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Google’s future campuses are as flexible as its technology

Hey, Apple and NVIDIA: you aren't going to be the only Silicon Valley giants with outlandish office space. Google has revealed a proposed redesign of its Mountain View campuses (specifically, four sites) that not only doesn't resemble a traditional workplace, but mirrors the company's open, flexible approach to tech. Rather than house everyone in concrete, Google plans "lightweight, block-like" facilities that can shuffle around as workers shift their focus to projects like self-driving cars. The buildings should do a better job of blending into the environment, too. They'll use translucent canopies to let in more air and light, and the emphasis is on protecting nature and the community (by promoting bike paths, local businesses and wildlife) rather than creating a sea of offices and parking lots.

Google's proposed campus redesign

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The Mountain View City Council still has to accept the proposal before it becomes a practical reality, and there's no mention of when the revamp might be ready (Apple's spaceship campus should be finished in 2016). If everything goes according to plan, though, Google's effort will be extremely ambitious -- it'll expand the company's footprint in a dramatic way, but it shouldn't turn the southern Bay Area into a corporate wasteland.


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Disney wants to help developers make games more interactive

Many RPGs have more than one ending, but even then you still have limited ways to control the story or to interact with the characters. Disney Research, however, wants to make real interactive games -- ones where your actions can affect how it progresses and ends -- so it has created a platform that can help developers do so more easily than if they use traditional tools. This platform makes it simpler for creators to spin as many story arcs as they want that can be triggered any time by your actions. It also automatically detects and fixes conflicts in the storyline that you'll inevitably cause as you interact with the characters. Take the bears in the video below the fold, for example.

Say, the story arc calls for a beach ball to be in the scene, but there is no beach ball anywhere, because you were playing God earlier and taking all the props away. If that's the case, one of the bears will ask you for a beach ball, so the story can run its course. Alternatively, the game can trigger the appearance of a ball vendor and a treasure chest, so the bears can buy a beach ball for themselves.

Ex-Disney researcher and Rutgers University assistant professor Mubbasir Kapadia explained:

We want interactive narratives to be an immersive experience in which users can influence the action or even create a storyline, but the complexity of the authoring task has worked against our ambitions. Our method of modeling multiple story arcs and resolving conflicts in the storylines makes it feasible to author interactive experiences that are free form, rather than constricted.

In short, this method could be used to create some truly open-world choose-your-own-adventure games if developed even further -- games you can play again and again and get a different experience each time. The team has uploaded a scientific paper you can sink your teeth into for the technical details, but you can watch the video below for a demo of how it works.


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Walmart vs. Netflix DVD battle snags $12 each for 1.2 million people

Ready for a blast from the past? Ten years ago, Walmart's plan to undercut Netflix on DVD-by-mail rental pricing failed, and the retail giant turned that part of its business over to the movie service in exchange for a cut of the revenue, referral bonuses and Netflix promoting Walmart's DVD sales to rental customers. A class action lawsuit against the two followed in 2009, with customers alleging they illegally restrained trade and kept prices high. Walmart settled the case for $27 million in 2011, which will turn into about $12 (paid out in gift cards or cash) for the 1.2 million people who filed claims. While the deadline to file has long passed, the payout has been held up due to appeals in the 9th Circuit Court in San Francisco against Walmart and Netflix -- until now.

This week judges ruled on a few items (PDF, via Courthouse News Service), including that the settlement was fair -- that the nine named plaintiffs get $5,000 each and a large portion went to lawyer's fees upset a few class action members. At the time even Netflix had objections, worrying that Walmart was simply buying access to its customer list. Another factor in the ruling is that Netflix never considered Walmart a true competitor (it actually raised prices at the time, and didn't lower them for competition, even from the much larger Blockbuster) the original ruling was correct, and subscribers could not prove they were injured by the tie-up.

It's not all good news for Netflix though, as the appeals court trimmed the $710k it was awarded for attorney fees, and turned down its request for $21,000 to cover BW Powerpoint documents. Of course, soon a million or so people will probably be making it rain drizzle with their $12 payouts, Netflix is now primarily a streaming company with over 57 million customers that just delivered season three of House of Cards, and Walmart, well Walmart has the Vudu Spark dongle. All's well that ends well.

[Image credit: Associated Press]


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Recommended Reading: The secrets behind ‘Madden’s’ player ratings

Recommended Reading highlights the best long-form writing on technology and more in print and on the web. Some weeks, you'll also find short reviews of books that we think are worth your time. We hope you enjoy the read.

How Madden Ratings are Made
by Neil Paine

If you've ever played a Madden title, at some point, you've questioned how player ratings are compiled. Heck, players are even critical of their own scores. Well, the stats experts over at FiveThirtyEight dive deep on the matter, offering a load of background information and a method for compiling and grading your own abilities... or lack thereof.

[Photo credit: EA Sports]

Motorola Moto 360


Proposed privacy bill protects industry more than it does people

If the return of Frank Underwood stoked a thirst for real drama from the nation's capitol, perhaps the White House's late-Friday news dump of the proposed Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights will whet your whistle. Alongside common-sense things like Congress finding that Americans "cherish privacy as an element of their individual freedom" in the draft, are headings pertaining to transparency, individual control, security and accountability. In regards to that first one, the bill states (PDF) that companies make their policies for exactly what they do with your data readable without the need for a legalese translator. In addition to that, companies would need to disclose what they're doing with the reams of data they're collecting on all of us and comply with requests for data deletion, as well. You'd also be able to request a look at the data collected by companies. Sounds good, right? Well, as the Associated Press reports, that isn't quite the case.

The bill would essentially strip away some of the Federal Trade Commission's power

Apparently, the bill has more than a few loopholes giving firms that'd rather not comply a way to opt out without consequence. Fun. This takes place in a few ways: granting the right for "industries to develop their own privacy standards," and giving start-ups a year-and-a-half wherein they're free from any punishment for wrongdoings regarding privacy. What's more, AP notes that the bill would essentially strip away some of the Federal Trade Commission's power and it wouldn't have any rule-making authority in matters because those "privacy codes of conduct" would be drafted not by the FTC, but companies themselves. So, say a company like Google could draft its own set of standards to follow that'd undoubtedly be to its own benefit, but unless it violated any of those rules, the government agency that works to protect consumer privacy would have its hands tied.

When you look at the massive swell of (mostly) support for yesterday's net neutrality rulings, it's easy to understand why the Obama administration would rather sweep this under the rug. If you believe the critics, however, then this bill might not make it far because it needs a congressional sponsor -- something The New York Times reports is unlikely to happen. From the looks of it, let's hope they're right.

[Image credit: AFP/Getty Images]


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10 high-tech gadgets that will improve your tennis game

The sport of tennis is no stranger to incorporating new technologies -- from the electronic line judges of the early '70s to today's Hawk-Eye system with its multi-camera array. These days, players at all levels have a variety of high-tech tools to help them up their games. We've already taken a look at how modern technology can help if you're training for golf and soccer. Now it's time to check out some options you might want to consider the next time you hit the courts. Below you'll find devices to smarten up your racquet and your shoes, as well as fitness trackers and apps designed to up your game no matter what level you are. Tennis anyone?

Your tennis game, upgraded


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Here’s how far we’ve come with net neutrality

The FCC's ruling on net neutrality yesterday was the agency's most significant action in decades -- but it didn't come easy. It's something that's been discussed ever since Columbia Law professor Tim Wu coined the term net neutrality 2003, which, at its most basic level, refers to treating all web traffic equally. But the idea goes back to the age of the telegram, when the US government committed to treating all of those messages the same. As broadband access became more commonplace and the internet economy recovered from the dot-com bust of the '90s, Wu's net neutrality paper was a warning against the increasing power of ISPs. Now that we finally have a decent set of net neutrality rules, it's worth taking a look back to see how we got here.

The Communications Act of 1934

Yes, we're taking it way back. Title II of this act actually lays out the core of the FCC's net neutrality decision. It centers on the idea of a common carrier, or a regulated entity that transports goods to the public without discrimination, like telephone service in the US. That's directly opposed to the idea of a private carrier, which is only concerned with its own goods and can discriminate service as it sees fit. The FCC's decision yesterday reclassified broadband internet as a common carrier, giving it the ability to set rules on how ISPs handle their service.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996

This act complemented its older sibling by offering rules around internet access and fewer regulations when it came to media ownership. But when it comes to net neutrality, its most significant contribution is in making the (admittedly confusing) distinction between a "telecommunications service," which provides service directly to the public, and an "information service," which describes sending or retrieving information (basically, broadband internet access). Comcast, for example, fell under the telecommunications category for its phone service, but was then counted as an information service for its broadband offering.

The big difference? The FCC has a lot more regulatory power over the telecommunications category. The agency's net neutrality decision ended up reclassifying broadband internet access under the telecommunications umbrella.

2002: FCC classifies cable broadband as an information service

Basically clarifying its rules from the 1996 telecom act, the FCC ruled in 2002 that all cable modem traffic counted as an information service.

2003: Tim Wu gives us 'net neutrality'

Wu's seminal paper, "Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination," dove into the pitfalls behind classifying broadband as an information service. Among other things, he brought up the notion that the openness of the internet allows for innovative ideas and services ---something that could be endangered if broadband providers were able to manipulate speeds, or prioritize certain types of traffic. Not surprisingly, the concept also became a political flashpoint. It won the support of people who wanted to maintain the freewheeling nature of the net, but also terrified those who were concerned about government overregulation. The back-and-forth between those camps will likely continue for years.

2003-2009: Broadband internet access goes mainstream

Young folks might not realize this, but it used to be that broadband internet access was a luxury, and not just a given in most homes. (And let's not even get into what life was like before decent WiFi.) According to data from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, broadband went from just 4 percent of American households in 2000 to 20 percent in 2003. By 2007, it reached 51 percent of homes, making it the dominant type of internet access in the US, and it's hovered around 70 percent of households since 2010.

2005: FCC offers weak suggestions on keeping the net open (without regulation)

The FCC's first major move in keeping the internet open was pretty weak: It was just a set of policy guidelines that it would keep in mind for future decisions. Among them, the agency noted that consumers have a right to access legal information, use the devices and services they want and have competition among their broadband providers. But really, it was nothing more than a strongly worded recommendation, since it didn't involve any regulatory consequences.

2005: DSL gets reclassified as an information service

This wasn't a huge move, especially since cable internet was the better broadband choice for most consumers, but changing DSL's designation to an information service also made it difficult for the FCC to effectively regulate it.

April 2006: Save the Internet coalition forms

Bloggers, nonprofits and web companies joined together for this first stab at net neutrality activism, though it would be years before they saw any major results. Some of Save the Internet's petitions managed to get as many as 1.9 million signatures, but that was also before many people had smartphones and depended heavily on the web.

2006: Lawmakers fail to rule on net neutrality (again and again)

Between the Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act, and the Network Neutrality Act, 2006 was the year when politicians started to take the concept of the open web seriously. The only problem? These early bills went nowhere.

2007: Comcast starts throttling BitTorrent traffic

Comcast (not surprisingly) ended up being one of the first ISPs to find itself in a net neutrality snafu. It was found to be throttling BitTorrent traffic on its network, which led to several class action lawsuits from customers (it ended up settling one suit for $16 million in 2009, but admitted no wrongdoing).

August 2008: FCC tries to put the smackdown on Comcast

Comcast's customers weren't the only ones annoyed by its BitTorrent throttling. The FCC also upheld a complaint against the ISP and called for it to stop throttling traffic against file-sharing services by 2008. That led Comcast to make nice with BitTorrent, even though it still planned to manage traffic on its network. The FCC didn't impose any fines, but it hoped to make an example of Comcast by making it reveal the details of how it managed its network.

April 2010: Comcast wins appeal against FCC, court rules agency can't enforce net neutrality

Even though the FCC wasn't asking Comcast for much, the telecom still managed to appeal against the agency's earlier ruling. A Washington, DC, court of appeals ended up squashing the FCC's order against Comcast, and it also ruled the agency doesn't have the authority to force companies to keep their networks open.

December 2010: FCC passes stronger net neutrality rules

By this point, the FCC realized it needed to be on stronger legal ground when it came to enforcing net neutrality. It announced a new set of rules that would place stronger regulations on wired broadband, which called for ISPs to disclose their management practices and forbid them from blocking lawful services on their networks. The agency took a lighter touch with mobile broadband, which it believed needed "measured steps" when it came to regulation. Despite the big changes, many net neutrality proponents believed the rules didn't go far enough.

January 2014: Court rules in favor of Verizon, strikes down FCC's net neutrality rules

After fighting against the FCC's open internet plans for years, Verizon scored big when a DC circuit court ruled that the FCC had no authority to enforce net neutrality rules. The reason? ISPs didn't count as common carriers, which gave the agency little regulatory powers over them. That's something the FCC managed to fix with its latest net neutrality ruling.

February 2015: FCC makes its biggest net neutrality ruling ever

After several attempts at keeping the internet open with little regulation, the FCC finally flexed its muscles a bit with this week's ruling. It classifies both wired and wireless broadband as a Title II common carrier, giving it more regulatory power in the process. The new rules are basically an evolved form of what the FCC pursued before -- they'll ban ISPs from forcing companies to pay more for faster access to their customers, for example -- but now the agency has the legal standing to effectively enforce them.

[Photo credits: Mark Wilson/Getty Images (Top photo); Greg Richards/BKLYN Info Commons (Slow lane protest); Knight725/Flickr (Comcast building); JeepersMedia/Flickr (Verizon store)]


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BioShock shakes hands with Stepford in ‘We Happy Few’

Smile for the camera -- and for the TV, and during the walk to the store, and while you're sitting in the living room, in the dark, all alone. Smile, because if you don't, they will come for you. That's the story behind the first trailer for We Happy Few, the new game from Compulsion Studios, maker of PlayStation 4 launch game Contrast. We Happy Few features a "drug-fueled, retrofuturistic city in an alternative 1960s England," filled with citizens with permanent smiles literally affixed to their faces. It's creepy, unsettling and cheerful all at the same time. Think BioShock with a splash of V for Vendetta and a smattering of picture-perfect Stepford.

"I will say that Bioshock wasn't a direct inspiration, it's just that our interests have kind of always aligned with Irrational's games (people made the same comparison with Contrast)," Compulsion marketing director Sam Abbott says. "It's a pretty daunting comparison, given that we're less than one-tenth their size."

We Happy Few (Concept art)

Compulsion has just 11 employees, all working in an old gramophone factory in Saint Henri, Montréal. The quirky location fits the studio's goals, to create artistic and unique games with more soul than standard hero-adventure titles. Compulsion's first game, Contrast, was full of style, starring characters with lean, spindly limbs running around the shadows, jazz bars and circuses of 1920s France. Compulsion's studio space lends itself to these types of otherworldly, historically inspired stories.

"It was a very old building that was completely run down when we came here, but it has been restored over the past five years," Abbott says. "These days, it still has holes in the ceilings, random bridges in the air that make no sense, and the most confusing layout known to man, but it's home. It's also home to a bunch of other small businesses and startups, and so is quite creative and filled with an incredibly eclectic group of people. It doesn't really affect our games so much as provides a really interesting environment to work in. It's definitely not a big clean office building where we stare into our cubicles wondering what the weather's like outside."

We Happy Few is in development for PC and consoles, specifically not mobile and not free to play, Abbott says. Aside from this bit of information, We Happy Few remains mysterious, with only a launch trailer and a two-sentence description. It won't stay that way for long, though: Compulsion will show off the game at PAX East in Boston next week, and the studio plans to involve the gaming community directly in We Happy Few's development. Compulsion learned the importance of early feedback from the launch of Contrast -- a game that received high points for style but largely fell short in terms of gameplay.

"It's influenced how we're creating the next game," he says. "The biggest thing we took away from it is that working in a vacuum for a long time can be great, but we'd have made a better game last time around if we'd had more people playing it right from the start."


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Lonnie Johnson, the rocket scientist and Super Soaker inventor

To celebrate Black History Month, Engadget is running a series of profiles honoring African-American pioneers in the world of science and technology. Today we take a look at the life and work of Lonnie Johnson.

Lonnie Johnson is not quite a household name, but many of his famous creations, like the Super Soaker, are. To truly appreciate Johnson's achievements, we should start at the beginning. Ever since he was a child in Mobile, Alabama, he wanted to be a maker and a creator. In 1968, at Williamson High School, then an all-black school, Johnson designed a 4-foot tall, remote-controlled robot, which he worked on for over a year and built using scrap metal. He called it "Linex," and it won him the main prize at a science fair that year. Johnson recalls being the only minority student in the competition, which was hosted by the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa -- a place known for attempting to block black students from enrolling. "The only thing anybody from the university said to us during the entire competition was, 'Goodbye,' and, 'Y'all drive safe now,'" he told Biography.com in an interview. Eventually, Johnson earned the nickname "The Professor," a moniker that years later would seem ever so fitting.

After graduating from Williamson High School, Johnson attended Tuskegee University in his home state of Alabama, earning a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and a master's in nuclear engineering in 1973 and 1975, respectively. He then decided to follow in the footsteps of his father, a World War II veteran, and joined the US Air Force, where he was assigned to the Strategic Air Command and worked on the development of the branch's stealth bomber program. In 1979, Johnson began his career at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. There, he became involved with multiple ventures as a systems engineer, including the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the Mars Observer project. He was also part of the Cassini mission to Saturn, helping design the robot probe that traveled more than 900 million miles to our ringed neighbor.

Johnson never let the naysayers get the better of him. He was told not to aspire to anything beyond being a simple technician. But he clearly went on to be much, much more. He attributes his success in part to the great African-American inventor George Washington Carver, whose story of perseverance Johnson admired and used as motivation. It certainly paid off. Even while working for the Air Force and NASA, Johnson used whatever spare time he had to tinker with side projects of his own. It was this way that the idea for the now-famous Super Soaker came about.

The squirt gun, which was originally known as the "Power Drencher," was born after Johnson tried to create a water-based, eco-friendly heat pump that didn't require any Freon. After making some jet pumps for it, he said to Popular Mechanics, "I accidentally shot a stream of water across a bathroom where I was doing the experiment and thought to myself, 'This would make a great gun.'" Johnson added that the first version of the gun had the pressurized water and air inside a Plexiglas body, but after ironing out a number of iterations, he then decided to put the bottle on the top -- a feature that would end up making its way to the retail version.

"I accidentally shot a stream of water across a bathroom where I was doing the experiment and thought to myself, 'This would make a great gun.'"

The commercial version of the Super Soaker wasn't some accidental success, however; it was years in the making. Johnson was driven by faith in his invention to leave his job at the Air Force and NASA to start his own engineering company, Johnson Research and Development. Shortly after, the Atlanta-based company licensed its Super Soaker invention to Larami Corporation, the company that ultimately brought the toy to market in 1989. In an interview with The New York Times, Johnson recalled what it was like meeting with Larami Corporation to show them an early, working prototype of the Super Soaker, which he was carrying in a pink Samsonite suitcase.

It was a "classic situation" for an inventor, he said. "I had bought a milling machine and made all of the parts myself out of PVC pipe and Plexiglas." Still, what worried him most was that his idea would be underestimated because of who he was, noting that most of his career as an engineer he was placed in environments where he was the only person of color.

Naturally -- because what kid doesn't want to have a water gun? -- the Super Soaker took the world by storm and became an instant hit. More than 25 years since it initially hit the consumer market, it's estimated the Super Soaker has earned more than $1 billion in sales. Not long after the launch, Larami Corporation was purchased by Hasbro, which took the Super Soaker into a whole new world -- after all, Hasbro was, and still is, one of the biggest toy manufacturers in the world. Unfortunately, the relationship between Hasbro and Johnson didn't play out smoothly; later on, both parties would get involved in a licensing battle that resulted in the Super Soaker inventor receiving a whopping $73 million in royalties.

While the Super Soaker is, without a doubt, Johnson's most recognizable badge of honor, it's definitely not his only one. Along with the popular toy, he's also responsible for inventing memory-protected circuitry for the Galileo mission, which he says is right up there with the Super Soaker when it comes to his favorite creations. Most recently, Johnson invented the aptly named Johnson Thermoelectric Energy Converter, an enhanced heating system that can efficiently turn solar energy into electricity. In other words, Johnson, who currently holds over 80 patents (plus 20 more that are pending), still has a major passion for inventing -- nowadays he's less about toys, though, and more about finding ways to make the world more efficient.

[Image credits: Associated Press, tedxatlanta/Flickr, Atlanta Journal Constitution]


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YouTube’s new video trimming tool makes mobile edits a breeze

Even in the ideal setting, it's nearly impossible to get the perfect piece of footage that won't require edits. Those changes can be tough to tackle on mobile, but thanks to a YouTube update, perfecting a short video just got easier. Inside the video library's mobile app, a new video trimming feature let's you slide to the exact frame you want the video to begin (and end) before getting rid of the excess. There's also an inline preview, so you can do one last check before uploading to the web. If you're into capturing footage with your phone, these new tools should help you nix the "are you rolling" chatter before your pal's next stunt.


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