

The mystery charges incurred were related to starting the Verizon Mobile Browser and through the demonstrations certain apps had preloaded on phones. Neither of these activities should have incurred a charge.

The refunds Verizon must now issue are thought to total $50 million. For the 15 million or so individual subscribers affected that should mean between $2-$6 in credit shown on a future monthly statement. If you are no longer a customer then expect a check in the post.

There doesn’t appear to be an official statement from Verizon yet on this refund, and I’m sure the company will be keen to keep this as low key as possible.

What will remain a frustration for many is why it took two years for this to mistake to be admitted and the refunds issued. Even the FCC point this out as an unanswered question and hopefully will look into it further. Two years is a long time, especially when a company is accruing customer money in a bank account totalling millions of dollars.

All we can hope for now is that measures have been taken to stop such mystery charges happening again at Verizon. The FCC has also said that tougher penalties will be implemented if such a situation were ever to occur again.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Wall Street Journal: Windows Phone 7 handsets revealed October 11th, on sale November 8th


We’ve heard October 11th. Then we heard November 8th And now it’s back to October 11th as the rumored date that Microsoft’s new mobile operating system, Windows Phone 7, is set to officially launch.

According to sources speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Microsoft and AT&T will officially debut a trio of new Windows Phone 7 based handsets. These sources are otherwise vague about what we should expect, but claim that the devices will be manufactured by HTC, LG and Samsung.

So what’s with that November 8th date? Microsoft expert Paul Thurrot seemed pretty sure that the October 11th date wasn’t the launch, and that November 8th was. It seems that both theories are right according to this latest rumor: while AT&T and Microsoft will debut the first official Windows Phone 7 handsets on October 11th, these won’t go on sale until November 11th. Everything’s starting to line up.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

First impression: Samsung Galaxy Tab

 The Galaxy Tab, Samsung’s 7-inch tablet offering, has been something sites have been talking for some time now, but it really kicked off at IFA earlier this month. Even then it wasn’t a huge surprise–as expected it was an Android tablet, with Flash, that Samsung wanted to put up against Apple’s iPad.

Thursday, September 16th, Samsung held their US launch event which would reveal the last pieces of information everyone wanted to know–the US carriers and the price. It turns out that all four major US carriers will be offering the device but pricing information was not available.

Samsung skirted the issue by saying pricing would be up to the individual carriers and whether the device was sold on contract or not. Of course the larger point is that this device could be a hit at, say, $200, but could bomb spectacularly at $600 so the pricing is more than just a minor detail.

One thing to note–the Galaxy Tabs on hand were the “international version”. The tablet might be arriving soon, but Samsung didn’t have what would be the domestic offering. Check out the images in the gallery below to get a better look.

I spent a some time with the tablet and I was pretty happy with what I saw. The Tab is slim, portable, and nicely built. It’s not as impressively constructed as the iPad, but it has a quality feeling and I found it to be comfortable to hold. One of the night’s presenters was able to fit in the pocket of his sports jacket, proving its portability. Eschewing such formality I wasn’t able to duplicate the test, but I did notice that the Tab would be a great size to slip into a bag, to use on the train, or to fly with.

The Galaxy Tab was running Android 2.2 which is nice to see, even if it isn’t built specifically for the tablet form factor. This will certainly mean some annoyances down the road, but I didn’t notice anything last night that really bothered me. Rather, the tablet was snappy and responsive, just as you’d expect from a high-end Android-powered mobile phone. The good news here was that the Android Market and Google apps were still in place, so any fears of Google disowning the device seem to be unfounded.

The 7-inch display runs at 1024×600, which is higher than the 854×480 used on the growing crop of Android phones with larger displays. This causes some issues with apps, but rather than scaling them Samsung runs apps at their native size with borders in place around the app. It’s not the most elegant solution, but it works for now and it’s better than not having access to the apps at all.

Two things highlighted by Samsung last night were Qik and Media Hub. As far as Qik goes, the Galaxy Tab supports video conference calls. We tested it out last night and it worked well enough, though it definitely didn’t have the slick experience of FaceTime or the quality of Skype. That said, it’ll work in a pinch.

Samsung’s Media Hub is a video store where you can buy/rent content from a select group of providers, including NBC. It’s not based on Cinema Now or any other service, so it’s kind of a big deal for Samsung, but at the end of the day it’s just another content alternative with a lackluster selection.

Samsung’s surprise reveal with this offering was that by buying a title on one device allow you to share it with up to 5 other devices. This doesn’t work by an AirPlay-like streaming but rather by just redownloading the video on another Media Hub-capable device.

Another big point of the event was to highlight Flash. Yes, the Tab runs Adobe Flash, including the hardware-accelerated version, Flash 10.1. Everyone is probably tired of hearing about the Flash tablet situation so I’ll leave it at this: Flash on the GTab looks pretty good so far. I didn’t get to test much but the games demoed ran well enough and Flash sites worked. This won’t make or break the device, but it’s something for Android owners to brag about to their iPad-toting frenemies.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Review: PlayStation Move

 Motion control has been in our homes since late 2006 courtesy of Nintendo and was groundbreaking, yet highly risky at the time Wii console. Thankfully for Nintendo it worked and we bought into motion control, and the Wii (by the millions).

Sony and Microsoft’s gaming divisions likely couldn’t believe what they were seeing, and the fact it’s nearly four years since the Wii launched shows us they were not prepared, or even thinking about motion control for games back then.

But four years have passed, and finally we are seeing Sony and Microsoft respond. Microsoft has the controller-less Kinect launching later this year, and Sony launch PlayStation Move (PS Move) this month. The two questions everyone wants answered are the following:

Is the PS Move control mechanism better than the Wii?
Why do we want motion control on our PS3?
I’ll try to give you an answer to each based on using a PlayStation Move setup for the past few days.

Investing in PS Move is not as simple as buying a new controller. Doing so is possible as long as you already own the PlayStation Eye camera peripheral. If you don’t, then the Starter Bundle is what you need. It contains both the PS Move motion controller (wand) and the Eye.

In the UK this Starter Bundle includes both peripherals and a number of demos. If you are in the U.S. you get the full game called Sports Champions and a demo disc. A full game and demo disc certainly seems like the better option to me and it’s unclear why Sony hasn’t done the same bundle everywhere.

The wand is a reassuringly heavy controller which I can only assume is due to the rechargeable battery and vibration unit it contains. It’s also really nice to hold, and a much better design than the Wii Remote. The wand slopes in as it nears the center so you can get a really good grip. Even so, it ships with a wrist strap to stop any accidents.

Controls on the wand mirror the right side of a Dualshock controller. The front of the device where your thumb sits has access to small versions of the main face keys from the standard controller, as well as the PS button and new Move button.

On the sides on the wand are small inset Start and Select buttons that are a bit fiddly to use, while on the back you have the T-trigger.

On the top of the device is a large white ball that can light up a number of different colors during play. The color options are mainly there to allow differentiation between two or more people playing a game at once on one PS3. The light-up feature allows the PlayStation Eye to see the controller movement.

On the base of the wand are connections for a charging base or cable. Frustratingly, the Starter Bundle ships with no charging cable meaning either investing in a base, or sharing a cable with your existing controller, is necessary. There’s also a second port, but there is no purpose for it yet. Maybe Sony has a further enhancement planned for the future?

Something else to note here is the fact there is another part to the PS Move setup called the PlayStation Move Navigation Controller. This does not come in the Starter Bundle which seems a little strange to me as it may form a core part of some Move games. It sports a D-Pad and thumbstick, and is best seen as the equivalent to the Wii’s Nunchuk.

Setting up PS Move does not seem to be mandatory when you first hook everything up to the PS3. An option appears to calibrate it on the settings menu of your console, but it’s not advertised as being there. Rather each game requires you to setup the controller on first load. This is simply a case of moving the wand to set points around the screen and letting the game log the boundaries of your play area.

So it’s more laggy than Wii and has an annoying reflection issue, but my biggest take away from playing all of the games was that none of them were Move sellers. When the Wii was released it had the advantage of being a very different system due to motion controls, and something gamers hadn’t experienced before. This was further backed up by the inclusion of a very solid set of mini games in the form of Wii Sports. Sony is trying to emulate the same package with Sports Champion, but gamers are all used to motion control now, and therefore this collection comes across as a little flat. It feels like it’s 2006 all over again.

I’m not saying that PS Move is a poor product. On the contrary, the actual hardware is of a better quality than the Wii Remote and Nunchuck setup. PS Move also has an advantage in its ability to track movement in a 3D space giving it the potential to extend motion gaming beyond what the Wii can offer. I also appreciate having HD visuals, something that Nintendo really need to do something about soon. However, PS Move does not seem suited to fast action games due to the lag I experienced. Games will have to be tuned to account for this, and if I wanted to play a shooting game I would choose Wii over PS Move.

What PlayStation Move really lacks at the moment is a killer game. I am hopeful that one (or several) will appear in the coming months, but for the moment it’s not a peripheral you must invest in as there is nothing compelling yet to warrant the price of entry.

Valve introduces “Mann-conomy” to Team Fortress 2, opens in-game item shop


Valve Software’s absurdly fun team-based multiplayer shooter, Team Fortress 2 has now added yet another surprising feature onto its ever expanding core: micro-transactions.

That’s right. You know those new weapons, defensive items and wearable accessories Valve’s been adding to Team Fortress 2 for the last couple years. You don’t have to earn them anymore: you can pony up real-world cash for them thanks to the new Steam Wallet.

The store is called “Mann Co.” and sells community-created item sets, adding as of writing seventeen new items for five of the game’s classes. Each item ranges from 49 cents to $4.99, with Valve promising to split the proceeds with “community contributors.”

As is Valve’s wont to do, there is — of course — a hysterical press release that extrapolates upon the new “Mann-conomy’s” place in the Team Fortress 2 lore. Giggle at it below.

Press Release

September 30, 2010 – Badlands, New Mexico. Mann Co., the industry leader in selling products and getting in fights, today announced the deployment of the Mann-Conomy initiative to the warring mercenary factions in the ongoing global war between Builders League United (BLU) and Reliable Excavation Demolition (RED). The Mann-Conomy initiative represents the largest introduction of new items in the company’s history, available for immediate trading, use, and sale.

“This brutal, endless war between BLU and RED is, of course, lamentable,” said C.P. Bidwell, assistant to Mann Co. CEO Saxton Hale. “So if letting mercenaries buy, trade and sell Mann Co. products helps make this ongoing tragedy more enjoyable for both sides, then we’ve done our part. The Mann-Conomy initiative is, at the end of the day, a humanitarian effort.”

The first update in this ongoing initiative will involve 65 new items overall-including the introduction of five new Class Weapon Kits, 18 new hats, and an all-new way to get in an additional fight during an existing one: dueling pistols.

The Mann-Conomy initiative will allow BLU and RED mercenaries to finally trade items with each other, escalating hostilities further through emotionally wrenching haggling sessions over hats.

Mercenaries who purchase items through the Mann Co. Store will not have an advantage over their rivals. “We want to make sure that our customers still have a terrific experience on the battlefield whether they buy anything or not,” says Bidwell. “All the existing ways they were able to get their hands on weaponry still exist without them having to spend any money.”

“Steam”, a revolutionary Mann Co. technology developed in cooperation with Newell & Sons (a small Bellevue, WA based company specializing in hat-themed war simulation), utilizes a global network of pneumatic tubes that will allow mercenaries to equip themselves instantly without leaving the heat of battle. Mann Co. is currently accepting Euros, United States Dollars, and British Pounds, as all of these currencies will fit in the tubes.

For more information about the Mann-Conomy, please visit http://www.teamfortress.com/

About Mann Co. Mann Co. is a global weapons manufacturer that makes square, unsafe products for men and gets in fights. Founded in Australia and based in America, Mann Co. CEO Saxton Hale prides himself on his hands-on customer relations: “If you have a problem with any Mann Co. product, you can take it up with me!”