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31Jan/160

Twitter’s week of beef is something we need more of

For years, I've seen Twitter positioned as something that goes along with. Over the years services, apps and platforms have come and gone based on the idea of hosting conversations along with whatever is being broadcast. Livetweeting of events will never go away, and while that's the kind of thing that can make watching TV better, it doesn't especially enhance Twitter itself, or give the masses a reason to check it out. Instead, Twitter is at its best when it's hosting the show, and there's nothing between us and the insanity, inspiration or entertainment on the other end. The most essential conversation is what causes Neil deGrasse-Tyson to go on late night TV and drop knowledge about physics, not just the commentary during that appearance.

As Mashable's Christina Warren put it, this was a moment "that can only happen on Twitter." Appropriately, Twitter has moved to capitalize on its position at the center of real-time conversation with the feature called Moments, but it's focusing on the wrong people. If I post on Twitter, I don't really need Moments to organize the stream for me at all, and I definitely don't need Twitter moving buttons around or adjusting the order of tweets. The people who need help keeping up are the folks who aren't already on Twitter, or who peeked in and quickly abandoned its fast-flowing information stream.

Whether its Kanye vs. Wiz, B.o.B. vs. NdT, Paul Carr vs. Mark Cuban or J.K. Rowling vs some random politician, this is better and more interactive than any TV show. Focus on that. What it needs is an app -- not in the main Twitter app itself -- that keys in on the data like this graph showing the conversations about Kanye West.

You plug in some info about what you're interested in, and when it starts to spike on Twitter you get an alert. No one should have to live without knowing when Steph Curry is going on a hot streak, when the Crying Jordan face photoshops have claimed their latest victim, or why anyone is waiting to find out when Justine lands.

I don't see irrelevance as a potential issue for Twitter; years after its debut it remains the best and really only place to monitor what's going on nearly anywhere in the world, with little or no delay. Far from just a place to experience the trashy thrill of reality TV, it's become the meeting spot for those seeking to push for change either in their own lives or across larger groups. In 2009 Kanye said "everything that Twitter offers I need less of" -- and while this week's events prove he's probably right about that, our reactions show the rest of us are looking for more, if Twitter can provide it.

[Image credit: KanyeUniverseCity.com via Archive.org]

Article source: http://www.engadget.com/2016/01/30/twitter-as-reality-tv/

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31Jan/160

Louis CK launches an online-only video series

Louis CK is no stranger to dodging conventional TV in favor of releasing his shows online, but his latest effort might take the cake. He just surprise-released the first episode of a new online-only video series, Horace and Pete, through his website. And it's not amateur hour, either -- the bar-themed show co-stars Steve Buscemi, while actors ranging from Alan Alda to Jessica Lange make appearances in the first video alone. It's not clear how long HP will run, but there are hints that the first episode was shot just days earlier.

Article source: http://www.engadget.com/2016/01/30/louis-ck-online-only-video-series/

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31Jan/160

Google plans to beam 5G internet from solar drones

University of Washington professor Jacques Rudell told The Guardian that "[t]he huge advantage of millimetre wave is access to new spectrum because the existing cellphone spectrum is overcrowded. It's packed and there's nowhere else to go." The problem with millimeter wave transmissions, though, is that they fade after a short distance and can't compare to a mobile phone signal's range. That's likely one of the issue's Google is trying to solve if it aims to beam internet from the sky.

Project Skybender is currently using an "optionally piloted aircraft (OPA)" called Centaur and a solar-powered drone called Solara 50 made by Titan Aerospace, which the Big G snapped up in 2014, for its tests. Google has permission from the FCC to continue testing the drone-internet system in New Mexico until July. We'll most likely hear more details as its development progresses, the same way that Google regularly announces the latest details about Project Loon.

[Image credit: Wikimedia]

Article source: http://www.engadget.com/2016/01/30/google-project-skybender/

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31Jan/160

Huawei’s first Honor phone for the US goes on sale January 31st

Huawei's Honor brand teased that it would land in the US this year, and it's making good on its word: the company will officially begin selling the Honor 5X on American shores tomorrow, January 31st. It's a pretty solid deal, at first blush. For $200 off-contract, you'll getting an aluminum-clad GSM phone with a fingerprint reader, a 5.5-inch 1080p display and mid-range specs that include a Snapdragon 615 chip, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of expandable storage, a 13-megapixel rear camera and a 5-megapixel selfie shooter. You even get nano-SIM and micro-SIM slots that both support 4G data (though not at the same time), so you shouldn't have to fuss with SIM adapters or replacements to give this a whirl.

Article source: http://www.engadget.com/2016/01/30/honor-5x-goes-on-sale-in-us/

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30Jan/160

That time Twitch jumped the shark

So far, Twitch has handled its growth spurt in stride. It's navigated the complicated worlds of partnerships, advertising and mainstream marketing largely without losing its niche-community appeal. That is, until the following headline hit the net this week:

"Live Free. Couch Hard.: Totino's Pizza Rolls™ Unveils First-Ever 'Bucking Couch' to Deliver the Ultimate Gaming Experience Before the Big Game."

For a legitimate event, it works way too well as an SNLgag.

Twitch and Totino's are partnering for a pre–Super Bowl show featuring a handful of prominent streamers playing games while sitting on a mechanical-bull-style couch. Also, someone will throw pizza rolls at the streamers every now and then. This round of upholstered ridiculousness will be live-streamed on the official Totino's Twitch channel, and it's all wrapped up in a flaky, golden-brown title: the Totino's Bucking Couch Bowl.

This promotion is equal parts hilarious and confounding. It's the kind of blatantly branded content that makes longtime Twitch fans cringe and pizza-roll lovers gag on their steaming pockets of processed cheese. This isn't even the first time Twitch and Totino's have partnered, and it won't be the last. Totino's is a regular sponsor of gaming events in general; the partnership itself isn't weird. It's the event. The Totino's. Bucking. Couch. Bowl.

It feels like a discarded Saturday Night Live skit poking fun at greasy, out-of-touch video game fans. Imagine Kenan Thompson sitting on the giant red couch as it bucks around, his expression resigned as Cecily Strong laughs hysterically and chucks mini pizza rolls at his face. The bodies of his fellow streamers lie strewn across the black padding under the couch. A Totino's sign flashes happily in the background. For a legitimate event, it works way too well as an SNL gag.

The Bucking Couch Bowl seems like a money-grabbing gimmick partially because Twitch and Totino's are positioning themselves against the Super Bowl, one of the most high-profile broadcast events in existence, with billions of dollars in ad revenue on the line. This gets to the heart of the issue: So far, Twitch has done an amazing job retaining its community-focused charm while operating as a billion-dollar, Amazon-owned property. But with the Totino's Bucking Couch Bowl, it feels like Twitch isn't in on the joke. It's too big, too try-hard, too branded. It feels like good advertising for Totino's and solid money for Twitch, but crappy content for viewers.

Twitch has laughed with us during stunts like the Bob Ross marathon, the launch of Twitch Creative and Twitch Plays, even when Microsoft live-streamed a handful of people being tortured while standing on a billboard for Rise of the Tomb Raider. Twitchcon, the company's first major convention and associated tech-style press conference, was a massive success. Deadmau5 was there, and it wasn't exploitative; it was big and beautiful and right. Twitch truly does care about its audience and its longtime fans. It's easy to see in the years of quality content they've provided and continue to churn out.

The Totino's Bucking Couch Bowl is distinctly icky. But, I get it. This is what Twitch has to do, and what it will continue to do, to remain relevant in the broader entertainment market. We're watching Twitch grow from a niche live-streaming service into a new kind of online network, the first of its kind and the founder of entertainment's next big leap. The company has more resources than ever at its disposal, with bigger partnership opportunities and buckets of cash on the line. Some of its advertisements will simply feel like advertisements. Sometimes it will feel as if Twitch made a deal with a major company and it's trying to make things fun. Sometimes that won't work, and it will feel like we're laughing at Twitch.

But, most of the time, Twitch is still laughing with us.

Article source: http://www.engadget.com/2016/01/29/twitch-totinos-bucking-couch-community/

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30Jan/160

Facebook should know by now what’s news and what’s spam

Spencer Ackerman, the story's author, learned about it from friends who tried to share the link and couldn't. He took to Facebook to voice his disappointment. The piece, after all, contained nothing inherently offensive, without any graphic imagery or incendiary language. After his editors informed Facebook about the block, he was told that it was an error. It turns out that the link was somehow marked as spam by Facebook's automated anti-spam system. The story has since been cleared of that false positive and can now be shared. Ackerman, for his part, has told us he believes it was an honest mistake.

But this is not the first time an innocuous news story has been flagged unfairly. In December last year, for example, a New York Times article about 1950s nuclear targets was blocked with a message that read, "The content you're trying to share includes a link that our security systems detected to be unsafe." In November, Facebook also initially blocked Boing Boing and Tech News Today stories about a Facebook rival called Tsu.co. Those stories were marked as spam. (Tsu is an incentive-based social network that pays its users for sharing and generating content, which Facebook says encourages spammy behavior.)

These stories were eventually approved, and the ban lifted. But the fact that completely benign links can be marked as false positives at all is worrisome. For many people -- almost 1.59 billion users, at last count -- Facebook is their predominant window to the world. It's the modern equivalent of a web portal, not unlike MSN, Yahoo or even AOL, Engadget's parent company. Facebook, for its part, doesn't seem to shy away from this pronouncement. In May of last year, it partnered with several news sites like the New York Times and BuzzFeed to host editorial content from those sites on Facebook's own servers. Ostensibly, it's to improve page load times, but it also keeps you, the user, within Facebook's walled garden. And walled gardens are no good if they keep you from reading and consuming outside links.

You might point out that these issues were all resolved in the end, but what about the stories we don't hear about? What about news links from smaller blogs or independent websites that don't have the same clout or reach as the Guardian or the Times? What if a legitimate news story gets blocked and nobody reports it? We might never know about it.

Of course, it's not really Facebook's fault, either. A social network of its size attracts a slew of spammers and folks who wish to flood the network with bad links. Sometimes spammers embed their links behind URL shorteners or attach them to an image to hide detection. In an explainer on its spam prevention system posted in 2010 (which a Facebook spokesperson claims is still relevant today), Facebook said that it devotes a tremendous amount of time and resources to build systems that "detect suspicious activity and automatically warn people about inappropriate behavior or links." It uses a combination of anti-spam tools, engineer intervention (they can write rules in real time to identify malicious content) and community reporting to filter the bad stuff out.

But sometimes legitimate stuff still gets hit with the ban hammer. In that same post from 2010, then company spokesperson Matt Hicks wrote:

"Every once in a while, though, people misunderstand one of these systems. They incorrectly believe that Facebook is restricting speech because we've blocked them from posting a specific link or from sending a message to someone who is not a friend. Over the years, these misunderstandings have caused us to be wrongly accused of issues ranging from stifling criticism of director Roman Polanski over his sexual abuse charges to curbing support for ending U.S. travel restrictions on Cuba to blocking opponents of same-sex marriage."

It's unfortunate, then, that Facebook isn't more forthcoming about why and how it blocks certain links. Facebook said in the above post that it won't share details regarding how its anti-spam algorithm works, because otherwise spammers might learn to game the system. Indeed, we asked Facebook to comment on what happened with Ackerman's Guardian story, and the company simply pointed us to a comment left on his post where a Facebook spokesperson said it was a false positive. But it's still a disconcerting feeling to know that a link might be blocked for no obvious reason beyond that it was marked as spam. That would be a good enough excuse if Facebook were just for communications between friends and family. But when it's also a daily news source for a billion-plus people, it's not an excuse at all.

Some of these so-called false positives could be averted if Facebook took its role as news disseminator more seriously. Perhaps it could be more like Apple News, which combines the usual algorithmic news feeds along with links curated by actual human beings. This would be right in line with its status as modern-day web portal -- MSN, AOL and Yahoo all have full-time editors who curate their homepages. In fact, Facebook did at one point hire editors to curate news: It was for its Paper news-feed app, before that transitioned into what eventually became Instant Articles.

To be fair, Facebook's News Feed is different from that of Apple News or even Twitter Moments, in that it's based almost entirely on who your friends and family are. Your news feed is based on an algorithm that combines stories you tend to "Like" and the kinds of posts Facebook thinks will get the most engagement. In a way, your news feed is already curated, but by a machine, not by a person. For Facebook to hire editors to curate personalized news feeds for all 1.59 billion of its users might be asking too much.

And yet, why can't it have both? A combination of human news curation along with Facebook's powerful news-feed algorithm could send a strong message to its users that Facebook really is their one-stop shop for all that's happening in the world. And, more important, perhaps having real people monitoring the news would prevent legitimate stories -- like the ones Ackerman wrote -- from going unseen.

[Image credit: Top, middle: Getty Images; bottom: Facebook]

Article source: http://www.engadget.com/2016/01/29/facebook-news-algorithm-spam-false-positives/

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30Jan/160

US government says 22 Clinton emails contain top secret info

"The documents are being upgraded at the request of the intelligence community because they contain a category of top secret information," said State Department spokesman John Kirby. Some of the messages won't be published online at all, even with black boxes cover up the sensitive info. It's not clear whether Clinton sent the emails herself or exactly what they contained. Back in December, reports of top secret emails being stored on the server first surfaced. The State Department will further investigate if the details were classified as the time they were discussed in these most recent emails.

Timing couldn't be worse for the Democratic front-runner for the 2016 presidential nomination. With the big showdown with opponent Bernie Sanders in Iowa looming, today's news won't help ease critics' concerns. Clinton has maintained that she never sent or received info on her personal email account that was classified at the time. However, the State Department's next release of emails, which is said to come today, will be the first that includes talk of top secret contents. In addition to the presidential race, there could be legal ramifications if the on-going probe uncovers any evidence that Clinton was in any way responsible for the transmission of sensitive material.

Article source: http://www.engadget.com/2016/01/29/hillary-clinton-emails-top-secret/

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30Jan/160

These SteamVR games will make or break virtual reality

Believe or not, the fact that I can say that about Valve's showcase is huge. Oculus' Palmer Luckey once told me that the only thing that could kill virtual reality is bad virtual reality -- and he's right. The sense of presence one feels in consumer VR is so hard to articulate that the challenge of explaining it to new users has become something of an inside joke to the industry. Every developer I asked at the event told me the same thing: If you want a newbie to understand why VR matters you have to make them try it. If they do, and the experience is bad, they'll write it off as a gimmick. That's why events like the SteamVR developer showcase are so important: These are the first, best experiences consumers will have. These are the games that will make or break the virtual reality industry. Thank goodness they don't suck.

Part of what makes most of these SteamVR launch titles work is that there's no learning curve. Thanks to Valve's lighthouse laser tracking tech and the HTC Vive's motion controller, interacting in VR is pretty much like living your normal life. If you want to go somewhere, you walk there. If you want to pick something up, you reach out and grab it -- albeit by pulling a trigger on a controller rather than physically closing your hand. This makes everything feel easy and natural. When attack drones assault you with lasers in Space Pirate Trainer, you can avoid them by dodging and ducking. When Zombies charge you in Arizona Sunshine, defending yourself is just a matter of raising your arm (and the virtual gun it holds) and shooting. For the first time ever, you don't need to learn how to manage swing-power meters to play a golf video game -- in Cloudlands VR Minigolf you simply swing a club. If you're a human alive today, you know how to play games in virtual reality.

That said, there are still rules to learn. Yes, you can walk around in a real world space, which translates to in-game movement, but that space is limited by reality. How do you walk down a virtual hallway if your real-world couch is in the way? Games like Budget Cuts and The Gallery answer that with teleportation mechanics -- moving the player's physical walking space to a new point in the virtual world. For Budget Cuts, this manifests as an in-game portal gun, where The Gallery uses a simpler (and less narratively explained) fade-cut to the new location.

There were abstract experiences too, like the omnipresent canvas of Tilt Brush. This painting program that lets you draw directly on the virtual air around you -- but it's still built upon the rules of a reality the player already understands. It's not just the visual illusion of the HTC Vive's headset that made these experiences feel real, it was the act moving, interacting and existing in a virtual world as you do a physical one. For now, that's an HTC Vive exclusive experience. The Oculus Rift is launching with a focus on a seated experience, although most of the developers at SteamVR's Developer Showcase did say they planned to port their games to the Rift after Oculus Touch launches later this year.

We don't even know how much the HTC Vive is going to cost, and it's too early to say which consumer VR headset will reign supreme at the end of the year -- but if you do go all in with SteamVR, at least you'll know that there are a dozen top-tier experiences you can have. Hopefully, this is just the beginning.

Article source: http://www.engadget.com/2016/01/29/these-steamvr-games-will-make-or-break-virtual-reality/

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30Jan/160

White House refuses security clearance for Ashkan Soltani

Article source: http://www.engadget.com/2016/01/29/white-house-refuses-security-clearance-for-ashkan-soltani/

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30Jan/160

Facebook has banned person-to-person gun sales

To wit, Reuters writes that Facebook previously nixed firearm advertisements stating "no background check required" or sales that'd cross state lines because those displayed a "willingness to evade the law" around two years ago. Still feel like testing your luck? A Facebook spokesperson tells us the site has systems in place to remove and review listings.

"Over the last two years, more and more people have been using Facebook to discover products and to buy and sell things to one another," head of product policy Monika Bickert tells us in a prepared statement. "We are continuing to develop, test and launch new products to make this experience even better for people and are updating our regulated goods policies to reflect this evolution."

Article source: http://www.engadget.com/2016/01/29/facebook-has-banned-person-to-person-gun-sales/

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