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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Google’s Top-Secret Video Game Revealed

Google’s top-secret Niantic Project has been picking up plenty of buzz lately around all the usual tech blogs. Since November 1st a Google-hosted investigation board has been stoking these fires with cryptic videos featuring ominous voiceovers that drop phrases like “There’s more to the world than you can see.” A poster featuring encoded text superimposed over photos taken near CERN is another early post on this “Sphere of Weirdness.”

An independent wiki has even been set up to help sort out the signal from the noise. Reddit has also gotten in on the act.

In a reveal sure to disappoint some (while alternately thrilling mobile gamers), Google has revealed that Project Niantic is in fact tied to the launch of a new location-based mobile game called Ingress, developed by Google itself.

The game has been in development within Google for many months by a small internal group known as Niantic Labs, headed up by John Hanke. Hanke is perhaps best known as the CEO of Keyhole Inc., a mapping & technology company Google acquired in 2004. After the acquisition, Keyhole’s flagship product was renamed Google Earth and Hanke would go on to lead the group that developed Google Maps, StreetView and more.

So, it’s safe to say he knows a thing or two about developing location-based apps and services on a truly global scale. But does this experience prime Google to create the true location-based killer gaming app?

Ingress’s gameplay builds on the fiction established in the Niantic Project alternate reality game. There is a “world within our world.” Portals are beginning to open up all over the globe, but can only be sensed by a select few. These portals begin pouring out exotic matter. Is this the next step in human enlightenment, or are these portals something dangerous that should be resisted? Your answer to this question determines whether you play Ingress on the side of The Enlightened, hoping to awaken more citizens, or The Resistance, hoping to protect the population from these forces.

These portals exist in real world locations like libraries, museums and other “interesting public spaces,” defined automatically by Google’s extremely extensive database of locations. In my demo, the Cupid’s Span art installation along San Francisco’s Embarcadero housed the in-game portal closest to me.

Gameplay revolves around capturing and controlling these portals for your faction before the other side can get their hands on it. Capturing a portal is as simple as being nearby and hitting a button on your phone. But the catch is that you truly do need to be nearby. Ingress uses your phone’s GPS to know if you truly are at the art museum you claim to be at.

Ingress’s in-game visuals harken back to movies (and classic arcade games) like TRON. Rather than present gamers with the standard bright and friendly Google Maps interface, San Francisco is instead represented by a dark grid of roads and buildings. Transparent vector graphics overlay the real-world map, representing the various portals and power nodes players are struggling to control.

Plenty of other apps like Red Robot’s Life is Crime, RocketChicken’s CodeRunner and “old-fashioned” Geocaches force gamers to get out in the world and explore. Hanke believes that Ingress’s elaborate storyline and more advanced strategy and tactical elements will allow the game to stand out.

The Niantic Project ARG that has generated so much buzz doesn’t end when the game launches – it isn’t merely a promotional vehicle for the game. It’s a true narrative that Google plans to continue running, adapting it to fit player actions in the coming months.

As for the tactics and strategy, although Ingress might make it simple to capture a nearby portal, capturing the hearts and minds of nearby citizens is a more complicated matter. The game features a complex system for taking over entire square blocks (and later, square miles) of territory for your faction. Once three portals have been captured by your faction, if they’re in range of each other and no enemy-controlled portals are nearby, the triangulated area is filled in with your faction's color. Teams of players can work together to box out entire neighborhoods Qix-like for their faction.

The total score each controlled area contributes to your team is determined by the location's size and population density (another bit of data Google has easy access to). Hanke pointed out during my demo that taking over the sparse Nevada desert might be easy, but controlling a small portion of downtown San Francisco might contribute more to the cause.

Every action players take, from hacking a neutral portal, to attacking an enemy-controlled portal, to reinforcing your own portals with items like shields, expends Exotic Matter, or XM. Gamers collect this XM just by moving through the world – a smart way to reward players for getting off their rear ends while preventing any one user from dominating the entire experience.

When playing on your mobile device, your view is limited to just your immediate surroundings (although special items do allow you to peek at the game state in far away places). But Ingress also includes a web client that lets gamers see a more tactical view of what’s happening across the entire nation or even the entire globe. This information asymmetry is intentional – the Ingress team envisions a scenario where one player sits at a desktop, dispatching orders to “agents” in the field instructing them which portals to power-up in order to complete a link and take over a territory. Only someone in front of a deskop can see the big picture and know where resources are needed.

After a brief demo of Ingress in action, I’m intrigued enough to want to further explore Google’s world within our world, but I’m not yet sold on the belief that the search giant has truly created The Next Big Thing. It’s a huge ask of gamers to get them to pack up and actually go somewhere. I’m not yet convinced that Ingress’s unique conspiracy-minded fiction and more tactical elements will be robust enough to allow the game to stand out from the growing pack of location-based games. But I’m willing to give it a shot.

The Ingress App is available only on Android for now, with iOS to follow. The app is a free download, with Hanke insisting that it would remain truly free, thanks to integrations with real-world brands like Hint Water and Zipcar.

Can Google be the next major mobile gaming player? Will Ingress be the title to finally convince gamers to get behind loction-based gaming in a major way? Leave a comment and let us know what you think.

By Justin Davis IGN

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Motorola offers $100 trade-in for abandoned Android phones

Motorola is offering $100 off the purchase of a new phone to users whose current phones won't get the latest version of Android.

The so-called “Trade Up” program is a consolation for Motorola's decision not to upgrade some of its Android phones.
Last month, Motorola abandoned its plans to upgrade the Atrix 4G, Photon 4G and Electrify beyond Android 2.3, despite earlier promises. Those phones, along with 10 others that won't receive Android 4.1, codenamed Jelly Bean, are now eligible for trade-in.

The new phones available in exchange include the Atrix HD on AT&T; the Razr HD, Razr HD Maxx and Razr M on Verizon; the Electrify 2 or Electrify M on US Cellular; and the Photon Q on Sprint or C Spire.

For all wireless carriers except Verizon, users will have to purchase their new phone first, then mail in their old phone and a proof-of-purchase. A Motorola Visa Prepaid Card worth $100 will arrive in six to eight weeks.

On Verizon, the process is easier. Users can simply bring in their old phone to a Verizon store and get a $100 Verizon Wireless Gift Card after activating an eligible new phone. That card can be used at Verizon's stores and website, or can be used to pay Verizon bills.

Motorola, now a subsidiary of Google, is showing a newfound interest in keeping its smartphones up to date. All 2011 phones that aren't eligible for the trade-in, such as the Droid Razr and Atrix HD, will be upgraded to Jelly Bean according to Motorola, though it's not clear when that will happen.
Here's the full list of phones that Motorola is accepting:
  • Droid 3 (Verizon)
  • Droid X2 (Verizon)
  • Admiral (Sprint)
  • Atrix 2 (AT&T)
  • Atrix 4G (AT&T)
  • Cliq 2 (T-Mobile)
  • Electrify
  • Milestone 3 XT861
  • Milestone X2
  • Photon 4G (Sprint)
  • Titanium (Sprint)
  • Triumph (Virgin Mobile)
  • XPRT
By Jared Newman of PC World

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Rumor: Microsoft Prepping 7-Inch 'Xbox Surface' Tablet

Xbox Logo
Microsoft is reportedly building a 7-inch gaming tablet that may be dubbed the Xbox Surface in a move that ties together the software giant's gaming console with its new line of tablet PCs running Windows 8 and Windows RT.

The project is in the initial hardware planning stage, according to The Verge, which cited unnamed sources at Microsoft in a Tuesday report.

Rumors about a Microsoft-built gaming tablet first appeared in June. Microsoft has declined to comment on the existence of an Xbox Surface.

The rumored 7-inch tablet would run a stripped down version of Windows, according to The Verge. The device is being designed to run on a "custom ARM processor and high-bandwidth RAM," but those "specifications could be altered to accommodate an unannounced Intel SoC and that the Xbox Surface is being developed independent of specific hardware architecture," the tech site reported.
"Messaging and other tablet functions may be supported, but the focus is on gaming," the site continued.

Microsoft is also reportedly running "a secret hardware production process for its Surface tablets" distinct from the manufacturing arrangement used to build its Xbox consoles. The rumored Xbox Surface tablet would be built in a factory where other Surface devices are being built, whereas next-generation Xbox consoles are likely to be produced in volume by current Xbox partners Pegatron and Foxconn, according to The Verge.

Some components of the rumored gaming tablet may be getting developed in Microsoft's Silicon Valley offices, the site further reported, alluding to reports of a security "lockdown" at "Xbox-related buildings" located in the company's facilities.

The Xbox Surface would likely appear before Microsoft's next-gen Xbox console, which itself is rumored to be launching in the second half of next year.

By Damon Poeter of PC Mag,2817,2411829,00.asp

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

10 reasons why Windows 8 is great for traditional PC users

 10 reasons why Windows 8 is great for traditional PC users

The big noise around the Windows 8 launch involves touch-enabled devices like Microsoft's own super-slick Surface.

But Windows 8 is great news for regular desktop and laptop users. Here's 10 reasons why.

1. It's dirt cheap

Well, by Microsoft's standards, at least. If you've got almost any kind of legit Windows installation, from XP onwards, it's yours for £24.99. If you've got Windows 7, it could be as little as £14.99. What a bargain.

2. It's less confusing for PC users.

OK, the whole Windows 8 versus Windows RT thing is currently causing a bit of a headache if you're in the market for a portable touch device.

But for PC users, it's very straight forward. There's none of the Windows 7 Home Basic, Home Premium, Business or Ultimate nonsense. It's just Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro. Simple.
Windows 8 Metro

3. Quicker boot times

Not much more to be said here. It boots quicker from cold and in most cases resumes are almost instantaneous.

It's all a result of the fact that Windows 8 is optimised for ultramobile devices. That also explains why Windows is simply...

4. Faster all round

On any given box, Windows 8 runs better than Windows 7. That's quite something when you consider that Windows 7 also runs faster than Windows Vista.

Designed to run on tablets and ultrabooks, Windows 8 is lean and mean, and that means it'll fly on a traditional desktop or laptop machine.

5. Better battery life

Once again, those ultramobile optimisations will pay dividends for conventional laptops. Slap Windows 8 on your existing portable PC and there's a very good chance you'll see better battery life.

Ok, you do lose some of the more resource-hungry features from Windows 7, including the Aero Glass interface, but you gain a whole lot more, which brings us to...

6. It looks better, too

When it comes to the traditional desktop part of the Windows 8 interface, Microsoft has realised that less is more.
Gone are the complex transparencies and drop shadows. In comes a cleaner, simpler interface that's kinder on the eye and will likely age very gracefully. Of course, there's also the new Modern UI which effectively means you get...

7. Two operating systems for the price of one

OK, more like a second user interface rather than full additional operating system. And much of the time, the Modern UI is just plain infuriating on a non-touch device.
But it is a completely different experience and when it works – and that does happen occasionally with keyboard and mouse – it's thoroughly refreshing. Of course, Modern UI also comes with a set of funky, built-in apps...

8. Those touch-enabled Modern UI apps

Your mileage will vary, but there's a good chance you'll like using at least some of the pre-baked Modern UI apps with your keyboard and mouse / trackpad. The Mail, Calendar and People apps, for instance, look great and are slick and simple to use.

9. Internet Explorer is pretty good

Speaking of slick and simple, you could say the same of Internet Explorer 10 in Windows 8.
There's native native flash support and new features like Flip Ahead, which helps navigate long web pages, and automatic updates.
OK, you're probably going install the browser du jour, be that Chrome or Firefox, on your home PC. But if you have to use IE, perhaps on a corporate box, it's far from the bane it used to be.

10. Improved security and data recovery

Security. It's perhaps Windows' biggest problem. Heavy lies the crown of operating system ubiquity.
Anywho, Windows 8 at least has a stab at addressing that with standard anti-virus in the form of Windows Defender. Better late than never! The Push Button Reset also allows you to return your PC to factory fresh condition in minutes without losing settings and data.
Storage Spaces, meanwhile, is essentially a more user friendly data mirroring option to replace clunky old RAID arrays. And File History back ups give you access to old versions of files. Not a bad list of extras, we're sure you'll agree.

By Jeremy Laird of Tech Radar

Monday, November 5, 2012

Hard drive recovery tips for disaster-damaged storage

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, it's no surprise that some people are scrambling to recover data from damaged hard drives.
Chris Bross, Senior Enterprise Recovery Engineer at DriveSavers, said his company has been busy with an uptick in business, working to reclaim the data on everything from home users' single-disk drives to business-level servers. Some of the hard drives have been damaged by water, he said, but even more have been fried by power surges related to the storm.
The good news, he said, is that the majority of damaged hard drives can be recovered—albeit for a hefty price. DriveSavers charges an average of $1,000 to $1,500 to save the data from a single, consumer-grade drive, though the company is offering $500 off for severe weather victims.
DTI Data, another drive recovery service, also charges $1,000 for consumer drives if the company has to physically open it, said John Best, DTI's director of information technology. If the company can save the drive without cracking it open, the price drops to about $500. For New Yorkers, DTI has a local recovery center that accepts drop-offs.
Both companies will not charge users if their hard drives can't be recovered.

Whatever you do, don't dry it

If your hard drive is soaked in water, the worst thing you can do is attempt to dry it out.
As Bross explains, water contains contaminants such as minerals, which can spell doom for data if they bond with the platters in the drive. "When they're still floating in the liquid solution, the probability of cleaning them is much higher than if they've dried," he said.
David Mohyla, President of DTI data, agrees. He said customers can give their drives a quick rinse in fresh water, especially if they've been exposed to salt water. After that, the still-wet hard drive should be wrapped in a paper towel and placed in a Ziploc bag with as much air removed as possible. (DTI has posted a YouTube video demonstrating how to package a wet hard drive for recovery.)
"What is not a good idea is taking out to the front yard and hitting it with a blow dryer," Mohyla said.

How to check a possibly fried hard drive

Although users should not attempt to plug in a hard drive with water damage, they can check on drives that may have been hit with a power surge.
The things to watch for, Best said, are weird scratching or grinding noises when powering up a computer—if you hear these, power down and consider taking your drive to a professional firm like DriveSavers or DTI. If the computer itself is damaged, and won't even boot your drive, you can always try attaching the drive to a fresh, unharmed PC. Just be wary of attaching hardware that has burn marks, emits a burning smell, or issues odd noises when connected. In these cases, consider taking your drive to a professional instead.

How to save a wet gadget

For cell phones that have been submerged in water, the old rice in a bowl trick may help bring it back to life. Remove the battery if possible, and rinse the phone with clean water if it's been exposed to salt water. Then, submerge it under dry rice in a sealed bowl or plastic bag for several days.
A commercial variant on this trick, dubbed the Bheestie Bag, claims to be 700 percent more effective than home remedies. I haven't tried it, but it has received good reviews elsewhere.
Bheestie is offering 20 percent off in response to the hurricane, plus a free bag for every one purchased. It's also offering priority shipping, though the company's website is a bit of a mess. (It asks for a login without a clear way to sign up, and its guest login function appears to be broken.)

By Jared Newman

Friday, November 2, 2012

Engineered Particles Self-Assemble Like Atoms

Particles engineered to spontaneously self-assemble like atoms forming molecules could give rise to new high-tech materials, leading to better optical displays and faster computer chips, researchers say.
Scientists have crafted the new particles, which are 1/100th the diameter of a human hair, by altering the architecture of colloids, tiny particles suspended in liquids, and which can be found dispersed in everyday items like paint, milk, glass and porcelain. The work is detailed this week in the journal Nature. have been limited in their ability to manipulate these particles into new patterns that would form the building blocks of new materials because colloids stick to one another randomly; in science speak, they lack directional bonds, or bonds that prefer a specific orientation.

In an accompanying essay in the same issue of Nature, Northwestern University's Matthew Jones and Chad Mirkin describe the predicament of trying to make structures from these particles as "trying to assemble a bookcase from parts covered in glue that stick to each other equally well wherever they touch, regardless of their relative orientations," the material scientists wrote. "You would quickly find the task to be extremely challenging, because the components would keep joining together in haphazard configurations, rather than fitting neatly into their intended positions."

To form new, complex molecular structures, chemists use atoms with directional bonds, which are necessary to control self-assembly and maintain structural integrity.

"Chemists have a whole periodic table of atoms to choose from when they synthesize molecules and crystals," study researcher Vinothan Manoharan, of Harvard, said in a statement. "We wanted to develop a similar 'construction set' for making larger-scale molecules and crystals."

The team created chemically distinct "patches" on the particles' surfaces that could form directional bonds, sticking to other particles in specific patterns to spontaneously form "colloidal molecules" of the researchers' design.

These are electron microscope images of "colloidal atoms," micrometer-sized particles with patches that allow bonding only along particular directions. From left to right: particle with one patch (analogous to a hydrogen atom), two, three, four (analogous to a carbon atom), five, six, and seven patches.
CREDIT: Image courtesy of Vinothan N. Manoharan and David J. Pine.

To ensure the patches interacted with other patches in specific ways, the scientists used single strands of DNA to create "sticky ends" to which particle patches adhered, placing up to seven patches on each particle. The scientists say they could manipulate these bonds to create colloids of a specific color, size, chemical function or electrical conductivity. This, in turn, could lead to the production of new materials, such as photonic crystals to improve optical displays and boost the speed of computer chips.

"What this means is we can make particles that attach only at the patches, and then we can program them so only specific kinds of particles attach at those patches," added another researcher involved in the study, David Pine, an NYU physics professor. "This gives us tremendous flexibility to design 3-dimensional structures."

by LiveScience Staff