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November 23, 2014

Alienware’s Alpha game console is ready to invade your living room

Alienware Alpha Steam Machine

Eager to get a truly TV-oriented gaming PC without waiting until the official Steam Machine launch in 2015? Alienware is more than happy to oblige: at long last, it's shipping the Alpha console. You can now shell out $549 or more to get a living room-friendly Windows PC with a custom interface designed to work with an included Xbox 360 gamepad. Don't expect an ideal Far Cry 4 machine out of the box, however. Every system can play some modern titles thanks to GeForce GTX 860M graphics, but that base system comes with a modest Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive; you'll have to pay $699 if you want more memory and storage, and at least $799 if you want a faster CPU. This doesn't include a mouse and keyboard, either. Nonetheless, the Alpha could be a solid pick if a PS4 or Xbox One just won't cut it.

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Source: Dell (1), (2)

November 23, 2014

Why celebrities are suing video game studios, the Fire HD 6 and other stories you might’ve missed

So, why are certain celebrities suing video game companies? Well, it has a little somethin' to do with right of publicity law. This week, we broke down Lindsey Lohan's battle with Rockstar games, reviewed the Fire HD 6, toured the world's most tech-infused cruise ship, and more. The best part? It's all just a click away. Oh, and be sure to subscribe to our Flipboard magazine!

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November 23, 2014

SpaceX’s reusable rockets get help from ‘X-wing’ fins and drone ships

Hypersonic fins on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket

SpaceX's reusable rockets already have a few tricks up their metal sleeves, but it looks like they're getting at least a couple more. Elon Musk has revealed that his company is testing new technologies that will assist future Falcon 9 launches, including "X-wing style" control fins and a drone ship. The fins deploy on reentry and give the rocket better maneuvering than it would have through engine power alone. The robot boat, meanwhile, amounts to an "autonomous spaceport" -- it uses thrusters from oil rigs to provide a safe, stable landing pad (and eventually, refueling station) in situations where a ground facility isn't an option. Musk hasn't said when this vessel will go into use, but you can expect to see the Falcon 9's new controls in action on its next flight.

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Via: TechCrunch

Source: Elon Musk (Twitter 1), (2)

November 23, 2014

3D Robotics’ new drone can follow you around, carry a mirrorless camera

3D Robotics is not about to let DJI hog all the press with its wild Inspire 1 Drone, so it just revealed its own semi-pro model: the X8+. The 8-prop UAV is designed to carry GoPro or lightweight mirrorless cameras, while offering a fully automated flight control system starting at $1,350 (without a gimbal or camera). That price may tempt pro or semi-pro users away from DJI's (admittedly cool), retractable gear model, which runs $2,900 with a built-in gimbal and 4K camera. But unlike DJI's turnkey drone, 3DR is positioning the X8+ as a customizable ship aimed not only at cinematographers, but surveyors or miners too.

The X8+ is an upgrade on the X8 model in nearly every way. It'll carry 800 grams (1.76 pounds) and fly up to 18 minutes, but if you're willing to sacrifice endurance, you can carry up to 2.2 pounds with, say, a mirrorless camera. 3D Robotics says it'll fly Blackmagic Design's Pocket Cinema Camera, for instance, which is rather heavy for its size at 350 grams (0.78 pounds). That means it'll easily work with Sony's mirrorless NEX cameras or compact models like Panasonic's LX100. For an extra $350, you can also kit it with an FPV GoPro liveview kit for easier scouting and aerial photography.

3D Robotics also has some interesting automation options for its latest drone. The X8+ can track you around while keeping you centered in your videos using the 3PV follow me mode, handy for filming your own sporty exploits. It also includes open source mission planning software compatible with most PCs and smartphones. Using the DroidPlanner 2 software, you can simply draw lines on a map with an Android device to fly it around, hands-free. You can even map a region-of-interest (ROI) waypoint, to keep the camera locked on a target throughout the flight.

While the X8+ starts at $1,350, it'll run a lot more to kit it up properly. With a carrying case, gimbal, 3DR FPV liveview for GoPro and a GoPro Hero 3+ camera, you'll be looking at nearly $2,600 -- or around $2,700 for 4K with the Hero 4. That's Inspire 1 territory, so choosing between the two may come down to a simple choice: do you need the DJI's unfettered 360 degree view, or the ability to use better cameras? Decisions, decisions.

Engadget Expand: 3D Robotics' Colin Guinn

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Source: 3D Robotics

November 23, 2014

Samsung asks the US government to block NVIDIA’s chips

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 graphics cards

The patent war between NVIDIA and Samsung isn't going to wind down any time soon. Samsung has backed up its countering lawsuit against NVIDIA with a US International Trade Commission complaint asking the agency to block imports of NVIDIA's GeForce graphics chips and Tegra mobile processors. While it's not clear just which parts are under scrutiny, the dispute names a slew of third-party device makers who'd have to stop selling hardware in the US. Most of them are video card designers, such as Biostar and EVGA, but the action would also affect Tegra-based gadgets like OUYA's mini console and the Wikipad gaming tablet.

NVIDIA tells Bloomberg that it hasn't had a chance to look at the complaint in earnest, but it "look[s] forward" to pursuing its own ITC dispute. The company certainly has a way to defend itself, then. With that said, the table stakes are now particularly high. ITC complaints typically take less time to handle than lawsuits, so there's a greater chance that NVIDIA and partners will have to yank their products from store shelves.

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Via: Bloomberg, Reuters

Source: ITC

November 23, 2014

One year in, here’s what our readers think of the Xbox One

Since the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One launched in North America last year, our readers have had plenty of time to get to know both systems. Last week, we took a look at what you had to say about the PlayStation 4 one year in. Now, we're shining a light on what you think of the Xbox One on its first anniversary. What works and what doesn't? And what still needs improvement?

When the Xbox One hit North American shelves a year ago, there was a lot to like about Microsoft's third video game console. Still, it wasn't a total slam dunk. In our review, we said that while it had "little in the way of visual charms," the controller was a refinement of an industry standard and the dashboard "outclasses the competition." The voice controls were "magical" when they worked -- which they often didn't. The same could be said of the launch games lineup for the Xbox One, which ranged from gorgeous "graphics powerhouses" like Forza Motorsport 5 to titles "not worth your money" like Crimson Dragon and Dead Rising 3. Suffice to say, then, there were definitely a few issues with the Xbox One at launch. To find out if Microsoft has addressed them, we turn to our readers and the user reviews they've written for us.

For starters, the One has certainly been a pleasant addition to our readers' living room decor, with nikolaskp noting that its bulky build "blends so nice with my furniture." RyTheGeneral finds the "utilitarian design to be modern and sublime," though both UXGeek and JPASTENE thought it reminded them of existing objects in their entertainment centers, with one saying it looks like a cable box, while the other found it reminiscent of a VCR from the '90s.

The user interface also impresses. RyTheGeneral likes how "clean and modern" it is, while thiel says it's been "getting better with every system update." There are still some issues here and there, with UXGeek finding the media sharing "abysmal" and the snap feature "broken." Ultimately, though, users have been pleased with the speed at which things have improved: cbcharlie says that as a media device it's "not perfect," but it's "getting there with every update."

Many readers found themselves struggling to adjust to the voice control, with RyTheGeneral making sure to "speak clearly and annunciate my words," while UXGeek finds himself "shouting commands at the Xbox repeatedly" to the annoyance of his wife, who gets "angry at 3 AM" when she's trying to sleep. As he notes, "this sorta defeats the purpose of the headphone mic."

That said, these issues haven't stopped our readers from using the Xbox One to play games. Indeed, cbcharlie says there are "some fantastic titles out right now," while RyTheGeneral was a little more specific, noting "franchise staples like [Halo] The Master Chief Collection and Forza are the backbone while daring new IPs like Project Spark and Sunset Overdrive try to innovate." Reader cbcharlie even went so far as to call Forza Horizon 2 "mind-blowing." Still, it seems like the current lineup of titles is a little lacking. JPASTENE hasn't "enjoyed the selection of games we have received," including exclusive darling Titanfall, which he says got old after about a month. The best games UXGeek played ended up being the free ones included with Xbox Live Gold, though thiel says you would probably never buy them and "XBL Gold membership offers nearly no extra value."

The Xbox One is definitely a system our readers like, just not enough. For instance, theraspiguy says it's "a great console, but honestly, I still regularly use my Xbox 360." UXGeek feels that Microsoft "under delivered," and despite being pumped for the system a year ago, "a year later that zeal is gone." Meanwhile, thiel was a little more scathing, calling it "so bad" that it "can barely outsell the misunderstood child of Nintendo, Wii U!" They also said "you're probably better off with PS4 on the long run" and UXGeek agrees, saying, "I should have stuck with the PS4." Ultimately, while REZIN8 notes that "things are changing for the better," for the time being, users like JPASTENE are just not completely satisfied with their console purchase.

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November 23, 2014

One year in, here’s what our readers think of the Xbox One

Since the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One launched in North America last year, our readers have had plenty of time to get to know both systems. Last week, we took a look at what you had to say about the PlayStation 4 one year in. Now, we're shining a light on what you think of the Xbox One on its first anniversary. What works and what doesn't? And what still needs improvement?

When the Xbox One hit North American shelves a year ago, there was a lot to like about Microsoft's third video game console. Still, it wasn't a total slam dunk. In our review, we said that while it had "little in the way of visual charms," the controller was a refinement of an industry standard and the dashboard "outclasses the competition." The voice controls were "magical" when they worked -- which they often didn't. The same could be said of the launch games lineup for the Xbox One, which ranged from gorgeous "graphics powerhouses" like Forza Motorsport 5 to titles "not worth your money" like Crimson Dragon and Dead Rising 3. Suffice to say, then, there were definitely a few issues with the Xbox One at launch. To find out if Microsoft has addressed them, we turn to our readers and the user reviews they've written for us.

For starters, the One has certainly been a pleasant addition to our readers' living room decor, with nikolaskp noting that its bulky build "blends so nice with my furniture." RyTheGeneral finds the "utilitarian design to be modern and sublime," though both UXGeek and JPASTENE thought it reminded them of existing objects in their entertainment centers, with one saying it looks like a cable box, while the other found it reminiscent of a VCR from the '90s.

The user interface also impresses. RyTheGeneral likes how "clean and modern" it is, while thiel says it's been "getting better with every system update." There are still some issues here and there, with UXGeek finding the media sharing "abysmal" and the snap feature "broken." Ultimately, though, users have been pleased with the speed at which things have improved: cbcharlie says that as a media device it's "not perfect," but it's "getting there with every update."

Many readers found themselves struggling to adjust to the voice control, with RyTheGeneral making sure to "speak clearly and annunciate my words," while UXGeek finds himself "shouting commands at the Xbox repeatedly" to the annoyance of his wife, who gets "angry at 3 AM" when she's trying to sleep. As he notes, "this sorta defeats the purpose of the headphone mic."

That said, these issues haven't stopped our readers from using the Xbox One to play games. Indeed, cbcharlie says there are "some fantastic titles out right now," while RyTheGeneral was a little more specific, noting "franchise staples like [Halo] The Master Chief Collection and Forza are the backbone while daring new IPs like Project Spark and Sunset Overdrive try to innovate." Reader cbcharlie even went so far as to call Forza Horizon 2 "mind-blowing." Still, it seems like the current lineup of titles is a little lacking. JPASTENE hasn't "enjoyed the selection of games we have received," including exclusive darling Titanfall, which he says got old after about a month. The best games UXGeek played ended up being the free ones included with Xbox Live Gold, though thiel says you would probably never buy them and "XBL Gold membership offers nearly no extra value."

The Xbox One is definitely a system our readers like, just not enough. For instance, theraspiguy says it's "a great console, but honestly, I still regularly use my Xbox 360." UXGeek feels that Microsoft "under delivered," and despite being pumped for the system a year ago, "a year later that zeal is gone." Meanwhile, thiel was a little more scathing, calling it "so bad" that it "can barely outsell the misunderstood child of Nintendo, Wii U!" They also said "you're probably better off with PS4 on the long run" and UXGeek agrees, saying, "I should have stuck with the PS4." Ultimately, while REZIN8 notes that "things are changing for the better," for the time being, users like JPASTENE are just not completely satisfied with their console purchase.

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November 23, 2014

Philae comet lander is sleeping, but not quiet

Philae's fate remains unknown as it snoozes underneath a cliff on comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. But in the last few days, its ground crew has released a handful of updates that give us a better idea of what it's gone through since it left Rosetta for the comet, as well as of its current state. To start with, the team has released a 3D image of the comet's surface (seen after the break) from two miles above the ground, captured one hour before the intrepid lander was supposed touch down. Philae took the two photos of the original landing site two minutes apart using the Rosetta Lander Imaging System (ROLIS).

When it first reached the ground after that, the sensors on its feet picked up and recorded its landing sound. Apparently, that short, seemingly insignificant two-second recording, which you can listen to below, is enough for the scientists to be able to deduce that the comet's surface is probably covered in centimeters of dust, hiding a hardened layer of ice dust. As you might recall, though, the lander's harpoons failed to deploy, and it bounced twice before getting to its rather unfortunate resting spot, where it collected samples and data. Some of the samples it "sniffed" from the comet turned out to be organic molecules, which contain carbon: the basis of life on Earth.

The Philae team is still hard at work trying to find its exact location using Rosetta's cameras and its radio transmitter equipment called CONSERT. Thanks to the transmitter, ESA has narrowed down Philae's location to two small patches of land, making the search a lot easier. Once the agency finds the lander, the scientists will finally be able to fully analyze the data it beamed back. They'll also be able to figure out whether they can do anything to move it farther from the shadows, so it can harness more sunlight.

[Image credit: ESA/ATG medialab (Philae lander), ESA/Rosetta/Philae/ROLIS/DLR (3D image of the comet), ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CONSERT (landing site)]

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Via: CNET

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory, ESA (1), (2)

November 23, 2014

Recommended Reading: Silicon Valley’s role in government surveillance

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.

The National Security Agency (NSA) headq

@War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex
by Shane Harris

The NSA's surveillance tactics have been discussed at length, and will continue to be as new information comes to light. In a recent book, author Shane Harris details Silicon Valley's involvement with the government's watch, including how some companies are disclosing security flaws to US agencies before they're alerting customers. Harris also covers details like how network traffic is shared and how backdoors are intentionally left open for the authorities' prying eyes. Want to read on? You can dive in with an excerpt from the title over at Salon.

The Shazam Effect
by Derek Thompson, The Atlantic

Data from streaming services is being used to analyze an artist's popularity for planning tours and figuring out which tunes will be hits. It's a great business move, but will it kill variety in the music industry?

Pocket

Beyond: A Story in Five Dimensions
by Wired

Guest editor Christopher Nolan guides an issue of Wired through five dimensions to enhance the reading experience. Why five? "Because if we can get our heads around the idea that time is just a fourth dimension, no more noble or abstract than the other three, then the fifth dimension reveals itself as the perch we have to climb onto to be able to actually view the four dimensions we know," Nolan explains.

Pocket

The Oral History of the Poop Emoji
by
Lauren Schwartzberg, Fast Company

Ah, the poop emoji. We all love it. Now you can read about how it came to pass (sorry, I couldn't resist), its Japanese heritage and why it almost didn't make the cut.

Pocket

Why Do People Believe in Conspiracy Theories?
by Michael Shermer, Scientific American

On regular basis, folks buy into seemingly well-argued conspiracy theories. This piece takes a look at why that is, and how anxiety and fear lend a hand in the myths taking root.

Pocket

[Photo credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images]

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November 23, 2014

Here’s a machine that turns water into synthetic gasoline

Even with the amount of electric vehicles we've seen lately, it's likely going to be a long time until they completely replace traditional combustion engines on the road. So how are we going to get away from pricey fossil fuels until then? Well, water could be a possibility. German company Sunfire GmbH thinks it has the solution for turning H20 and carbon dioxide into liquid hyrdrocarbons like synthetic diesel, kerosene and petrol, according to CNET. It does this in part by using a combination of the Fischer-Tropsch process (a chemical reaction that performs the aforementioned transformation) and solid electrolyzer cells (fuel cells that produce gas forms of hydrogen and oxygen).

Sunfire says current systems run nearly 50 percent efficient, but there's potential to increase that to around 70 percent in the future. For comparison's sake, that current value is akin to a modern diesel engine, while gasoline motors only hit a paltry 14-to-30 percent efficiency rating. What's holding it back? The usual bureaucratic red tape. Sunfire says it needs regulatory factors to fall in a way which will give investors a "sufficient level of planning reliability" before it can move forward. So maybe don't get your hopes up too high just yet.

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Via: CNET

Source: Sunfire GmbH (PDF)