Month: January 2018

Radinn’s second-gen electric wakeboard is faster and cheaper

Nearly three years after we first saw Radinn's prototype electric wakeboard, the Swedish outfit is back with a redesigned version. The G2X will be on display at the Boot Düsseldorf show this week, showing off its capabilities like a swappable battery so owners don't have to wait for a two-hour charge between 25-minute rides. Those rides will be even more exciting though, since it's capable of 36 mph, up from 28 on the Wakejet Cruise. Better yet, the G2X is cheaper than its predecessor, with a price (before accessories like an add-on foil, "radical" upgrade to max out its top speed or additional battery packs) of 9,900 euros, or about $12,101 US.

It's going on sale later this year, however, there will be plenty of competition. E-Surfer Magazine lists 17 different models in the segment, and there will be new hardware shown at the Boot show from Lampuga and Elektrisches Jet Surfboard.

Source: Radinn (Youtube), Radinn

Rusty Lake Paradise review: Bizarre and brilliant

Rusty Lake Paradise is a puzzle game where the puzzles are the least puzzling aspect. Three games into its run on Steam, following 2016’s Rusty Lake Hotel and Rusty Lake Roots double-feature, the Rusty Lake series has already built up an extensive layered mythos—one that’s even more convoluted when you add in the nine (shorter, free, and related) Cube Escape games from the same developer.

It’s in pulling at those interwoven threads we find the real puzzle of Rusty Lake. Taken alone, each is a perfectly competent adventure game in the escape room mold. The rabbit hole is now a dozen games deep though, each a piece of a larger and far more unsettling story, spanning a hundred years of Victorian Gothic macabre.

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Trump signs bill extending NSA’s warrantless surveillance

On Friday afternoon, just hours before Congress failed to avert a government shutdown, the President signed into law the "FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017." The bill passed the House and Senate earlier this week with the support of many Republicans and Democrats, offering only slight adjustments to Section 702, a law that oversees the NSA's ability to spy on "international terrorists, weapons proliferators, and other important foreign intelligence targets located outside the United States."

However, as we learned as part of the Snowden revelations, the programs in place under that law snoop more extensively. In league with companies like (owner of Engadget's parent company AOL) Verizon, Google, Facebook and others, it can capture or collect large amounts of internet and telephone traffic that passes through the US, along with "incidental" information on many Americans. The reauthorized version offers little in the way of change, even though Trump has claimed this law has been used to spy on his campaign and in spite of many proposals including various reforms.

The ACLU and others have argued this bill may make things worse by allowing the NSA to turn on "about" collection. As described by the ACLU: "the NSA searches through the contents of Americans' international communications — in bulk and without a warrant — and it retains even those that are merely about its targets."

Source: Reuters, White House, USA Today

Disney hires former Apple, Samsung exec for its streaming service

As Disney prepares for its streaming service that's launching next year, Variety reports it has snagged an executive to run operations. Kevin Swint (LinkedIn) worked at Apple for five years, eventually running its iTunes movies business worldwide, before managing content and launching Milk Video at Samsung. Now, as the SVP and GM of Disney's BAMTech Media company, he'll be in charge of creating and running the company's new Netflix competitor.

The new service will be home to Disney's new releases from 2019 on, including Star Wars and Marvel flicks, and could add considerable additional content if its purchase of Fox becomes official. We don't have many details about it yet, however, CEO Bob Iger said during an earnings call that at launch, it will be priced cheaper than Netflix.

Source: Variety

New Nova miniseries will explore puzzling science mysteries

The Boston public access station WGBH has partnered with PBS for another short series in its long-running Nova family of programs. Nova Wonder will follow three researchers exploring big scientific mysteries. The first of the miniseries' six episodes airs on PBS on Wednesday, April 28th, with a new one every week.
Each episode tackles a different complex question: Do animals have a secret language? Which AI technologies could surpass human abilities? How ethical is it to grow life in a lab? The show will go deep in the sea and peer into outer space to find answers.

But more notable is the refreshingly young and diverse trio of hosts who practice leading scientific methods and technologies. mathematician and statistician Talithia Williams uses data models to analyze environmental and human biological info, while computer scientist Rana el Kaliouby specializes in emotion recognition tech and neuroscientist André Fenton specializes in the biology of memory.

"What is so unique about NOVA Wonders—and what distinguishes it from the original NOVA series—is the emphasis on unanswered questions," said Julia Cort, Executive Producer, NOVA Wonders. "We're riding along with researchers who are pushing the envelope on our knowledge about the universe and ourselves. They don't have all the answers, but the thrill is in the journey and trying to solve a mystery for the very first time."

Source: Broadcasting Cable

Aereo-like NYC nonprofit Locast streams local TV for free

A nonprofit is bringing local broadcast television to the online masses for free, but who knows how long that will last. The organization, Sports Fans Coalition, launched the streaming site on January 11th, letting anyone in New York City's five boroughs watch content from 15 local channels without paying a dime -- at least until the lawsuits start flying.

That's because a similar service, Aereo, tried to snag over-the-air TV broadcasts and stream them as their own $8 per month subscription service. The Supreme Court deemed that illegal for violating copyright law back in 2014, and Aereo shut down. Locast may run afoul of that argument since it's technically live-broadcasting other channels' content without their approval. But it's otherwise different, only providing local channels to users in New York City, streaming content for free (though they encourage minimal donations to cover costs) and operating as a nonprofit. The Locast team believes the site performs a public service:

"You wouldn't guess it from the size of your cable or satellite bill, but over-the-air broadcast was always supposed to be free to the public. Even if you try to get that over-the-air signal using a regular indoor antenna, that often doesn't work if you live in a basement apartment or somewhere else the signal can't reach," states Locast's site. "You deserve unfettered access to your local broadcast. We're here to give it to you."

In the Sports Fans Coalition's view, Locast operates like a traditional relay station, sending over-the-air broadcast signals only to New Yorkers. David Goodfriend, cofounder of the new service, told Bloomberg that Locast should be able to legally retransmit broadcasts thanks to a part of US federal copyright law that permits nonprofits to do so without the approval of stations or owners. This section was added in the 1970s to assist folks living in places with bad reception, Bloomberg pointed out. Locast is just gathering broadcasts using an antenna in Long Island and retransmitting them online.

Goodfriend is a law professor at Georgetown, former executive at Dish Network and was a legal adviser to the FCC. In fact, while there, he urged the agency to eliminate a rule barring local broadcasting of NFL games that weren't sold out, Bloomberg reported: In other words, he's not walking into this issue blindly, and 'expects an angry call from lawyers at CBS or NBC any day now.'


‘Skullgirls’ relaunches on mobile as developer ditches publisher

Stylized fighting game Skullgirls came out for mobile in May of last year. It was developed by Autumn Games and initially published by Line. Now, the developer has decided to part ways with the publisher and go back to being independent. As a result of this transition, the developer launched a new version (basically Skullgirls 2.0) and shut down the old one (now called LINE Skullgirls) on the App Store and Google Play.

The title's relaunch brings a bunch of new updates, including extra Daily Log In loot, double fighters and moves for single gacha-style hero acquisitions, official ultra widescreen support for iPhone X and select Android phones like the Samsung S8, improved Relic coloring (so you know how rare a fighter is) and several bug fixes. In addition, the developer has promised a greater transparency around loot drop rates, along with a guaranteed random generation of loot itself. "While other games may 'cook the books' to create the illusion that loot rates are better than that actually are (to encourage spending)," the developer wrote in a forum post, "ours are 100% RNG (random number generator), with plenty of in-game methods to earn them directly without having to spend a dime. We plan to add more layers of granularity and visibility to these loot tables in future updates."

As a result of its newfound independence from Line, Autumn Games also promises a ton of new characters, modes, social features and content over the next year. If you're already a Skullgirls player, the developer says that all your data will move to the new app, as well, so you won't lose any progress from the previous version.

Source: Autumn Games

Twitter is notifying anyone who followed a Russian spam account

Last week, Twitter missed the deadline Congress set to turn over information on Russia-backed meddling in the 2016 election. Today, the social media company posted a public update on their internal investigation. First, they found thousands of additional accounts associated with the Russian government-linked Internet Research Agency (IRA). But most importantly, Twitter is emailing notifications to everyone in the US who inadvertently followed one or retweeted or liked one of their messages -- which is some 677,775 people.

In effect, that's a simple measure of the impact that the IRA's accounts had. Twitter identified 1,062 additional accounts, bringing the total to 3,814; In the ten-week period before the 2016 election that the company studied, those IRA accounts posted 175,993 tweets. Only 8.4% were related to the upcoming elections, but that's still a wide impact that the Twitter platform unwittingly amplified.

Twitter also identified 13,512 more automated Russian-linked accounts that tweeted election-related material during the period, bringing that total to 50,258. In the company's blog post, it also reported better security techniques detected 60 percent more suspicious accounts last month than it did in October 2017. They're getting better at noticing automated activity, Twitter claims: Near-instant replies to tweets, too-regular Tweet timing and coordinated engagement are all red flags.

Twitter will invest more in machine-learning to spot and impede fake and automated accounts, the blog post stated. But popular multitasking overlay programs like Tweetdeck might suffer as the social media company may limit coordinated actions across multiple accounts 'in Tweetdeck and via the Twitter API.' To counter that, they promise to expand the developer onboarding process for those building atop the platform's API. (Twitter acquired Tweetdeck in 2011 and still runs it.)

Source: Twitter blog

Logan Paul forced YouTube to admit humans are better than algorithms

YouTube is no stranger to controversy. Many of its top stars have been in hot water recently: From PewDiePie making racists remarks, to a "family" channel with abusive kid pranks, the company's been under fire for not keeping a closer eye on the the type of content that makes it onto the site. Most recently, Logan Paul, a popular YouTuber with more than 15 million subscribers, faced backlash after posting a video that showed a corpse he came across in Japan's so-called "Suicide Forest." That clip, which was eventually taken down by Paul himself, forced YouTube to cut almost all ties with him and to figure out ways to prevent another situation like this.

Up until now, Google's (and by extension YouTube's) solution had been to take down offensive channels and tweak its advertiser-friendly guidelines to give brands more control over where their ads show up. But the tech giant is now taking that one step further. Earlier this week, it announced YouTube will now manually review uploads from accounts that are part of its Google Preferred ad tier, which lets brands publish advertisements in videos from the top five percent of YouTube creators.

The shift is notable because it means YouTube will rely less on algorithms to catch bad actors, something that social media companies are finally realizing needs to happen. Facebook and Twitter have both also vowed to hire more humans, as they look to crack down on bots and troll accounts that have plagued their sites. What Google and YouTube hope, naturally, is that this will help avoid another mess like the one Logan Paul created.

Mobile Technology Applications

Although Paul's channel "Logan Paul Vlogs" still lives on the platform, YouTube has put on hold the original projects he was working on for YouTube Red, its paid ad-free streaming service. It also terminated his lucrative Google Preferred ad deal, and while he will still be able to monetize his content, not being a part of that advertising package likely won't earn him nearly as much money. For context, he was reportedly the fourth highest-paid YouTuber in 2017, according to Forbes, earning an estimated $12.5 million -- thanks to Preferred, his Maverick apparel line and sponsored posts on social media.

The decision was likely a tough one for YouTube, considering the millions of people who watch Logan Paul's channel and, perhaps most importantly, the level of influence he has over a key demographic: teenagers. But YouTube had to make an example out of him in order to appease advertisers, which grow more and more concerned that their ads could appear alongside disturbing or inappropriate videos. Last year, AT&T and Verizon (which owns Engadget), among others, pulled ads from Google's platform after they were displayed on videos related to terrorism and hate groups.

YouTube is also implementing stricter requirements to its Partner Program, which lets smaller channels earn money by placing ads in their videos, to help filter out offensive content. Creators can now only become a YouTube Partner if they have 4,000 hours of watchtime in the past 12 months and over 1,000 subscribers. These changes are in addition to the ones made in 2017, when YouTube began requiring 10,000 channel views minimum in order to be granted partnership status. The company says setting these thresholds will prevent low-quality videos from making money and stop channels from uploading stolen content. That said, it still plans to depend heavily on viewers flagging videos that may violate YouTube's community guidelines.

PewDiePie Signs Copies Of His New Book 'This Book Loves You'

YouTuber star "PewDiePie."

The main challenge for YouTube, is that often it is top users who are uploading dubious content, not the smaller channels. And that begs the question of why it took it so long to act, at least in a tougher manner. It's not as if YouTube hasn't dealt with cases similar to Logan Paul's in the past. Take Felix "PewDiePie" Kjellberg as an example, the Swedish YouTuber with nearly 60 million subscribers who has published videos filled with anti-Semitic and other racist outbursts on more than one occasion. Or the channel "Toy Freaks," which had over 8 million subscribers and featured explicit content targeted at young audiences, including videos of children vomiting and in extreme pain that it claimed were "pranks."

Granted, YouTube did act quickly in both cases: PewDiePie lost his original series Scare PewDiePie and Google Preferred deal, similar to Logan Paul, while the ToyFreaks channel was removed altogether. But those acts should've been a huge flag that the company needed to take a hard look at itself and change its video-review process, from depending less on machine learning and more on humans. Just as it plans to do going forward.

If the new system would've been in place, chances are the controversial Logan Paul video may have never been viewed by the masses and, therefore, YouTube could've saved itself from major public outcry. In fact, there's still an ongoing petition calling for his channel to be deleted, which so far has been signed by more than half a million people. The hope for YouTube now is that, by having humans monitor popular uploads, there will be less of a chance of any foul videos being published in the future. A YouTube spokesperson told Engadget that every decision the company makes has to work for advertisers, creators and users alike, which can be complicated because not every situation is black and white.

With the overhauled YouTube Partner Program, for example, some creators aren't happy with the new requirements because they don't think they'll be able to make money. But YouTube says that of those channels that will be affected, 99 percent are making less than $100 per year. Ultimately, the spokesperson said, all the changes made recently, both to the advertising and community guidelines, are designed to "move everyone forward," adding that YouTube doesn't want someone's bad judgment call to affect the rest of the platform -- even though it certainly feels like it is.

Paul Levinson, a professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University, said he has mixed feelings about the decisions YouTube is making. He believes that, by censoring its creators, it will lose the freedom that's made it the most popular video site in the world. That said, Levinson also understands that it isn't appropriate to have a corpse or other "disgusting" content in a video.

"Of course, you could argue that if someone doesn't like it, they don't have to view it," he said. "You know, they can just shut it off the second they see it, but obviously, I get why people find that offensive, even repulsive. And so in that sense, it's a good thing, but at the same time I'm concerned that we're beginning to see the end of that totally open [internet]."

Now, as we move past Logan Paul's controversy, it'll be interesting to see how effective YouTube's new monitoring system will be, and whether it decides to expand it beyond just the top five percent of videos. But don't be surprised if some manage to slip through the cracks, because like the algorithms that have failed YouTube in the past, humans are also far from perfect.

Images: Getty Images (All)

TaylorMade’s new putter can analyze your golf stroke

Blast Motion is known for making sports sensors aimed at improving your golf, baseball or softball performance and now they've teamed up with TaylorMade on a putter that can analyze your putting strokes. The Spider Interactive Powered by Blast putter marries TaylorMade's most popular putter with Blast Motion's motion capture sensors and can measure and report your backstroke time, forward stroke time, tempo, impact stroke speed and face rotation. With the accompanying app, users will be able to track their progress, access training modules and view videos of their strokes.

Other companies including Garmin and Zepp, the latter of which just agreed to stop selling one of its sensors in the US as part of a patent dispute settlement with Blast Motion, also offer golf swing sensors. But, like Blast Motion's Blast Golf setup, they're external sensors that attach to a golfer's glove or club. The Spider Interactive putter, however, houses the sensor within the grip.

The putter will be available in various versions starting March 23rd and will cost $400. The mobile app will be available on iOS March 1st and on Android later in 2018.