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New York City ponders bitcoin and Apple Pay for parking tickets

New York City wants to make it easier for the recipients of its some 8-to-10 million annual parking tickets to pay their fines. To do so, it's accepting pitches for payment systems that'd take advantage of mobile tech and things like Apple Pay and bitcoin. New York has an online payment system in place already, but as The Wall Street Journal notes, it doesn't work via mobile devices. There are a handful of guidelines (PDF), however, so don't go thinking you can get too crazy with your submission. Perhaps most notably, the system would need to support payment of tickets that have been placed but not yet processed ("windshield tickets"), the interface should be aesthetically pleasing and should also come at "no or minimal" cost to the city and its users. What's more, Gotham officials say that being able to schedule a hearing to dispute an infraction via the app is paramount as well.

The official request for information document is also pretty adamant that the solution be simple, and proposes the ability to take a picture of a ticket or scan its barcode to start the payment process -- similar to TicketZen. This is all still very early, but, combined with the Hudson Yards smart-neighborhood project, it shows that New York is very much looking forward and embracing tech to make life easier for its denizens. Interested in helping out? You've got until January 15th.

[Image credit: Associated Press]


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Sony had to dig up old BlackBerrys to function during hack

When Sony Pictures' computers were hacked on Thanksgiving, its employees were forced to use older technologies to keep things running, according to reports by The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. Staff relayed details about the hack from one person to another via phone, and had to haul in old machines to issue physical checks instead of transferring salaries through bank deposit. Sony execs also reverted to old BlackBerry company phones -- as they can send and receive emails through their own servers. These reports don't only shed light on what happened (and what continues to happen) behind the scenes at Sony, they also give us a glimpse at how the investigation was handled.

While the company quickly got in touch with the feds, employees initially thought it was nothing more than an inconvenience they could patch up within a few weeks. Even Sony Entertainment Chief Executive , Michael Lynton, told NYT that it took 24 to 36 hours for the situation to sink in and "to fully understand this was not something [they] were going to be able to recover from in the next week or two." Thanksgiving weekend then became a crucial and extremely busy period for the company, as the internal IT team struggled to get Sony's emails working again.

It took 24 to 36 hours for the situation to sink in... to fully understand this was not something [they] were going to be able to recover from in the next week or two.

Meanwhile, the feds and a cyber-security team from FireEye Inc. set up their own headquarters nearby. They suspected North Korea a week into the investigation and eventually determined that the hackers ( the Guardians of Peace) stole log-in credentials from a systems administrator, harvested data from the computers and used malware to delete them all. The WSJ says FireEye's investigators still aren't 100 percent sure whether they've completely blocked off the hackers from Sony's systems. But if the company's network remains secure, it could be up and running again within the next eight weeks.

In addition to illustrating how the company dealt with what turned out to be an extensive security breach, the reports also detail how Lynton acted away from the public eye. Turns out he was already talking to Google when Sony announced that it doesn't have future release plans for The Interview, which led to a barrage of criticisms (even from the president) for what people conceived as giving in to terrorist demands. He also personally contacted cinema chain bosses in an effort to control any damage he's done after blaming them for refusing to show the movie.

If you recall, many cinema chains opted not to show The Interview since the GOP threatened everyone who wanted to see it in theaters, telling people to "remember the 11th of September 2001." Sony, however, ended up releasing it via Google Play, YouTube, PlayStation and Xbox stores and iTunes, and showing it in hundreds of independent theaters in the US.

[Image credit: Marcus Ingram via Getty Images]


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Wave goodbye to Microsoft’s original Kinect

Whether you think depth-sensing cameras will become the next big thing or fizzle out, the model that helped usher in the tech is set to be retired for good. The original Kinect will be phased out in 2015, some four years after Microsoft first introduced it to bolster Xbox 360 sales. The sensor was controversial with gamers from the get-go, but was embraced by the DIY hacking community and companies who used it for facial and motion tracking, among (many) other uses. Plenty of those folks still rely on the Kinect v1, so Microsoft advised them to buy as many as they need, and soon, since it won't make any more after the current stock sells out.

The next-gen Kinect v2 became a non-optional part of the Xbox One console, but many gamers didn't use it and didn't want to pay for it. As a result, Microsoft now offers a cheaper Xbox One version without it, a move that boosted sales of late. As expected, it has also introduced a new $199 Kinect for Windows, along with a $50 adapter that allows you to use an Xbox One Kinect on your PC. While its demise is not unexpected, we still feel a bit nostalgic about the original Kinect -- to see some of the more bizarre things done with it, check the video below.

Microsoft Xbox One Kinect


Xbox One SDK leak opens the door for homebrew apps

Want to build an Xbox One game without registering as a developer? You may soon be able to, thanks to a leak of the Xbox One developer SDK by a hacking group called H4LT. It cites noble reasons for posting the software, namely to allow greater "creativity and research... towards homebrew applications" on the console. The leak, however, doesn't mean you can start cooking up official Xbox One apps, because you'd need to be accepted into Microsoft's ID@Xbox publishing program and clear other hurdles. Still, it'll let curious types poke around the SDK or possibly check for weaknesses, giving Microsoft another holiday headache.

Microsoft Xbox One

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The Army may ditch fitness tests for unfit, ‘ponytail-wearing’ hackers

It's a truth, often forgotten, that no-one can be perfect at everything. We may laud Justin Timberlake's musical, dancing and acting ability, but he's probably a terrible plumber. It's a problem that the Army is beginning to understand, since the sort of people who can successfully fight in a cyber war are more likely to be bad at assault courses, climbing ropes and carrying heavy objects. It's with this in mind that Lt. Gen. Robert Brown, head of the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, says that the US Army may relax its fitness requirements for digital soldiers.

Speaking at the New America Foundation, the Telegraph reports that the officer said that the best cyber soldiers "are not natural candidates for a military career." He went on to add, delightfully, that these teens "grew up on Google and wear ponytails," and they're probably listening to some of that gosh-darn it loud rock and roll music, too. Of course, this is an off-hand remark from a single officer, although it's a sentiment that's been uttered before, most recently by Maj. Gen. Allen Batschelet in October. Still, it looks as if all those hours of Uplink may just get you out of having to do the regulation 100 pushups, 100 sit-ups and 2-mile run.


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WatchESPN sports streaming arrives on Windows Phone

Microsoft Windows Phone 8.1


The hackers who hit Sony Pictures also threatened CNN

The Guardians of Peace didn't just threaten Sony Pictures and theaters that planned to show The Interview; it also shook its fist at the press, too. The Intercept has obtained an FBI alert noting that the group implied threats against a "news media organization" on December 20th. While the bulletin doesn't name the company, The Desk's Matthew Keys has copies of the Pastebin-based messages (since removed) showing that CNN was the target. The GOP sarcastically complimented CNN on its "investigation" of the hacking group and linked a video calling the TV network an idiot, but didn't warn of any specific consequences.

The news suggests that the GOP won't rule out attacks against other companies if they support Sony's cause, but don't read too much into the group's words -- so far, this appears to be little more than saber-rattling. Nothing has happened to CNN in the 11 days since the messages went up, and both the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security note in their bulletin that many hacking outfits make "exaggerated threat statements" that never pan out. And, as we all know, Sony eventually showed The Interview both in theaters and online without incident. At this point, hacking CNN would accomplish little.

[Image credit: AP Photo/Ric Feld]


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The top 16 portable audio devices you can buy right now

Looking to buy a fresh new set of headphones? Maybe you're in the market for some killer desktop speakers instead. Either way, you've come to the right place. Check out the gallery below for all the best gadgets from our portable audio Buyer's Guide.

The top 16 audio gadgets you can buy right now


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Why sitting will kill you (and what to do about it)

If you work anywhere in or around technology, chances are you've either witnessed or are a member of the standing-desk craze, the natural offshoot of the increasing medical research suggesting sitting in your Herman Miller Aeron chair will actually kill you faster than smoking. But standing's the tip of the iceberg. Treadmill desks, work-walking, whatever you want to call it -- more and more people aren't just standing while they work; they're clocking in 10 slow miles a day on the job. With treadmill desks popping up everywhere from home offices to the cube farms of Google to the open newsrooms of The New York Times, the definition of what it means to be "at work" is changing more than ever before.


The move to standing and treadmill desks has a lot less to do with what they are than what they aren't: They're not sitting down. The past few years have been rife with "Sitting Kills You" articles, with everyone from Time to the Harvard Business Review weighing in. There have been books highlighting the many evils of sitting, from NASA doctors and obesity specialists and regular old self-help gurus alike. Reasonable people can (and do) disagree about just how terrible it is to spend eight to 10 hours a day on your butt, but virtually nobody in the medical community thinks sitting all the time is a good idea.

Some of the science is obvious: When you sit, you burn far fewer calories than when you do just about anything else but sleep. Even if you stand stock-still, standing burns about 50 more calories per hour than sitting in front of your computer. If you're walking on a treadmill, you'll burn even more calories. Given the epidemic of obesity in the United States, the anything-but-sitting crowd has solid science to start with.

But there's growing evidence that sitting has more nefarious health impacts as well. A 2012 study suggests that excessive inactivity is responsible for 6 percent of all cardiac disease, but also 7 percent of all type 2 diabetes, 10 percent of breast and colon cancers and 9 percent of all premature mortality. That's right: Sitting too much may actually make you more likely to die from virtually any disease, not just get fat. A very recent study by the British Journal of Sports Medicine goes so far as to suggest that avoiding sedentary work could actual lengthen your telomeres, preventing the symptoms of aging on a cellular level. In short, the more time you spend being active, the more likely you are to remain youthful-looking.


The earliest response from health-concerned desk workers was simply to stop sitting. Walk through any modern office, and you'll likely find at least one person who's perched their laptop on top of a FedEx box. Unfortunately, just standing can cause problems of its own if you aren't careful. The past 20 years has seen a huge focus on ergonomics in the workplace, in no small part because the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has made a big deal about it, and companies have recognized that their employees are more productive when they aren't in pain from doing their jobs.

Not what we'd call a "standing desk"

When you make the move to a standing desk, how you set up your space is even more important than it was when you were sitting. Fundamentally, all the same things that you agonized over in setting up your sitting desk need to be carried over –- screens at eye level, work surfaces not too low and not too high. To cater to getting things just right, there's now an entire industry ready to sell you adjustable desks, floor mats and accessories.

Standing works great for some people, but for many, it's actually just too exhausting (and for folks with heart conditions, it has actual medical risks). Recent studies suggest the best position to work from is whatever one you're not doing right now -– constantly changing your posture is as important as just "not sitting all day." As such, desks with easily adjustable heights are becoming the new normal.

The sit-stand desk is quickly becoming a standard in ergonomics-obsessed offices, and a Cornell study backs up the concept. The study says that giving people the option of changing their positions multiple times a day yields the most relief from any kind of workplace discomfort.


If standing up is better than sitting, it seems logical that walking around would be even better, right? It's hardly a brand-new idea; we first reported on the concept in 2005. "Work-walking" or "tread-desking" is the latest experiment with changing how we think about desk jobs. At its simplest, a treadmill desk is just a standing desk with a treadmill underneath it. Practically speaking, however, it's a little more complicated and a lot harder to fudge. Most cheap treadmills (read: less than $1,000) are ill-suited for long periods of low-speed walking, and most treadmills designed for running have bars and control panels where you'd ideally want your computer.

The TrekDesk

The slickest solution is to buy a treadmill/desk combo designed for the workplace, which generally features slow, but heavy-duty motors and detached control panels you can stick off to the side. They provide highly adjustable work surfaces and well-padded arm rests. They also cost upwards of four grand.

For those of us operating in reality, however, finding just the right desk setup can be tricky. Getting the height of the work surface exactly right is critical, because you're not only typing and using a mouse, but you're also resting your forearms on the desk surface for stability. This leads to interesting ergonomic issues beyond the simple "what height?" question a standing worker faces.


My own experience with treadmill desking is fairly recent, but has been positive. I opted, like I imagine most folks do, to modify an existing treadmill -– a Sole F80 you can find at pretty much any chain sporting goods store. It had the benefit of horizontal handrails that are easy to hack a desk surface onto, so I spent several days with different risers getting my typing height just so (in my case, the enormous box from Steve Jackson's Ogre reprint did the job nicely). My computer monitor is hanging on the wall in front of the treadmill. I like the flexibility of being able to jog for a while when I need to think something through, and I like being able to vary the incline I'm walking at –- two things you can't do with a dedicated desk-treadmill.

As an experience, tread-working is challenging at first, but I've found it a lot less boring than standing all day. Even at a very slow 1-1.5MPH pace, I'm logging about 10 miles of travel a day, and after a few days of adjustment, I actually find myself less fatigued than I do sitting or standing. I'm a pretty competitive person, and I like the fact that I've launched to the top of the daily community leaderboards with my fitness tracker of choice (a Jawbone Up24).

In terms of focus, I started off not even trying to type while walking, just using the treadmill for a few hours a day of research and media consumption. Lately, however, I'm doing essentially all of my work (including this article) while moving slowly forward, like a hamster on a wheel. I find that I am far less likely to be distracted by random cat pictures on the internet or feel the need to check Twitter once my feet are moving.

There are some tasks that take some adjustment or which just don't work well. I need to make sure I slow way down for phone calls or I find myself running out of breath. Fine mouse control (say, for picture editing) is pretty challenging, although browsing and typing are fine. And forget about competitive League of Legends -– unless you don't need much accuracy, mouse-and-keyboard gaming remains a chair-bound experience, although anything with a controller is fair game.

Over the course of an average day, I probably spend six to seven hours walking, one to two hours standing, and one to two hours sitting. It's a compromise that's worked well for me.


Engadget Associate Editor Dan Cooper's makeshift standing desk

While a quick Google search will turn up dozens of places trying to sell you standing and treadmill desk equipment, there are a few standout resources for the alternative-workspace-curious. NotSitting.com is a one-man effort to review all the major options for both standers and walkers, and features great tips, whether you're going the DIY route or working with a budget. Ergotron, a company that definitely wants to sell you a desk, actually runs one of the best standing-desk websites on the side, JustStand.org. It's worth checking out; just understand its baked-in agenda.

There are also innumerable accounts from folks who've made the switch from sitting to standing or walking, and they can be extremely helpful in deciding if you're ready to get on your feet. Here are a few of the best:

No matter how you decide to tackle the problem, one thing is clear: We all need to get out of the chair more than we probably do. Just imagine how many calories you could've burned reading this on a treadmill!

[Image credit: AP Photo/Michael Conroy (treadmill desk), Ulrich Baumgarten/Getty Images (asleep at desk), Endopack/Getty (stretching at desk), TrekDesk (treadmill desk alone) Robb Godshaw (YouTube)]


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Tesla’s next charger will automatically connect to your car, ‘for realz’

One of the constant (if minor) hassles of electric car ownership is having to plug in whenever you get home. Wouldn't it be nice if the charger could do that for you? That may just happen. Tesla's Elon Musk has revealed that his company is working on a charger that automatically extends from the wall and attaches to your vehicle like a "solid metal snake." It'll work with both current Model S variants and future cars, too. Tesla isn't providing any more details about the gear at this stage, but it notes that Musk hinted at the P85D event (see the video below at the 9:20 mark) that the company would "probably" do something along these lines -- the key is that this is now "for realz," as the exec puts it. In other words, you may well see this reptilian power outlet in your garage before long.


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