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Mobile Technology News, February 11, 2014

As developers for tablets and smartphones we like to keep abreast of the latest mobile technology developments . This is a daily digest of mobile development and related technology news gathered from the BBC, the New York Times, New Scientist and the Globe and Mail to name a few. We scour the web for articles concerning, iPhone, iPad and android development, iOS and android operating systems as well as general articles on advances in mobile technology. We hope you find this useful and that it helps to keep you up to date with the latest technology developments.

  • 5 Ways To Spot A Catfish Scam This Valentine's Day
    Regular viewers of MTV’s series “Catfish” (in which online-only, deceptive relationships are pulled into the real world, albeit with cameras running) might think that the show just highlights the extreme cases of a common problem – people who tell lies in search of a personal connection. For instance, studies show that about 81% of people lie in their online dating profiles, and everyone has a story about a deceptive boyfriend or girlfriend who wasn’t everything they initially seemed.

    But lying about who you are – and your affections – solely to get access to someone else’s personally identifying information or money is a more dangerous form of catfishing not often highlighted by the show, and it’s on the rise just in time for Valentine’s Day. In fact, we might as well officially call this version of it “catphishing,” and add it to the growing roster of other notable phishing scams.

    The most famous catfishing victim, Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o, didn’t lose much more than his pride in his ordeal, but other victims haven’t been quite so lucky. Former Denver Nuggets star Chris Anderson faced a criminal investigation after a woman pretended to be him online and scammed and blackmailed more than a dozen victims (including a woman with whom he had a real-life relationship). A mother-daughter team in Colorado peeled more than $1 million out of more than 300 women around the world pretending to be U.S. military men who just needed a little bit of cash to buy a phone or a plane ticket.

    As the Better Business Bureau has noted, these scams are on the rise in part because they don’t cost the scammers very much. Many online dating sites are free to users, fake photos are easy to find and a little investment – like in flower deliveries, which don’t require the person ordering be present – can net more in financial returns from the charmed women or men who fall under a catphisher’s spell.

    So how do you make yourself less vulnerable to catphishing? Psychologist Jack Schafer warns people to be wary of truth bias, or our innate belief that most people are telling us the truth in the absence of evidence to the contrary.

    But there are some more concrete tips you can follow if you want to be safe from catphishers.

    1. Be wary of romantic interest from someone who says they can’t meet.

    He’s really American but lives abroad right now (but is using OKCupid and contacting people in your city). Her phone got shut off. His webcam won’t work. Scammers have 100 arrows in their quiver of reasons you can’t meet in person, talk on the phone or even see each other virtually and they’re almost all disguising the fact that they’re using another person’s picture and a made-up identity to woo you. Before you let yourself get too sucked into a whirlwind romance with a would-be Romeo or Juliet, make sure the person you think you’re falling for is more than just a few ghost-written love letters and a model’s picture.

    2. Be suspicious of someone who always has emergencies.

    Once a catphisher thinks she or he has a live one on the line, they’ll test their mark to see how far they can push the trust they’ve worked to establish. (It doesn’t hurt that this can play into their efforts to avoid actually having to meet, talk or be seen.) But while having emergencies is a fact of life, involving people who don’t really know you in them really isn’t – and asking for money to resolve them is definitely not.

    3. Never turn over personal information or pictures you wouldn’t want widely seen.

    Maybe your new love interest will suddenly ask for a credit card number to buy a plane ticket, or ask where your bank is or request something like your Social Security or passport number. Maybe they’ll ask you for pictures of yourself in compromising situations, or to engage in some NSFW video chats. While giving out your personal information is enough of an identity danger, don’t ignore the increased risk of having your personal pictures or screengrabs used as a form of actual blackmail by a catphisher out for more than just titillation.

    4. Don’t give someone money, or help him or her to access money.

    Given that the whole point for catphishers is to get money out of people, alarm bells should start going off the moment any potential romantic partner asks for even a little financial assistance. The first ask might be small – perhaps something to help take care of the emergency situation – but most catphishers will quickly accelerate their requests or demands for money as quickly as possible. If you don’t help, they might ask you to deposit a check or accept a wire transfer from a friend and pass the money along, but the money you’re supposed to get never really arrives. Don’t do it!

    5. Never click strange links or download files you receive.

    Even the most heartfelt-seeming e-card can mask something more dangerous than an online-only romance: weird links to unfamiliar sites or files you’re asked to download can contain malware or viruses that can do more than just spam your computer with ads. You could end up with a keystroke logger on your system, which would allow the sender to see passwords to everything (including your checking account), or a virus that turns your computer into a botnet to launch attacks against other sites. If you don’t really know the person, don’t trust the file (and, sometimes, even if you do know the person, don’t trust the file).

    Valentine’s Day is a high-pressure holiday for many people, and we’ve all been in situations where our foolish hearts trump our ability to see through a scam. But when that tiny alarm bell starts going off in your head, listen to it – and you will save both your heart and your hard-earned money.

  • Briefly: Shazam adds new quick lyrics access, Path updates for iOS 7
    Shazam has announced and released a re-design for its iPhone app rolling out prior to its larger update release due later this month. Today’s update features a new app aesthetic, with its interface offering easy access to previewing, buying and sharing music. In v7.4, Users can now quickly access lyrics with a preview as soon as a track is matched, as well as have direct access to music video and additional videos related to a song. Shazam for iPhone is available through iTunes, and is free to download.


  • Cyberattacks Not Coordinated, Government Task Force Reports
    WASHINGTON (AP) — A multi-agency government task force looking into cyberattacks against retailers says it has not come across evidence suggesting the attacks are a coordinated campaign to adversely affect the U.S. economy.

    In a two-page report, the National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force says the global implications of the retail attacks and the economic impact to private business and individual citizens cannot be overstated. The report obtained by the Associated Press does not identify the retailers by name, but it comes after recent attacks on Target and Neiman Marcus.

    The task force document says it is tracking and coordinating cyber investigative information among government agencies and industry partners concerning the use of Kaptoxa, a type of malware that compromises payment information systems, and other related malware by criminal elements.

    The report is the combined effort of the FBI, Secret Service, intelligence agencies, and the Department of Homeland Security.

    “Bringing all of the government’s knowledge together to date, the report demonstrates there is no evidence of a coordinated effort — whether by criminal groups or nation states — to harm the US economy,” said Steve Chabinsky, a cyber expert with cybersecurity technology firm CrowdStrike who spent 15 years with the FBI. “Plain and simple, whoever did this just wants to make a whole lot of money.”

    Chabinsky said he has an unclassified copy of the report. He said it is an effort by the government to reach out to the entire retail industry expressing the government’s concern that if these intrusions are allowed to continue, the unintended consequences could have global economic impact.

    “The outreach to retail is fairly unique,” said Chabinsky. “They’re encouraging the retail industry to become part of the information sharing process. Retailers are used to standard losses, but this impacts not only a few individual companies, but potentially a wave of organizations getting hit by the same type of exploit: the government is clearly taking it seriously.”

  • Warning over 'casual sex' apps
    The National Crime Agency warns people who use “hook-up” apps to meet for casual sex to ensure their partner is above the age of consent.
  • Would Bill Gates Artificially Prolong His Life? His Surprising (And Inspiring) Answer
    Walt Disney has long been rumored to have preserved his body in a cryogenic chamber for a future revival. Google recently established Calico, a biotech company aimed at extending human life span.

    So during Bill Gates’ Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session on Monday, the question that naturally arose was this: Does he want to artificially prolong his life?

    “No,” Gates replied. “I don’t. Other people think about that but I wouldn’t want to extend my last few years unless that is happening for most people.”

    This commitment to others permeated the Reddit AMA, which was scheduled to follow the release of the Gates Foundation’s annual philanthropic letter.

    The questions were rapid-fire.

    How close are we to wiping out polio worldwide?

    “Very close.”

    What’s the biggest obstacle the developed world needs to overcome in order to help the developing world?


    One question even pondered an alternate reality: What would he have done if he didn’t go into computers?

    “I considered law and math. My Dad was a lawyer. I think though I would have ended up in physics if I didn’t end up in computer science.”

    Gates did admit to one guilty pleasure purchase: his private plane. “Owning a plane is a guilty pleasure. Warren Buffett called his the Indefensible. I do get to a lot of places for Foundation work I wouldn’t be able to go to without it,” said the tech legend.

    Oh, well. It seems even if they don’t have cryogenic capsules, billionaires occasionally get to be billionaires.

  • Microsoft adds Bitcoin to Bing's currency converter
    Crypto-currency’s value against more than 50 other currencies can now be found with a simple search query.
  • How To Nail Your Viral Video Wedding Proposal
    In the hierarchy of viral videos, marriage proposals are a sweet, mushy breed unto themselves. Successful viral videos — the ones that reach a million hits on YouTube and bring your workday to a grinding halt — have to surprise the viewer and tug at her heartstrings. Spontaneity and sap: proposals have ’em in spades.
  • Shuttle bus protest hits Microsoft in Seattle
    Following similar protests in San Francisco and Oakland, demonstrators blocked tech shuttle buses in the Great Northwest.
  • How to deal with the cyberbullies
    How to deal with cyber bullies
  • What NASA Is For — Now Shut Up and Listen
    Every few years someone with a loud enough megaphone asks why we are spending so much money putting people into space, or, as in this most recent round of criticism, ask, “What is NASA for?” As usual people on both sides rush into the fray, some defending the proud legacy of NASA’s astronaut corps and making the case for why humans are needed to do better science, and others arguing for how much more science we would get if we simply ended the showboating and risky waste of funds on human spaceflight and put the money into robots.

    They are both right. They are both wrong. And they are engaged in a dead argument.

    This makes it hard for me to weigh in on the debate, as it is like two pre-age of enlightenment courtiers arguing about the best way to measure the sound of the heavenly spheres the day before Copernicus tossed out the whole paradigm. But then, such considerations have never stopped me before.

    Of course we should stop wasting taxpayer funds on ridiculously expensive government missions to nowhere that return little value and blaze no useful trail for others to follow. Of course we should spend much more on science — and yes, use robots to do that science when it makes sense (most of the time, it does). Of course Congress often covers the exposed crotch of our human spaceflight program with the figleaf of science when it’s an obvious lie to justify the pumping of billions of dollars into the belly of an ever voracious aerospace industrial complex. And yes, of course space is dangerous. (This is the “duh” part of the debate to me…)

    On the other hand, our investment in our human spaceflight program has produced an amazing and sometimes nonlinear benefit to our culture and society — in spite of its lack of direction and being whip sawed around by the same clueless political elite who gave us the government shut down, two badly managed wars and healthcare.gov.

    In its early days, the space program cracked the sky of our imaginations and gave us a benchmark for what is possible. Those heroes gave us something that is intangible yet forever — for we live today in a civilization that has walked on other worlds. No matter the sludge-laden whirling mass of other news that bombards us, that spark of possibility each day lights a child’s imagination somewhere on this planet to do better and to dream bigger. They set the tone for the macro conversation of what is to come for our species and this tiny and delicate blue dot — only visible from the windows of those spacecraft. Images made poignant not because of the pictures themselves, but because they were shot by One of Us who was Out There Looking Back.

    And yet, of late the program has been a failure. It is in fact almost impossible to defend, as it is lost, it is bloated and it is, when compared to the alternatives available right now, a dying and driverless vehicle on a dead end road to nowhere.

    I believe both sides — those who are pro-toasters in space and those who are pro-studs to the stars — are lost, losing, and will in the end be seen as engaged in a dated and rhetorical dance that will have no meaning, if the rest of us choose the right path moving forward.

    You see, we are in the middle of a paradigm shift (yes, we in the space field get to use that word in its literal sense — as we are engaged at the level of Copernicus). And the day after such a shift the arguments of the day before will make no sense.

    So both sides need to shut up and listen.

    Here is what NASA is for:

    1. The exploration of space: Be it by humans or robots, based on the best choice for the mission and the most efficient means to return the data and science sought. Most of the time this will mean we send robots, due to cost and danger. But sometimes we will need the irreplaceable judgment and descriptive abilities of a person on the spot.

    2. Supporting the development of space: Both the Lewis and Clark function and what NASA used to do before Apollo, when its job was to push the edges of technology and help American aviation become the best in the world. First, along with science, NASA surveys and reports on what is over the horizon so the rest of us can go there if it looks good. Then, NASA returns the public’s investment by helping us build the right and best rockets and other machines so that as we follow the path they have blazed we can do it faster, better and cheaper.

    3. Enabling the human settlement of space: Forget the debates about humans vs. robots doing better science. We go as humans into space to expand the domain of humanity and life — not robots. And as we do, we will get more science because when you are living somewhere you obviously learn more about it. NASA and the government must first get out of the way, and then support us as we open the frontier. This is their job. Not to do space for us, but to help us do it ourselves. Think of it as payback for the trillion or so we have given them since Apollo.

    The ultimate and clear sign of the success of our space program will be when the places we are going in space, be they for science or life, are generating more value than they cost. And this value means both science and prosperity, and yes, always this value means hope.

    Even as some of limited imagination bemoan the failing light of American industry, the geeks and nerds and others been born in the generations since we began this sometimes awkward and stumbling climb upwards have transformed civilization. They created the Internet, revolutionized medicine and set the stage for a complete change in what it means to be a human in the next decades. And yes, many of them, no longer able to sit back and watch the heroic icon that once inspired them fade into obscurity, are taking the responsibility themselves to do it right. They are building their own private rockets and machines to open the frontier, creating their own plans for new businesses and new ventures and pushing forward so their own children will be able to claim these new places as their new home — and they will not be stopped, no matter what.

    And thus the change begins, the paradigm shifts and the arguments of today become the senseless babblings of a generation at the moment just before everything changes. Yet the right debate is good. We do need to transform what we are dong in space — and why. We must fix our space agency. We must redirect our space agenda. We must do more science for less money.

    And we must open the frontier to humanity, so that we can do all of these things — and more…

  • Multifactor authentication extended to all Office 365 users
    All users will now have the option of using a second layer of log-in verification to reduce vulnerability to online identity theft.
  • Parents unaware of smartphone danger
    Many parents are out of touch with the dangers faced by their children on tablets and smartphones, according to a poll by BBC Learning.
  • Sochi 2014: Hi-tech Winter Games
    The technology behind the Sochi 2014 Winter Games
  • Snapchat Responds To Security Hack That Can Crash Your IPhone In Seconds
    Snapchat says it has addressed a vulnerability in the popular photo and video sharing app that could allow hackers to render an iPhone or Android device useless by sending users thousands of messages in seconds.

    Jaime Sanchez, a noted cyber-security consultant with major telecommunications company Telefonica, brought the vulnerability to the attention of the Los Angeles Times last week. He demonstrated the security snafu by crashing a reporter’s iPhone by overloading it with about 1,000 messages in just five seconds.

    The exploit also works on Android phones, but PC Mag reports that it is not capable of crashing those devices, although it does make them extremely slow.

    “We believe we have addressed the issue as early as Friday, and we continue to make significant progress in our efforts to secure Snapchat,” a Snapchat representative told The Huffington Post about Sanchez’s discovery. However, the company has yet to detail exactly how it addressed the issue.

    Sanchez told the LA Times he brought the security flaw to the attention of the press before he brought it to the company, arguing that Snapchat “has no respect for the cyber security research community.”

    As TechCrunch notes, Sanchez seems to have a point, considering many still fault Snapchat for an incident that occurred over the holidays in which the data and information of 4.6 million Snapchat users was published to an online database.

    Security researchers who had previously warned the app makers of a security hole were responsible for that attack, and many blamed the company for not responding when it should have. Snapchat came under fire for its flippant response to the incident that didn’t immediately include an apology to its users.

    Sanchez on Saturday tweeted that Snapchat had blocked the two accounts he used to test the recent hack, as well as the Internet protocol address he uses. He tweeted a photo of the error message he received along with the note, “That’s their countermeasure.”

    Snapchat has been able to avoid the public scrutiny on this particular vulnerability since no users were directly affected by the exploit. It’s unclear at this time if the exploit can still be used by hackers.

  • 7 Reasons Why You Will Never Do Anything Amazing With Your Life

    Yeah that’s right, you heard me… I’m talking to you… I’m calling you out.

    I’m looking you in the eyes (OK well, not really since you are probably reading this article, but figuratively, I am burning a cyclops type hole in your face right now) and telling you that you don’t stand a chance.

    I’m telling you that if you can read this article, look through this list and not claim it as your own, then you should be a little worried.

    Actually, you should be very worried. You should drop everything and immediately question your existence on earth. You should find a mirror, look yourself in the eyes, raise your hand and slap yourself in the face.

    Got it? Now repeat that until you come to your senses and continue reading whenever you’re ready.

    I’m Talkin’ Bout Street Skill, Son!

    I’m not talking about the study hard, party light, graduate-top-of-your-class skills.

    I’m not even talking about the slack-off, skip class, smoke weed, drink and party but still graduate skill-set your $50,000+ diploma has lead you to believe you have.

    I’m talking bout step out your door, make some moves, and get-some-shit-done kinds of skills! Some move-out-your-mama’s-house, quit your job, say “fuck the world” and then actually go do it kinds of skills.

    The kinds of skills you develop in the real world, outside the bubble of your parents protection or the ideological indoctrination that has overwhelmed our entire educational system.

    Skills that can be had by anyone willing to pay the price to get them. Skills that are quickly becoming extinct.

    I’m talking bout skills that cannot be taught in a classroom or in a textbook. Skills you can only learn by doing; by learning how to fly after jumping off the cliff.

    Skills that can only be developed when you find your true self. When you put yourself on the line or otherwise expose yourself to the possibility of failure.

    The skills you can only develop when you are willing to risk it all in order to do that one amazing thing.

    Skills that up until now, you thought you had.

    “Basically, what I am trying to tell you is that, in this game called life, you don’t stand a chance…

    1) Because You Have Not Failed Enough

    Because you are comfortable in your mediocrity; because you choose not to try.

    Because it is easier to talk about learning that new (programming?) language as opposed to actually learning it.

    Because you think everything is too hard or too complicated so you will just “sit this one out” or maybe you’ll “do it tomorrow”!

    Because you hate your job but won’t get a new one; because it is easy to reject rejection.

    Because while you’re sitting around failing to try, I am out there trying to fail, challenging myself, learning new things and failing as fast as possible.

    Because as I fail, I learn, and then adjust my course to make sure my path is always forward. Like the process of annealing steel, I’ve been through the fire and pounded into shape. The shape of a sword with polished edges and a razor sharp blade that will cut you in half if you are not equally hardened.

    2) Because You Care What Others Think About You

    Because you have to fit in.

    Because you believe that being different is only cool if you’re different in the same way that other people are different.

    Because you are afraid to embrace your true self for fear of how the world will see you. You think that because you judge others, this means that those people must, in-turn, be judging you.

    Because you care more about the stuff you have as opposed to the things you’ve done.

    Because while you’re out spending your money on new outfits, new cars, overpriced meals or nights at the bar, I’ll be investing in myself. And while you try to fit in with the world I’ll make the world fit in with me.

    Because I will recklessly abandon all insecurities and expose my true self to the world. I will become immune to the impact of your opinion and stand naked in a crowd of ideas; comfortable in knowing that while you married the mundane I explored the exceptional.

    3) Because You Think You Are Smarter Than You Are

    Because you did what everyone else did; you studied what they studied and read what they read.

    Because you learned what you had to learn in order to pass their tests and you think that makes you smart.

    Because you think learning is only something people do in schools.

    Because while you were away at college, I was studying life. Because instead of learning about the world in a classroom I went out and learned it by living.

    Because I know more than any piece of paper you could ever frame from a university. Because smart is not what you learn, it’s how you live.

    Because I might not have a degree but I challenge you to find a topic that I can’t talk to you about cohesively.

    Because I could pass your tests if I had to, but you couldn’t stand for a single second in the face of the tests that life has thrown me. Tests that are not graded on a bell curve or by percentages; tests that are graded by one simple stipulation: survival!

    4) Because You Don’t Read

    Because you read the things you are required to read or nothing at all.

    Because you think history is boring and philosophy is stupid.

    Because you would rather sit and watch E! or MTV instead of exploring something new, instead of diving head first into the brain of another man in an attempt to better understand the world around you.

    Because you refuse to acknowledge that all the power in the world comes from the words of those that lived before us. That anything you desire can be had by searching through the multitude of words that are available to us now more abundantly than ever before.

    Because you are probably not reading this article even though you know you should.

    Because the people that are reading this already know these things.

    Because you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.

    5) Because You Lack Curiosity

    Because you get your news from copy-cat members of the state-controlled media.

    Because you are unwilling to ask this simple question… “What if it’s all a lie?” and accept the possibility that maybe it is; that just maybe, the methods of mass media are under direct orders to: keep you distracted.

    Because you call me a know-it-all but refuse to call yourself a know-nothing-at-all.

    Because I thirst for knowledge, regardless the topic.

    Because while you’re busy playing Candy Crush or Megalopolis, I am reading about string theory and quantum mechanics.

    Because while you waste your time with Tosh.o I am learning how to edit video, build websites and design mobile apps.

    Because if we were to go heads-up in a debate, I would crush you. I would make it a point to defeat my own argument; from every imaginable angle; in order to understand everything you might be able to use against me.

    Because I would dedicate myself to understanding both sides of the argument so thoroughly that I could argue your side for you and win; even after having just handed you a defeat in the same debate.

    6) Because You Don’t Ask Enough Questions

    Because you do not question authority.

    Because you don’t question yourself.

    Because you don’t understand the power of properly placed questioning in life, respectful disagreements and standing up for what you know to be right in the face of someone telling you otherwise. Unable to question reality; stuck in a self imposed survival strategy within a matrix-style monotony.

    Because I know that you will give me all the information I need to destroy you by letting you talk.

    Because I study human behaviors and you ignore everyone but yourself.

    Because I watch how you say the things you say just as closely as I listen to what you say; and you say way too much!

    Because control comes, not from spewing your ignorance like some incurable case of logorrhea, but from properly structuring the context of your questions.

    Because I study the premise of your argument and destroy it from the ground level before you even get a chance to establish your ideas.

    7) Because You Can’t Handle The Truth

    Because you refuse to admit that you don’t even know the things you don’t know.

    Because there isn’t an article online that would make up for all the time you have wasted in life.

    Because even if I told you everything could be different tomorrow you would wait until then to begin doing anything about it.

    Because even when you think I’m not, I’m aware of my surroundings.

    Because you think that since I have not acknowledged you, it means that I have not seen you.

    Because, you walk around with your head up your ass, oblivious to the world around you. Blissfully ignorant of the reality that sits so close to your face that if you stuck your tongue out, just once, you would taste it and realize how delicious the truth actually is.

    Because you would become an instant addict. Unable to pull yourself from the teat of truth. Finally able to understand your lack of understanding, and then you would see; then you would know that the only thing holding you back from doing something truly amazing, is you.

    This article first appeared on Raymmar’s website: raymmar.com

  • Artist Klemens Torggler Reinvents The Door
    Sliding, rotating, automatic, hinged. We thought we had a pretty firm grasp on the types of doors that exist in the world. How wrong we were.

    This past week, a new kind of door, created by Austrian designer Klemens Torggler, has been mesmerizing the Internet — and forever changing the way we look at this everyday structure.

    “I can’t stop watching this door open and close,” wrote i09 Friday. We second that.

    Dubbed the “Evolution Door,” the clever geometric structure made its YouTube debut last June. (Watch the video below.) At the time, Torggler described his invention as a “flip-panel door.” The artist has also said that the door has “soft edges” (for wayward fingers) and is “absolutely safe.”

    The “Evolution Door” is just one of several unorthodox doors designed by Torggler. All his doors are “based on rotating squares,” his website reads, adding: “The special construction makes it possible to move the door sideways without the use of tracks. This technical trick opens up new applications for the door.”

    Watch a video of Torggler’s “Evolution Door” in action here:

  • Why Do We Love Video Games?

    The bastion of video games — the game console — should be dead. Or at least dying.

    Analysts have been saying this for some time. After all, we live in an age in which Netflix is producing the most innovative television shows while traditional networks are waning, print newspapers are closing and grappling with the rapidly decreasing profits of the industry and even radio has had to grapple with the emergence of Pandora.

    Digital, streaming, cross-platform content seems to be the name of the game. But when Microsoft introduced the Xbox One video game console earlier this year and espoused such a digital plan, it led to a tremendous backlash. Microsoft did a complete 180 turn in order to address the desires of their customer base.

    For years, analysts and commentators have remarked that the age of the console may be at an end and rapid growth in mobile gaming seemed to attest to this. Yet in the past few weeks, Sony and Microsoft respectively released their new consoles — the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One — and they have become respectively the fastest and second-fastest selling video game consoles in history. Both consoles sold more than a million units in the 24-hour period following their release and locating the units (particularly the Playstation) was the closest equivalent to last year’s “Tickle Me Elmo” challenge.

    More than 72 percent of households play video games, the average age of a video game player is 35 and 40 percent of players are women, according to the Entertainment Software Association. These numbers represent the incredible penetration of the medium that reaches across the population. In a MacArthur Foundation survey of young adults 12-17, it was found that 99 percent of boys play video games and 94 percent of girls, with little differences across ethnicities. This year, Americans spent an estimated $20.5 billion on games — much of that in digital purchases, according to the Amsterdam-based market research company Newzoo.

    Indeed when you takes into account mobile games like Angry Birds and Plants Vs. Zombies, and social games like Farmville and Words With Friends, suddenly you realize that even your mother-in-law who churns her own ice cream and your technologically challenged uncle are hardcore gamers.

    The fanaticism over these consoles is at an all time high, with passionate arguments being made as to why one console is better than another. Yet beneath the numbers and the gaming partisanship exists a very distinct truth — Americans love video games.

    As someone raised in the 1980s, video games have been a part of my existence and consistent form of entertainment. Now as an academic, I’ve become interested in the cultural narratives underlying gaming. I’ve conducted research in particular on religion in games. But all that research is built on the foundational understanding that video games matter to people. And clearly, as the numbers imply, they do.

    From a first glance, it looks like an awfully significant waste of time. You’d be better off learning a musical instrument or reading a book. Or even playing a sport nobody understands. Like croquet.

    What is the appeal?

    Well, it’s hard to explain to someone who has not played Bioshock Infinite that the violent first-person shooter game has an incredible moving and emotionally driven story. And if you haven’t played to the end it’s hard to explain how string theory, a theory regarding alternate realities, could be used to create a poignant, thought provoking ending. Video games have democratized the nature of storytelling, which allows players to take part in the stories being told. And when the story is interactive, more complex tales can be told.

    The ending of Bioshock Infinite dealt with quantum mechanics. In a movie or television show such an ending would bring out a unanimous “Say what?” But not only did it work in Bioshock Infinite, but the ending brought about a viral conversation as gamers met at digital watering holes to talk through the final plot twist.

    The game’s creator Kevin Levine argued in an interview with Game Informer that it would never have worked so effectively outside of the interactive, video game environment.
    “The whole ending we could have had as a cut scene with people talking to each other,” Levine said, “But we had to make that whole sequence interactive. That was really tricky because it wasn’t just complicated from a development standpoint, but it was also conceptually a complicated notion.” As a result, the player pieces together the ending gradually — it is not revealed in a LOST-esque “ah ha!” moment.

    Similarly, Naughty Dog’s Creative Director Neil Druckmann worked through creating a more interactive ending for The Last of Us, the second largest game launch of 2013. In the ending scenario, the hero Joel is attempting to rescue his companion and surrogate daughter Ellie. Throughout the game, Joel has killed an innumerable number of zombies. But in the last scene you’re faced with unarmed doctors are part of the group that kidnapped Ellie.

    When I played The Last of Us, I realized I didn’t have to kill those doctors. But I did, like many others who played the game. In real life, if I were to imagine myself in the midst of a zombie apocalypse — which is perhaps most like a university during finals week — I’m not sure I would have killed the doctors. But I was part of telling the story and I believe Joel would have killed them. Games also give us the ability to take risks that seem real without real world consequences. Part of the appeal of first-person shooters is that players can shoot a rocket at a building and witness the results, without actually ending up in prison.

    Video game designer Jane McGonigal argues that our workplaces could learn a lesson or two from the consequences/rewards systems in gaming. “The truth is this: in today’s society, computer and video games are fulfilling genuine human needs that the real world is currently unable to satisfy,” said McGonigal, the director of Game Research and Development at the Institute for the Future, in her book Reality Is Broken. “Games are providing rewards that reality is not. They are teaching and inspiring and engaging us in ways that reality is not. They are bringing us together in ways that reality is not.”

    Games such as the blockbuster franchise Mass Effect give players the option of playing as a “good guy” or a “bad guy.” In Mass Effect, this translates into violently coercing potential sources for information instead of gently reasoning with them or killing an enraged character as opposed to talking him down. These choices have effects on the story — some respond more favorably to a coercive villain as opposed to a nice guy, but there are also opportunities lost.

    Granted, in the Mass Effect series, as in many games with a moral element, the story seems to lend itself a bit more toward being a hero as opposed to a villain. In Bioware’s PAX East panel, the team behind Mass Effect reported the majority of players, 65 percent, choose to play as the good guy. While players have the option to take risks see what the consequences are, players — at least in Mass Effect — like to do that as a hero as opposed to a villain. One of the things Mass Effect teaches through its morality system is that there is a considerable amount of gray area between paragon and renegade.

    Video games also have the ability to help us get lost solving seemingly unsolvable problems. We live in a society with increasingly complex problems that don’t always seem to have a solution — our ability to figure out a level of Angry Birds gives us hope about even the most hopeless problems.

    This perhaps has the greatest mainstream appeal. With perhaps first mainstream game of this kind, Tetris, Nintendo executives negotiated with Soviet Union computer programmer in the midst of the Cold War to acquire the copyright for a tile-matching game they would package with the Gameboy. The game went on to sell more 33 million copies, just on the Gameboy. Now of course, the game is available on your iPhone, your Android phone and in an ever-expanding array of formats.

    In his book, All Your Base Are Belong To Us, Harold Goldberg reports on a conversation regarding Tetris. One Nintendo executive questioned the entrepreneur connecting Nintendo with the Soviet programmer why it was worth pursuing the complicated negotiations, and the high cost, to acquire the game. “Why should we do that when we have Mario? All the boys already love Mario.” The entrepreneur responded, “If you want boys to play, include Mario. If you want everyone to play — mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters — include Tetris.”

    The game, a precursor to casual games like Angry Birds and Plants Vs. Zombies, had a gender-balanced and enormous player base. Even as time has passed, Tetris remains of interest, not just to players, but also to researchers. Researchers at the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque found that Tetris actually increases brain efficiency. Trying to fit the T-shape into your Tetris puzzles isn’t just cathartic, but scientists argue, it may actually be good for you.

    When Tetris was first released many remarked about the peaceful, relaxed nature of trying to fit the puzzle together.

    So why do Americans love video games? It’s the new normal. At least for Millennials, it is because they can’t think of their lives any other way. Video games have always been a part of our lives. And while it may have once been a niche activity for pimple-faced teenagers to conduct in their basement, it is no longer.

    It may have been a niche activity, years ago for some of us. But it is a part of the air now. Take a deep breath.

    (Top) Screenshot from the Bioshock Infinite TV Spot./>
    (Second) Photo illustration courtesy of GamePur.
    (Third) Screenshot from Candy Crush Saga.
    (Forth) Screenshot from The Last of Us.
    (Bottom) Screenshot from Mass Effect 3.

  • One Man Took Screenshots Of Every Computer In 'Law & Order'
    We all want to believe that binge-watching is productive, but in reality we’re really just lazily watching TV.

    Jeff Thompson however, an artist and programmer, decided to do something useful with his binge-watching and created a fascinating project that charts the history and of technology in “Law & Order.” Thompson began streaming the detective procedural on Netflix and found himself noticing the computers in the background.

    Thanks to a commission from Rhizome, a nonprofit arts organization, Thompson bought the entire series and set out on a hefty endeavor: watching all 456 “Law & Order” episodes, in order, and screen-capping every single computer in every shot (though he admits he missed a few blurry ones). After a year-and-a-half’s worth of work, he ended up with about 11,000 screenshots and some pretty interesting data.

    Thompson charted the overall increase of computers during the show’s 20-year run, how many appeared in each episode, noted every mention of a computer and gathered every fake website that appears on the show. While that sounds like an insanely daunting task, Thompson told The Atlantic that he watched every episode at 150 percent speed and even invented a special device that captured and categorized multiple screenshots for him.

    His screenshots and all of the fascinating data he collected can be found on the project’s Tumblr, Twitter and in a PDF book. So next time you brag about having seen every “Law & Order” episode, remember Thompson and how your binging didn’t include half the work he did.

    [h/t The Atlantic, Yahoo]

  • Frankenstein Monster 'Amazing Cupid' Is Part 'Flappy Bird,' Part Snapchat, Part Utter Lunacy
    The bird flaps no more, but that doesn’t mean your frustration is over.

    With the blessing of “Flappy Bird” creator Dong Nguyen, one developer is taking “Flappy Bird” gameplay and adding a new twist: Snapchat-like messages from your friends when you beat a high score. You read that correctly: It’s “Flappy Bird” combined with Snapchat. Your life will never be the same again.

    “Amazing Cupid,” the brainchild of Indonesian developer TouchTen, has players fly a blue-haired Cupid through columns, in the exact style of gameplay that “Flappy Bird” made infamous. However, this new game comes with a few twists:

    1. Three levels of difficulty. Players can decide between Normal, Hard or Impossibro. But only Impossibro scores mean anything in real life because … duh.
    2. It’s going to make fun of how pathetic you are. If you played “Portal,” you probably remember GLaDos, the rogue AI who imprisoned you and basically told you how worthless you were every five seconds. Cupid works kind of like that in this game. Should be great for your self-esteem.
    3. Your friends will also be telling you how pathetic you are. In what is perhaps the biggest twist of this new game, you can send your friends personalized messages any time they beat a challenge you set for them (like flying through five columns, for instance). Prepare for some serious smack talk.

    TouchTen CEO Anton Soeharyo says the company was looking for a way to gamify self-destructing Snapchat messages, and that the rise of “Flappy Bird” provided the perfect opportunity.

    “We were working on a publishing platform … and part of that is how to increase user engagement,” he said via email. “We thought one feature would be the secret message ‘chat,’ but we didn’t have the time to think of the perfect gamification of this feature. So when ‘Flappy Bird’ phenomenon came, we found this genius gameplay — easy to learn, hard to win — and we finished up ‘Amazing Cupid’ within one to two weeks.”

    And those weeks coincided perfectly with the “Flappy Bird” fury and subsequent fall. The game rose to the top of the App Store and Google Play last week, only to have its developer remove it, presumably due to the incredible amount of media attention and scrutiny it received.

    TouchTen was accused of copying another developer’s game in early 2011, and Soeharyo said that the company took extra caution in creating “Amazing Cupid” by first reaching out to famously shy “Flappy Bird” developer Dong Nguyen.

    “I believed that by asking for his permission and getting it, I have done it in the most ethical way,” said Soeharyo. However, he insisted that TouchTen wanted to not just take the gameplay, but add value to it, through the secret messages and mean quips from Cupid throughout the game. “I believe ‘Amazing Cupid’ is not innovative or revolutionary at all, but I believe it is well executed. We took the gameplay that the market wants and combined it with the popularity of Snapchat, and our team did their best to finish it in a limited time.”

    Soeharyo has one main hope for the new title: that it makes people happy. Or, at least, as he puts it, “annoyingly entertained.” And if this game is anything like its predecessor, we don’t think he’ll be disappointed.

    “Amazing Cupid” is already available on Google Play. Soeharyo said the game is pending approval from Apple’s App Store and should be available around Valentine’s Day.

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