There are lots of initiatives to teach kids how to code, including ventures from Google, Minecraft and even the Star Wars franchise. However, with Swift Playground, Apple is actually prepping kids for a potential career at, well, Apple. The company has announced that the app, based on the Swift language used for iOS, OS X, WatchOS, tvOS and Linux, will arrive alongside iOS 10 tomorrow (September 13th).
As Engadget’s Nicole Lee discovered during a hands-on, it’s actually a nice way way to learn programming. It assumes that kids have zero knowledge, but produces actual Swift code that can be used to develop real apps. At the same time, it’s open-ended — young coders learn in a non-linear way, so enthusiastic kids can skip ahead if they want. It rewards students regardless of the quality of code, but gives extra kudos for well-optimized solutions.
Apple says there are over 100 schools and districts teaching the app this fall in the US, Europe and Africa. Apple will also offer its own “Get Started with Coding” workshops that will show the basics of Swift Playgrounds. It’ll also offer a drop-in hour for folks who want extra help with “challenging puzzles” in the app. If you want to get a head start on your kids (you’re gonna need it), the workshops and drop-in sessions will be available at select stores in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, UAE, Netherlands and Hong Kong.
If I told you Titanfall was coming to smartphones, what kind of game would you envision? A side-scrolling shoot-em-up similar to Metal Slug? A Titan customization tool? Or a portable-friendly strategy game like Advance Wars? Well, I’ve got bad news. Titanfall: Frontline is none of those. It’s a digital card game similar to Hearthstone. But wait! Before you dive back into Blizzard’s tavern, hear Respawn out. The company has teamed up with Nexon, best known for the MMO Maplestory, to build out new cards and mechanics that could feel authentic to the Titanfall universe.
So maybe, just maybe, it’ll be more than an uninspired reskin? Titanfall: Frontline has “hundreds” of pilots, robots and special ability burn cards, which players can accrue and incorporate into their own decks. The game will accommodate different play styles too, so you can choose to rush your opponents with a group of light, nimble pilots, or wear them down with slower, defense-oriented troops. Oh, and of course, you’ll be able to drop a titan onto the field, turning the tide of battle in decisive moments.
Titanfall: Frontline is coming to iOS and Android this fall, no doubt to coincide with the release of Titanfall 2. It’s a common tactic employed by the video game industry — with so many players on mobile, it makes sense to target them first, or simultaneously with a free-to-play title. With their interest piqued, the hope is that they’ll then drop the cash on the premium console experience. Square Enix is making a similar play with Justice Monsters Five, ahead of the release of Final Fantasy XV this November. Titanfall: Frontline is a trickier proposition, however, as the card-dueling genre is so far removed from its adrenaline-fuelled mech shooter origins.
Source: Titanfall Frontline
Instagram is making good on its promise to bring word filters to everyone. The photo-centric service has announced that anyone can now filter their comments to keep out abusive (or just plain annoying) feedback. If you’re tired of dealing with harassment or “get more followers” spam, you won’t have to spend ages blocking users or reporting individual comments. It’s just a matter of choosing the right keywords to keep discussions civil.
Co-founder Kevin Systrom is quick to admit that filters and similar user tools “aren’t the only solution.” Ultimately, Instagram itself has to be smarter about banning users and preventing hurtful comments from showing up in the first place. However, this latest move puts a lot of power in your hands — you can set a baseline level of quality that keeps out some offenders without silencing comments altogether.
When I was a child, I fought with my brothers. A lot. It was part of being the youngest, and part of being a family. Most of our sibling rivalry died with our youth, but one single, never-ending quarrel outlived our childhood: the Nintendo Entertainment System. My oldest brother and I have been bickering over our original NES for decades. Who really owns it? Me, the guy who scoured garage sales to build our collection of classic games, or him, the firstborn who — by sibling law — is right by default? To this day, we still argue about whose house our childhood console should live in. Today, that war finally ends. I don’t need our old Nintendo anymore. I have the RetroUSB AVS.
Think of the AVS as an unofficial hardware refresh for the original Nintendo Entertainment System. It plays the same games and even uses the original controllers, but everything else is brand-new. Instead of pushing a fuzzy, ugly picture through ancient composite cables, it pipes a crisp, high-definition signal over HDMI. In lieu of a cumbersome AC adapter, the AVS uses a humble USB cable — and can be powered solely by the media port on your HDTV. And, unlike the RetroN 5 or Analogue NT, the AVS is all new hardware: a custom FPGA board programmed to replicate the NES’ original processor. No emulators. No repurposed hardware.
OK, that might sound like splitting hairs. After all, don’t all three of these consoles pipe HD NES games to modern televisions via HDMI? Well, yes — but how they do it varies wildly. The RetroN 5, for instance, is actually a $160 Android device that runs cartridges through an emulator. It’s also widely derided in the gaming community for allegedly stealing code. The Analogue NT is completely legit, and actually uses repurposed Famicom chips to run the games on a mix of old and new hardware — but it’s also a premium device, costing a steep $500. The AVS is something of a happy medium: It’s not made from original parts, but it authentically replicates their functionality without legal ambiguity. At $185, the RetroUSB AVS is comparatively affordable too.
Nostalgia by design
The RetroUSB AVS’ trapezoidal chassis is nothing short of a love letter to the NES’ iconic design. Obviously, the monochromatic color scheme is a nod to the black and gray tones of the original’s case, but it’s the little things that make this homage truly delightful. This includes the shape of the lid that covers the console’s cartridge slot, and “power” and “reset” buttons that look and feel identical to their 1980s inspiration — but the most wonderful (and pointless) details can be seen only when you turn the console over.
Here you can see three trenches leading up to an empty recessed square that represents the original NES’ unused expansion slot, vent placement that mirrors the layout of the original console, and foot pads that look identical to the rubber nubs on my childhood console. All of these design nods are completely unnecessary, and on a part of the device most users will never even bother to look at. Clearly, the designers love the original Nintendo. It shows.
As much as I love how weirdly accurate the AVS’ retro design is, it might be nostalgic to a fault. That cover over the console’s cartridge slot does look exactly like the old NES chamber lid, but it’s a lot longer too. It feels like a compromise, designed to ensure that users can more easily insert and remove games — but opening and closing it feels awkward. I’m constantly worried it’ll bend too far and snap off. With front-loading US region games, it at least feels secure when the lid is closed, but Japanese region Famicom titles use a separate top-loading cartridge slot that forces the door to stay open. It looks weird, and it makes me nervous.
Speaking of games, loading them can be a bit tricky. US titles slide in horizontally, just like on the original, but I never managed to seat a cartridge into the connector on the first try. Wiggling them back and forth a little usually did the job. The connector also holds on to games tightly — removing them was just as much an exercise in wiggling as putting them in. It’s not a deal-breaker, but I do wish changing games were a little easier.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the AVS features four controller ports and a Famicom expansion slot — which enables compatibility for the rare four-player NES game (they do exist!) and for extra controllers compatible with the original Japanese Famicom.
Practically pixel perfect
Playing NES games on the RetroUSB’s console is like putting on prescription glasses for the first time: It brings a blurry, indistinguishable mess of light and color into focus. OK, the original NES isn’t that bad, but the difference between composite cables and 720p over HDMI is startling. Did you know that Mega Man’s sprite actually has white behind its eyes? I didn’t. It always blended in with the character’s pale skin tone. Backgrounds that were once a blurry haze of color now appear as distinct patterns; characters and stages are flush with “new” details and brighter colors. It’s a surreal experience: I’ve been playing these games for 30 years, but now it seems like I’ve never really “seen” them before.
I know what you’re thinking: Can’t I already play NES games in HD through the Nintendo Wii U’s Virtual Console? You can, but they’ll look worse. For some reason, the Wii U’s VC implementation presents classic games in dull, muted colors with a side of blur. I tested Punch-Out!!!, Dr. Mario and a couple of Mega Man games side by side, and the Wii U versions looked worse by every measure. The games are no less fun on the official hardware, but they lack pop and polish compared with how my old cartridges look on the RetroUSB AVS. Here, the AVS does better than even Hyperkin’s RetroN 5 — which looks much sharper than the Virtual Console but tends to have overblown, inaccurate colors.
Best of all, every classic game I own ran perfectly on the AVS — and that’s not something I can say about every NES clone console I’ve come across. Most of these products use NES-on-a-chip solutions that either gets audio wrong or simply won’t play certain games. Paperboy, for instance, isn’t playable on either the Retro Duo or the FC Twin, and both consoles play off-key audio in specific games. Not so with the RetroUSB AVS: Everything I played looked and sounded exactly as it was supposed to. It even got the glitches right, faithfully reproducing minor visual hiccups in Mega Man 3 and Super Mario Bros. 3 that were present on the original hardware.
Of all the devices that play NES games in my house, the RetroUSB AVS is the most accurate, hands down — but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. When compared directly with my childhood NES, it’s clear that the AVS color palette is just a bit brighter. It’s not overblown or washed out like the colors on the RetroN 5, but it does come across as a bit richer than the original hardware. I noticed it most in Castlevania and Mega Man 3. On the AVS, the bricks of Dracula’s castle have more red in them, and Mega Man’s helmet appears to be a darker shade of blue.
When I asked RetroUSB’s Brian Parker about the difference, he chalked it up to differences in televisions. “NTSC,” he joked. “Never The Same Color.” I’m probably just seeing the difference between a clear digital signal and the fuzzy output of the old console’s composite cables. Even if the colors are wrong, Parker says it’s just part of the console’s NES/RGB lookup table. “Easily changed with a firmware update,” he says. The AVS also outputs only in 720p, but considering it still looks better than the RetroN 5 and Wii U at 1080p, it’s a flaw I’m happy to overlook.
If you’re looking for a console to imbue your classic games with fancy graphics filters, instant-save-state features and other bells and whistles, look elsewhere: The AVS keeps things pretty simple. Beyond simply playing classic games in crisp, high definition, this console doesn’t do much. In terms of visual options, the AVS allows users to switch between NTSC and PAL modes, adjust the screen margins (to hide overscan garbage in specific games) and adjust scanline darkness. The console’s controller menu allows you to turn on some basic turbo features and see how many gamepads are connected, but that’s about it.
At the end of the day, there are only two special features that the AVS adds to the vanilla NES experience: built-in cheat codes and an integrated scoreboard. The first is self-explanatory: The AVS automatically recognizes the game in its slot and offers players a short list of the most popular Game Genie codes. The second takes a little more legwork; if the AVS is being powered by a PC or Mac’s USB port, users can download companion software that will keep track of their in-game score while they play and allow them to upload it to an online leaderboard.
Unfortunately, the AVS itself doesn’t make this process clear, presenting users with only a menu that fails to connect to an amorphous server. There are no setup instructions for the scoreboard in the console’s menu or the manuals that came in the box, or even on the product’s website — I had to ask Parker via email. Still, it’s a neat feature if you can get it up and running.
Finally, RetroUSB offers one special feature that no competitor can boast: new NES games. The company has kind of made a name for itself in manufacturing new cartridges for homebrew developers, and it’s neat to see that business cross over here to create a series of “launch titles” that work on both the AVS and the Nintendo’s original hardware. I tried Twelve Seconds, a simple jumping game that challenges you to race to the top of the screen as fast as possible. None of the $45 launch titles seem particularly complex, but there’s definitely a thrill to playing a new NES game after all these years.
For me, the AVS is the ideal replacement for my original hardware — it plays my cartridge collection perfectly, with better visuals than the original — but it’s not for everybody. Gamers who need modern conveniences like save states and graphic filters will probably rather have a RetroN 5. Folks seeking a nostalgic experience, but who don’t already own a library of classic games will probably be happier with the 30 built-in games that come with Nintendo’s NES Classic. Even hardcore collectors who demand that their games run on original hardware have other options in the expensive Analogue NT Mini or a Hi-Def-NES mod.
If you have a classic game collection, however, and you don’t care for the prestige of original hardware or the allure of added bells and whistles, check out the RetroUSB AVS. It’s probably the best modernized NES experience you can get for under $200.
NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover may have taken a little break earlier this summer, but the craft has been back at work and beamed some excellent images back to Earth late last week. Curiosity has been exploring the “Murray Buttes” region of Mount Sharp and send back color photos of what NASA Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada called “[a] road trip through a bit of the American desert Southwest on Mars.” Indeed, these large color photos are evocative of what you might see down in Arizona or New Mexico.
The rover isn’t just trying to collect postcard-worthy images, though. Vasavada said that “studying these buttes up close has given us a better understanding of ancient sand dunes that formed and were buried, chemically changed by groundwater, exhumed and eroded to form the landscape that we see today.” Basically, this up-close view of the buttes is helping NASA understand the history of Mars and how its landscape has changed over time.
While the Curiosity team has only released a handful of images thus far, there are plans to take the photos from the rover’s Mast Camera and build some large mosaics from stitching multiple images together. But even the individual images are worth viewing (you can see them all here). The next move in Curiosity’s journey is to continue going south and higher up Mount Sharp — chances are good we’ll get some spectacular shots from that part of its trip before too long.
Time Inc. has announced that it’s launching PEN, an online video network serving clips and shows from People and Entertainment Weekly. The service is free, supported by advertising and will broadcast more than 300 hours of original programming in the first 12 months of operation. The rest of the on-demand schedule will be filled by an “extensive library” of on-demand clips from Time Inc’s library of shows. PEN arrives tomorrow, September 13th, and will also syndicate shows from other Time Inc. properties, including Time and Sports Illustrated.
PEN is an abbreviation of the People / Entertainment Weekly Network and will basically translate the two’s current video properties to this new network. Variety describes the business as an online-only equivalent to E!, where Time has cut out the cable middleman in favor of pushing its stuff straight to the consumer. As such, the platform will be available in browsers as well as on Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku and Xfinity.
PEN isn’t striving to knock HBO and its kin off its perch, however, and will stick to low-budget reality-style programming. That includes talk shows, red carpet broadcasts and interview shows with actors and TV presenters. In the first week, viewers will be treated to shows such as an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, a documentary about Patrick Dempsey and EW Reunites the Cast of Friday Night Lights.
Variety’s report about PEN breaks out the most interesting nugget about PEN’s birth, which is that the service has around 12 employees. That’s because most of the video shows are actually being created by the staffers at People Magazine and Entertainment Weekly. That way, there’s little-to-no cost actually involved in starting the network because almost all of the assets are already created in house. Which reminds us a little bit of this:
Source: People EW Network (PEN)
By Mark Smirniotis
This post was done in partnership with The Sweethome, a buyer’s guide to the best things for your home. Read the full article here.
With solar power, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. If buying a home is the largest financial investment most people will make, installing solar could very well be the second. Every installation needs to take into account electricity consumption, geographic location, roof orientation, local permits, and a host of other considerations. Once you have a rough idea of how much power you’ll need, in most cases the first option you should consider is a grid-tied system made up of Suniva Optimus 335W monocrystalline solar panels paired with SolarEdge P400 power optimizers, plus a SolarEdge inverter at the heart of it all.
Who this is for
Scene from The Last Man on Earth.
Not everyone who goes solar will need to shop for their own equipment. Our picks are intended for people who will buy and install their systems alone, or with their own electrician or contractor. If you buy or lease your equipment from an installer, you may not have much choice in which equipment you get, but understanding our picks can help you evaluate quotes and proposals.
In the future we may consider looking at off-grid components such as purpose-made inverters, charge controllers, and batteries, but for now we’ve focused on the grid-tied equipment that’s most common.
Regardless, everyone who is thinking about solar needs to start with the basics of system sizing and purchase options, as well as answer some fundamental questions about financing and installation. We go into the details of how to shop for solar power in our full guide, but to get you started we’ve gathered the basics into this flowchart that will help you figure out where you need to focus.
How we picked
How power flows through a grid-tied system when the sun comes out.
Before deciding whether we could recommend any components for solar power, we spent weeks compiling statistics, reaching out to solar-industry representatives, wading through specifications, and getting expert input—and even so, the picks we make here represent only a starting point on the road to solar for most people. With that in mind, we didn’t just pick equipment for people already interested in self-installation; we also looked at the best ways to learn about and shop for solar.
If you’re comparing solar panels, your first consideration should be reputation and warranty, followed by price and, to a lesser extent, efficiency. In the past five years, solar panels have started to become a commodity item, with small technical differences that are immaterial to most homeowners.
Every solar-power system requires a second component, called an inverter. These devices turn the direct current (DC) that the solar panels produce into alternating current (AC), which is what your home operates on. You can determine a good inverter going by some of the same qualities you’ll find in a good solar panel, namely reliability, warranty coverage, and cost.
Our pick for solar panels
Made by a reputable firm with a strong warranty, this module provides good output without a premium cost.
Suniva panels are efficient, affordable, and backed by a reputable warranty from a company with manufacturing in Georgia and Michigan. These panels come with a 10-year warranty and a 25-year power guarantee, matching the coverage of most other top-tier manufacturers. Currently around $1 per watt, the price is competitive, too, but prices fluctuate, and a local installer may have competitive costs on a similar panel. The Suniva panels are right in the middle of the pack for efficiency, not so low as to require the extra space that cut-rate panels may need, but not so high that you’re paying 50 percent more for engineering prestige you’ll never notice. If you can find panels from a similarly reputable company with the same warranty and similar efficiency but a lower price tag, you’ll probably be just as happy with them. But the Suniva panels should be the bar that you try to clear as you shop.
Our pick for an inverter
Left: SolarEdge power optimizers installed on the racking, each waiting to be paired with a solar panel. Right: Two SolarEdge inverters at the heart of a large system turn DC power into AC power. Photo: SolarEdge
Even the best panels are only as good as the inverter you pair them with, so for most grid-tied systems we recommend looking at SolarEdge single-phase inverters and the company’s line of independent power optimizers before looking anywhere else. SolarEdge’s hybrid platform borrows the efficiency gains and individual panel management of microinverter systems yet avoids the extra costs and reliability issues that have kept microsystems from becoming mainstream. Think of the SolarEdge platform as being like a plug-in hybrid car, which has the low driving cost and emissions of an electric vehicle but the range and convenience of a combustion engine. Although the SolarEdge platform costs about the same as a traditional, top-of-the-line string-inverter system, it allows for more flexibility in roof planning, gains in power production, and reliable service with panel-level monitoring.
If you have no idea what we’re talking about
Solar power is full of brilliant engineering, and you really don’t need to understand most of it to make the switch from utility-based power. When the sun is out, you get free electricity; when it’s not, your power comes from the utility company just like always. If you produce more power than you need during the day, you may be able to sell it to the utility company for service credits or cash. In fact, with equipment costs as low as they are now, a properly sized solar installation will result in your net utility bill at the end of the year being zero. We go into more detail about how solar works in our full guide, but the benefits we’ve just described are what make solar such a great investment for so many people: Done right, solar will let you avoid a utility bill indefinitely.
This guide may have been updated by The Sweethome. To see the current recommendation, please go here.
One of the biggest challenges facing virtual reality is a matter of creation. If you have lots of cash, you can make things happen, but it’s been a bit more challenging for people whose best camera is their smartphone. Google’s working on changing that — last December, it released the Cardboard Camera app for Android, and today it has arrived for iOS.
While it might not let you shoot highly involved VR video, Cardboard Camera still manages to make some pretty excellent creations. Using it is similar to shooting a panorama photo, something most smartphone owners are used to at this point. In this case, you’ll shoot in full 360-degrees, turning consistently to your right until you’ve gone around a full circle. The app also gives you the option of recording audio to add the ambience of the scene to your finished creation.
Once done, you can view the photo in Google’s Cardboard VR viewer. Unfortunately, the app doesn’t have you capture what’s above or below you, so the “VR” aspect of this isn’t nearly as robust as it could be. But still, in a pinch, it’s a fun way to create and share more immersive photos. In fact, Google has added better sharing features so that you can send and receive VR photos created in the app. You can share individual photos or galleries through Google Drive, and the recipient will be prompted to download and install the Cardboard Camera app if they don’t already have it.
Last week, we reported that the iPhone Upgrade Program caused frustration for some customers attempting to pre-order an iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus.
Specifically, some customers enrolled in the program were unable to select the model, carrier, color, or storage capacity they desired, or any iPhone in some cases, due to limited stock seemingly as soon as pre-orders began.
The underlying reason appears to be that iPhone Upgrade Program members were placed into a separate stream than regular pre-order customers, and forced to reserve a new iPhone from a local Apple retail store — many of which were sold out. Some customers were not even able to access the reservation system at all.
Since then, it appears that Apple has acknowledged those concerns and is attempting to help make the situation right for those affected.
Over the weekend, Apple updated its upgrade reservation page with fine print that recommends customers call its support team at 1-800-MY-APPLE and mention the iPhone Upgrade Program. By doing so, the company said a Specialist will help customers find the iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus model they want.
Due to high demand, the model you’d like may not be available. Please call 1-800-MY-APPLE and mention the iPhone Upgrade Program. A Specialist will help you find the model you want.
A number of MacRumors readers that followed through with calls said Apple was very apologetic and is manually collecting information while it works on a solution. Each customer was told they would receive a phone call back within 24-48 hours, but it isn’t entirely clear what action Apple plans to take.
MacRumors reader Fikester shared his experience in our discussion forums:
The guy I talked to apologized profusely for Apple dropping the ball on this, took all my info regarding what model I wanted, and while he didn’t promise anything, said they are working on a solution for it. He said they will call me within two business days with more information and sent me his direct contact info should I have questions. The whole call took about 30 minutes.
Some customers were given the impression that Apple will be prioritizing orders for iPhone Upgrade Program customers, possibly with some in-store stock reserved specifically for upgraders on launch day and possibly afterwards.
MacRumors readers Modernboy and Aaroncbell:
They’ve said that they are looking to prioritize iPhone Upgrade Program upgrades over the next couple of weeks so that we can get our phones. I highly suggest anyone who had the same issues I had to call and ask to speak to someone in the iPhone Upgrade Program department.
They transfer you to a special group who will take down all your info and what iPhone you want. They say they will then be in touch in 48 hours letting you know when your iPhone can be picked up. They told me they were very sorry that iPhone Upgrade Program users had issues and that they weren’t prepared and are trying to make it right. They said their goal is to have iPhones ready for pickup on launch day for Upgrade Program users who call in.
Whether those enrolled in the iPhone Upgrade Program receive their new iPhones on launch day remains to be seen, but it is clear that Apple is doing what it can to improve the situation. In the meantime, customers can try their luck at Apple retail stores on September 16 on a first come, first served basis.
Tag: iPhone Upgrade Program
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Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom today announced that the company is “taking the next step” to protect its users from online abuse with the wide launch of a new comment moderation feature in the photography-focused social network app. Referred to as a “keyword moderation tool,” the feature will let each user type in words they find to be offensive, effectively hiding any mention of them in the comment section of their posts.
The comments containing the harsh language will still be available for other Instagram users, but the company believes that allowing each user to determine which words to hide from their personal collection of photos will cultivate a “positive and safe” environment. To deal with abusive accounts, Instagram already lets users swipe to delete comments, report inappropriate comments and block accounts.
Systrom refers to the keyword blocking update as the “first feature” for dealing with online abusers, suggesting Instagram is continuing to keep an eye on the issue and add more protective updates to its mobile app in the future. Once the app is updated, gain access to the comment moderation setting by following the steps below:
Go to your Profile tab.
Tap the Settings gear icon in the top right corner.
Find and tap “Comments.”
Toggle “Hide Inappropriate Comments” to automatically hide keywords that are “often reported as inappropriate.”
Or, add your own custom keywords in the text box, separating each with a comma.
Tap “Done” to save your changes.
After previously allowing high-profile users, like businesses and various brands, to have access to the new feature, Instagram said that today marks its wide rollout to every user. Those who have yet to download the app can find Instagram for free on the iOS App Store. [Direct Link]
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