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20
Sep

Neal Stephenson’s crowdfunded game finally canceled


After a year of development and another year on life support, Clang — the sword-fighting game from science fiction writer Neal Stephenson and Subutai games — is finally dead. Thing started off well enough after it topped its $500,000 crowdfunding goal on Kickstarter and an early beta was released to Steam. But a year later the Kickstarter cash ran out and Stephenson, reduced to working part-time on the project, said that the prototype “wasn’t very fun to play.” With no more cash to improve it, Clang has now been terminated, though Kickstarter investors can receive a refund on request. Stephenson accepted part of the blame in the final update post, adding that the story of the failure could fill a book. In fact, he did write a short book about it, which may eventually get published — we imagine that would be far more interesting than the game itself.

[Image credit: Subutai Corp.]

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Source: Kickstarter

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20
Sep

Verizon isn’t getting WiFi calling until next year, either


AT&T isn’t the only carrier not getting WiFi calling until 2015 — a certain red-branded network’s iPhone 6 and 6 Plus won’t, either. Speaking at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference, Verizon’s CFO Fran Shammo said that his company has some back-end work to finish up before the feature goes live. This is something he predicts should happen around halfway through next year. What’s more, he said that WiFi calling was never a top priority, either, as spotted by FierceWireless.

Taking a jab at the the carrier that does support the feature this year, T-Mobile, he said Verizon built its network “extensively” so that the firm doesn’t need to offer it just yet. “There was never a need for us to tell our customers, ‘Oh, our network is not good enough so you need to go default to WiFi to complete your call,’” he said. Citing similar reasons to AT&T, Shammo continued that it can’t guarantee the quality of a WiFi call, thus Verizon’s deliberate pace to adopt the tech. It’s a slight delay, but at least we’re getting the feature faster than, you know, a Big Red voice-over-LTE handset.

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Source: FierceWireless, HotHardware, Verizon

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20
Sep

Why is Microsoft buying Minecraft?


Microsoft To Acquire Maker Of Popular Minecraft Game For 2.5 Billion

Microsoft announced this week that it’s buying hugely popular game franchise Minecraft for $2.5 billion. For that money, Microsoft gets rights to the game and ownership of its Stockholm, Sweden-based development studio, Mojang. It doesn’t retain the company’s founders or Minecraft‘s infamously outspoken creator, Markus “Notch” Persson.

Does that sound like a lot, $2.5 billion? Well, it is in human dollars, but not so much when you’re Microsoft and you’ve got $85 billion in “cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments.” Regardless of the fact that this week’s deal only cost Microsoft around 3 percent of that, here’s the real kicker (in the form of a statement from Microsoft): “Microsoft expects the acquisition to be break-even in FY15 on a GAAP basis.” Woof, that’s a doozy of a sentence right there.

Here’s the translation: Microsoft expects the purchase of Minecraft/Mojang to make it a lot of money. And that is why Microsoft bought Minecraft.

Admittedly, that’s a rough translation of all that Microsoft’s saying in that jargon-filled sentence. And it’s a crucial statement in the several-paragraphs-long press release that announced the deal. So let’s break it down, piece by piece!

A trailer for Minecraft‘s recently released Xbox One version

  • “Microsoft expects the acquisition to be break-even …”

This one sounds simple, but there’s a lot of information in there. First and foremost, “Microsoft expects” is a heavily abridged way of saying, “Microsoft lawyers and accountants painstakingly went over the past financials of Mojang and projected earnings for the next two to five years. After doing that work, we expect these results.” Companies don’t “expect” anything they haven’t deliberately calculated. This is not a guess; it’s an equation.

The middle bit — “the acquisition” — is simply referring to the purchase of Minecraft and Mojang for $2.5 billion. Nothing hidden there.

To be break-even” isn’t to say, Minecraft and Mojang will recoup the full $2.5 billion Microsoft spent on the acquisition. Instead, it only has to make about $25 million to make this a “break-even” deal. Why? Well, as reported in Polygon, analyst Michael Patcher pointed out in a talk at Games Beat 2014 that $25 million is about the amount of interest Microsoft could expect to make if it just left that money in the bank. As he puts it:

“Well, $2.5 billion, the interest on that is just $25 million a year. When they say break-even they don’t mean they’re going to get $2.5 billion back. That’s sunk cost, they don’t care. They’re talking about from a GAAP reporting perspective – EPS Microsoft Corporation – they will make more from Minecraft than they lose from not having that money in the bank, generating interest …”

  • “… in FY15 …”

Okay, bear with me — this isn’t as complex as it sounds. “In FY15″ directly translates to “in Fiscal Year 2015.” To understand what that means, we have to understand how Microsoft’s fiscal year works (surprise: It’s not the same as the calendar year the rest of us exist in). Microsoft’s fiscal year begins on July 1st and ends on June 30th, every year. Despite it being calendar year 2014, Microsoft’s in fiscal year 2015 right now. So!

If Microsoft is in “FY15″ right now, and the company’s fiscal year ends on June 30th, Microsoft expects to break even on its purchase by June 30, 2015.

Sceenshot du serveur minecraft d'Harrylafranc

Sunrise in a modded version of Minecraft

$25 million in one year is certainly quite a bit less than $2.5 billion, but compared to the $85 billion Microsoft has in cash, $2.5 billion is a relatively small number. Ultimately, Minecraft can pull in more money on that $2.5 billion than Microsoft could if it was just sitting in the bank. And here’s how.

MORE THAN JUST GAMES

Mojang makes a few other games (Scrolls, for instance), but nothing anywhere near as significant (financially or otherwise) as Minecraft. That’s okay: Mojang’s gotten very good at expanding Minecraft into a franchise and property. The game itself is available virtually everywhere. Both Microsoft and Sony dedicated precious press conference time to say the game would arrive on their current game consoles. For a game that originally “launched” in 2011, that’s unheard of. It’s outright something that doesn’t happen.

In the last 24 hours, roughly 7,500 copies sold on PC/Mac: worth around $200,000.

There’s a mobile version on both iOS and Android. You can play it on Fire TV! Sure, why not. It is quite literally available on every major game platform, with the exception of Nintendo’s consoles and the PlayStation Vita (it’s in development). And yes, it is super, super weird that Microsoft will now be the publisher of a game on competing platforms. Head of Xbox Phil Spencer explicitly says in the acquisition announcement that, “We plan to continue to make Minecraft available across platforms — including iOS, Android and PlayStation, in addition to Xbox and PC.”

There aren’t accurate measurements for the game’s sales across all those platforms on an ongoing basis, but the official Minecraft site keeps a statistic of the game’s PC/Mac sales across the past 24 hours (in perpetuity). In the last 24 hours, roughly 7,500 copies sold on PC/Mac: worth around $200,000. That’s approximately $73 million across one year, on just PC/Mac. When I checked last Saturday, it had sold just shy of 15,000 copies in the previous 24 hours.

And that’s to say nothing of merchandising (which there is a considerable amount of), or licensing (also considerable), or the annual convention (appropriately titled MineCon). Also, Microsoft acquires all the financial assets of Mojang in the process. Whatever money Mojang had on-hand goes to Microsoft, and that could be considerable.

Games E3

A fan wearing the head of Minecraft‘s protagonist, Steve

MINECRAFT’S CULTURAL IMPACT

Anyone who’s been to a mall or walked down a touristy block in Manhattan lately knows the cultural impact of Minecraft: T-shirts and Creeper heads are commonplace at tchotchke stands the world over. More importantly, however, is that millions of children grew up with (and are still growing up with) Minecraft. Its iconic characters (main character/silent protagonist Steve and the hilariously explosive Creeper enemy), distinct visual style and — most of all — unlimited potential for creativity left a lasting impact on both the game industry and a generation of kids.

The next time you attend a Minecraft-themed kids birthday party, think about this acquisition. Minecraft is Mario for millions of kids, and that’s a very big deal. Microsoft stands to make a lot of money as the arbiter of a beloved franchise.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Microsoft expects to earn back the full $2.5 billion it spent in acquiring Minecraft and its maker, Majong. In fact, it only has to break even on the interest that would have been generated by those assets.

[Image credit: Getty Images, Alan736/Flickr, Associated Press]

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20
Sep

Sony brings PlayStation Now game streaming to the PS3


You don’t need a fancy current-gen console to stream all those Sony classics — the company announced last night that its Netflix-esque PlayStation Now open beta is finally, well, open to PlayStation 3 owners in the United States and Canada. It’s about time, really: PS3 owners have been part of the more selective closed beta program since January, but Sony opened the early access gates to folks with PlayStation 4s first. As always, though, be sure to keep a few things in mind before you take the plunge. You’ll get access to some 150 PS3 titles as part of the deal (including forthcoming hits like inFAMOUS and Ultra Street Fighter IV) but rental prices for these games tend to range between $3 and $20. That span isn’t awful, but considering you’d be able to pick up physical copies of some of those games for about the same price, you’ll have to think about just how valuable picking up new games while immobile on the couch really is.

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Via: VentureBeat

Source: Sony

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20
Sep

I’m a neurotic. IBM told me so.


I’m a late Wednesday afternoon tweeter. It’s not a characteristic I’d necessarily include on any of my dating app profiles, but it accurately sums up my online behavior nonetheless. I’m also a tremendous neurotic (which should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me well) who embraces self-expression, challenges and change. I’m that personality pie chart you see up above. I’m an open book, or at least my Twitter profile is to IBM.

http://www.engadget.com/embed-5min/?sid=577&playList=518420862

Michelle Zhou greeted me with that handy personality breakdown when we met at IBM Research’s Almaden lab in San Jose, California; she’d taken the liberty of finding out my Twitter handle beforehand and compiling the results. Zhou’s the lead researcher for a platform called System U that analyzes the big data generated from an individual’s socially networked life — be that Facebook, Twitter, emails or even chats — to determine their values, beliefs and personality traits. If you’re not a fan of labels, then you won’t like Zhou’s work; after all, it did expose me for the impulsive, OCD ice queen that I am. But then again, it’s not Zhou that’s placing you into neatly labeled boxes; it’s your own words that are responsible.

If you’re not a fan of labels, then you won’t like Zhou’s work; after all, it did expose me for the impulsive, OCD ice queen that I am.

System U is based off of the study of psycholinguistics, a branch of cognitive science that examines how we acquire, use and effectively interpret language. With this as a foundation, Zhou’s platform focuses on defining individuals according to three main areas of psychological profiling: the Big Five personality traits (i.e., openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism); basic human needs; and values. It even deconstructs our online social habits, hence the revelation that I tweet heavily during lunch on hump day. It’s not unlike the internal testing major social networks do with their own masses of user data, except IBM’s platform aims to mine all of that data to build a cohesive psychological profile.

Zhou’s big data cruncher isn’t infallible — I certainly take umbrage with the notion that I’m an angry fellow — but it is statistically significant. In fact, Zhou’s team conducted studies to prove the efficacy of System U and found that its results are over 80 percent accurate. That mark of scientific worthiness means the platform’s also good enough for IBM to license it as a business tool. Zhou said IBM’s already been working with several unnamed enterprise clients to apply System U and derive insights into those companies’ respective customer bases. Participation, Zhou stressed is, of course, opt-in, so individuals won’t have to worry about being unwitting pawns in a big business/big data profiling scheme.

As Zhou explained, “This is a very new technology.” And it’s one we better get used to.

Watch as Zhou details how the words we use online can be used to paint an accurate portrait of who we really are on the inside.

[Image credit: IBM Research]

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20
Sep

Belkin Crock-Pot Smart Slow Cooker review: Can WiFi make cooking easier?


Belkin Crock-Pot Smart Slow Cooker review: Can WiFi make cooking easier?Frying, baking, grilling, searing, boiling, roasting — whatever the method, I love to cook. It’s not always easy, and sometimes it’s just plain hard work, but at least it’s the kind of work I enjoy. Even so, I’ve never used a slow cooker, and have always been a little jealous of my friends who have one. Put ingredients in and deliciousness comes out. It seems so easy!

Since I hadn’t yet run out to my nearest Target to add a slow cooker to my kitchen collection, I jumped at the chance to try the Belkin Crock-Pot Smart Slow Cooker with WeMo. The name is a bit of a mouthful, but the idea of a slow cooker I could monitor remotely seemed like a definite plus — using it to check on the things I cook and making adjustments as needed. And in this case, I could do it from my phone, even while riding on the train or walking to my apartment. Convenient!

Hardware

At first glance, the Belkin Crock-Pot isn’t all that different from the non-smart slow cookers made by Crock-Pot. It’s an oval-shaped container with a silver metal exterior, black handles on each side, a glass lid and controls on the front panel underneath the familiar Crock-Pot logo. But instead of a dial, or the soft-touch buttons of newer digital models, the Smart Slow Cooker has pared the controls down to one clicky button. That button lets you toggle among high, low and warm cooking settings, while everything else on the panel is just an indicator. Any control more advanced than that has been moved to the app. Inside, the cooker has a removable, black ceramic serving dish that accommodates up to six quarts.

Software

Connecting the slow cooker is a relatively painless process. You’ll need to download the free WeMo app for Android, iOS or Kindle first. Once the Smart Slow Cooker is plugged in, it’ll create a WiFi network that you connect to. Then, when you open the WeMo app, it’ll prompt you to connect to your home network. I had to restart the app to get the connection to finish the setup process, but only the one time. I feel like a lot of smart devices often require frequent restarting and button pushing to get them connected, but this went fairly smoothly. The best part is that you only have to set it up once — even if the slow cooker is unplugged (which happens a lot given that outlets and counter space are at a premium in my kitchen), it will remember its settings and reconnect automatically when you plug it back in.

The WeMo app itself is pretty straightforward, and anyone who’s already invested in Belkin’s smart light switches or outlets should be familiar with what it has to offer. All connected devices are listed with their connection status displayed; just click on the one you wish to control at that moment. Overall settings for the app are available via the icon in the upper-right corner of the screen; selecting this icon while a device is selected will yield additional options to edit settings for the device or even update its firmware. Once set up, the slow cooker should appear in the list of devices and you just need to tap on the circle in its row to turn it on. Each tap cycles through the various heating options, from low to high to warm, before cycling back to off. Selecting the row itself allows you to set a timer, flipping up and down between numbers.

In use

With the slow cooker set up, it was time to give this thing a try. I settled on a barbecue-style chicken stew, with celery, onions, bell peppers, tomato and all the spices that would identify it as “barbecue flavor.” Unfortunately, I quickly realized that though a slow cooker means I no longer have to stand over a hot stove monitoring the stew as it bubbles away, it doesn’t make the preparation process any easier or faster. I still had to cut up all the vegetables and the chicken and that still takes time, dashing any thoughts of a “quick and easy” meal.

Once everything was chopped and squared away in the pot, with the appropriate spices stirred in and the lid popped on top, I was faced with a bit of a conundrum: Should I use my phone to turn it on or press the button on the front? I opted to use the phone to set the cooker to “low,” but felt mighty silly doing so since I was standing right in front of it. Experimenting with both the phone and manual controls, I noticed the phone exhibits a slight delay between temperature settings, so you might as well press the physical button when possible. There’s a risk of holding the button too long in the app, accidentally setting it on the wrong temperature and forcing you to cycle through all the settings to get it back where you want it.

With the slow cooker slowly heating up, beginning the process of turning my raw ingredients into a delicious, delicious stew, I left for work. It was satisfying to know that after a long day at the office, I wouldn’t have to worry about what I was going to eat when I got home. It would be there, waiting for me.

I managed to get all the way to work without looking at my phone, but the first chance I got, I checked the WeMo app. It was still cooking. And that’s… all I knew. The app only tells you the current cooking temperature setting and how long it’s been cooking. It doesn’t tell you what the exact temperature of the food is, how much it’s bubbling or whether the tomatoes in the pot have boiled down completely. The cooking time isn’t even that reliable — it merely measures how long the slow cooker has been on, not how long the food has been sitting in it. If you decide to raise the heat, you need to cycle from low to warm to off, and then back to high, resetting the cooking time. You can still set the timer remotely, but it’ll only tell you how long you’re setting it to cook, not how long it’ll take the food to finish cooking.

I checked back periodically throughout the day, with the same distinct lack of discernible progress. “Yep, still cooking,” I’d say every time I opened up the app. However, while a watched pot never boils, it was good that I was watching this pot — one time when I checked the app, the slow cooker was off! Not sure if the problem was on my end or the pot just turned itself off, but it ended up being a good thing that I was metaphorically hovering over this stew. It didn’t do it again, though, and remained on for the rest of the day.

My obsessive checking got shut down cold turkey as I rode the subway home; there’s no cell service underground, after all. But when I got a signal, I managed to restrain myself. As I walked to my apartment, I opened the app on my phone once more to set the pot to “warm,” since dinner was now imminent.

Upon arriving home, I walked straight into my kitchen to take my first look at the completed stew. The tomatoes had completely boiled down and the vegetables were tender; the disparate ingredients were simmering into a reddish concoction that smelled delicious. I grabbed my large spoon and ladled out heaping portions into bowls for myself and my boyfriend, sprinkling a little cheddar cheese on top. How was it? Delicious. It didn’t have quite the tartness I was hoping for, but it still was very savory with the right amount of sweetness. My only complaint — and this does, in fact, involve the cooker to some extent — is that the meat wasn’t completely tender to the touch. However, it easily pulled and shredded apart when prodded with a spoon.

Once we had finished eating it was time for the worst part of the evening: cleanup. But it wasn’t bad at all. The Smart Slow Cooker itself actually consists of two pieces, the metal exterior with the heating element, and an interior ceramic bowl that can be removed for serving or cleaning purposes. We just took it out and washed it like any other bowl, wiping it down with a sponge and some dishwashing liquid, and putting it back in the cooker once it had dried. The exterior portion can be easily wiped down as well; the lack of buttons is actually useful here as there are fewer places for escaped food particles to accumulate.

Wrap-up

While I enjoyed my stew, and using the Belkin Crock-Pot Smart Slow Cooker with WeMo was an overall pleasant experience, I can’t say that WiFi connectivity added anything particularly useful to the device. Slow cookers usually have timers so you can have it cook for just the right amount of time and have it shut off before the food gets ruined. The one advantage of the WiFi connection is that you can turn it back on after it shuts itself off — so if you end up working later than expected, before leaving the office you can set the cooker to “warm” to have your food ready to go again the minute you walk in the door. But like many other slow cookers, the Belkin Crock-Pot is well-insulated, making it unlikely that your food will get cold (or even lukewarm) before you get home, even when you stay out late.

A little extra information in the app would have made the Smart Slow Cooker more useful, like the current temperature of the food and how long it’s been in the pot. The app could use some improvements in general — while WeMo is compatible with If This Then That (IFTTT), there’s no specific compatibility with the slow cooker. I couldn’t, for example, set up the Smart Slow Cooker so that it would occasionally brag on Twitter about the awesome stew I was making. In its current state, all the app does is move the controls from the front of the cooker into your phone. Instead of being something you “set and forget,” the connectivity makes it possible to obsess over your food all day. Maybe some people like that degree of control, but for most, it’s not worth spending $130 when a regular slow cooker can be had for as little as $30.

https://vine.co/v/M39IzttOhpM/embed/simple

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20
Sep

Apple gives PCs access to iCloud Drive before Macs


iCloud Drive

iOS 8 might working its way to iPhones and iPads, but Apple’s long-awaited desktop refresh, Yosemite, is still receiving the final tweaks before it launches to the public. One element that features prominently between both platforms is iCloud Drive, Apple’s own version of Dropbox. It’s now available to mobile users, but Mac users can’t enjoy its file-syncing features if they’re using older versions of OS X. However, and this doesn’t happen often, Windows users can get in on the action before their Mac-toting counterparts. In an updated version of the iCloud for Windows, Apple has added full support for iCloud Drive, letting PC owners interact with their files and documents from the comfort of their desktop. Mac users, of course, will enjoy additional iCloud features when Yosemite launches in the coming weeks, but for now, Windows users with iPhones and iPads can enjoy a very rare period of privileged access.

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Via: Ars Technica

Source: Apple

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20
Sep

Netflix support is officially making its way to Linux, finally


Linux users, you’ve been very, very, very, very, very, very patient. And now, your patience is being rewarded with Netflix support on your OS of choice. For the longest time Netflix relied on Microsoft’s would-be Flash competitor Silverlight. But, of course, support for the plug in was practically non-existent on the open-source OS. Now, with Silverlight fading, and Netflix embracing the power of HTML5, your wish of watching flicks in your favorite distro (be it Ubuntu, Mint or Arch) may finally come true. Paul Adolf from Netflix posted a message to Ubuntu developers, telling them that, “Netflix will play with Chrome stable in 14.02 if NSS version 3.16.2 or greater is installed.”

So what is NSS? It stands for Network Security Services which is a joint effort of Mozilla, Google and RedHat. They’re nothing you’d normally interact with as a typical end user, but they’re helpful for developers building applications where security is paramount. (And protecting the streams of intellectual property provided by movie studios and television networks is a pretty high priority for the folks at Netflix.) The current stable version of Ubuntu (14.04) is running a slightly older version of the plug in, but it should make its way to the OS soon via a security update. And the next version, due in October, should carry the newer NSS when it ships.

Crafty Linux users have been able to work around Netflix’s restrictions with hacks, but no average person wants to tinker with their browser’s user-agent. With the shift to the new HTML5 player, the world’s most popular streaming movie service will officially supported on desktop versions of Linux. Of course, Netflix already works with plenty of Linux-based devices (see Android, Roku, Chrome OS, etc…), so this really shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.

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Via: Slashdot, The Mukt, OMG! Ubuntu!

Source: Ubuntu Developers

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20
Sep

Vodafone buys 140 Phones4u stores, saving 900 jobs in the process


Phones4U Stores

A lot can happen in a week: just five days after Phones4u announced it was entering administration, leaving 5,596 employees facing a very uncertain future, retailers and carriers alike have stepped in to strip the company of its most important parts. Dixons Carphone has already picked up 800 employees from its rival, and now Vodafone, one of the two operators that unceremoniously ended their relationship with Phones4u in recent weeks, has announced a deal to buy 140 former stores, saving a potential 900 jobs as a result. Vodafone says it was approached by the company’s administrator and “decided to make an offer to buy 140 of its stores as a way to accelerate our retail expansion programme and save hundreds of jobs.” While some people will swap their Phones4u role for a Vodafone position, today’s restructuring efforts also came at cost. The administrator announced 628 employees at Phones4u’s head office in Newcastle-under-Lyme and telesales staff in Staffordshire were today made redundant in an attempt to reduce expenses. There’s currently no word on which stores the Vodafone intends to rebrand, but we’ve asked the company for more details.

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Source: PwC

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20
Sep

Wolfram Alpha will answer your important questions on Twitter


Wouldn’t it be great if you could just call up a supercomputer and ask it to do your data-wrangling for you? Actually, scratch that, no-one uses the phone anymore. What’d be really cool is if machines could respond to your queries straight from Twitter. It’s a belief that’s shared by Wolfram Research, which has just launched the Tweet a Program system to its computational knowledge engine, Wolfram Alpha. In a blog post, founder Stephen Wolfram explains that even complex queries can be executed within the space of 140 characters, including data visualizations. If you fancy giving it a go yourself, you can tweet queries to @wolframtap, but be advised that you’ll have to learn the basics of the Wolfram Language Code before it’ll give you anything in return.

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Source: Stephen Wolfram blog, Tweet-A-Program

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