субота, 05. октобар 2013.

FreedomPop launches its freemium phone service without LTE


FreedomPop's freemium mobile phone service is now up and running — launching on the company's one-year anniversary and after the cellular offering was announced in June. The approach the startup is taking to phones is largely the same one it takes with Wi-Fi hotspots, USB dongles, modems — your first chunk of data is free and after that, you start paying. In the case of phones, you buy a FreedomPop compatible phone up front and then you get an allotment of 500MB of data, 500 free text messages, and 200 anytime voice minutes free each month. As of now, FreedomPop offers only one handset: the aging HTC Evo Design 4G, which was an entry level phone last year on Sprint. And this lone phone is only available through the company's website, at a price of $99. FreedomPop told The Verge in an email that more Android handsets are on the way, but it didn't say what phones or when. If you go over on data, or text messages, or minutes, paid tiers kick in: $7.99 for another 500MB of data, unlimited text messages, and another 500 minutes; and beyond that, $10.99 for another 500MB of data, unlimited texts, and unlimited minutes. An aging phone on a slower network FreedomPop runs on Clearwire's WiMax 4G network, which is owned by Sprint — it's not 4G LTE by any means, but speeds are quicker than 3G and 2G networks. Eventually, FreedomPop says it will offer LTE service, but the carrier isn't saying when that'll happen. Whenever, if ever it does, those who pick an Evo Design won't see the benefits since the phone isn't LTE capable. The company's service is entirely VoIP, so everything takes place over a data connection — essentially you're placing calls over the internet rather than a traditional mobile voice network. Still, FreedomPop says it knows when its users are placing a phone call, sending a text message, or surfing the web and voice minutes don't count against web data despite the two taking place over the same network.

'Rain' on the PS3 is a haunting homage to silent French film


In Rain, you are invisible. The only time you can see your character — a small boy wandering a dark city — is when you venture out into the seemingly never-ending downpour. With a lead character who is not only invisible, but also mute, Rain's main appeal lies in its presentation: a haunting soundtrack coupled with dark and moody visuals make this an experience that feels more like a French film than a traditional video game. The adventure has you following the trail of a young, equally invisible girl, and attempting to unravel the mysteries of the monster-filled, people-free world. The end result is one of the most unique and beautiful experiences on the PlayStation 3.
Rain is a relatively straightforward title. It plays like a basic, puzzle-centric platform game, tasking you with climbing and jumping around the environment, trying to find the way forward. There's also a heavy emphasis on stealth — the boy has no way to defend himself, so instead you need to sneak around foes or simply run away from them. Naturally, the invisibility theme plays into this. Enemies can't see you when you're not in the rain, so there are both risks and rewards at play when it comes to taking shelter. It takes some time to learn how to move, with little in the way of visual feedback, and the game also adds in some clever twists to keep things interesting. If you run through a puddle of mud, for example, you'll be visible and exposed no matter where you are. You can only clean it off by splashing in a pool of clean water. When you venture out from shelter you become exposed and vulnerable The game moves forward in an entirely linear fashion. There aren't multiple solutions to puzzles, and the city is made up of a series of tight corridors with little room for exploration. You can't even move the camera around to get a better look at things. The fixed camera angle initially feels constrictive and jarring — especially in 2013 — and you'll find yourself constantly fiddling with the right analog stick to no avail. But for the developers, it's a purposeful decision: the fixed camera angle limits you as a player, but frees the game to present a more cinematic experience. That filmlike feeling is what prevents Rain from being just another platform game. From the dark, empty city streets you'll explore to the haunting, piano-heavy soundtrack, Rain really transports you to what feels like another version of our own world. It’s strange, but also rooted in reality. A lot of it comes down to the tiny details — the way the boy stumbles as he runs from danger, or bumps into furniture and debris while he's invisible. Likewise, the fact that you can't fully see any of the enemies makes them all the more terrifying. This is particularly true for the Unknown, a Pan's Labyrinth-style horror that follows you the entire game.
The music, art, and animations do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to narrative and world building, and that's because there's no dialog in Rain. Brief snippets of text, cleverly integrated into the game world, help move the story along, but you're never stuck watching a lengthy cut-scene. It accomplishes a lot in a few short hours There are shades of the PlayStation 2 classic Ico in the way the boy and girl interact with each other, and it's hard not to care about them, despite never hearing them utter a word. Rain presents a lot of questions — What is this world? Why are there monsters? — but the relationship between the two children is easily the most compelling aspect. You only get to spend a few hours with them over the course of the game's eight chapters, but it's more than enough to form an emotional connection. The story's ambiguous ending leaves a lot open to interpretation when it comes to the pair's relationship — both to each other and the mysterious world. Rain's dialog-free narrative and intense focus on its theme calls to mind games like Journey and Shadow of the Colossus. And while it doesn't quite reach those lofty heights, it manages to scratch that particular itch in a way few games have before. It's lonely, sad, hopeful, and beautiful all at once, and it manages to accomplish all of that in just a few short hours. Rain is available to download today on the PlayStation 3.

Google celebrates Yosemite's anniversary with a Doodle while the government shuts it down


Google's latest Doodle celebrates an important moment in American environmental history: the 123rd anniversary of Yosemite National Park. But if you were planning to visit and celebrate, that Doodle may be as close as you'll get. US parks and monuments are being shuttered until Congress and the White House are able to resolve a budgetary deadlock that shut down the federal government this morning. That means that Yosemite — usually open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year — will be completely closed for the first time since 1996, the year of the last government shutdown. The National Parks Conservation Association says that two decades ago, closing Yosemite put 25 percent of Mariposa County, where parts of the park are located, out of work. And the Yosemite-based economy, it says, has only grown since then. Besides Yosemite, the shutdown has eviscerated large parts of the American public sector, closing large portions of most agencies and halting science and technology work in several areas.

4chan, the cesspool of the internet, turns 10 today


New residents of Palo Alto, California looking to have a home built for themselves will soon have an interesting new requirement: their house must be wired up to support an electric vehicle charger. According to Palo Alto Online, the city's council adopted a change to its building code last Tuesday that, once fully drafted and adopted in the coming months, will require all new homes to be wired in a way that will easily accommodate a charger. The chargers will reportedly add on about $200 to the cost of a new home — far less expensive than the $1,000 or $2,000 that retrofitting a home would cost. Commercial charging stations should become easier to set up too The city's council wants to make Palo Alto one of the leading locations for electric vehicles. That's something that its many tech-friendly businesses should appreciate — especially Tesla Motors, which is headquartered in the city. The home charging requirement won't make Palo Alto more drivable for electric vehicles overnight, however, since it only applies to new homes. But the mandate also included another measure that could quickly help. Palo Alto Online reports that the mandate should also streamline the process for companies looking to establish electric vehicle charging stations, which could lead to more popping up. The ordinances will still need to be voted on again to be officially adopted, but they were accepted last week with a unanimous vote. A memo written by Palo Alto Mayor Greg Scharff seems to be what spurred the action, reports Palo Alto Online. In the memo, he writes that the city must review its ordinances in order to make sure that electric vehicles are properly being encouraged because of their sustainability. He reportedly spoke more to the matter during the council's meeting, "It's incumbent for us to find out what are the obstacles to owning electric vehicles and to get rid of those obstacles."

Palo Alto will require all new homes to support electric vehicle chargers


New residents of Palo Alto, California looking to have a home built for themselves will soon have an interesting new requirement: their house must be wired up to support an electric vehicle charger. According to Palo Alto Online, the city's council adopted a change to its building code last Tuesday that, once fully drafted and adopted in the coming months, will require all new homes to be wired in a way that will easily accommodate a charger. The chargers will reportedly add on about $200 to the cost of a new home — far less expensive than the $1,000 or $2,000 that retrofitting a home would cost. Commercial charging stations should become easier to set up too The city's council wants to make Palo Alto one of the leading locations for electric vehicles. That's something that its many tech-friendly businesses should appreciate — especially Tesla Motors, which is headquartered in the city. The home charging requirement won't make Palo Alto more drivable for electric vehicles overnight, however, since it only applies to new homes. But the mandate also included another measure that could quickly help. Palo Alto Online reports that the mandate should also streamline the process for companies looking to establish electric vehicle charging stations, which could lead to more popping up. The ordinances will still need to be voted on again to be officially adopted, but they were accepted last week with a unanimous vote. A memo written by Palo Alto Mayor Greg Scharff seems to be what spurred the action, reports Palo Alto Online. In the memo, he writes that the city must review its ordinances in order to make sure that electric vehicles are properly being encouraged because of their sustainability. He reportedly spoke more to the matter during the council's meeting, "It's incumbent for us to find out what are the obstacles to owning electric vehicles and to get rid of those obstacles."

AT&T tries to beat Google to Austin, launches fiber internet in December


Gigabit internet service will soon be a reality in Austin, Texas. AT&T says that its "GigaPower" U-verse service will go live for "tens of thousands" of customers this December, though, despite the name, it won't launch with gigabit speeds. Instead, AT&T says its first customers will get (still speedy) 300mbps download and upload speeds until the gigabit network properly launches in mid 2014. AT&T tried to steal some of Google's thunder earlier this year when it announced its "intent" to build out gigabit internet just hours after Google revealed its high-speed broadband service would come to Austin. Now AT&T is trying to one-up Google by getting out of the gate first at the expense of less-than-gigabit speeds. (Google Fiber won't reach its first homes until the middle of 2014.) In any event, the competition is good for customers (especially those in Austin). It appears AT&T received the same concessions as Google to build out its fiber-to-the-home network, which has allowed the company to turn its "intent" into a plan for building out the network. Specifically, AT&T is allowed to pick and choose where it'll build out its gigabit internet service. The company is letting neighborhoods voice their interest in the service to "help influence future deployment" — just as Google has done in Kansas City and elsewhere. This does mean that less wealthy neighborhoods are unlikely to see fiber service. Pricing remains a mystery for now, but AT&T says that it'll reveal more by December. Google Fiber offers free 5mbps service to homes for seven years after paying an installation fee, $70 per month internet, and $120 per month internet and TV service.

Can a new round of NSA transparency bills make it through Congress?


In July, the US House of Representatives came within 12 votes of defunding NSA surveillance in a sweeping amendment vote that caught much of Washington by surprise. It was a broad stroke, designed more as a statement than sustainable legislation, but it sent a clear message: Congress is ready to take on the NSA. Or at least they're ready to talk about it. "We're fundamentally in the business of trust." More than two months later, a pair of more modest bills have entered the Senate and House, sponsored by Senator Al Franken (D-MN) and Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) respectively. The bills are aimed at transparency rather than broad-stroke defunding, something companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft have lobbied and sued for, but this would be a chance to make those transparency principles the law of the land. To get it through, advocates will have to navigate a dysfunctional Congress and a president who has staunchly defended executive secrecy. So how much of a chance do these bills have? The bills' biggest assets are their powerful friends. The tech industry is lobbying hard, with nearly every major American tech company signing an open letter in support of the bills, including Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, Twitter, Tumblr, Dropbox, and AOL. (Amazon is the notable exception, although it has not been named in any NSA documents and does not publish a transparency report.) For many, being implicated in the PRISM program has forced their hand, requiring companies to lobby for stronger transparency measures to regain users' trust. Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince, another signatory, describes his company as "fundamentally in the business of trust. Unfortunately, suspicion over secret law enforcement requests damages our ability to be transparent with our users and erodes that trust." A Google spokesperson declined to comment, stating they preferred to let the letter speak for itself. "It should be completely uncontroversial...even if you don't believe that [surveillance] tools have been misused." Just as important, the Senate bill also has powerful friends in the legislature. Judiciary committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is listed as a co-sponsor of the bill, which means it will likely get a chance at a floor vote in the Senate. So far, all the co-sponsors are Democrats, raising concerns over whether it will gain bipartisan support, but Senate Republicans like Rand Paul (R-KY) have co-sponsored NSA reform bills in the past, and dozens of house Republicans signed on to the previous NSA-defunding push. In light of the government shutdown, the odds seem slim for any legislation in the short term, but the transparency bills have as good a chance as any. One clause would require reporting the total number of users affected Unlike other reform bills like Ron Wyden (D-VT)'s Intelligence Oversight and Surveillance Reform Act, which tried to build in governmental oversight, the Franken and Lofgren bills would target corporate gag orders, allowing companies to publish more detailed reports and give users a better sense of the scope of government data collection. Currently, companies are only allowed to report how many data requests they've received, in bands of a thousand — but since a single request could encompass millions of users, this practice has been critiqued as misleading or even deceptive. One clause in the Franken bill would require reporting the total number of users affected. Sherwin Siy of Public Knowledge, another signatory on the recent letter, says this provision is crucial for real transparency. "It should be completely uncontroversial that we should know the extent to which these powerful tools are being used," Siy tells The Verge, "even if you don't believe that the tools have been misused or abused." If there's a downside to this new legislative push, it's that the bills are aimed at helping companies compete, rather than shoring up the civil rights of citizens on the web. But for advocates, the competitive case is simply more immediate. As an example, Prince pointed to F-Secure's Younited service, which launched today as a Finnish alternative to cloud storage companies like Dropbox. On Younited's About page, they promise the site will be "a place where privacy is guaranteed and your stuff remains yours," a clear reference to NSA surveillance. "I predict you're going to see a lot more of that," Prince says. "The US has been dominant in the internet space. This lack of trust puts that leadership at risk."