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13
Mar

Balance: a shockingly fun game about power management (Review)


I’ll be honest. I don’t really know much about how electricity works. Yes, I remember doing experiments in high school about opening and closing circuits, and there was a potato clock or something that I made once, but for the most part I flip a switch and stuff just happens. How does it happen? I don’t know, but I use to assume it was either people who were way smarter than I am, or magic. Probably magic. Balance is an interesting little puzzle game that is brought to us by Statnett, the system operators of the Norwegian energy system. This game attempts to show what it’s like to be in charge of an energy grid and all the trials that come along with it. Buckle up, boys and girls, because we’re going to take a look at the magic behind why you have the electricity to read this right now.

Developer: Statnett
Price: Free (In-app Purchases)
Download: Google Play

Keeping the flow of power going

Gameplay

You are presented with your power station and a nearby town or two that need power. Starting off you just need to use your power lines to connect your station to the town. You then have a meter on the left that you use to adjust how much power goes out. Too little and the town doesn’t have enough power to operate. Too much and your lines will overload. Fortunetly, the game shows you through color and arrows if you need to raise or lower the power. After a round or two, you are presented with a town behind the original town, and you learn how to chain towns together. First you have to use a heavy duty line to connect to the first town, then your regular lines to connect the second town to the first. You see, if you just use a regular line to connect to the first town, then try to connect to the second one, the electricity needed to power both towns will overload the first set of lines, but if you use the heavy duty lines, they can carry the extra charge to the first town where you’ll drop half of your charge. Then the rest of your charge can safely travel across the lower voltage lines. After a little practice with this new concept of higher voltage lines, your presented with your first head scratcher puzzle where halfway through the round a tree branch falls on one of your lines and your town will be out of power until repairs are made. Not only this but the longer your town is without power, your level progress bar starts to decline, taking you longer to complete the round and reducing your odds of getting 3 stars. It’s when these challenges start to occur that you start to realize why it’s called a power grid because your find yourself having grid-like connections between towns and generators so that if anything does happen, you’ll be covered. You start this game thinking very straightforward, just connecting point A to point B, but as you play, through necessity, you being to think beyond this linear thinking and start planning for whatever your town might need as the level progresses. Soon you’ll be balancing power back and forth between two stations, using even higher voltage wires as you daisy-chain 6 towns together, and you’ll have backups on your backups. The game does a great job of pacing these tasks so each level will make you think, but using your prior knowledge you will be able to problem solve solutions on the fly.

Problem solving on the go

Controls

Controls are pretty simple. The world is based on a giant grid. You just tap what kind of wires you want, tap a starting point at either the power station or at a town, and then tap each grid space where you want wires to be. Once you reach your town, just tap the plug icon that pops up. There is a slider on the right side of the screen when you tap on a power company that controls their output.

There are times when I will be tapping on a section of wire and the game thinks I’m tapping on the space next to it. There are also speech bubbles that pop up from each town on occasion. It’s fun sayings like “Hey, why won’t my TV work?” and at first I found it rather charming, however, you are not able to tap behind these bubbles, and if you tap them they don’t get dismissed. Nothing is worse than tapping out a power grid to have a town complain about having no power and blocking you from connecting to them. I’m trying to help you! Just let me help you! You can dismiss them by tapping various buildings around the map, but to stop one action to randomly click stuff for no purpose other than to get the game in check is highly annoying.

Problems can pop up at anytime, so you need to stay alert and think quickly

Graphics & Sounds

Balance uses detailed little buildings and power plants, but still keeps a rather minimalistic feel to the game, with landscapes having few details. Wires come to life with a bright blue glow depending on the power running through them. Overloaded wires start turning red and produce smoke once blown. The soundtrack is peaceful and calm, and the sound effects fit the game, but the sounds overall are forgettable.

Longevity

There’s a whole slew of levels to play through, with more getting unlocked based upon how many stars you collect in each level. There are also bonus levels to unlock with keys that you can earn by completing secondary objectives. There are lots of disasters to work your way around and the levels do require some out of the box thinking. Once you finish the game, it may not be the kind of game that you go back to, because once it’s done, it’s done. I hope that in future updates more levels are added because it really is a blast to pick up and play in short bursts.

Double trouble

Conclusion

Balance is a really fun game. It’s a pretty straightforward puzzle game that teaches you how to play as you go, but while it might give you the tools, it really relies on you to use the skills that you’ve learned and figure out how to use them in new ways. There are occasional hiccups with the touch controls selecting the wrong square or things being hidden behind word bubbles, but overall I had a lot of fun and have a new found respect for the magic that keeps a power grid up and running.

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13
Mar

Windows 10 Scheduler may be limiting AMD Ryzen performance


Why it matters to you

Ryzen performance is likely to improve over the next few months, whether the Scheduler is to blame for problems or not.

Some sources claim that AMD’s Ryzen CPUs could perform better in Windows 10 except for the way the operating system incorrectly handles Ryzen’s simultaneous multi-threading (SMT). We’re told that instead of leaving it to the smaller tasks, it lumps them right in with the main cores, which can result in a real dip in performance.

However, not everyone agrees.

Intel has been offering hyper-threading as one of its CPU features for a long time — that’s part of why it has maintained a performance lead over AMD for many years. Ryzen introduced SMT as its alternative multi-threading technology and it works well, but some research suggests that Windows 10’s Scheduler doesn’t seem to realize that those virtual cores aren’t as capable as the real ones, so when it doesn’t prioritize physical cores over the SMT ones, it is artificially holding Ryzen CPUs back.

For some reason also, the Scheduler seems to think that Ryzen CPUs have as much as 136MB of cache, whereas in reality, they have 20MB of L2+L3 cache, thanks WCCFTech. AMD is said to be aware of this issue.

More: Ryzen proves the PC industry can no longer ignore AMD’s comeback

Not everyone, however, agrees that this is cut and dry. PCPer has some pretty solid evidence that the Scheduler is not to blame, though AMD has yet to officially comment on its research.

If you don’t want to wait to find out whether this is a real problem or not, it may be worth using Windows 7 instead, as purportedly that doesn’t suffer from the same issues as Windows 10 does when running the new hardware. Do confirm that your motherboard manufacturer has released Windows 7 compatible drivers for your board first, though.

Disabling SMT in the BIOS has been shown to improve gaming performance under Windows 10, too, so that’s worth considering for now. For those running heavier multi-threaded tasks, performance is unlikely to be affected in the same way, though.

How have you guys been finding Ryzen CPUs so far? Do they stand up to the hype in real-world usage?

13
Mar

Money talks: Steam user ratings no longer count reviews from free weekend players


Why it matters to you

Steam user ratings will hopefully be a little more trustworthy as a result of the changes Valve is making.

Steam is the go-to service for PC gamers looking to expand their library, and its review system helps many users decide which games are worthy of a purchase. Now, Valve is tweaking the way ratings work in an attempt to decrease the influence of individuals who received the games they’re reviewing for free.

Reviews from users who didn’t pay for the game in question will no longer contribute to its user score, according to a report from Polygon. This doesn’t apply to games that are free or free-to-play.

However, if you played a game during the free weekend promotions that various publishers often run on Steam, your review won’t contribute to that title’s user score. Likewise, if you received the game as a gift, you won’t be able to have an impact on its user rating.

More: Content developers now have access to the SteamVR for Linux beta

Valve took similar steps to improve the review system in September 2016, when it was decided that only users who bought a copy of a game via Steam could contribute to its user score. This was done to ensure that the score couldn’t be inflated by users who were given a free key to the game by a developer.

There are well over 10,000 titles available on Steam, so it makes sense that Valve would want to give users the best possible rating system to differentiate the good from the bad. The latest change, like the tweaks made last September, seems to be a step in the right direction.

It would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to create a ratings system that accurately reflects a consensus of opinion between the 125 million people who own a Steam account. However, reviews submitted by people who spent cold hard cash on a game are likely to have more merit than those submitted by users who only played for a weekend, and didn’t part with any money.

13
Mar

Modern web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee speaks out about its biggest challenges


Why it matters to you

Sir Tim Berners-Lee knows a thing or two about the World Wide Web, so it’s worth listening to his thoughts on what needs to change to ensure its continued good health.

On March 12, the World Wide Web celebrated its 28th birthday — or, more accurately, the 28th anniversary of a proposal for the project that was submitted by its creator, Sir Tim Berners-Lee. To mark the occasion, Berners-Lee published a message outlining what he views as the three biggest challenges that the web faces today.

The first is the fact that we’ve lost control of our personal data. Today, many internet users exchange their personal information for access to various sites and services, agreeing to contracts tied to pages and pages of terms and conditions.

Berners-Lee argues that there are problems with the way our data is held by companies, out of our sight and out of our control. He ties this practice to governments carryout out surveillance on their citizens, and suggests that it has a negative impact on the internet’s capacity as a setting for free and open debate on important topics.

More: How the father of the World Wide Web plans to reclaim it from Facebook and Google

The second challenge relates to the ongoing spread of misinformation across the internet. Berners-Lee states that a majority of users only visit a handful of websites, so it’s easy for the people in control of those sites to produce content that’s attractive to a captive audience, and implement opinion-influencing bots to “game the system” even further.

The third challenge comes from political advertising on the internet, which Berners-Lee claims is in need of better public understanding and more transparency. He cites a source that suggests that as many as 50,000 variations of ads were served every day on Facebook during the 2016 United States presidential election, which he describes as a “near-impossible situation to monitor.”

He goes on to suggest that some political parties in the U.S. and further afield might be using the internet maliciously, pointing people toward fake news, and spreading different messages among different demographics.

Berners-Lee closes his message by saying that simple solutions won’t address these complex problems, encouraging internet users to work with “gatekeepers” like Google and Facebook, and his team at The Web Foundation, as they attempt to forge the next era of the World Wide Web.

13
Mar

Intel revs up its autonomous driving efforts with the acquisition of Mobileye


Why it matters to you

Intel is making a $15.3 billion investment in Mobileye to accelerate its efforts in the autonomous driving industry.

Intel is revving up its efforts in the autonomous driving industry with the acquisition of Mobileye for $15.3 billion. Mobileye is best known for its collision avoidance technology in self-driving vehicles that includes an artificial vision sensor and a backend capable of accurately detecting pedestrians, speed limit signs, lane markings, and more.

“Intel estimates the vehicle systems, data, and services market opportunity to be up to $70 billion by 2030,” Intel stated on Monday. “The transaction extends Intel’s strategy to invest in data-intensive market opportunities that build on the company’s strengths in computing and connectivity from the cloud, through the network, to the device.”

More: Intel Security releases MacBook scanner for CIA Vault 7 rootkits

The deal will combine Mobileye’s computer vision technology with Intel’s computing and connectivity assets spanning artificial intelligence, machine learning, data centers, localization, and mapping, and so on. In other words, Intel has positioned itself to provide autonomous driving services connecting the car to the cloud that are expected to “transform” the autonomous driving market.

In a message to employees, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said Mobileye’s technology will be paired with Intel’s Xeon processors, its new 3D XPoint memory, modems capable of 5G connectivity, and the company’s FPGAs, which are integrated circuits that can be programmed by customers in the field. According to Krzanich, the acquisition “merges the intelligent eyes of the autonomous car with the intelligent brain that actually drives the car.”

“Many of you have asked why we think autonomous cars and vehicles are so important to Intel’s future. The answer is data,” he said in his letter. “Our strategy is to make Intel the driving force of the data revolution across every technology and every industry. We are a data company. The businesses we focus on, and deliver solutions to, create, use and analyze massive amounts of data.”

Krzanich said the average autonomous car generates around four terabytes of data per day, which is the equivalent of the data generated by around 3,000 people per day. Thus, if 1 million autonomous cars are on the road, the generated data each day is equivalent to “half the world’s population.” That is an insane amount of data and Intel believes it can handle all of that while also providing high-performance, cost-effective autonomous driving services.

In a separate letter, Mobileye senior management told employees that once the acquisition is complete, Intel’s Automated Driving Group (ADG) will be integrated into Mobileye. Serving as a new subsidiary, Mobileye and the new ADG employees will be headquartered in Jerusalem, Israel. Mobileye was founded in 1999 by Ziv Aviram and Amnon Shashua, who will continue to run the company.

“Intel is not looking to have their people come in and run Mobileye — but that being said, there is much to learn from Intel’s experience, culture, expertise and resources in many fields tangential to our own and we plan to embrace this opportunity to learn and tap into their knowledge,” the letter said.

The acquisition is expected to close within the next nine months.

13
Mar

Analyst: Apple’s iPhone 8 may outpace Samsung’s Galaxy S8 in sales


Why it matters to you

Analysts think that more people will buy one of Apple’s upcoming iPhone models than Samsung’s Galaxy S8.

Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones have legions of fans, and that’s no exaggeration — the Seoul-based company shipped 13.3 million Galaxy S7 Edge phones in the first half of 2016. But that market momentum might not be enough to combat Apple’s juggernaut, the iPhone. According to market analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, the upcoming Galaxy S8 may see weaker sales than last year’s Galaxy S7 thanks to increased competition from Apple.

Kuo predicts that a combination of “[un]attractive selling points” and poor timing will hurt the Galaxy S8’s long-term prospects. The Galaxy S7 was Samsung’s main promotional flagship model in the fourth quarter of 2014 after Samsung put the kibosh on the Note 7, he noted, which led to higher-than-usual sales. And Kuo expects that the Galaxy S8 will lack features that “could … be a [big] draw” for prospective buyers.

More: Samsung Galaxy X: Rumors and news leaks

Kuo expects that the next iPhone, by contrast, will boast “eye-catching” and “innovative” features that attract attention — specifically an OLED screen, wireless charging and a curved glass design. Kuo’s suggested, too, that the upcoming iPhone will be the first to support new 3D image capture tech from Apple’s augmented reality engineering team, and that it will eschew the familiar home screen button with a multi-purpose “function area.”

As a result, Kuo projects that Galaxy S8 shipments will reach a peak of 45 million units in 2017, down substantially from the 52 million Galaxy S7 units Samsung managed to ship last year. And he believes that decreased demand for the Galaxy S8 will lower the flagship’s impact on the supply chain. “We are conservative on demand for the Galaxy S8, and believe its contribution to the supply chain will be limited,” Kuo said.

In a note to investors late last year, Kuo projected that Apple will sell between 120 million and 150 million iPhone 8 units in the second half of next year. If sales bear that out, it would be the company’s biggest iPhone launch since the iPhone 6, which sold between 110 million and 120 million units in 2014.

More: Galaxy S7 owners reporting the camera lens shattering without impact

Apple is rumored to be planning to launch as many as three new iPhone models this year, according to Kuo: A high-end, 5.8-inch “anniversary edition” iPhone 8, and two iterative updates to the existing 4.7-inch iPhone 7 and 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus. All three new iPhones are expected to feature redesigned glass casing, wireless charging compatibility, and upgraded hardware.

Apple is under pressure to turn lagging sales around. The company has faced three straight quarters of revenue declines. And in a January report to clients, it said that it expects “weaker iPhone 7 demand” as “buyers start anticipating new iPhones.”

Samsung is in the same boat. In January, the firm’s mobile phone sales fell to their lowest level in five years, with the company reporting three consecutive annual decline in mobile sales.

13
Mar

New report identifies the most popular Android phones in every state


Why it matters to you

The more popular a phone is, the more likely a company will be to follow it up with an even better device.

The Android operating system is the most popular mobile operating system in the world, and more than half of the smartphones in the U.S. are Android phones. And of course, unlike the iPhone, there are a ton of different Android devices out there, and many of them are quite different in how they look and act.

Phandroid has published a report showing what appears to be the most popular Android devices in each state — data collected through seeing which devices were used to access Phandroid in the last 30 days — and the results are somewhat surprising.

More: Turn any old Android into your Android with Google’s #myAndroid site

The most popular device by far is the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, and it wins the prize in a whopping 24 states in the country. The Google Pixel and Pixel XL are also pretty popular — the Pixel XL is the most popular phone in 6 states, and the standard Pixel in 5 — so that combined they hit a somewhat surprising 11 states, which pretty good news for Google on its first attempt at a smartphone.

There are some further surprises in the data. For example, the now outdated Samsung Galaxy S5 remains the most popular smartphone in Alabama, while the Motorola Droid Turbo is the winner in Arkansas — while the Droid Turbo 2 is the winner in Minnesota. Next up is the Galaxy Note 5, which wins in Maine. Mississippi takes one step back from that, with the most popular device being the Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

Of course, there are a few important things to note about this data — namely that it doesn’t really represent a cross section of the U.S. population. Because the information is collected from readers of Phandroid.com, the subjects of the study are more likely to be fans of Android — and hence more likely to own a flagship Android phone. We’re guessing that in the real world the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, while popular, isn’t the most popular Android phone in 24 states.

13
Mar

Microsoft Garage’s Project Lively lets you collaborate without the cloud


Why it matters to you

If you need to quickly share a document with someone and keep them up to date on changes, then the Microsoft Garage made Project Lively just for you.

Companies like Microsoft and Google have made some nice collaborative tools for working on documents with colleagues and teams. Office 365 and G Suite are two examples of solutions that are tied to each company’s cloud storage solutions, Microsoft OneDrive and Google Drive, and allow users to see changes made by coworkers.

Not everyone wants to be tied to a cloud storage solution, however. Some would rather work more directly with someone on co-creating a piece of work. Microsoft’s Garage team of internal hackers have created a new solution just for those people called Project Lively, Venturebeat reports.

More: Microsoft Garage shuttering experimental Cache app at the end of February

Project Lively is a new app and service that integrates with Word 2016 on Windows and Mac, along with the online version of Word that comes with Office 365. Using Project Lively, you can send a document to another Word user that will keep both of you informed when changes are made — only without needing to save the document to a shared cloud storage location.

The process is rather simple. Once you have installed the Project Lively Word add-in, you create a document in Word as usual and then save it within the Project Lively window. You can then share the document as you would normally do, via email, internal network share, USB drive, or another method. You can even email the document to yourself and access it on another machine to keep both versions in sync.


Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Now, every time you update the document, Project Lively will send a notification to anyone working with that document that a change has been made. Project Lively also serves as a sort of ad hoc backup solution because the service maintains your documents in the Microsoft Azure cloud.

For now, Project Lively doesn’t handle merge conflicts and so it’s by no means intended to replace more robust collaborative tools like Office 365. It’s also a Microsoft Garage project, meaning it is experimental and could stop working at any time if Microsoft decides to move on to something else. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting tool for informal collaboration and it’s free. Just install the add-in from here and get to work.

13
Mar

Become a coder with the $15 Complete Web Developer Course ($200 value)


The world of coding can be intimidating if you’re new to the game and don’t know where to start. Today there exists an ocean of programming languages, development tools, and online resources, and all of this information makes it hard to even know where to begin. If you find yourself stuck on taking that crucial first step, then the Complete Web Developer Course can give you a solid jumping-off point by teaching you everything you need to start your coding career in one comprehensive set of online courses – all for just $15 from the DT Shop.

The Complete Web Developer Course includes no less than 236 lessons from instructor Rob Percival, running the gamut of coding applications to give you the complete toolbox needed to become a fully trained programmer. Along with general web development, the course contains tutorials for mastering WordPress, using APIs for sites like Facebook and Google Maps, and learning languages like JavaScript, PHP, and CSS.

More: VPN Unlimited & To Do Checklist: Lifetime Subscription Bundle

The lessons contain 28 hours of material divided into 12 sections, covering virtually everything from fundamental basics like HTML to more specific subjects including Twitter Bootstrap and mobile apps. You will not only learn all of the skills necessary for professional programming and web development, but will be able put your newly found talents to the test by building 14 functional websites as you go.

The Complete Web Developer Course is a comprehensive instructional package that represents a $200 value. Our DT Shop offers it all for only $15, giving you an affordable way to jump head-first into the wide world of programming and website development. If you’re looking to start your own career in coding, or if you just want to take it up as a hobby but don’t know where to begin, this all-in-one course is a great and inexpensive way to start your journey.

Buy it for $15 from the DT Shop

13
Mar

Sony Xperia XZ Premium tipped for June release at £649


We’ll have to wait a while and pay a lot for Sony’s latest.

According to a listing at Amazon UK that has since been removed, Sony’s new top-end phone, the Xperia XZ Premium, will release on June 1 at a price of £649. Though the Xperia XZ Premium was launched back at MWC 2017 at the end of February, Sony wasn’t willing to give any sort of tips about pricing or availability — save for one mention of the phone coming “in the second quarter”.

The June time frame makes sense, as its new Snapdragon 835 processor won’t be available at volume for some time if the rumors are correct that Samsung is putting the new chip in its upcoming Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus — taking up most of Qualcomm’s supply.

sony-xperia-xzs-xz-premium-15.jpg?itok=6

As for the price, it’s a typically high price tag you’ll find on most Sony phones still. At £649 in the UK, it’ll be one of the most expensive mainstream phones available, going head-to-head with other pricey options, like the Google Pixel XL. Coming out of MWC 2017, we speculated that the Xperia XZ Premium would actually cost more than this, considering the components inside — including that Snapdragon 835 and a 4K display — and Sony’s propensity for pricing well above market.

We’ll have to wait a couple more months for pre-orders to actually go live with an official price, but for now we at least have a frame of reference for how much you’ll have to lay down for an Xperia XZ Premium. So expect to pay the equivalent of $800 or so, depending on the region.

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