posted 13 days ago on ars technica
Sean Gallagher LAS VEGAS—Phil Zimmermann, the creator of Pretty Good Privacy public-key encryption, has some experience when it comes to the politics of crypto. During the “crypto wars” of the 1990s, Zimmermann fought to convince the US government to stop classifying PGP as a “munition” and shut down the Clipper Chip program—an effort to create a government-mandated encryption processor that would have given the NSA a back door into all encrypted electronic communication. Now Zimmermann and the company he co-founded are working to convince telecommunications companies—mostly overseas—that it’s time to end their nearly century-long cozy relationship with governments. Zimmermann compared telephone companies’ thinking with the long-held belief that tomatoes were toxic until it was demonstrated they weren’t. “For a long time, for a hundred years, phone companies around the world have created a culture around themselves that is very cooperative with governments in invading people’s privacy. And these phone companies tend to think that there’s no other way—that they can’t break from this culture, that the tomatoes are poisonous," he said. A call for crypto Back in 2005, Zimmermann, Alan Johnston, and Jon Callas began work on an encryption protocol for voice over IP (VoIP) phone calls, dubbed ZRTP, as part of his Zfone project. In 2011, ZRTP became an Internet Engineering Task Force RFC, and it has been published as open source under a BSD license. It’s also the basis of the voice service for Silent Circle, the end-to-end encrypted voice service Zimmermann co-founded with former Navy SEAL Mark Janke. Silent Circle, which Ars tested on the Blackphone in June, is a ZRTP-based voice and ephemeral messaging service that generates session-specific keys between users to encrypt from end to end. The call is tunneled over a Transport Layer Security-encrypted connection through Silent Circle’s servers in Canada and Switzerland. ZRTP and the Silent Circle calls don’t rely on PGP or any other public key infrastructure, so there’s no keys to hand over under a FISA order or law enforcement warrant. Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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YouTube New York authorities have subpoenaed Twitter to unmask who's behind a parody account that tweeted responsibility for last month's Brooklyn Bridge caper. The New York Police Department awoke July 22 with egg on its face when two giant American flags atop two locked 276-foot towers were stolen from one of the Big Apple's most heavily guarded landmarks and were replaced with bleached-out Old Glories. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Spry Fox When the game designers at Spry Fox named their latest puzzle game after Robert Frost’s most famous poem, we didn’t expect much depth or inspiration from the source material. Frankly, Frost’s The Road Not Taken, while sweet and lyrical, hides little under the surface to work with, particularly from a gaming perspective. Pick between one of two roads? Even text adventures gave players the choice of north, south, east, or west. Thankfully, the game’s title is misleading, at least at first blush. Road Not Taken’s hand-drawn world and puzzly play rarely boil down to obvious, binary choices. The game revolves around a really refreshing spin on the well-trodden “match three” puzzle genre (which is to be expected from the designers who pulled off a similar, stellar feat in 2010’s Triple Town). But there’s a point to the game’s name. As players get a feel for RNT’s pace—with randomly generated puzzles, a constant flow of new things to interact with, and heavily ramping difficulty—they slowly come to grips with the game’s very difficult core. Not in terms of how hard or clever the game is, mind you, but the fact that this is a puzzle game about death, disappointment, and family. Spry Fox treats that somber quality with elegance and simplicity, meaning the game is a wonder to play, but rarely do puzzle games (Tetris, Candy Crush) include death as a major feature. RNT stands out because of how it embraces that design choice, a fact that really makes all the difference. Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 13 days ago on ars technica
Up with a balloon, down with an aerobrake. NASA's Martian robots have used the planet's thin atmosphere to their advantage while landing, slowing down through a combination of aerobraking and parachutes. But the space agency hopes to put larger hardware on the red planet's surface—eventually followed by manned exploration. Those missions will require correspondingly larger braking hardware. As part of its technology development program, NASA's testing a system called the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator. Rather than a solid shield, the LDSD has a rim of inflatable material that greatly enhances its braking capabilities when fully deployed. In addition, the system includes a large parachute that's able to be deployed at supersonic speeds. In June, NASA launched what you could call a "falling saucer." Carried aloft by a balloon, then rocketed further into the stratosphere, the payload tested the deployment of both the inflatable heat shield and the parachute during the ensuing free-fall. Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Shutterstock Ever since the Apollo 11 headed to the Moon in late 1969, astronauts have complained of sleep deprivation. Now a study has shed light on the extent of the sleep deprivation and fatigue suffered by those who travel into space. In accordance with official NASA flight schedules, astronauts are ordered to get 8.5 hours of sleep every night. But after tracking the sleep patterns of 85 crew members aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and space shuttles, researchers have discovered that astronauts on shuttle missions sleep for under six hours per night on average and just over six on ISS missions. Crew members on modern space missions sleep in quiet, darkened chambers and three quarters of astronauts take sedatives—yet the problem still prevails. It was not only that astronauts failed to get the required amount of sleep, however. In the three-month pre-flight training period, sleep was also found to be significantly disturbed. During this time crew began to build up a long-term sleep deficiency, averaging less than 6.5 hours while in training. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 14 days ago on ars technica
On Friday afternoon, a US district judge for the Northern District of California rejected a settlement proposed by four major tech companies—Google, Apple, Intel, and Adobe—in a class-action lawsuit over improper hiring practices. The four companies were accused of conspiring to keep each others' employees from being poached, thus limiting their employees' potential salaries and stunting job opportunities. A group of employees sued the four companies for this practice back in 2011, and in April of this year, the companies agreed to settle the case and pay back $324.5 million to more than 60,000 workers that ended up in the class. Today, however, US District Judge Lucy Koh said the settlement amount was not enough and "falls below the range of reasonableness." The case has been followed closely, not least because a number of private e-mail exchanges between the heads of these major companies had been made public. With the earlier promise of a jury trial, it looked for a time like even more salient details would come to light. In April, The New York Times found one e-mail in which Apple co-founder Steve Jobs wrote to Google co-founder Sergey Brin, "If you hire a single one of these people, that means war.” In other court documents, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt told Jobs that a Google recruiter who had solicited an Apple employee would be fired. Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Images from August 15 at three different wavelengths, and one image from August 29 showing the third eruption. Imke de Pater and Katherine de Kleer, UC Berkeley Jupiter’s moon Io is the most volcanically active body in our solar system, so it’s not a shock that astronomers captured several eruptions while their telescopes were trained on the satellite. However, the three eruptions were uncommonly massive (among the 10 largest seen there) and occurred within the span of a couple of weeks—eruptions of this class are only thought to occur every other year, on average. Researchers may be able to glean enough from these images to help us get to the bottom of a couple of Ionian mysteries. Io’s prodigious volcanic output is the result of tidal heating—gravitational squeezing as a result of its slightly oblong orbit around Jupiter, along with some tugs by fellow Jovian moons. Though Io is roughly the same size as Earth’s own Moon, the flow of heat from its core toward its surface is roughly 30 times greater than that of Earth. As a result, there’s usually at least one active volcano whenever astronomers observe Io. In fact, a huge lava lake some 200 kilometers across, called Loki Patera, is usually visible to infrared telescopes. On thirteen occasions between 1978 and 2006, unusually large eruptions called outbursts were observed. Three more have now been added to that number. Jupiter’s magnetic field holds a curious torus (or ring donut if you’re hungry) of plasma believed to originate from Io’s volcanism. A new Japanese space telescope, launched in September, had been scheduled to spend some time studying that plasma torus, and so several ground-based telescopes had begun monitoring Io’s volcanic activity in August. On August 15, a telescope at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii recorded two bright infrared spots in the far south of Io, which hasn’t been known for this kind of activity. Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Google Play One week after President Obama signed a phone-unlocking bill into law, T-Mobile has responded by becoming the first American carrier to launch its own unlocking app. Modestly titled Device Unlock, the app debuted on Friday in the Google Play store, though it comes with one major limitation: It only unlocks the Samsung Galaxy Avant, a lower-specced offering that launched in late July exclusively on T-Mobile. The app offers two unlock options for Avant owners: temporary, for the sake of international GSM use, or permanent. Choosing either option sends a SIM unlock request to T-Mobile, as opposed to automatically unlocking. A glance at T-Mobile's unlock FAQ, which appears unchanged since before last week's bill was signed into law, clarifies that requested phones won't unlock unless they've been paid in full and haven't been reported stolen, among other requirements. As such, the app merely streamlines a process that T-Mobile had already put into place well before a deadline of February 2015. Confusingly, Google Play advertises the app as compatible with any T-Mobile phone in a user's account, despite the app's current Avant-only status, which leads us to believe it will eventually support other T-Mobile handsets (seeing as it does little more than report a user's phone information to the unlock department). Until that changes, the app will probably continue to be bombed with the kinds of negative reviews it's already receiving from non-Avant users. Read on Ars Technica | Comments

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Seth Kroll, Wyss Institute As if a brain-like processing chip weren't bad enough news for us humans, this week's edition of Science also describes a robot that, after being laid out as a flat sheet, can fold itself into the appropriate shape to take its on-board electronics for a walk. Why would we possibly want self-assembling, flat-packed electronics of this kind? The authors of the Science paper, who are part of a Harvard/MIT collaboration, offer two reasons. First, it's much easier to assemble something as a planar surface. With the right layers in place, it's simple to cut them into the appropriate shapes and then embed the electronics where they're needed, since there's no awkward internal spaces to deal with. The second reason is that it's easy to transport things when they're shaped like a sheet. Since the devices can assemble themselves, they can be shipped to any destination and used without any hassle or high-level technical knowledge. Of course, having a good idea and actually knowing how to create a self-assembling device are two different things. Fortunately, the ability to construct elaborate three-dimensional items from a flat sheet is a solved problem, thanks to origami. Software like Origamizer can even determine how to cut and fold a sheet in order to produce a specified three-dimensional structure. Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Gamma group customer logs found in the leaked trove that was posted online by hackers. Gerald Rich/ProPublica Software created by the controversial UK-based Gamma Group International was used to spy on computers that appear to be located in the United States, the UK, Germany, Russia, Iran, and Bahrain, according to a leaked trove of documents analyzed by ProPublica. It's not clear whether the surveillance was conducted by governments or private entities. Customer e-mail addresses in the collection appeared to belong to a German surveillance company, an independent consultant in Dubai, the Bosnian and Hungarian Intelligence services, a Dutch law enforcement officer, and the Qatari government. The leaked files—which were posted online by hackers—are the latest in a series of revelations about how state actors including repressive regimes have used Gamma's software to spy on dissidents, journalists, and activist groups. Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Warner Bros. According to a report from TV Wise, Babylon 5 showrunner J. Michael Straczynski will shortly begin work on a rebooted big-screen version of his 1990s sci-fi TV series. Straczynski made the announcement at San Diego Comic-Con last week. Babylon 5’s pilot episode originally aired in 1993, with the series beginning its regular run almost a year later as a foundational component of the now-defunct Prime Time Entertainment Network. The show lacked the production budget of its contemporary rival Star Trek: Deep Space 9 (which allegedly lifted some or all of its core concepts directly from Straczynski’s original—and rejected—Babylon 5 pitch meeting with Paramount). Still, it attracted enough of an audience to accomplish a noteworthy feat: Babylon 5 became the only non-Star Trek science fiction show on American television to reach its series completion without being cancelled. Not until 2004’s Battlestar Galactica reboot would another non-Star Trek show earn the same distinction. After Babylon 5 ended in 1998, Straczynski (usually referred to simply by his initials, "JMS") tried multiple times to bring a B5 movie to theaters. The most recent attempt in 2004 came the closest, with a completed script and some preproduction work underway, but without financial backing from Warner Bros. the project had to be abandoned. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Suzanne Collins, author of the Hunger Games trilogy, has signed the letter condemning Amazon, even though she does not publish with Hachette. Authors affected by Amazon's contract dispute with publisher Hachette have started to band together against the online retailer, reported the New York Times on Thursday. Over 900 authors have signed a letter condemning Amazon for "using writers as hostages in its negotiations," referring to Amazon's choices to keep low stock of certain Hachette titles and taking weeks to ship them as the two companies battle over e-book prices. The effort was spearheaded by 58 year-old Douglas Preston, a writer whose thrillers have been published by Hachette. Preston reports to the Times that Amazon has contacted him repeatedly, trying to get him to stop his campaign against the company and to see its side of the argument, but Preston will not be silenced. Amazon has uncharacteristically tried to defend itself with forum posts over the last few weeks. First, the Books team stated that its decision to keep low Hachette stock is barely affecting its business, then it followed that up with a math-based argument for mandating that Hachette charge a lower cover price overall. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 14 days ago on ars technica
A phalanx in Ryse: Son of Rome Occasionally, people ask me why Ars sometimes covers the relative sales performance of various consoles. "Who cares which console is 'winning'?" the argument goes. "I just want to play games." And my response is generally that relative sales performance has a direct impact on what games actually get made for the various consoles. Case in point: troubled Ryse developer Crytek talked to Eurogamer recently about the potential for a sequel to its Xbox One launch exclusive, and the company expressed concern that there just weren't enough sales of the Microsoft console to make a sequel worthwhile. "We have a good relationship with Microsoft. We are constantly looking at what we can do together," Crytek CEO Cevat Yerli said. "We are not 100 percent happy with Xbox One sales right now. So we want to wait 'till the current-gen and next-gen catches up. For Ryse 2, we aren't saying it's canceled. It's our IP. It just has to wait for the right timing. And the right timing means higher installed base across next-gen." Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Another kind of blackout: the field goes dark during a 2011 NFL game between the 49ers and Steelers. NFL The National Football League (NFL) is trying to convince the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to preserve 39-year-old blackout rules that prevent games from being televised locally when tickets remain unsold. Last season, two games were blacked out locally in the regular season, while several blackouts were narrowly averted in the playoffs. The FCC considered a proposal to eliminate its blackout rules last November, with then-acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn saying that the rules are outdated. Today, the rules aren’t actually responsible for the majority of blackouts, and they "have little relevance for sports other than professional football, because the distribution rights for most of the games in these sports are sold by individual teams, rather than the leagues,” the FCC said. But they do matter to football. Naturally, the NFL wants to keep the rules in place—and argues that they are good for fans. Despite being the richest sports league in the country with more than $9 billion in annual revenue, the NFL said in an FCC filing that sports blackout rules are a “critical contributing factor” to its “ability to maintain its ‘free TV model.’” Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Aurich Lawson August isn’t the top time of year for thinking about tech policy. For many, it’s vacation time, a month when Americans are more focused on hacking a path to the nearest beach than hacking their computers. Congress just left for vacation too, heading home last week for its traditional August recess. When it returns to Washington, election season will be in full swing, which means that betting on the passage of any bold legislation later this year is a long shot. In light of that, now (and not December) is when we can look back at what activists, companies, and lawmakers were hoping to accomplish in the 113th Congress—compared to what actually happened. Which is to say "not much." Read 68 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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This screen appears when the City of London police seize your site. The Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) has arrested a 20-year-old man in Nottingham on suspicion of copyright infringement for running a proxy server providing access to other sites subject to legal blocking orders. The man was questioned by police but has been released on bail. The arrest was made after police—with the support of the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT)—found evidence relating to the creation of a proxy server that provided access to 36 other websites that had been blocked for hosting illegal or infringing content. The proxy server in question is Immunicity, run by the Torrenticity Group—as first highlighted by TorrentFreak—which was designed to unblock both torrent sites and proxies. It required users to make a simple change to their browser settings—adding a Proxy Auto Configuration file (PAC)—which could then instruct your browser to send your Web traffic through different proxies depending on the URL you are looking for. This means that you could access sites that had been blocked by UK ISPs following High Court orders, such as The Pirate Bay, KickassTorrents, HEET, ExtraTorrent, YiFY, and EZTV. Immunicity and similar services therefore fall foul of anti-circumvention provisions within UK copyright law. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 15 days ago on ars technica
After game streaming site Twitch's surprise announcement yesterday that it would be muting the sound on all historic videos that contained unlicensed audio, its CEO, Emmett Shear, had an "Ask Me Anything" session on Reddit. In the immediate wake of such an unpopular change, it was no surprise that there were quite a few questions for him. The AMA wasn't universally well-received, with many of Shear's answers being bombarded by a barrage of downvotes. The juicy question of whether Twitch is being bought by Google was also deemed off-limits. However, if you dig through the downvotes, he did have some somewhat good news for Twitch users. The audio muting system isn't going to go away, but Shear says that it is going to get better. It currently blocks audio in half-hour chunks. Twitch videos are internally divided into half-hour segments, and the audio matching system appears only to identify entire segments, so if any part of a segment has licensed music in it, the entire thing is silenced. Shear writes that this is something that Twitch hopes to fix, working with Audible Magic (the company that provides the music matching service) to allow finer-grained muting. Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Reed Hastings' Facebook update boasting about Netflix's (possibly temporary) victory over its unwilling adversary. Netflix has surpassed HBO in subscriber revenue, according to a status update from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings Wednesday. The company is now pulling in $1.146 billion compared to HBO's $1.141 billion with 50.05 million subscribers, according to its second-quarter earnings reported in July. Netflix has long seen HBO as a competitor in terms of audience and, more recently, in produced content. While HBO has slowly started to come down from the ivory cable tower and be more flexible about how it offers its subscriptions, Netflix has been making gains. Hastings acknowledged that HBO still surpasses Netflix "in profits and Emmy's [sic], but we are making progress." Hastings has said many times before that he considers HBO to be a media company that is well-positioned in the changing distribution landscape, when power is shifting away from cable providers and toward Internet streaming. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Hundreds of thousands of websites running a popular WordPress plugin are at risk of hacks that give attackers full administrative control, a security firm warned Thursday. The vulnerability affects Custom Contacts Form, a plugin with more than 621,000 downloads, according to a blog post by researchers from Sucuri. It allows attackers to take unauthorized control of vulnerable websites. It stems from a bug affecting a function known as adminInit(). Hackers can exploit it to create new administrative users or modify database contents. "The vulnerability was disclosed to the plugin developer a few weeks ago, they were unresponsive," Sucuri researcher Marc-Alexandre Montpas wrote. "The developers were unresponsive so we engaged the WordPress Security team. They were able to close the loops with the developer and get a patch released, you might have missed it." Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Yahoo Chief Information Security Officer Alex Stamos announced today at Black Hat 2014 that starting in the fall of this year, the purple-hued company will begin giving users the option of seamlessly wrapping their e-mails in PGP encryption. According to Kashmir Hill at Forbes, the encryption capability will be offered through a modified version of the same End-to-End browser plug-in that Google uses for PGP in Gmail. The announcement was tweeted by Yan Zhu, who has reportedly been hired by Yahoo to adapt End-to-End for use with Yahoo Mail. Zhu formerly worked as an engineer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization that has consistently been outspoken in its call for the widespread use of encryption throughout the Web and the Internet in general. @bcrypt In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Stamos acknowledged that the introduction of encryption will require some amount of education for users to make sure their privacy expectations are set appropriately. For example, he explained that PGP encryption won’t cloak the destination of your e-mail. "We have to make it clear to people it is not [a] secret you’re emailing your priest, but the content of what you’re e-mailing him is secret," Stamos said. Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Microsoft has supported Internet Explorer for an awfully long time. Each new version of Windows comes with a minimum of five years of mainstream support and five years of extended support. That support window covers all bundled and integrated software—including Internet Explorer—and any software updates. Windows Server 2003, for example, is supported until July 2015. As such, Internet Explorer 6 (bundled with that operating system), Internet Explorer 7 (available as an update for that operating system), and Internet Explorer 8 (likewise, an update) are all supported until July 2015. But all that is set to change under a new support policy announced today that is scheduled to take effect in about 18 months. Starting January 12, 2016, only the newest version of Internet Explorer for any given version of Windows will be supported. Older versions will cease to receive security fixes and other updates. Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Casey Hudson, one of the people most responsible for the direction and tone of the popular Mass Effect series, announced today that he will be leaving BioWare after a 16-year career with the EA-owned studio. "After what already feels like a lifetime of extraordinary experiences, I have decided to hit the reset button and move on from BioWare," Hudson said in a statement. "I’ll take a much needed break, get perspective on what I really want to do with the next phase of my life, and eventually take on a new set of challenges." BioWare Studios General Manager Aaryn Flynn added in a statement that "Casey’s focus on production quality, digital acting technology, and emotionally engaging narrative has made a substantial impact on BioWare and the video game industry as a whole." Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Which one do you want to see before starting a Hearthstone match? Of all the strategic debates constantly swirling around Blizzard's Hearthstone, there's one question that seems simple on the surface but generates a surprising amount of debate among players. That question: is it better to go first or go second in a match? The fact that there's such a debate shows just how effective Blizzard's in-game solution for inter-turn balance has been. The player that goes first has an important tempo advantage in Hearthstone, getting access to mana crystals before the opponent has a chance to respond with the same resources (i.e. the first player gets to use three mana crystals on Turn 3 before the opponent has the same chance). To make up for that difference, the designers at Blizzard give the second player a free extra card draw at the start of the game, as well as "The Coin," a card that gives a free one-time-use mana crystal. There are enough pros and cons to each turn order position that even serious players can't seem to agree on which side has an advantage. There is an answer to this question, though, and Blizzard has addressed it a few times in the Hearthstone's short history. Last September, early in the game's closed beta, Hearthstone Lead Designer Ben Brode shared statistics showing a slight advantage for the first player, which becomes even more negligible when you reach expert-level play: Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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FishPlaysPokemon via Kotaku Earlier this year, a user on the Twitch game streaming site made a figurative splash when he created a system that allowed all of the users in the stream’s chatroom to play Pokémon Red. Now, another stream has made a literal splash by rigging a system to allow a fish to play Pokémon Red. The “Fish Plays Pokemon” stream is manned by Grayson Hopper, a fish who can make button presses by swimming around in a webcam stream split into a three-by-three grid. Each square is mapped to a specific Game Boy button, and when Grayson swims into a square that button is pressed. According to the stream’s creators, the project was created in about 24 hours for hackNY, a “hackathon” for students organized by NYU and Columbia faculty members. So far Grayson has been playing for more than 130 hours, in which time he has chosen and named a Charmander (an interesting choice, since Grayson is most likely a Water-type) and defeated his rival’s Squirtle. Given the fish’s totally random button inputs, the length of the game, and the average lifespan of every fish I’ve ever owned, it seems unlikely that Grayson will ever make it to the end of the game. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Google Google is releasing a preview version of the Google Fit SDK, the company's cloud-powered fitness tracking service. Google Fit, like Google Play Games, is a back-end set of APIs that Google wants developers to plug into. The service aims to be a one-stop shop for fitness data. Google Fit gives developers high-level access to sensors from Android devices and wearables, allowing them to save fitness data to the cloud and read back that data. The cloud component isn't ready yet, so for now only local fitness history is available. Google describes the existing APIs this way: Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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