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22
Feb

Stack: A very simple game done in a beautiful way (Review)


Sometimes you don’t need a 500 MB game with high-end graphics, 30-hour story and 500 collectible items. Sometimes you just need a game that you can fire up and play while waiting for the lecturer to arrive. Although I am not a fan of endless games that provide very little replay value, Stack, by Ketchapp, is so simple and such a joy to look at that I might have to make an exception.

Developer: Ketchapp
Price: Free

Setup

Stack uses Google Play Games for synchronization of high scores. You know the drill: choose an account and Google will do its magic. There is no tutorial in the game, so you will be thrown directly into the action.

Overview

It is totally understandable that the developer hasn’t bothered with giving the user a single line of information regarding how to play their game. This is because the concept is so amusingly simple that even Patrick Star would be able to figure it out in ten seconds.

You control a diagonal-moving block. Your mission is to stop it exactly on top of the previous block. This is done by tapping in absolutely any spot of the screen. There’s almost no delay between your tap and the block stopping, so you have to time it right.

The concept is very simple but it is executed superbly.

If you do it, then you’re awesome and will get another block exactly the same size. If you fail to do it, the part that is left outside of the underlying block will be chopped off and disappear, and the next block you get will be smaller.

If you keep failing to stop the block exactly on top of the previous one, your brick will get smaller and smaller, making the game progressively harder. Also, the movement of each piece will get faster with each block you land successfully, even if it wasn’t spot on.

Each time you lose a piece of your brick you start to feel more tense since you see the end of the game on the horizon. There’s always a way of salvaging your session though. If you chain a lot of perfect landings in a row (approximately seven), your block will get a bit bigger. This way you can rectify errors from the past.

Since the game is extremely responsive, you feel absolutely in charge of your victory or demise. Even though this is good, this also means that a small mistake can crush your hopes of surpassing your high score.

Talking about high score, you get one diamond-shaped thing every time you stack ten blocks successfully. This diamonds can be used to unlock new patterns for the blocks. Unfortunately, you can’t choose which ones to unlock.

Behold!

When you reach 200 diamonds, the game unlocks a pattern for you. There are 30 different patterns to choose from, so better start working on that if you want them all.

After some sessions, the game will offer you the chance of getting 20 diamonds for free by watching a video ad. After the 30-second commercial, you get your 20 diamonds and everyone walks away happily.

Graphics

There are 30 designs to unlock.

Stack incorporates very simplistic and clean graphics. Colors change slightly with each passing block. It is so subtle that you won’t notice you start with yellow and end up with black, or something like that. The background also changes accordingly, giving it consistency.

I found that the designs you have to unlock can be a detriment to your aspirations of getting a high score, though. Since you need to be precise in order to stack as many blocks as possible, having a pattern on the blocks you are trying to align can obstruct your intentions. Your mileage may vary, though.

Sound

There’s no music in the game, just sound effects. When you stack blocks correctly, you will hear a sharp noise that keeps getting more high-pitched as you stack more blocks. When you fail, you will hear a piece of wood being chopped off. They don’t change even if the pattern changes, so you better like them.

Conclusion

Stack focuses on relaxation rather than replay value or story and provides an endless game with very simple mechanics, but that can get quite addicting. To cater to the competitor in all of us, it records our high score and lets us compare it with people online, as well as providing diamonds to unlock new patterns.

However, there’s very little variation to the game from the first day you download it, so if you are looking for a game with progression elements, story, or replay value, you’re going to have to look elsewhere. If you want a lightweight game that you want to play in short bursts or while waiting in line, then Stack is a simple game with beautiful graphics that can get very addictive.

Download and install Stack from the Google Play Store.

22
Feb

Drones and blimps will soon be providing cellphone service in the U.K.


Why it matters to you

Drones aren’t just being used to deliver your Amazon packages — they’re also being used to deliver cell service in the U.K.

If spotty reception is cramping your style, you may want to look to the skies. That is, if you live in the United Kingdom. On Tuesday, British mobile carrier EE debuted a new plan to use its own patent-pending balloon- and drone-based mobile coverage solutions in order to provide service for its most rural customers.

EE, which already boasts the largest 4G coverage in the U.K., demonstrated how it would use “mini mobile sites attached to a helium balloon” in a setup it calls a Helikite to provide 4G mobile coverage to areas in need. Mini sites can also be attached to drones in order to offer more targeted coverage, which may prove useful in search and rescue operations.

“We are going to extraordinary lengths to connect communities across the U.K. Innovation is essential for us to go further than we’ve ever gone, and deliver a network that’s more reliable than ever before,” said EE CEO Marc Allera in a release.

“Rural parts of the U.K. provide more challenges to mobile coverage than anywhere else, so we have to work harder there — developing these technologies will ultimately help our customers, even in the most hard-to-reach areas.”

More: Watch this UPS truck launch a drone on a delivery run

These drone- and balloon-based solutions could prove key during disasters like major flooding, when connectivity and communication is of the utmost importance. EE says that its technology will allow phone users to make calls and access the internet from extremely remote areas, and in order to keep this emergency services network up and running, EE is also planning on rolling out rapid-response vehicles to provide further assistance during outages. These vehicles, however, won’t be airborne — rather, they’ll be Mitsubishi trucks featuring 11-foot mobile masts that can drive around to ensure that emergency services never lose signal.

“Looking ahead, I see innovations like this revolutionizing the way people connect. We’re developing the concept of ‘coverage on demand,’” Allera added. “We need to innovate, and we need to think differently, always using customers’ needs to drive the way we create new technologies.”

22
Feb

Drones and blimps will soon be providing cellphone service in the U.K.


Why it matters to you

Drones aren’t just being used to deliver your Amazon packages — they’re also being used to deliver cell service in the U.K.

If spotty reception is cramping your style, you may want to look to the skies. That is, if you live in the United Kingdom. On Tuesday, British mobile carrier EE debuted a new plan to use its own patent-pending balloon- and drone-based mobile coverage solutions in order to provide service for its most rural customers.

EE, which already boasts the largest 4G coverage in the U.K., demonstrated how it would use “mini mobile sites attached to a helium balloon” in a setup it calls a Helikite to provide 4G mobile coverage to areas in need. Mini sites can also be attached to drones in order to offer more targeted coverage, which may prove useful in search and rescue operations.

“We are going to extraordinary lengths to connect communities across the U.K. Innovation is essential for us to go further than we’ve ever gone, and deliver a network that’s more reliable than ever before,” said EE CEO Marc Allera in a release.

“Rural parts of the U.K. provide more challenges to mobile coverage than anywhere else, so we have to work harder there — developing these technologies will ultimately help our customers, even in the most hard-to-reach areas.”

More: Watch this UPS truck launch a drone on a delivery run

These drone- and balloon-based solutions could prove key during disasters like major flooding, when connectivity and communication is of the utmost importance. EE says that its technology will allow phone users to make calls and access the internet from extremely remote areas, and in order to keep this emergency services network up and running, EE is also planning on rolling out rapid-response vehicles to provide further assistance during outages. These vehicles, however, won’t be airborne — rather, they’ll be Mitsubishi trucks featuring 11-foot mobile masts that can drive around to ensure that emergency services never lose signal.

“Looking ahead, I see innovations like this revolutionizing the way people connect. We’re developing the concept of ‘coverage on demand,’” Allera added. “We need to innovate, and we need to think differently, always using customers’ needs to drive the way we create new technologies.”

22
Feb

Heal, an app for arranging medical house calls, is expanding nationwide


Why it matters to you

Heal’s founders claim that its service has already saved millions and reduced members’ ER visits by over 60 percent – and now the service is expanding.

Medical house calls may no longer be in vogue, but a new category of apps — telemedical ones — are intent on bringing it back. Heal is one of the most successful doctor-on-demand efforts yet, and on Wednesday, the startup announced a nationwide expansion.

Heal’s previously been available in select cities on the West Coast including the California locations of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orange County, Silicon Valley, and San Diego, and it’s already facilitated 16,000 patient house call visits, saved an estimated $5.9 million in healthcare costs, and reduced non-emergency trips to the ER by 62 percent for its patients and partners. In the coming months, it’ll begin providing service to cities in New York, Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania.

More: Doctor-on-demand house call service heal poised for greater growth

“In February 2015, we saw our first Heal patient — ever,” said Nick Desai, CEO and co-founder at Heal. “With visionary investors and a world-class team, we are excited to more fully realize our mission of striving to make healthcare more effective, intuitive, and affordable for all.”

Nick Desai and Dr. Reneee Dua co-founded Heal with the ambitious mission of “transforming the broken healthcare system” by creating a “more efficient doctor’s office in the privacy of homes and offices.” The idea’s to free board-certified doctors from the burden of seeing dozens of in-office patients each day, giving them more time to “take care of patients.”

Desai had the idea for Heal when his son was sick and waited hours at an emergency room, only to be turned away because his problem “wasn’t that serious.” He believes that as much as $40 billion annually is being wasted in the overuse of emergency rooms.

More: Doctor on Demand wants you to skip the ER visit for a video chat on your phone

“Sixty percent of Americans want a doctor who will make house calls. The health care system is broken — and no one is happy,” he said. “Patients aren’t getting needed access to quality primary care, doctors aren’t practicing the quality medical care they’ve been trained to, hospitals aren’t living by measures consistent with what’s best for the patient.”

Apps like Heal, he maintains, can lower costs for the larger healthcare system while improving health outcomes for patients.

Heal’s well on its way. It’s in-network with all major PPO insurance companies and Medicare, and patients who don’t have insurance coverage pay a flat $100 fee for the house call. And its investors include Fidelity ContraFund, Thomas Tull, Facebook investor Jim Breyer, the Ellison Family, musician Lionel Richie, Dr. Paul Jacobs, and others.

“Together with Rish, we are eager to re-invent the system of healthcare as we know it,” Heal’s SVP of engineering Bhavini Sonjei said.

22
Feb

Steve Jobs’ spaceship-like ‘Apple Park’ is finally finished, and it opens in April


Why it matters to you

Apple Park sets a new standard for an environmentally-conscious building, and it breaks a few world records. You’ll be able to visit it, thanks to the visitor center and a public cafe.

For months, we’ve come to call Apple’s next campus “spaceship” because of its UFO-like shape, but Apple had another name in mind. The new 175-acre headquarters in Cupertino will officially be called ‘Apple Park.’

The move-in process from the company’s current facility will begin in April, and it’s expected to take more than six months as it involves moving more than 12,000 people. During this process, construction is scheduled to continue on park lands and various buildings.

More: Apple patents app that lets you create cartoonish avatar in the style of Bitmoji

Apple Park’s circular structure is 2.8 million square feet, and the company says it’s “clad entirely in the world’s largest panels of curved glass.” Anyone will be able to visit the structure by way of the visitor center, which also houses a cafe that’s open to the public as well as an Apple Store.

The campus Steve envisioned will be known as Apple Park, and its theater will bear his name. https://t.co/O0BEOdncDq

— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) February 22, 2017

“We’ve achieved one of the most energy-efficient buildings in the world and the campus will run entirely on renewable energy,” said CEO Tim Cook in a statement.

More: Apple’s new MacBook Pro has an ultrathin keyboard that’s giving some users fits

Apple Park also houses a 1,000-seat theater, which Cook said will be named the ‘Steve Jobs Theater’, in memory of the company’s co-founder and former CEO. It sits at the top of a hill, one of the highest points in the Park, and the entrance features a 20-foot tall glass cylinder that supports a carbon-fiber roof.

Apple employees will enjoy a 100,000 square-foot fitness center, sprawling research and development facilities, and more. There are more than two miles of walking paths, an orchard, meadow, and a pond in the interior circle.

The company prides its economical impact of Apple Park, as it reportedly replaces 5 million square feet of asphalt and concrete “with grassy fields and over 9,000 native and drought-resistant trees.” Thanks to the solar panels on its roof, the headquarters will be one of the largest on-site solar energy installations, as well the world’s largest ventilated building. It does not require heating or air conditioning for about nine months of the year.

22
Feb

Steve Jobs’ spaceship-like ‘Apple Park’ is finally finished, and it opens in April


Why it matters to you

Apple Park sets a new standard for an environmentally-conscious building, and it breaks a few world records. You’ll be able to visit it, thanks to the visitor center and a public cafe.

For months, we’ve come to call Apple’s next campus “spaceship” because of its UFO-like shape, but Apple had another name in mind. The new 175-acre headquarters in Cupertino will officially be called ‘Apple Park.’

The move-in process from the company’s current facility will begin in April, and it’s expected to take more than six months as it involves moving more than 12,000 people. During this process, construction is scheduled to continue on park lands and various buildings.

More: Apple patents app that lets you create cartoonish avatar in the style of Bitmoji

Apple Park’s circular structure is 2.8 million square feet, and the company says it’s “clad entirely in the world’s largest panels of curved glass.” Anyone will be able to visit the structure by way of the visitor center, which also houses a cafe that’s open to the public as well as an Apple Store.

The campus Steve envisioned will be known as Apple Park, and its theater will bear his name. https://t.co/O0BEOdncDq

— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) February 22, 2017

“We’ve achieved one of the most energy-efficient buildings in the world and the campus will run entirely on renewable energy,” said CEO Tim Cook in a statement.

More: Apple’s new MacBook Pro has an ultrathin keyboard that’s giving some users fits

Apple Park also houses a 1,000-seat theater, which Cook said will be named the ‘Steve Jobs Theater’, in memory of the company’s co-founder and former CEO. It sits at the top of a hill, one of the highest points in the Park, and the entrance features a 20-foot tall glass cylinder that supports a carbon-fiber roof.

Apple employees will enjoy a 100,000 square-foot fitness center, sprawling research and development facilities, and more. There are more than two miles of walking paths, an orchard, meadow, and a pond in the interior circle.

The company prides its economical impact of Apple Park, as it reportedly replaces 5 million square feet of asphalt and concrete “with grassy fields and over 9,000 native and drought-resistant trees.” Thanks to the solar panels on its roof, the headquarters will be one of the largest on-site solar energy installations, as well the world’s largest ventilated building. It does not require heating or air conditioning for about nine months of the year.

22
Feb

Take $20 off the Gigabyte GA-Z170X-Gaming 5 motherboard ($122 after rebate)


Building a gaming PC can be a daunting task, and parts selection is arguably the most time-consuming step of the process. Choosing a good motherboard is vital, as this is the base of your build and will determine what other hardware you can use. The Gigabyte GA-Z170X-Gaming 5, now available for just $122 on Amazon with a limited-time mail-in rebate, is one highly rated option if you’re building a gaming-focused rig on a budget.

Gigabyte GA-Z170X-GAMING 5 motherboardThe Gigabyte GA-Z170X-Gaming 5 is an ATX motherboard designed for use with sixth and seventh-generation Intel Core CPUs. Four DDR4 DIMM sockets give you plenty of room to maximize your RAM and three SATA Express connectors provide data transfer speeds of up to 16GB per second. Six standard SATA connections offer regular transfer speeds of 6GB/s as well. If you want to install an SSD or two, dual PCIe x4 M.2 slots deliver speeds of up to 32GB/s. The motherboard also utilizes an Intel USB 3.1 controller and third-generation PCIe lanes for compatibility with newer USB-C connectors along with older USB 2.0 and 3.0 devices.

More: A beginner’s guide to building a PC from scratch

For graphics, the GA-Z170X-Gaming 5 offers two-way support for Nvidia SLI cards and three-way support for AMD Crossfire technology, allowing you to easily create a multi-GPU setup if desired for heavy-duty gaming. The onboard HDMI is 4K-ready as well. A built-in Turbo B-Clock Tuning IC gives overclockers complete control of their rig and lets experienced users push past the usual clock speed ranges. The Realtek ALC1150 HD audio codec, Sound Blaster X-Fi MB3 software, and high-end Nichicon audio capacitors work together to deliver clear and crisp sound, while the adaptive Killer E2200 gigabit Ethernet controller enhances wired internet speeds while in-game.

The Gigabyte GA-Z170X-Gaming 5 goes for as high as $160 at many retailers and is currently listed on Amazon at $142. Gigabyte’s ongoing mail-in rebate sweetens the deal, letting you take another $20 off, bringing the price down to just $122. The rebate is only offered until February 28, however, so if you’re in the market for a feature-laden and budget-friendly motherboard for your gaming build then don’t hesitate to jump on this deal before it’s gone.

$122 after mail-in rebate

22
Feb

Progress in brain-computer interface gives paralyzed patients more control


Why it matters to you

Advances in brain-computer interfaces give paralyzed patients a new lease on life.

Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) just got a boost thanks to a team of researchers from Stanford University.

Working with three paralyzed patients — two of whom have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and one with spinal chord injury — the scientists implanted tiny silicone sensors into the subjects’ brains, allowing them to eavesdrop on the electrical activity of brain cells.

In the study, which was published this week in the journal eLife, patients were able to control a cursor and select letters on a keyboard simply by imagining the task.

This feat in itself wasn’t extraordinary, having been demonstrated in a number of prior studies. But advancements in the algorithms used to interpret the brain’s electrical signals enabled participants in this study to type up to nearly 40 characters per minute — a four-fold improvement over previous studies on people with paralysis.

“For the fastest participant, this meant typing at nearly eight words per minute,” Chethan Pandarinath, former Stanford postdoctoral scholar and lead author, told Digital Trends. “These performance levels are really exciting.”

More: ‘Locked-in’ patient communicates through first at-home brain implant

About half of surveyed ALS patients would be satisfied typing around three words per minute, Pandarinath pointed out, while more than 70 percent would be satisfied with about four words per minute. “All of the participants in this study were able to achieve that first performance level, marking this study the first time that’s ever been achieved by a BCI with people with paralysis,” he said. “Further, two of the participants achieved much higher performance … so we’re really starting to reach performance levels that would be viewed positively by many people with ALS.”

To evaluate the system, the researchers had subjects use it in real-world situations. Each session — which entailed tasks like typing out messages and responding to questions in conversation — was conducted at the participant’s home instead of in a lab.

“Moving forward, we’d really like to extend beyond the simple typing interfaces we created here and on to control of real-world applications like tablet computers and smartphones,” Pandarinath said. Such control would give participants access to their email and the internet. Similar technology may even be used to command prosthetic limbs or connected devices around the home.

22
Feb

Verizon gets serious about 5G: Testing imminent in 11 U.S. locations


Why it matters to you

Testing is a major step forward toward getting exponentially faster data speeds in the hands of customers.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, AT&T announced it would begin testing fixed residential 5G in Austin, Texas, during the first half of 2017. Not to be outdone, Verizon said today it expects to launch “pre-commercial” 5G service for homes and offices in 11 cities over the next four months.

The carrier first laid out its goals for 5G deployment at last year’s Mobile World Congress, but now Verizon has given specific markets and a time frame for the roll out. Service will land in Ann Arbor, Michigan; Atlanta, Georgia; Bernardsville, New Jersey; Brockton, Massachusetts; Dallas, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Houston, Texas; Miami, Florida; Sacramento, California; Seattle, Washington, and Washington, D.C. by the middle of the year, according to the company, and will be modeled on the specifications determined by Verizon’s 5G Technical Forum.

More: AT&T gets serious about 5G with the deployment of test networks in Austin and Indianapolis

The latter point is important to note, because a universal 5G standard does not exist yet. AT&T said it expects to reach download speeds of 400Mbps initially with its implementation, improving to 1Gbps by the end of the year. The carrier reported that it achieved 14Gbps in a test in early 2016, the equivalent of downloading a 15GB file in nine seconds.

Verizon, on the other hand, has not stated what speeds users of the experimental new service can expect when it launches in pilot markets in the coming months. In its announcement, the company says it is closely working with its Technical Forum partners Qualcomm, Intel, Ericsson, and Samsung, as well as peers in the telecommunications industry in Canada, Japan, and South Korea, to work toward a global standard.

While 5G isn’t expected to launch in earnest until 2020, Verizon notes in a video accompanying the news release that the company is still advancing its LTE technology in the meantime. And they’re not the only ones: on Tuesday, Qualcomm unveiled its Snapdragon X20 modem, capable of 1.2Gbps download and 150Mbps upload over existing infrastructure.

22
Feb

Asus may introduce new ZenBook Pro model with GTX 1060 graphics at MWC


Why it matters to you

If you’ve been looking for a larger productivity machine that offers good gaming as well, then the rumored Asus ZenBook Pro with GTX 1060 GPU could be just the ticket.

With Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2017 right around the corner, we’re seeing a number of rumors and tons of leaked information about all kinds of mobile products. While MWC primarily focuses on smartphones, it also covers other mobile devices including wearables and notebook PCs.

A number of companies are expected to introduce new notebooks at MWC 2017 that didn’t quite make the cut at CES 2017, and some information has leaked indicating that Asus is one of those firms. Specifically, it looks like a new Asus ZenBook Pro appears to be on the way, as Notebookitalia reports.

More: Dell XPS 15 vs. Asus Zenbook Pro UX501: Battle of the plus-sized premiums

Notebookitalia often gains access to such early information, and if this particular intel is correct, then Asus plans to introduce a significant update to the ZenBook Pro line that it last updated in 2015. The new machine’s model, according to the leak, will be the Asus ZenBook Pro UX550, and it will represent a strong option for power users looking for a large-screen notebook to compete with machines like Dell’s XPS 15.

The ZenBook Pro is essentially the opposite of the diminutive Asus ZenBook 3, with what sounds like the same 15.6-inch 4K UHD (3,840 x 2,160) display as the current ZenBook Pro. That would translate into very good color space support at 72 percent NTSC, 74 percent AdobeRGB, and 100 percent sRGB. In addition, Asus appears to be jumping on the thin-bezel bandwagon with extremely thin bezels along the two sides and thinner bezels at top and bottom — and if the leaked image is accurate, the machine will retain the webcam at the top of the display where it belongs.

Perhaps most significant is the suggestion that Asus will be replacing the current machine’s Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M GPU with a GTX 1060, which would make the ZenBook Pro far more powerful than other 15.6-inch productivity machines, and competitive with dedicated gaming notebooks. According to Notebookitalia, the ZenBook Pro would, in fact, be the thinnest notebook to offer the GTX 1060. The new machine will use quad-core seventh-generation Intel Core H processors.

If Notebookitalia is correct, we don’t have too much longer to wait for official confirmation. We’ll soon find out if Asus will be introducing a powerful new machine that could place it near the top of the heap of productivity notebooks.

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