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The Verge - All Posts
unread news (Demo user)
The Verge - All Posts
unread news (Demo user)
HP’s first 15-inch Chromebook features a full-size keyboard and IPS touchscreen for $449
Chromebooks continue to impress in the price-for-quality department, and the HP Chromebook 15 is no exception. The first ever 15-inch HP Chromebook (15.6 inches to be exact) comes not only with a full-sized keyboard and number pad, but also a blacklit IPS touchscreen and 64GB of base flash storage. That model starts at $449, and you can pay extra for double the eMMC storage and a faster Intel Core i5 processor, but the company isn’t yet saying how much that will cost. Another 15-inch Chromebook to rival full-sized, traditional laptops HP says the device starts shipping today from its online store, but the listing for the HP Chromebook 15 still says “coming soon,” for whatever reason. That said, the device has some impressive specs for a machine of its cost, making it a viable alternative to a standard, full-sized notebook that might cost you a little (to a lot) extra for access to a standard OS. Other specs include 4GB of onboard memory, an integrated Intel HD Graphics 610 GPU, and up to 13 hours of battery life. IT also comes with a front-facing, wide-angle webcam with dual microphones, and built-in speakers courtesy of Bang & Olufsen. The device comes in either silver or blue finishes. The HP Chroembook 15 is yet another Chrome OS entry in the larger laptop range, following Asus’ recent entrance into the 15-inch Chromebook market last year. Acer and Lenovo also make 15-inch models.
3 h
The Verge
Instagram has considered hiding the like count on people’s photos
Instagram has considered hiding the like count on photos, so audiences can’t see how many people have liked an individual post. An unreleased feature that would publicly hide like counts was spotted today by code hunter Jane Wong, who says the test states that Instagram wants “your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get.” Only the person who posted a photo will be able to see the number of likes it’s received. Instagram says that it has not tested the feature. In a statement to The Verge, an Instagram spokesperson said: “We’re not testing this at the moment, but exploring ways to reduce pressure on Instagram is something we’re always thinking about.” Details of the test come just days after the Independent indicated that the British Information Commissioner’s Office has recommended that social platforms, like Instagram and Snapchat, offer the option to turn off features like likes and “streaks” that encourage users to keep posting. The agency wants to ban these features in order to protect the safety and privacy of the platforms’ youngest users. Instagram is testing hiding like count from audiences,as stated in the app: "We want your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get" pic.twitter.com/MN7woHowVN— Jane Manchun Wong (@wongmjane) April 18, 2019 This would be a massive change to how the platform functions. Likes, while absolutely demoralizing at times, encourage people to post and give them incentive to post content that performs. It also can incentivize the posting of less authentic content, however, like gorgeous landscapes, nudity, or thirst trap photos that might garner likes, but aren’t the most interesting or thoughtful.
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The Verge
This $2,799 emulator is the fanciest retro game console around
Retro games keep resurfacing in all types of emulators, but Swedish artist and craftsman Love Hultén has created one that goes the extra mile if you really want a full, nostalgia-fueled experience. His newest design, called Yesterday Vision, is a handmade midcentury-inspired monitor enclosure that can play games from classic systems. The Yesterday Vision contains a 19-inch 4:3 monitor that’s designed to have the curvature distortion of an old CRT monitor. It also has full-range loudspeakers and a built-in Raspberry Pi computer that emulates gaming systems like the SNES, NES, Genesis, NeoGeo, MAME, Atari 2600, N64, and PSX. You can also play modern games or connect your laptop to Yesterday Vision via an HDMI input on the back. It can also support connecting up to four different controllers via Bluetooth. Use your own, or you can request for Hultén to create a pair of wireless hardwood arcade controllers when you make your purchase. Hultén has designed loads of fun emulators, like the more portable R-Kaid-R that made rounds in 2016 and featured an arcade joystick and buttons, and the Pyua, a Nintendo “shrine” with a bubble dome. It’s an odd juxtaposition to see modern tech that allows retro games to be played in a shell that predates the games themselves. For Hultén, that’s the point. By creating these odd pairings, he hopes the pieces he makes challenge our assumptions about how we tie an object’s design with its function. If you want this artistic mashup of past meets present, the Yesterday Vision is available to purchase for $2,799 (excluding VAT and shipping).
5 h
The Verge
Amazon admits defeat against Chinese e-commerce rivals like Alibaba and JD.com
Amazon is shutting down its Chinese domestic e-commerce business, it told sellers on Thursday. By July 18th, Amazon.cn will no longer be open to third-party sellers, meaning it won’t compete with the massive e-commerce giants of China, including Alibaba and JD.com. Amazon still plans to let Chinese customers shop at international versions of the site, including the company’s American, British, German, and Japanese marketplaces. Amazon says it’s reevaluating its fulfillment strategy in the country to meet those needs. Amazon tells The Verge in a statement, “Over the past few years, we have been evolving our China online retail business to increasingly emphasize cross-border sales, and in return we’ve seen very strong response from Chinese customers. Their demand for high-quality, authentic goods from around the world continues to grow rapidly, and given our global presence, Amazon is well-positioned to serve them.” It notes that the business will continue in China in the form of its cloud computing division Amazon Web Services, sales of Kindle devices and ebook content, and accessibility to third-party sellers in China who want to reach global buyers. Amazon will also continue to operate a limited, cheaper version of its Prime subscription in China that does not include its on-demand video benefits. Amazon quietly entered China in the early 2000s, but it ultimately couldn’t compete with rivals that offered low, often free shipping, without requiring users to meet any minimum orders. Amazon, in comparison, required customers to hit minimums of 59 yuan to 200 yuan ($8.79 to $29.81), depending on whether the item was Prime eligible. Chinese consumers, often spoiled by having sellers swallow shipping costs and offer overnight delivery to the same province, chose domestic companies like Alibaba’s Tmall and Taobao. Amazon.cn holds just a 6 percent share of the Chinese e-commerce market, according to The Wall Street Journal, citing Nomura Securities. When I visited China last year, for instance, I was able to overnight a phone case from a Taobao seller in the same province, and the order only cost me a couple of dollars, which put it far under Amazon’s required minimum for free shipping. According to the WSJ, Amazon might merge its China operations with NetEase’s Kaola. NetEase is known for its partnership with Blizzard Entertainment to operate local versions of World of Warcraft and Overwatch in China, but it also runs Kaola.com, an e-commerce platform that sells assorted goods, including diapers, beauty products, and Beats headphones. If a merger went through, Amazon would lose its name and operate under Kaola instead, but it could continue to reap profits in the region as a result. Amazon declined to comment on any potential merger plans. eBay has similarly failed in China after investing hundreds of millions into domestic services in the country. After three years, eBay sold its operations in 2006, and it has stayed out since. Walmart similarly folded its Chinese operations into JD.com after years of trying to woo Chinese customers. Outside e-commerce, other tech companies have gone head-to-head with domestic rivals, all with a similar conclusion: Google versus Baidu; Facebook versus WeChat; Apple versus Huawei, Oppo, Vivo, and Xiaomi; and Uber versus Didi Chuxing, which is a rivalry that resulted in Uber selling its China business to its primary domestic competitor and effectively admitting defeat. Conversely, Chinese giants find rare success abroad. AliExpress, similar to Amazon.cn, is Alibaba’s effort to sell to Western consumers, but it still struggles to compete against Amazon in its home court. Nick Statt contributed to this report.
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The Verge
Why Juul and Republican lawmakers want to raise the minimum vaping age
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pushing a new bill that would block all tobacco and vape purchases for Americans under 21 years old, according to an announcement today that was reported by Bloomberg. In a statement today, McConnell presented the bill as a response to widespread public health risks posed by teen vaping. “For some time, I’ve been hearing from the parents who are seeing an unprecedented spike in vaping among their teenage children,” McConnell said. “In addition, we all know people who started smoking at a young age and who struggled to quit as adults. Unfortunately it’s reaching epidemic levels around the country.” McConnell says he will look to the 11 states that already have Tobacco 21 laws on the books for ideas. But vaping companies don’t seem concerned. Juul, which sold a 35 percent stake to tobacco giant Altria for $12.8 billion last year, applauded McConnell for today’s announcement. “JUUL Labs is committed to eliminating combustible cigarettes, the number one cause of preventable death in the world and to accomplish that goal, we must restrict youth usage of vapor products,” Juul’s CEO Kevin Burns said in an emailed statement. “Tobacco 21 laws fight one of the largest contributors to this problem – sharing by legal-age peers – and they have been shown to dramatically reduce youth usage rates.” That support might have to do with Juul’s issues with the Food and Drug Administration. Over the past year, Juul has come under the FDA’s fire for its massive popularity among young people. So supporting a higher minimum age could help its image and take some of the regulatory pressure off. From an industry perspective, the move is fairly low risk since the product is already embedded in the population, and people under age 21 may already be addicted, says Kathleen Hoke, a law professor at the University of Maryland. “We can change this age to 21 but we’re going to have to work extraordinarily hard at the state and local level to actually get cigarettes or vape products or chew out of the hands of the 18 to 20 year olds,” she says. At least on the surface, raising the minimum legal age for smoking aligns McConnell with public health advocates who have been pushing for raising the smoking (and vaping) age to 21. The goal is to keep kids from starting a lifelong nicotine addiction — since some 90 percent of current smokers took their first drags on a cigarette by age 18, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say. A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine projected there would be a 12 percent drop in smoking by the year 2100 if the legal age for buying tobacco products were increased immediately. But the bill’s success will depend on how it’s crafted. Rob Crane, professor of family medicine at The Ohio State University and president of the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation, is skeptical that it will really hold tobacco retailers responsible for selling to people who are underage. From the more than 450 cities and counties that have passed Tobacco 21 laws, “what we have found that does work is when you make local health departments under civil law do the enforcement,” he says. “For a rogue retailer that keeps on selling, there’s a risk of license suspension.” But if the law winds up penalizing convenience store clerks who sell vapes and tobacco products to kids, the retailer who’s profiting gets off scot-free, he says. In the end, Crane is skeptical of the motivations behind the bill, no matter what form it takes. “This is all a PR move to keep Juul out of the hot seat from the FDA.”
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The Verge
Digital publishing site Wattpad is partnering with Sony to adapt stories for Hollywood
Wattpad, the online story-sharing community for up-and-coming and established writers, has signed a “first-look” deal with Sony Pictures Television to develop new projects based on its vast catalog of uploaded stories, Wattpad announced yesterday. With this new partnership, Wattpad will essentially give Sony a heads-up when it comes to projects that might make for a good TV series. According to Wattpad, the two companies will “work together to identify and develop popular narratives from the half a billion story uploads that have been shared on Wattpad,” and Sony will have access to data from Wattpad’s machine learning efforts that help it churn through the site’s uploads, identifying what stories have potential in other media formats. Originally founded as a mobile reading platform, Wattpad has steadily transformed itself into a user-generated content library, allowing writers to upload their own work and amassing an enormous content catalog of original work as a result. Earlier this year, it launched Wattpad Books, a dedicated book imprint that plucks the best works out to publish as print editions. The site has also been working for years to develop a pipeline between its community of writers and Hollywood. Wattpad now says nearly a thousand stories have been adapted in one form or another. The company signed an agreement back in 2016 with NBCUniversal to develop such projects, similar to its deal with the Syfy Channel last year to develop a project based on one of the site’s science fiction stories, Expiration Date. Wattpad has also worked with Sony prior to this new deal, when it bought the rights to adapt a series called Death is My BFF by writer Katarina E. Tonks.
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The Verge
Facebook stored millions of Instagram passwords in plain text
Facebook says it stored millions of Instagram users’ passwords in plain text, leaving them exposed to people with access to certain internal systems. The security lapse was first reported last month, but at the time, Facebook said it only happened to “tens of thousands of Instagram users,” whereas the number is now being revised up to “millions.” The issue also affected “hundreds of millions of Facebook Lite users” and “tens of millions of other Facebook users.” Passwords are supposed to be stored in an encrypted format that allows websites to confirm what you’re entering without directly reading it. But as Krebs on Security first reported, various errors seem to have caused Facebook’s systems to log some passwords in plain text since as early as 2012. Facebook noticed the problem in January and said in March that the issue had been resolved. “We simply learned there were more passwords stored in this way.” The passwords were stored within Facebook and were accessible to more than 20,000 employees, according to Krebs. Facebook says it investigated access to the passwords, and that it found “no evidence of abuse or misuse.” It also says no passwords were exposed externally. Facebook doesn’t seem to be actively recommending that people change their passwords. “This is an issue that has already been widely reported, but we want to be clear that we simply learned there were more passwords stored in this way,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. Today’s update just expands the scope of the security lapse. Facebook has had a particularly bad year when it comes to security issues — Cambridge Analytica, a giant hack, another hack — and this news comes the same day that we found out Facebook had been accessing and storing some users’ email contacts without their permission, after encouraging users to hand over their email address passwords. Facebook says it’ll be contacting all the people whose Instagram passwords were improperly stored.
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The Verge
BlackBerry Messenger (yes, that BBM) is shutting down on May 31st
Clutch your old BlackBerries dear, because the consumer version of BBM is officially dying at the end of May. In a blog post, BlackBerry has announced that it will end support for the messaging app on May 31st, citing fleeting users over the past years despite efforts to revitalize the app with features like Uber hailing and video calling. “We are proud of what we have built to date ... The technology industry however, is very fluid, and in spite of our substantial efforts, users have moved on to other platforms, while new users proved difficult to sign on,” the company wrote in a blog. “Though we are sad to say goodbye, the time has come to sunset the BBM consumer service, and for us to move on.” “The time has come ... for us to move on.” Those using the enterprise version of the app, called BBMe, will continue operations as normal. If you really miss BBM and want to keep using it, you can also download the enterprise version on Android and iOS for free, but there is a $2.50 subscription fee for every six months. BBMe does offer end-to-end encryption and message editing / unsending where the consumer version didn’t, so it may be worth the dollars if you’re still an avid BBM believer. But if, like most people, you’ve already moved on, then let us all remember a moment in time when it was considered cool to tell people to find you on an app using a convoluted mixture of numbers and letters as a way to add friends.
7 h
The Verge
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s stage builder unleashes the internet’s creativity
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate got a surprise update yesterday, which included a stage builder mode, a video editing feature, and the DLC character Joker from Persona 5. For the most part, users have taken to the stage builder mode to design elaborate, creative stages. But as anyone who has ever spent one nanosecond on the internet knows, given the creative power, humanity will always default to drawing dicks. This isn’t the first time Nintendo’s introduced a stage builder function in its games (Super Mario Maker, for example, lets you share your stages online), so the company has a basic idea of what to expect. But despite some light moderation efforts, the dicks are still busting through the detectors. ok I get it the detection is... Continue reading…
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The Verge
HBO still doesn’t like Trump using Game of Thrones memes to promote himself
HBO is asking President Donald Trump, again, to not use Game of Thronesmemes on Twitter as a way of sending political messages. Trump tweeted a meme about the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on his investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. The main font featured in the image below is lifted directly from HBO’s most popular series. This isn’t the first time Trump has used a Game of Thrones meme to address a controversy he’s involved in, but HBO has issued a statement essentially asking the president to stop. pic.twitter.com/222atp7wuB— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 18, 2019 “Though we can understand the enthusiasm for Game of Thrones now that the final season has arrived, we still prefer our intellectual property not be used for political purposes,” an HBO spokesperson told Bloomberg. Trump’s Twitter account is often rife with memes — many of which surface on subreddits like r/The_Donald before making it to his feed — but HBO has previously requested that Trump refrain from using its show’s intellectual property for pushing a political agenda. In November, Trump tweeted a different Game of Thrones meme, using the show’s infamous font to tweet, “Sanctions are coming.” The slogan was based on House Stark’s slogan “Winter is coming,” which is frequently referenced on the show. The meme was intended to reference Trump reimposing sanctions on Iran. HBO responded at the time with its own tweet: “How do you say trademark misuse in Dothraki?” In both that case and this one, Trump’s use of Game of Thrones in memes is a way to seize on a popular moment and an instantly recognizable and respected brand. But it’s also a way to declare power and take an aggressive stance against people he views as his enemies. Game of Thrones is, at its core, a story about eliminating political opponents in an attempt to take the Iron Throne and conquer a kingdom.The underlining message is that Trump is coming out on top — Game Over. As The Verge’s Adi Robertson previously wrote: “Trump is the presidential version of 4chan denizens adopting Bane and the Joker as patron saints: some men want to watch the world burn, others salivate at the prospect of beating up protestors.”
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The Verge
How an anti-piracy war shaped the fight between Valve and Epic
Earlier this month, PC gaming fans learned that the long-awaited Borderlands 3 would initially launch exclusively on the Epic Store, not Valve Corporation’s older and more popular Steam platform, and a number of them exploded with rage. Steam users review-bombed the earlier Borderlands games, calling Epic Games a “scummy company” and its actions “a slap in the face.” Critics posted a litany of reasons to hate the Epic Store, ranging from minor feature complaints to serious concerns about privacy and security. They’d made similar protests against earlier Epic exclusivity deals, including the shooter Metro: Exodus. Other reviewers, however, were incredulous at the level of anger. “Review bombing? Seriously? Over your favorite choice of DRM [digital rights management] platform?” asked one person. Several of the complaints against Epic were undeniable, but others were overblown, including a theory that Epic investor Tencent was funneling player data to the Chinese government. And the dispute reminded many observers of a small-scale console war, something that was based more in fandom than dispassionate analysis. “At this point, Steam is not just a place to buy games,” Motherboard noted. “It’s a part of some people’s identity.” But the vitriol against Epic isn’t just about a devoted fandom defending a corporation, or players preferring one piece of software to another. It’s rooted in a long war over copy protection and DRM, which is one of the biggest, ugliest flashpoints for controversy in PC gaming. When Steam launched in 2003, people got mad For over a decade, virtually everymajor system for managing PC games has been met with annoyance and suspicion. EA’s Origin Store — the first significant Steam competitor — had a decidedly cool reception back in 2011 when players uncovered some troubling clauses in its user agreement and accused EA of putting spyware on their computers. Steam was one of the first online DRM systems, and as ExtremeTech recently explained, plenty of users hated that Valve was routing all of its new games through the service, including early Steam exclusive Half-Life 2. Why, people wondered, should you have to connect to the internet to launch a game? Did you really “own” something that you downloaded through a piece of software that could easily shut down? Eventually, Steam managed to not only survive, but cement Valve’s position as one of the “good guys” of PC gaming. And it owes some of that reputation to a particularly nasty DRM war. Around 2008, as Steam was finishing its transition from a Valve gaming platform to a general purpose storefront, blockbuster PC games started shipping with a universally loathed copy protection system called SecuROM. Sony’s software added seemingly arbitrary restrictions to titles like Mass Effect and BioShock, limiting PC players to a few installations and rechecking their legitimacy every couple of weeks. It didn’t help that customer support staff had trouble even explaining the restrictions. Players complained about “being treated like a thief” I was playing PC games in college when SecuROM games started shipping, and the move seemed like a genuine gesture of contempt toward players at a time when media companies, in general, treated fans as adversaries, aggressively prosecuting pirates in addition to locking down content. Kotaku called the system “draconian,” and customers complained about “being treated like a thief.” The whole controversy nearly overshadowed the launch of simulation game Spore, with Amazon users review-bombing the massively anticipated project into one-star oblivion. One angry buyer even filed a class action lawsuit against Spore’s publisher EA, claiming it had misled her about how SecuROM worked. EA settled the case in 2010. Steam games weren’t necessarily exempt from additional copy protections like SecuROM, and Steam itself was obviously a locked-down platform; the excellent (but much smaller) GOG store, which launched in 2008, put it to shame with a firmly DRM-free catalog. Steam raised as many questions about ownership as any other copy protection system. But Valve had also worked to make its platform more convenient and user-friendly. It added an offline mode for games you’d already installed, and as its third-party catalog expanded, it began to work as a centralized library while letting players avoid the hassle of buying physical discs and typing in CD keys. When Steam worked well, it seemed like proof that a company could offer anti-piracy limitations as a fair trade-off, not a preemptive punishment. To paraphrase my then-boyfriend, a staunch movie and music pirate with a surprisingly extensive Steam library, Valve had made DRM fun. Steam had “at least a kernel of gamer interest” compared to other DRM This wasn’t an unusual assessment. Kotaku editor-in-chief Brian Crecente described Steam as a way forward for the entire gaming industry. As he put it, Steam had “at least a kernel of gamer interest at its heart,” compared to the “golden handcuffs” of SecuROM. Ultimately, Steam and similar digital storefronts thrived, while SecuROM became shorthand for everything wrong with anti-piracy efforts. By 2015, Microsoft was no longer even supporting the software. I felt a deep love for Steam in the late ‘00s and early ‘10s and a boundless hatred for products like SecuROM. (I remember ranting extensively about the software to a gaming executive who visited my college, a decision that now seems more awkward than righteous.) It was a fair position, but over the years, it’s also taken on darker undertones. My version of the fight against DRM put an almost exclusive emphasis on the rights of players, and it encouraged a Manichean, no-holds-barred approach to fighting perceived injustice — even when the injustice involved installing a video game. I’ve seen that approach mirrored over and over in the harassment campaigns and “consumer revolts” of more recent years. Obviously, my perspective has changed along with the world. Once, the games industry felt like a distant series of faceless companies to me, until I started actually talking to game creators for The Verge. But I don’t think that’s the only factor. “Gamer interest” sounded noble in 2008. Now, a vocal subset of self-identified “gamers” regularly cross the line between asking for fair treatment as customers and demanding that studios cater to them at any cost. Review-bombing has become more strongly associated with angry bigots and hyper-entitled consumers than legitimately frustrated players — even if it’s still one of the simplest ways to express a complaint. There’s also a rightly growing spotlight on how big studios and storefronts have failed developers, often in the name of keeping fans happy. The very things that made Steam so convenient — like its holiday sales and its de facto monopoly that gives many a single place to buy and their launch PC games — have been less clearly positive for game studios. Game makers regularly complain about having to compete against Valve’s cutthroat discovery algorithms or not being protected from abusive players. Even now, though, the Epic furor speaks to a real and long-running fear of losing control over how we play games, one that’s only become more relevant as physical media fades into the past.
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The Verge
HBO is teaching respect by putting Muppets on Game of Thrones and Westworld
As the latest season of Game of Thrones has shown, Westeros is at war. The divide between factions has stretched the Seven Kingdoms to the breaking point, and it seems that there’s only one hope for peace. Not Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons, or Jon Snow and his overdeveloped sense of righteousness. No, as HBO’s latest promotion shows, only Elmo, from House Sesame Street, can save the realm now. “Elmo thinks that you two need to respect each other,” says Elmo, bursting into a tense negotiation between Tyrion and Cersei Lannister. “When Elmo has a problem with his friends like Abby or Cookie Monster, Elmo doesn’t get upset. Elmo listens and learns from what they have to say.” But instead of getting carved up into fuzzy red bits by the... Continue reading…
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The Verge
10 new science fiction and fantasy books to check out in late April
Over the last couple of years, I’ve interviewed Adam Savage a few times about making things, his love of space suits, and what he carries around in his bag. He’s a frequent speaker on all of those things, and I was a little surprised that he’s never written a book — until now. In May, he’s publishing Every Tool’s A Hammer: Life is What You Make It, which bounces between a personal memoir and treatise on the maker movement and creativity. I recently picked up his book on a trip, and I blew through it. I’m a maker and cosplayer, and I felt as though every page spoke to me about something, whether it’s thinking about process and planning, building costumes, or leadership in an organization. It’s a book that’s applicable to more than just people who actively design and build things. It’s also a personal look at the importance of creativity in all walks of life. Here are 10 science fiction and fantasy books that are coming out in the second half of the month. (Our list of books that are coming out in the first half of April can be found here.) April 16th Image: John Joseph Adams Books Upon a Burning Throne by Ashok K. Banker Ashok Banker is an Indian thriller and fantasy author, and his latest novel is his US debut. Called Upon a Burning Throne, it’sthe first of his Burnt Empire Saga. It’s set in a world where demigods and demons exist alongside regular people. The emperor of the Burnt Empire has died, and his heirs must prove their worthiness to sit atop the throne. But when a girl from a distant kingdom also passes the Test of Fire but is rejected, her father, demonlord Jarsun, declares a war that could tear the empire apart. Publishers Weekly says that Banker “impressively depicts the loyalties and rivalries of a huge cast while moving his enormous story at cinematic pace through scales personal, political, and cosmic.” Read an excerpt. The Making of Solo: A Star Wars Story by Rob Bredow A number of years ago, J.W. Rinzler wrote three stellar behind-the-scenes books about the original Star Wars trilogy. They’re exhaustive volumes about how the films came together, with interviews and concept art. This month, there will be a new one for Solo: A Star Wars Story, which looks like it’ll provide a solid look into how the film came together. Hopefully, there’ll be additional ones at some point for Rogue One and the rest of the new generation of films. Read an interview with Bredow. Image: Tor Books Knight by Timothy Zahn Timothy Zahn is best known for his Star Wars novels, but he continues to publish a number of his own works as well. His next is a space opera in his Sibyl’s War series. (It follows last year’s Pawn.) Knight tells the story of a woman named Nicole Hammond who was abducted by aliens and enhanced to help control a starship called the Fyrantha. Various factions are fighting for control of the ship, and Nicole and her fellow humans caught in the middle. Read an excerpt. Ragged Alice by Gareth L. Powell Holly Craig is a detective in Wales who can see evil in someone’s soul. Growing up in a small town, she ran away to join the police in London. Now she’s back, investigating a hit-and-run, only to discover that there’s more to this particular crime than meets the eye. April 23rd Book of Flora by Meg Elison Meg Elison’s final installment of her Road to Nowhere trilogy comes at the end of an apocalypse in which most women were killed, making them valuable to communities who are looking to repopulate. A woman named Flora and her friends and family makes their way across the broken land to find a place of their own. When a new hope for the future of humanity comes, it forces Flora to choose between the home she’s built and fighting against oppression. Kirkus Reviews calls the book “a thoughtful extrapolation of contemporary gender and sexuality issues in need of wider discussion and understanding.” Read an excerpt. Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse Rebecca Roanhorse’s debut Trail of Lightning blew us away last year. It introduced a vivid post-apocalyptic world in which magic has reappeared in Dinétah, the traditional homeland of the Navajo tribe. Roanhorse picked up Nebula and Hugo nominations for the book, and its sequel looks just as good. It follows monster hunter Maggie Hoskie as she tracks down her friend Kai Arviso when he falls in with a mysterious cult. The novel has earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly, which says that “readers who enjoyed Roanhorse’s first book will eagerly blaze through her second.” Image: Penguin Random House Delta-v by Daniel Suarez With books like Influx and Change Agent, Daniel Suarez has become known for taking on big, complex science topics and building fast-paced popcorn thrillers around them. His next looks like it’ll continue that trend: Delta-v takes place in the near future when a billionaire recruits a team to conduct the first space mining mission on a near-Earth asteroid. The team of soldiers, astronauts, and mountain climbers must deal with the harsh realities of space and each other to kickstart a potential new direction for humanity. Kirkus Reviews says that it’s a “cut above most tech novels,” and that it benefits “from his attention to detail, which boosts the believability of his futuristic vision.” Read an excerpt. Emily Eternal by M.G. Wheaton Scientists designed an artificial intelligence named Emily to help people cope with trauma, and she’s eager to learn and figure out the limits of human empathy and agency. But when scientists discover that the sun will prematurely explode and her servers are destroyed, she survives in a single interface chip of a chemical engineer and discovers a potential unconventional fix that could save everyone. Kirkus Reviews describes it as a novel that “blurs together questions of existentialism, human essentialism, and love.” April 30th Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler Octavia E. Butler’s classic science fiction novel Parable of the Sower is getting a new edition this year about a dystopian California in the 2020s that follows a girl named Lauren Olamina who is trying to protect her family and community, but she accidentally leads them to the start of a new faith and direction for humanity. The book comes with a new foreword from Hugo Award-winning author N.K. Jemisin. The second novel in the series, Parable of the Talents, will get a new edition later this year as well. Image: Tor Books Waste Tide by Chen Qiufan and Ken Liu When he released his Three-Body trilogy a couple of years ago, Cixin Liu made a name for himself and the field of Chinese science fiction around the world. Now, other authors are following in his footsteps. Chen Qiufan’s debut novel, Waste Tide, will be published in English for the first time (translated by Ken Liu). It’s about a woman named Mimi who sorts out discarded electronics on Silicon Isle. She and other workers toil in pollution as a war brews on the island between investors, terrorists, and gangs, who are all fighting for control and profit. Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review, saying that it’s “extremely relevant to the current moment of throwaway culture, increasing income disparity, and technological advances progressing at such a rate that morality and ethics have trouble keeping up.” Read the prologue and first chapter.
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The Verge
Facebook admits harvesting 1.5 million people’s email contacts without consent
Facebook has admitted to accessing and storing the email contacts of as many as 1.5 million of its users without their consent. Business Insider reports that between May 2016 and last month, the social media platform asked some of its new users to verify their email address by providing the password to their email account. After doing so, the users’ contacts would be automatically imported, without any option for the user to opt out. Responding to the report, a Facebook spokesperson told Business Insider that email contacts were “unintentionally uploaded” as part of the process. They said that these contacts had never been shared with anyone, and that the company is now deleting the contacts that were uploaded. Facebook also claims to have fixed the “underlying issue” that led to the problem. “Need help?” Email verification is a standard practice for online services, but Facebook handled it in a very different way. Usually, when you sign up to a new service you’re asked to provide an email address, which then receives an email with a link in it that you have to manually click in order to verify that the email account belongs to you. Instead, what Facebook did was to have users verify that they owned an email account by handing over their password to Facebook. “To continue using Facebook, you’ll need to confirm your email address” read the page asking for a user’s email password. Users didn’t technically have to go through this process, but The Daily Beastnotes that the service’s more traditional verification options were hidden behind a nondescript “Need help?” link located below the email password box. Users could also verify their account with a code sent to their phone. Prior to May 2016, Facebook would still upload a user’s contacts if they provided their email account password. However, that month, Facebook deleted the message that informed users that this upload was going to take place, but didn’t stop the upload from happening. In small print displayed beneath the password box, Facebook claimed that it wouldn’t store the password entered as part of this process. However, the social network, which hasn’t had a chief security officer since August of last year, has previously had problems keeping to its security obligations. Just last month, it emerged that the platform had stored hundreds of millions of passwords in plain text, and in the past it’s also used phone numbers provided for security verification purposes to target users with ads. Facebook said it’s notifying anyone whose contacts were uploaded to the service over the coming days.
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The Verge
YouTube Premium subscribers might soon get $2 monthly to send to their favorite creators
YouTube is beta testing a new gifting feature for its Premium subscribers that allows those users to spend $2 on Super Chats for their favorite creators. Ryan Wyatt, YouTube’s head of gaming, confirmed the new feature was something they were testing for its subscriber base. The beta testing is running through the end of May, according to a report from Android Police. A description for the initiative, which was discovered by one of Android Police’s reporters, suggests Premium subscribers will receive $2 a month to give to creators. A YouTube Premium subscription currently costs $11.99 a month. “Your free Super Chat will refresh on the 1st day of every calendar month, but it won’t accumulate,” the description reads. Super Chat, which launched in 2017, is one of YouTube’s biggest initiatives to help creators find a secondary source of monetization away from traditional advertising revenue. Much like Twitch, people can pay a specific amount to have their message appear at the top of a live stream, or ask a creator to respond to them in chat. Super Chat is only available for creators with over 10,000 subscribers. While Super Chat has helped some of those creators with monetization, it’s also come under scrutiny from the press. A BuzzFeed report from May 2018 suggested that Super Chat was pushing creators toward more “extreme content.” BuzzFeed cited creators talking about white nationalist content, many of whom charged viewers $5 to contribute to the conversation via Super Chat. A YouTube spokesperson told BuzzFeed at the time that while the content “does not meet our threshold for hate speech,” the comments in Super Chat did. “Super Chat is a relatively new feature — it’s a small but growing source of revenue for some creators, and we are re-examining our policies in light of these edge cases,” the spokesperson told BuzzFeed. Outside of those unfortunate instances, Super Chat has become a popular tool used among creators. The $2 gifting feature seems to be an incentive for non-Premium subscribers to sign up for the platform, akin to Twitch Prime subscribers being given the chance to gift a subscription to someone. The beta test is currently only running in the United States.
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The Verge
Google Home adds support for YouTube Music’s free ad-supported tier
Google Home smart speakers can now play music from YouTube Music’s free ad-supported tier. Previously, in order to listen to YouTube music on your Google Assistant smart speaker you’d have to subscribe to Google’s paid YouTube Music Premium service for $9.99 a month. The new service is available now on the Google Home speaker and other Google Assistant smart speakers in 16 countries including the US, UK, and Australia. Unfortunately, the free tier doesn’t let you request specific songs from the smart speaker. Instead it’s meant for playlists like “Latin Vibes.” When we asked Google to specifically play Creep by Radiohead, our smart speaker played what it thought was a related Nirvana song rather than the Radiohead track we’d requested... after playing an ad for YouTube Music Premium first, of course. YouTube Music currently doesn’t support Alexa You can set the default streaming music service your smart speaker uses by heading into the “Music” section under the “Settings” menu of the Google Home app. From there you’ll be able to select YouTube Music as your default music service. Neither of YouTube Music’s tiers are currently supported on smart speakers featuring Amazon’s competing Alexa voice assistant. Playing music out of a smart speaker eliminates one of the biggest frustrations of using YouTube Music’s free tier, which is that its app doesn’t support playing music in the background. Unless you pay for its premium tier, you have to leave you phone’s screen on and the YouTube Music app open to keep your music playing. With no screen or multi-tasking, the smart speaker suffers no such issues.
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The Verge
How to use Adobe Acrobat Pro’s character recognition to make a searchable PDF
https://www.theverge.com/2019/4/18/18484973/adobe-acrobat-pro-character-recognition-searchable-text-pdf
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The Verge
Uber and Lyft roll out new safety measures in wake of college student’s murder
This week, Uber and Lyft rolled out new safety measures designed to give riders confidence as to the identity of their driver. The changes come several weeks after a University of South Carolina student was murdered allegedly by a man posing as her Uber driver. It’s a similar problem for both companies, but Uber and Lyft are taking slightly different approaches to rectify it. Uber’s app will push out an alert for riders to check the license plate, make, and model of the vehicle — as well as the name and picture of the driver — to confirm it’s the correct person picking them up. Lyft said it was now instituting a policy of continuous background checks and enhanced identity verification for drivers. (Uber implemented continuous background checks last year.) Both companies are highly sensitive to claims their platforms are unsafe for riders The news comes weeks after Lyft went public, and just days before Uber is set to make its own debut on the public markets. Both companies are highly sensitive to claims their platforms are unsafe for riders, and are racing to make the changes necessary to assure customers they’re taking safety seriously. Uber said it was debuting the new push alert in South Carolina, in partnership with the university, before rolling it out nationwide. University of South Carolina student Samantha Josephson, 21, was last seen on March 29th getting into a vehicle that she assumed was her Uber ride. Her body was later found in a wooded area 65 miles away. The car’s driver, Nathaniel David Rowland, 24, faces kidnapping and murder charges. “We are heartbroken about what has happened,’’ Uber chief legal officer Tony West told NBC News. “For us, it’s a reminder that we have to constantly do everything we can to raise the bar on safety.” Lyft’s approach to the issue of fraudulent drivers is to implement continuous criminal background checks, as well as “a new, enhanced identity verification process.” Lyft drivers will now have to show a “real-time photo” and compare it to a driver’s license. Lyft says fraud is rare, but anyone trying to drive under someone else’s license and Lyft account will be permanently banned. In 2016, Uber began requiring drivers to snap selfies before signing into the platform as part of a new feature called Real-Time ID Check. The company described it as a way to prevent fraud and protect drivers’ accounts from being compromised.
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The Verge
Senate Democrats confront ‘digital divide’ in new bill
On Wednesday, a group of Senate Democrats introduced a bill in their latest effort to help close the “digital divide” and fund state and local broadband deployment projects. The Digital Equity Act of 2019, introduced by Sens. Tina Smith (D-MN), Patty Murray (D-WA), and 2020 presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), would create two new grant programs aimed at building equal access to telecommunications technologies, primarily in underserved rural areas across America. The first grant fund would be an annual $120 million program that would fund the creation of comprehensive “digital equity plans” individualized for states to help determine the best course of action to provide access in their communities. The second would create a separate $120 million competitive grant program to support “digital equity projects” undertaken by groups and coalitions in order to increase access. For years, lawmakers and federal officials at agencies like the Federal Communications Commission have been investigating ways to encourage internet service providers like AT&T and Verizon to deploy high-speed broadband infrastructure to rural areas. Deploying broadband in more rural parts of the country is often costly and difficult to do. The FCC’s Universal Service Fund is responsible for providing subsidies to ISPs to encourage them to deploy infrastructure in these areas, but recent studies have determined that they’ve done little to increase access. The FCC and ISPs have been dinged repeatedly for inaccurate broadband access maps that suggest an entire ZIP code is covered when only one home within it is served. There have been other pieces of legislation introduced to fix the maps as well. “As we rely more on technology in our everyday lives, we have to make sure that every family has access to broadband, regardless of their zip code,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “This legislation will help close the digital divide and bring high-speed internet to communities across the county.” If approved, this legislation would direct the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) within the Commerce Department to study the results of the new funding and provide “policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels with detailed information about which projects are most effective.” According to the press release, a companion bill will also be introduced in the House of Representatives, but it’s unclear who will be sponsoring it in the body and when it will be released. “Broadband is the infrastructure of the 21st Century—it isn’t just nice, it’s necessary if we’re going to build an economy that works for everyone,” Smith said. “This bill represents a positive step forward in that direction, ensuring that traditionally overlooked communities are not left behind in our efforts to provide affordable and reliable internet service to all Minnesotans and other Americans.” Klobuchar has already made broadband deployment a key policy issue for her 2020 campaign. Last month, she announced that if she were elected president, she would create a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan that would, in part, require every American household to have high-speed broadband access by 2022.
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The Verge
Samsung breaks out the Galaxy S10’s Bright Night feature into a dedicated night mode
Samsung is turning the Galaxy S10’s Bright Night camera feature, which allows the S10 to automatically activate a night mode for low-light shots, into its own dedicated night mode. Users will be able to manually use it whenever they’d like, instead of relying on the algorithm to choose for them (as reported by SamMobile). Once the update fully rolls out (currently, it only seems to be available in Switzerland), users will get a new night mode option for the camera. The mode can be activated by swiping, similar to other camera modes like the Panorama or Instagram modes that are built into Samsung’s camera app. The lack of a manual night mode was one of the more confusing parts of the S10. As my colleague Natt Garun noted in her review,... Continue reading…
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The Verge
Here’s what it’s like when Game of Thrones’ Jason Momoa slaps you into the hospital
Today, HBO launched a new series of animated shorts called Backstories that illustrate personal stories from behind the scenes of its shows Game of Thrones, Barry, and Insecure. The first of them, from a story told by Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, is pretty wild. It’s about how actor Jason Momoa, who played Khal Drogo on the show and went on to star as Aquaman in the DC Universe films, put Benioff in the hospital by playing “the slap game.” In the video, Benioff explains his logic for taking on a notoriously strong man-mountain in a physical contest of pain: “I’m going to challenge the Khal because if I beat the Khal, I’m the Khal.” (Heavy drinking was apparently also involved, if animators Ivan Dixon and Greg Sharp are setting the scene accurately.) What follows is a surreal story about Momoa’s competitiveness and Benioff’s inability to back down, and it’s a hoot — especially given how the animators decide to portray what happens to Benioff’s hands. The other two initial shorts in the Backstories series are less painful but even more wildly animated. In “Acting Class,” Barry co-creator Alec Berg discusses how a painful acting class gave him the idea to push his own actors further. Animators Christy Karacas and Simon Wilches give this relatively mundane story a Bizarro-world look, with Berg and show co-creator Bill Hader turning into two-dimensional characters to slide around theaters and sneak into classes. Faux fish-eye lenses give the camera POV a creepy forced look. In “Becoming Molly,” Insecure’sYvonne Orji explains the moment when she decided to do comedy: because she couldn’t come up with any other talent to showcase at a Miss Nigeria in America pageant, and she heard the voice of God telling her she was funny (and had nothing else). This one, from animators Carl Jones and Brian Ash, is a particularly stylish, colorful, visually wild piece, that turns Orji into a huge-haired, pencil-limbed take on Garnet from Steven Universe. It sends her on a fast trip from insecurity to comedy success to getting the Insecure job from creator Issa Rae‎ to meeting the real-world person she was playing. An HBO spokesperson says the animated series will continue, with shorts screening on HBO, on the network’s social media channels, and at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.
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The Verge
Publishers are scrambling to ready ebook versions of the Mueller report
For nearly two years, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been investigating Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, and earlier today, the results of his investigation finally became available. It’s the most eagerly awaited report in years, and reporters and newsreaders alike are rushing to the Department of Justice’s website to see the newly published 448-page report. At the same time, publishers are also scrambling to get their own editions of the report into bookstores and onto ebook platforms as quickly as possible. Skyhorse Publishing, Scribner, Melville House, Audible, and Barnes & Noble will all be publishing their own editions of the final report. Some ebook editions could arrive as soon as tomorrow (Scribner confirmed to The Verge that it expects to release its edition Friday), while print editions could take up to two weeks. Skyhorse has said that it plans to begin shipping its print edition “about 7 days from release,” while Scribner has said that it hopes to have its print edition out by April 26th. Melville House wants its version out “in no more than 10 days,” while Barnes & Noble says that its “special editions with related materials in print” will hit stores the week of the April 29th. Audible lists its edition for April 30th. Graphic by James Bareham / The Verge The process is more than just hitting copy and paste for publishers. The released document isn’t searchable as text, so simply translating the 448-page PDF file into a text format will be somewhat tricky. Any resulting text file will then have to be proofread against the initial report to ensure there wasn’t an error in the encoding. Publishers will then have to set the type, translate the many redactions, and shape the legal document into something resembling a book. Speaking to The Wall Street Journal, Skyhorse publisher Tony Lyons indicated that “a team of nine people plans on pulling an all-nighter Thursday” to get its edition in front of customers as quickly as possible. Audible and Scribner will also be recording audio versions of the report. Mueller’s report is in the public domain, meaning publishers can print their own copies Legally, Mueller’s report is in the public domain, making it exempt from copyright protections and available to any publisher that wants to print it. But as long as the report is freely available online from the Department of Justice, why would anyone buy one of their own? Kari Mautsch, the co-owner of Yankee Bookshop in Woodstock, Vermont, told The Verge that she’s already ordered a number of copies to sell in her store. When Simon & Schuster was the first out of the gate to announce its decision, “we decided to order on the heavy side since we knew there would be local interest in having physical copies of the report — as opposed to having to read it online or on a screen.” A key point, Mautsch says, is that not everyone wants to read an entire 300-page document on their computer screen. There’s clearly demand as well; at the time of this article’s publishing, Scribner’s edition of the report is sitting at the #3 best-selling slot in the United States History section and #49 on the site’s overall best-seller list. And that was before the report was even released to the public. Some of these editions will come with some extras: Scribner’s edition will come with an “introduction by investigative journalists Rosalind S. Helderman and Matt Zapotosky,” as well as a “timeline of significant events, and a cast of the investigation’s key figures.” Skyhorse’s edition will come with an introduction from attorney Alan Dershowitz, author of The Case Against Impeaching Trump. Others won’t come with additional context or introductions. Melville House will release a cheaper mass-market edition of the report, and Barnes & Noble’s digital edition will be a “PDF / direct replica of historic The Mueller Report as released by the U.S. Department of Justice, Barr redactions and all.” Melville House publisher Dennis Johnson told Publishers Weekly that he felt that the inclusion of other reporting from places like The Washington Post gives it “a kind of bias and context. These books should not be contextualized. That is not good publishing.” It typically takes up to a year for a book to go from manuscript to final product In all but the rarest of cases, it can take up to a year for a book to go from manuscript to final product. In instances when high-profile books are rushed to market because of demand, that timeline can be shortened considerably. In 2016, Tor.com published a neat overview on how George R.R. Martin’s long-awaited Winds of Winter could be published in a mere three months, going through all of the steps that the publisher needs to take, including editing, creating the cover art, marketing the title to booksellers, formatting, and printing and distributing it. Martin’s still-yet-to-be-released epic fantasy novel is obviously a far different product than that of Robert Mueller’s report, but the physical product will still go through a similar process to be printed as a book. Mueller’s report will most likely get to skip a couple of the steps that Tor.com outlined. The publishers likely won’t be changing the actual content, and most have already come up with covers for their respective editions.
The Verge
Typing games are having a moment
The typing game genre was born of necessity. These games were designed to teach a new generation of computer users how to type on a keyboard. Software Toolworks’ Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing! and Sega’s Typing of the Dead, released in 1987 and 1999, respectively, used the novelty of the keyboard as a game mechanic to keep people playing, despite the rote mechanics necessary in learning. Though Typing of the Dead may not have been installed on the rows of machines in your middle school computer lab, Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing certainly was. There were others, too, like Knowledge Adventure’s JumpStart Typing and PopCap Games’ Typer Shark, among many more. “Keyboarding was a new skill and computers were driving home the need for everybody [to learn to type],” Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing developer Mike Duffy tells The Verge. “And then suddenly, everybody had to do it and do it reasonably well. People had an interest on their own, but it was also parents thinking of their kids. It was driven by people wanting to use their computers effectively.” But things are different now. More than 73 percent of Americans have a computer, according to the Pew Research Center. Kids aren’t being introduced to computers and keyboards when they’re old enough; they’re growing up alongside them. Typing classes — now called keyboarding — are still taught in schools, but it’s no longer a mandatory part of the curriculum. By the time students get to these classes, they already know how to type at a physical keyboard and on a smartphone. Educational typing games have naturally fallen out of fashion. In their absence, a new wave of typing games — among them, The Textorcist: The Story of Ray Bibbia, Nanotale, Keyboard Sports, and Type Knight — is innovating in the space, fighting the notion that the genre has to teach you something. In fact, Textorcist designer Diego Sacchetti doesn’t want you to call his game a typing game at all. “It’s a ‘type-’em-up.’ A shoot-’em-up when you fight by typing,” Sacchetti says. “It’s not an educational game.” The Textortcist. Putting players in the role of an exorcist called Ray Bibbia, The Textorcist combines typing mechanics with bullet hell–style gameplay. And it’s hard. To beat the bosses, you’ll need to nail the ability to dodge bullets and type out commands to exorcise the game’s demons. The control scheme is set up in a way that encourages players to type with one hand and use the other to dodge bullets. (At the request of typing enthusiasts, the game now also features an option that lets players keep both hands in a standard typing position.) When The Textorcist was released in February 2019, Sacchetti says that 90 percent of the game’s coverage made comparisons to Mavis Beacon Teaches Teaching. It was frustrating for him. “It’s quite sad because it means so many people still frame typing as an educational-only mechanic,” Sacchetti says. “It’s not an educational game.” Keyboard Sports: Saving QWERTY developer Triband is also encouraging players to look at the keyboard as a controller, and not just a typing device. Originally released in 2016 as a mini-game for Humble Bundle, Keyboard Sports is getting a full release this year. Unlike The Textorcist, Keyboard Sports doesn’t require players to type words. Instead, players use the buttons on the keyboard to control how the character on-screen, QWERTY, moves. “We continuously have to remind ourselves when working on [Keyboard Sports] that it’s not a keyboard. It’s a magical weird device with 100 buttons,” Triband director Tim Garbos says. For the game to be successful, Keyboard Sports must keep reminding the player of that, too. Experienced typists often struggle the most; it’s the players that abandon their expectations of a typing game that take to Keyboard Sports’ innovative gameplay faster. “We keep surprising the player by introducing new ways to interact,” Garbos says. “First, you use one key at a time. Then you learn to hold the key down. Later, you have to use four keys at the same time. It’s a constant fight against [the player’s] habits.” He adds: “It’s extremely hard to get a player to press ALT + F4, even though it’s totally safe to do in this game.” It’s all part of the humor of the game. ALT + F4, for the uninitiated, is a PC command that closes an open window. There’s an old prank in multiplayer PC games, which is to tell anyone who asks how to do something that the answer is pushing ALT + F4. They won’t accomplish whatever they’re trying to do, and instead will be forced to quit the game. Keyboard Sports: Saving QWERTY. Early typing games like Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing were purposeful in their approach to teaching players how to type. But this year’s wave of typing games is resolute in using the mechanics as gameplay elements. That could mean a new control scheme, a la Keyboard Sports, or a way to mechanically push a story forward, like in The Textorcist, which has players type out the “prayers” used for exorcising demons, or Fishing Cactus’ Nanotale. Of course, Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing does have game-like elements designed so players can have fun while learning, but the core game requires players to type out a story. “Part of [the development] was just having a story, so there was some reason to be typing these letters,” Duffy says. “One of the things we did was to make it fun to read as you were typing. It’s not just ‘The red fox jumps over the lazy brown dog,’ stuff, but excerpts [of original stories]. We hired a writer to create original content for the game.” “It’s a magical weird device with 100 buttons.” In Nanotale, a top-down role-playing game to be released this year, magic is used as an explanation for the typing mechanic. Much like in Diablo, players are exploring a fantasy world and fighting enemies. But instead of tapping a single button to cast a spell, you’re typing out the incantation, as if you’re speaking it yourself. There are puzzles, magic management, and things to collect, making it a much more involved experienced than something like Typing of the Dead, which also requires typing words to defeat enemies. And most of these elements, from talking to non-playable characters and picking up items, are done through typing. “We’re trying to use a typing mechanic in a meaningful way so that it makes sense,” Nanotale game designer David Bailly says. “You’re typing this word because the character is writing something down or casting a spell. Words have meaning and magic is carried through incantations.” It’s a slightly different approach to the typing mechanic in Fishing Cactus’ Epistory. (Nanotale is described by the developer as a spiritual successor to Epistory.) In Epistory, a story is written through the actions of the game. It’s literally the power of words that unfold the story in its papercraft world. Neither game aims to teach a player to type; Bailly explicitly says it’s not an educational game. But the team did employ a design rule that made sure Epistory (and, later, Nanotale) didn’t help a player develop bad habits. Likewise, both games do track how fast you’re typing, but it’s actually to adapt the difficulty to skill. “The game is supposed to calculate how fast you’re typing to adapt metrics of speed of enemies and your skill to make the game interesting to everyone,” Bailly says. Epistory. It’s the reason why the game works, but a varying level of keyboard familiarity could also explain why now is the time when typing and keyboard-controlled games are having their moment. Most of us know how to type, often pretty well. And most of us probably don’t even think about it; we just do it, even if we’re not the most skilled typists. That familiarity allows us to think about the device in newer, more interesting ways. The need to learn to type on a keyboard feels a bit more archaic, and that distance from the likes of Typing of the Dead and Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing allows typing games to be more than educational tools. We already use keyboards to play video games — WASD to move, specifically — so why not build a whole game around it? Keyboard Sports director Garbos has a different explanation, though, which is perhaps a bit tongue-in-cheek. “Let’s face it, the keyboard is dying,” Garbos says. “Today, more emails are written on phones than on actual keyboards. More games are played with controllers, and that’s just the beginning. You can now interface with your computer through speech, virtual reality, or even by just looking it at. “It’s too late to save the keyboard, so Keyboard Sports: Saving QWERTY is our final tribute to the wonderful keyboard.”
The Verge
Read special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Trump and Russia
After nearly two years, special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia is over, and a redacted version of the report has been released. Last month, after the conclusion of the investigation, Attorney General William Barr released a summary of the report, but lawmakers have pressed for the complete version to be released. While the nearly 400-page report is now available, it comes redacted — setting up another potential battle over whether the obscured details inside could be politically damaging to the president. While the special counsel’s investigation resulted in the indictment of former Trump advisers like Paul Manafort, the president quickly seized on Barr’s summary of the report as evidence of... Continue reading…
The Verge
15 game streaming services you can try before Google Stadia arrives
Streaming games from remote internet servers could be the future of the video game industry — or part of that future, anyhow. By removing the need to own a PC or console to play the latest, most demanding blockbuster games, the medium as a whole could become more accessible. That is, if you have a good internet connection. Google’s recent announcement of its Stadia game service has thrust this idea back into the spotlight, and when it launches later this year, it might be an interesting option for both newcomers and seasoned gamers who are curious about streaming games over the internet. But it’s hardly the first cloud gaming platform to debut. If you’re interested in streaming your own desktop PC games to your PC, Mac, phone, tablet, or... Continue reading…
The Verge
Apple expands its iPhone recycling program to US Best Buy stores and the Netherlands
Apple has announced that it’s expanding its iPhone recycling program to include Best Buy stores in the US and KPM locations in the Netherlands, greatly increasing the number of places where customers can return old devices to ensure that they’re recycled properly. Previously, the only place to recycle an iPhone was through Apple Stores or Apple’s online site. The company has custom-built robots called Daisy that disassemble recycled iPhones. Daisy can now disassemble 15 different iPhone models — up from the nine models it could take apart in 2018 — which it can take apart at a rate of 200 phones per hour. (That’s up to 1.2 million iPhones per Daisy robot per year.) So far, Apple says that it’s received “nearly 1 million devices through Apple programs” for recycling, so that might be overkill for now, but hopefully the expanded program will provide more phones to recycle. Additionally, Apple announced a new Material Recovery Lab in Austin, Texas, which will work to develop new recycling processes to improve on its existing recycling efforts so that Apple can make sure that it’s making the most of each phone and as little goes to waste as possible.
The Verge
How the Game Boy found a new life through emulation
Emulators are a way to preserve old technology, and they’re a means for keeping games alive Continue reading…
The Verge
Fortnite is getting a World Cup for creative mode, too
The finals for the Fortnite World Cup are quickly approaching, and today developer Epic announced a new twist for the competition. While the main tournament will be centered around the game’s incredibly popular battle royale mode, it will also include a component involving Fortnite’s Minecraft-style creative mode, which launched in December and has been steadily growing in stature. Over the next few weeks Epic will hold a series of events where competitors can submit their creations to be judged, and the winners will then face off at the World Cup finals in New York this July. The creative-specific prize pool totals a sizable $3 million. While a number of details are still unclear, here’s the basic qualification process, as per Epic: T... Continue reading…
The Verge
This year’s iPhones could have much better selfie cameras
All of this year’s iPhones could come with upgraded selfie cameras, potentially offering better performance in low light. The details come from a report out today by Ming-Chi Kuo, a reliable Apple analyst at TF International Securities, and they were reported by MacRumors. Apple will move from using a 7-megapixel selfie camera to a 12-megapixel selfie camera, without reducing the size of the pixels, according to the report. That would bring the megapixel count in line with the cameras on the rear of the phone. Kuo also sees Apple adding a slightly faster lens on the front, all of which should help with low-light performance. Apple will also use a black coating to hide some lenses, the report says The report also says that Apple will use... Continue reading…
The Verge
One of the Game Boy’s weirdest games was a Pokémon clone with infrared trading
Many years ago, before AirDrop and Bluetooth, before widespread Wi-Fi and even remotely fast home internet access, there was the Game Boy Link Cable. It was how you got all three starters on your copy of Pokémon Red, and it was, at least in my mind, the only way to bring any sort of peer-to-peer connectivity to Nintendo’s handheld. I remember dutifully trading pokémon with friends after school, ensuring we could fill one another’s Pokédex entries before trading back our precious virtual creatures using Nintendo’s cable accessory, a device Pokémon creator Satoshi Tajiri credits as inspiration for virtual worlds that insect-like creatures could crawl between, like tunnels. But the link cable was just the beginning of the Game Boy’s wild, bizarre experimentation with the future. In the late ‘90s, Japanese game company Hudson Soft eventually came up with a more radical idea to bring wireless connectivity to the handheld. It would use infrared — built directly into game cartridges. That way, you could transfer data between two games, or even download data from the internet, directly onto the game. And for some inexplicable reason lost to time, I convinced my parents to buy the one and only Game Boy Color game sold in North America to feature this technology. The system itself was called GB Kiss, named after the awkward physical dance two players would have to perform to bring the cartridges close enough to one another to initiate the infrared data transfer. For Hudson Soft, it was a remarkably ambitions idea, a leftover from its attempt nearly a decade prior to crack the home console market through its partnership with NEC Home Electronics on the TurboGrafX-16, a device that failed to gain traction but nonetheless spawned a dizzying number of wild accessories and mods. The goal this time was to create a whole ecosystem of games that relied both on the infrared game-to-game transfer and a bundled modem that would hook your Game Boy up to the internet, where Hudson Soft made mini-games available for download. Yes, there was DLC… for the Game Boy, in 1998. Even more remarkable was that the system was compatible with older hardware, meaning you could link the original Game Boy, released nine years prior in 1989, up to the internet. There was even a rudimentary form of text messaging in GB Kiss for managing an inbox and sending short-form virtual letters. I never owned the modem, but I did own the only GB Kiss game to make its way to the US. It was called Robopon, and it was an outright Pokémon ripoff featuring not cute animals, but cute animal versions of robots. The cartridge, a rare jet black, was elongated to fit both the infrared sensor on the top and the CR2025 coin cell watch battery that powered it — a component that, unlike in pretty much every other Game Boy cartridge, was actually user-replaceable on Robopon. In an interesting twist, that allows Robopon games to outlast old Pokémon cartridges from the same time period. Robopon has earned something resembling cult status over the years, having been published in North America at the time by venerated role-playing game maker Atlus, which is now best known for making the Persona series and the broader Shin Megami Tensei universe to which it belongs. In Japan, the “Sun” version of Robopon, the only one to make it to North America, was joined by both “Moon” and “Star” versions, a curious foretelling of where the Pokémon naming scheme would end up nearly 20 years later. But make no mistake: the game was as close to a Pokémon clone as you could get, with some inspiration from classic SNES RPG Robotrek thrown in as well. Your character, an Ash Ketchum look-alike canonically named Cody, even starts out in his childhood bedroom, and the sprite and menu designs were almost identical to Nintendo’s monster-catching series. After the brief intro, you meet your grandfather, a Professor Oak-type character who not only gifts Cody his first ever robopon, a rabbit-like fighter named Sunny, but also gives him an entire company to manage. TheSpritersResource.com As the game progresses, you run into even more borrowed concepts, including catching robots in the wild, evolutions, and an eventual analog to the Elite Four called, no joke, the Elite Eight. You fought by installing software on your robots to give them special attacks, and you powered them up by giving them new mechanical equipment. There was a sequel eventually developed for the Game Boy Advance that deviated further from the Pokémon formula, but the initial game was very much riding on the coattails of Pokémon developer Game Freak and Tajiri, who became its CEO. All of this makes a lot more sense when you remember that Hudson Soft was concurrently developing its own Pokémon title for the Game Boy that was released in Japan the same year as Robopon, in 1998. (Both arrived in North America in 2000.) That title was a video game version of the franchise’s card game aptly called Pokémon Trading Card Game and modeled almost identically off titles from the core series. Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge That Robopon was an unabashed Pokémon clone didn’t matter much to me. I was fascinated by the fact that Robopon let me trade without link cables. I somehow convinced a friend of mine to also buy the game, so we could trade at school using the GB Kiss system. I remember being astonished that it actually worked, although it took many minutes of tinkering and careful placement of the infrared panels to pull it off. Not only did the GB Kiss feature allow for infrared trading, but you could even point your television remote control at the cartridge to unlock special chests in the game and to boost your robopons’ stats. Unfortunately, the GB Kiss system was short-lived — apparently, selling video game fans a rudimentary modem for a handheld game console did not translate to blockbuster sales. Putting a nail in the coffin of Hudson Soft’s infrared experiment was the incorporation of a built-in IR sensor on the Game Boy Color, which came out in October 1998, roughly seven months after Hudson Soft debuted GB Kiss and two months before the Japanese release of Robopon on that very same system. More than 20 years ago, game designers were trying to deliver a far-off future Of course, infrared came and went on the Game Boy line as well, having only been supported by a handful of titles and disappearing as a hardware feature with the release of the Game Boy Advance. Infrared would appear again in Nintendo’s handheld line only years later as an accessory port on the Nintendo 3DS, which by then relied on Wi-Fi for almost all forms of data transfer. But to this day, Robopon and its infrared sensor are tied to fond memories of my childhood. It was a time when every year in gaming felt like a huge, exponential leap in what was possible, both in the graphics and gameplay of the software and in the ambitions of the hardware, so much of which was so experimental and outlandish that it looks like it could have been a piece of concept art from a science fiction film. GB Kiss may have never taken off, but it’s fascinating to know that more than 20 years ago, game developers were seeing around the corner and trying to deliver a future the broader tech industry was barely capable of delivering.
The Verge