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Japan Says Goodbye To Its Queen of Pop

September 14, 2018 — by Kotaku.com0

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This weekend, iconic J-pop star Namie Amuro will hold her final concert. After that, she will apparently never perform on stage again.

Amuro is one of the biggest-selling artists in Japanese music history, selling 38 million records during her career. She debuted in 1992 at age 14 as a member of the idol group Super Monkey’s. She became so popular that the group’s name was changed to Namie Amuro with Super Monkey’s.

Once the group disbanded, Amuro was poised to launch her hugely successful solo career.

Her first two solo singles were hits, but it was her third single “Don’t Wanna Cry” that helped establish the 19-year-old as one of Japan’s brightest stars of the 1990s.

The album that followed, Sweet 19 Blues, was at the time the best selling album in Japanese music history. It is now a classic.

The next year, Amuro released “Can You Celebrate?” and it went to become the biggest selling single from a Japanese female recording artist, selling 2.75 million copies.

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It is now one of the default songs people play at weddings.

Amuro defined the day’s fashion inspiring a generation of young women to dress like her, wearing mini-skirts and platform boots, putting highlights in their hair and keeping their eyebrows thin.

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There was even a word for young women who followed her fashion: “Amuraa.”

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It was a golden age of Jpop, with fellow female artists Ayumi Hamasaki and Hikaru Utada dominating the airwaves. Utada remains popular, but Ayumi Hamasaki, with whom Amuro has been often compared, hasn’t been as resilient, and sadly, she has become an object of internet scorn. Amuro, however, has not.

She has weathered the Japanese entertainment complex through the decades, continuing to grow as a recording artist, change with the times and release successful albums.

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Last falls, she shocked fans when she told them she would be retiring on September 16, 2018, the 26th anniversary of her debut.

Since her announcement, Amuro has been spending the past year doing publicity, interviews and touring. It’s been a chance for fans to say goodbye. One Piece even bid her adieu.

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Japan Airline’s Okinawa carrier rolled out an “Amuro Jet” to say thanks to the most famous popstar the prefecture has produced.

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Her newest album, a compilation album titled Finally, was released on November 8, 2017 and has sold over 2.25 million copies.

“I will never be on stage like this after Sept. 16,” Amuro, now 40, was quoted by Asahi as saying at the Tokyo Dome this past June. “To my fans and those who have supported me, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude for creating memories of the past 25 years.”

Namie Amuro’s final performance will be this Sunday in her native Okinawa. Below is a twenty-minute clip on her career.

Gaming News

Eminem's New Album Samples Kingdom Hearts

September 2, 2018 — by Kotaku.com0

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Eminem’s surprise album drop over the weekend contains an even bigger surprise for JRPG fans: one of the tracks samples Square’s Kingdom Hearts throughout.

The track is “Good Guy”, with the sample being the female vocals in the background:

Producer Illadaproducer confirmed that it’s a Kingdom Hearts sample in this Rolling Stone interview:

RS: What about “Good Guy,” what’s the sample there?

IL: That’s me doing my video game thing. Kingdom Hearts. It’s a Japanese videogame, and that’s the theme song from it. It’s one of the dopest melodies I’ve ever heard. Shout out Japanese videogames and Japanimation for inspiration. Filtered it, did some chops, did some processing to it. I basically made it unrecognizable, but I know they would have still found it. That’s why we had to deal with the clearance. But when I do anything I try to make it to where it’s not fully recognizable.

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If it’s hard to make out just which theme song it is—he does, after all, say he’s “basically made it unrecognizable”—the track’s listing on credits/lyrics site Genius.com has the sample as Simple & Clean by Utada Hikaru, the intro song to the original Kingdom Hearts.

Rappers and producers sampling video games is almost as old as hip-hop, I know, but it’s one thing to hear Street Fighter sounds for 25 years, and another for Kingdom Hearts to make it onto an Eminem album.

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That said, it’s not like this is even a first for Kingdom Hearts; J Cole fans might remember that in 2011 his Dollar And A Dream III was backed by Kingdom Hearts II’s Darkness of the Unknown.

Gaming News

Resist the Urge to Torrent in Your College Dorm Room

August 24, 2018 — by Kotaku.com0

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Ah, college. The time to explore one’s interests, one’s self-identity, and one’s crazy high-speed internet connection. While you might be tempted to use your college network for nefarious purposes, since you can now BitTorrent anything you want at much faster rates than what you might have had at your parents’ home, think about whether it’s worth it. Nothing is going to ruin your day more than getting busted for BitTorrent, your dealings on the Dark Web, or whatever other crazy thing you’re up to.

It’s Freshman Orientation Week at Lifehacker! This week, we’re covering ways to snap out of your summer haze and into an autumnal blitz of activity, whether you’re actually heading to campus for the first time, getting your own kids ready for school, or looking for ways to just be more productive in the classroom of life. So velcro up your Trapper Keepers, students. Class is now in session.

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Here’s the deal. If you pull up qBittorrent and The Pirate Bay and go to town, odds are good that your college is already deploying traffic shaping on its network so an entire dorm’s worth of people doesn’t slow your campus’ network to a crawl.

You will probably be able to start a torrent, but your download speeds might suffer. If you’re lucky, they’ll be fine, but it’s possible your upload speeds will tank, instead. Depending on where you get your BitTorrents from, an uneven ratio could ruin your chances at obtaining additional content. Strike one.

Strike two is the more obvious one. Letting BitTorrent chug on your college’s network is a great way to summon a fine—or worse, get banned from the network or other unpleasant disciplinary measures. Take a peek at Stanford University’s policy (and its respectable “three strikes” rule, which gives you a few opportunities to stop what you’re doing before you’re hit with the banhammer):

For the first incident, your machine’s credentials will be restored after you demonstrate that you understand the issues by passing a quiz and affirming your future law-abiding intentions.

For a second allegation, your network credentials will be inactivated for four calendar days after you demonstrate that you understand the issues by passing and affirming your future law-abiding intentions.

A third allegation will require a student Judicial Process and generally will remove your network access for at least one academic quarter.

Note: Violators at any level also run the risk of a lawsuit from the copyright holder which can cost thousands of dollars (or more).

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“But wait,” you think. “I can just use a VPN, like I was doing at home, to prevent my ‘ISP,’ the university, from knowing what I’m up to!”

Here comes strike three. A VPN is a great way to conceal what you’re up to, sure. The problem? Your university might already have set up mechanisms that prevent you from using VPNs (including services like Tor) on their network. But let’s assume the positive: Your VPN works, you’ve connected up, and you’re ready to start downloading more movies than a film major’s DVD collection.

First, you’ll need to pay attention whether your VPN is actually working. If it disconnects, and you don’t realize it, you’ll be sending all your BitTorrent traffic unmasked, and that will surely attract your college’s attention. (In a perfect world, you’ll want to use a VPN app that has a “kill switch” setting that blocks all your network traffic in the event it loses its connection or can’t connect.)

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You’ll still have to deal with your university’s traffic-shaping mechanisms, if any exist. And even if you don’t have any issues there, it won’t be very difficult at all for those in charge of your college’s network to notice that your dorm room—or the laptop you’ve registered to the campus network with the account you college assigned you—is eating up more bandwidth than everyone else.

Over at Stanford, the university also has a system for dealing with those who mysteriously eat up a ton of network resources:

“If you received a traffic advisory message, it’s because the network traffic patterns from your computer suggested that it may be generating a high volume of peer-to-peer file sharing traffic. You are not in any trouble (at least not because you received this message). In fact, we presume that you are complying with copyright laws and University policies. The notice is provided only as a service to those people who are unknowingly file sharing. If you know you’re only sharing files with the legitimate permission of the copyright holder, you can ignore the message.”

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While your university might not be able to conclusively say that you’re running BitTorrent on a VPN, they’ll definitely notice your bandwidth use, which might prompt a more thorough investigation (and eventual consequences). You also might be able to get away with it, but I wouldn’t say it’s worth the risk. There are other reasonable alternatives you can try, or you could just, you know, not go crazy with illegal downloads.

Make a few friends and share a Netflix, Spotify, or Apple Music account. Hit up your campus library for media. Go to one of your college’s (likely many) film screenings. Get your dorm to buy more Blu-rays for everyone to watch on its huge shared television. Use your sweet student discounts to acquire entertainment for super-cheap prices. Go study. Party. Your options are limitless.

Gaming News

Civilization IV's Theme Was On America's Got Talent, And It Was Excellent

July 29, 2018 — by Kotaku.com0

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Last week, the procession of pop songs on TV show America’s Got Talent was interrupted by a massive group performance of Baba Yetu, the Grammy-award winning Civilization IV theme.

Sung by the Angel City Chorale, it’s one hell of a performance of Christopher Tin’s work, which despite its surprise contemporary prominence (it won its Grammy in 2011) was indeed first composed for Civ IV’s release in 2005.

The group got a “Golden Buzzer” at the end from Olivia Munn.

I still do not know why this hasn’t just become the theme for every Civ game.

To compare, here’s the original, which featured the Soweto Gospel Choir and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra:

Tech News

Recommended Reading: The plight of fact-checkers in the fake news era

July 28, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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The fact-checkers who want to save the world
Kate Knibbs,
The Ringer

In the era of fake news and rampant misinformation, fact-checkers are a key line of defense and an important tool in separating truth from lies. The Ringer takes a look a the organizations and individuals who have accepted the challenge, shifting through stories and even fact-checking those claiming to be fact-checkers.

You don’t need to be a musician to get a record deal in 2018
Elias Leight,
Rolling Stone

It’s no secret that streaming has drastically changed the music industry, and now labels are looking to social media stars for their next big act.

Chasing the ‘Holy Grail’ of baseball performance
Ben Rowen,
The Atlantic

When it comes to sports, team chemistry is vital. Researchers, including economists and psychologists, are on the hunt for the secret sauce that makes a great team.

‘Mission: Impossible 6’ proves Tom Cruise will outlive us all
Priscilla Frank,
HuffPost

A look at the latest Mission Impossible film through the lens of a writer who has watched the American hero’s entire filmography.

How Trent Reznor turned his anger outward
Kory Grow,
Rolling Stone

The Nine Inch Nails frontman opens up during the band’s three-night stay in Vegas. Reporter Kory Grow also spoke with bandmate Atticus Ross about Reznor and the band’s new music.

Tech News

The Japanese ensemble making music from old tape reels

July 26, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Open Reel Ensemble doesn’t play conventional instruments, like guitars, drums and keyboards. Instead, the Japanese band uses reel-to-reel tape recorders built by Pioneer and TEAC in the 1970s and ’80s. They weren’t designed, of course, with musical creation and manipulation in mind. Ei Wada, the leader of Open Reel Ensemble, discovered their performative qualities by accident. More than 15 years ago, he was given a couple of tape recorders by a friend of his father who worked at a radio station. He tripped over them one day and, in a mixture of panic and sadness, tried to rotate the broken reels with his hands. To his surprise, the sound changed.

“I felt exoticism,” Wada said through a translator. “And [realized] this was a kind of musical instrument.” The technically-minded musician started modifying reel-to-reel recorders and, later, founded Open Reel Ensemble at university with a small group of friends. Today, the band is a trio. They learned to perform by recording a mixture of sounds and then, in real-time, stopping and turning the reels by hand. It creates a DJ-like scratching effect that’s hard to replicate with digital tools alone. “Depending on what you record and how you touch and rotate the reels,” Wada explained, “the playback sound will vary in many ways with different expressions.”

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回・転・旅・行・記, from the album Vocal Code (2015).

Over the years, the group has developed new techniques. As Motherboard explains, each member can now “program” sounds directly on to the recorders, creating a strange blend of digital and analog technology. With multi-track recorders, Open Reel Ensemble is able to switch individual tracks on and off, too. Sometimes they’ll record blocks of sustained noise, at various pitches, to be triggered and disabled like notes on a guitar. These allow the band to play intricate chords and melodies on stage. “We’re finding new techniques every day,” Wada said, “exploring rotation and movements, and the relationship between magnetics and sound.”

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Archipel produced a ‘Toco Toco’ documentary on Ei Wada in 2017.

Open Reel Ensemble has also experimented with bamboo sticks. The tape is still fed through the recorder, but the ends are attached to either end of the wooden rod. The band then rocks the stick back and forth, pushing and pulling different portions of the tape through the recorder. From a distance, it looks like a giant string instrument that’s somehow been caught inside a server farm. Open Reel Ensemble typically plays this with a voice recording, or in conjunction with a vocoder. “You can get various sound expressions depending on the movement speed,” Wada said.

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Building and playing ‘tape bamboo’ instruments.

Earlier this year, the band started playing the tape like a drum kit. The trio pulled the tape out and hung it across the room like a washing line, or some form of gothic bunting. Then, one of the members grabbed a wooden stick and hit the tape directly,