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Moebius: Empire Rising review: A point-and-click 'adventure' against the game itself

Written By kom nampuldu on Minggu, 20 April 2014 | 16.00

A dastardly conspiracy? Historical guess-who? Shadowy government agency?

Don't worry! Malachi Rector is on the case. Who's Malachi Rector? Why, he's a world-renowned antiques appraiser of course—a career I can only assume he was saddled with the same day his parents gave him that awful name.

You know, before his mother was eaten by a lion.

Moebius: Empire Rising

You thought I was joking, didn't you? Admit it.

This is Moebius: Empire Rising.

Don't get too excited

I'm afraid with that sort of intro, I've already oversold this game. "Holy $!&@, his mother is eaten by a lion? Is this a so-bad-it's-good masterpiece?" Unfortunately not. See, while Moebius does have a certain pulp, dime-novel quality to its story, it's just not very good.

Moebius is the latest point-and-click adventure game from Jane Jensen, creator of the famed Gabriel Knight series of yesteryear. For a Kickstarter-funded game, there's a pedigree behind Moebius that should be exciting--which, frankly, is why it's so surprising the game is an utter chore to play.

Moebius: Empire Rising

You're the aforementioned Mr. Rector (geddit?), a man with a personality as lively as a dead peacock. Rector jets around the world telling people the expensive antiques they're about to buy are actually forgeries. In return he makes a lot of money.

Except one day there's a new client: an undercover government agency known as FITA. The agency wants Rector to investigate the murder of an Italian socialite. Turns out history repeats itself in certain patterns, and Rector's actions could help usher in a period of unprecedented prosperity for the United States. You know, after Obama wrecked the entire country, or whatever the subtext is here.

There's basic point-and-click action here. You explore environments, interact with objects, and talk to people. There's also a half-baked logic puzzle where you match people up with their historical counterparts, but it feels less like you're a genius when you solve them and more like you just ran down a list of checkmarks.

Moebius: Empire Rising

These match-characters-to-history sequences have a lot of potential, but the puzzles feel half-baked.

You'll also occasionally make judgments about people you encounter, which you'd think would play into how Rector approaches his conversations with that person. Not really—as far as I could tell, these judgments were for score purposes only and had no real effects in-game. There's also an awkward amount of condescension implied in most of them—a woman wearing a bright-colored shirt is, at one point, labeled "sexually frustrated" for no apparent reason.

Moebius: Empire Rising

Again, not kidding.

The story's not great, by any means. As you've probably gathered, it's jam-packed with cliché and outright silly situations, plus an awful sexual tension between Rector and his sidekick that feels outright forced. But for all that, it was enjoyable enough. By about the third or fourth chapter I was hooked, and at least wanted to see it through to the end.

But oh wow, actually playing Moebius. The bad comes in two forms: baffling design choices and bugs.

Infinite loop

Parts of Moebius just feel dated and/or confusing. For instance, the game has an honest-to-god maze. And it's unskippable. And it's right at the climax of the story. Mazes weren't fun in 1994, let alone 2014. We can let mazes die forever. It's allowed.

Rector also has this obnoxious trait where he won't pick up any item that he doesn't specifically need yet. Collapsible boat pole hanging on the wall? "Well, if I need one at least I know where to find it," says Rector. The result is an obnoxious amount of back-tracking through environments, each of which takes a few seconds to fade up from black.

Moebius: Empire Rising

Doesn't need the wire hanger yet. But he will. When it's least convenient to go back and get it.

It's also frustrating when you've already figured out the solution to a puzzle, but haven't triggered something in the environment yet to allow you to pick up the objects for the solution. I was stuck for half an hour in Chapter One because I knew exactly what I needed to do next, but could not pick up the two objects I needed for the solution. Turned out I hadn't clicked on a totally extraneous environmental trigger yet so Rector would say "Oh, that's what I need to do next." I, the player, knew what to do, but apparently Rector was too stupid to get it.

Throwing this type of roadblock in front of the player is unacceptable, and destroys the pacing of the game. You eventually resort to clicking each item every time you re-enter a room, just in case circumstances have changed and you need it now. It's more realistic, sure—why would you pick up the boat pole if you didn't know you needed it in real life? But as a game mechanic, it's a hurdle.

Moebius: Empire Rising

I don't even have a pithy comment for this one.

And then there's the technical side of things. Listen, it's Kickstarter. I'm not expecting the game to look like Crysis. But if it does look like a game from six years ago, it damn well better run smoothly on my machine. Cursor disappearances, sluggish animations, stuttering, unresponsive character or environment triggers that leave you wondering whether the game locked up, and quite possibly the slowest walk of any character in any game ever make Moebius an absolute mess.

Bottom line

I'm a history fan and the underlying core of Moebius really appealed to me even with the two-dimensional, archetypal characters and pulpy story.

However, Moebius doesn't let you experience the story. The charm of point-and-clicks is that the mechanics get out of the way. You solve a few puzzles, but by-and-large you get to enjoy the story. Moebius, you're constantly fighting the mechanics up through the end. Let's hope history doesn't repeat itself with whatever Jensen and Co. release next.


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Survey: Americans aren't keen on drones, Google Glass-like devices

Let's face it: A lot has changed in the past few years. Smartphones! 3D printers! Drones! Face computers! Self-driving cars! It almost feels as though we're living in the future. According to a recent survey from the Pew Research Center, Americans expect this rapid pace of change to continue over the next 50 years.

And while most of those surveyed think all this new tech will be a good thing, there are a few things the populace is wary about.

The Pew survey found that 56 percent of respondents "are optimistic that coming technological and scientific changes will make life in the future better," while 30 percent have a more dystopian view of the not-too-distant future.

Amazon has a bit of work to do to convince Americans that delivery by drone is a good idea.

But despite the generally positive outlook, 63 percent think allowing personal and commercial drone aircraft would be "a change for the worse." Along the same vein, 53 percent are wary of the notion of "implants or other devices that constantly show them information about the world around them" becoming commonplace. 

Put another way, most Americans are not yet ready for Amazon's plans to ship products by drone and Google's dreams of ubiquitous Glass. (Of course, by some measure, a smartphone is a device that constantly shows information about the world around you, so in that sense the future nobody wants is already here.)

So much for dreams of taco delivery by quadrocopter, huh?

No word on whether the public has similar misgivings about robotic housekeepers.

Also unpopular is the notion of modifying the DNA of an unborn child to make them "smarter, healthier, or more athletic,"with 66 percent saying we would be worse off with this technology. The same goes with robotic caregivers for the sick and elderly: 65 percent think this would be a bad idea. No word on whether the public has similar misgivings about robotic housekeepers.

As many as 81 percent of those surveyed expect that scientists will be able to grow new organs in a lab with in the next half century, while only about a third expect humans to colonize other planets in that time. And less than 20 percent of respondents expect humans to be able to "control the weather." 

google self-driving car

As for trying new things, about half the respondents would be OK with riding in a self-driving car. On the other hand, the idea of lab-grown meat isn't too popular: Only about 20 percent of those surveyed are willing to give it a try. 

Of course, these responses are mostly speculative at this point: So far, Google Glass is still in a trial phase and it isn't yet legal to use drones commercially, so nobody quite knows what the impact of those sorts of technologies will be just yet. It'll be interesting to see how responses evolve over the next few years. Hop on over the the Pew website to see the full results.


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Blame Heartbleed: HealthCare.gov requires users to change their passwords

If you have an account with HealthCare.gov, you can expect to change your password the next time you log in. And you can thank Heartbleed for it.

According to the website, all HeathCare.gov users will be prompted to change their passwords the next time they log into the site. According to the site, "HealthCare.gov uses many layers of protections to secure your information," and there's no sign that any Healthcare.gov user information has been compromised, so this is mainly a precautionary measure.

The Associated Press notes that the US Government is reviewing al of its sites to see if they're vulnerable to the Heartbleed bug, so it's possible that users of other government sites may have to change their passwords in the not-too-distant future.

HealthCare.gov recommends using a password that's unique to your Healthcare.gov account. Some password managers, such as 1Password, can generate and store unique passwords that you don't need to memorize.

But you don't need a password manager to devise stronger passwords: There are some tricks you can employ to create strong passwords that you can actually remember. See Alex Wawro's guide to creating stronger passwords without losing your mind for one approach. And visit HealthCare.gov for more on that site's mandatory password change requirement.


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Plastic computers taking shape, but won't replace silicon

Written By kom nampuldu on Sabtu, 19 April 2014 | 16.00

Can plastic materials morph into computers? A research breakthrough published this week brings such a possibility closer to reality.

Researchers are looking at the possibility of making low-power, flexible and inexpensive computers out of plastic materials. Plastic is not normally a good conductive material. However, researchers said this week that they have solved a problem related to reading data.

The research, which involved converting electricity from magnetic film to optics so data could be read through plastic material, was conducted by researchers at the University of Iowa and New York University. A paper on the research was published in this week's Nature Communications journal.

More research is needed before plastic computers become practical, acknowledged Michael Flatte, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Iowa. Problems related to writing and processing data need to be solved before plastic computers can be commercially viable.

Plastic computers, however, could conceivably be used in smartphones, sensors, wearable products, small electronics or solar cells, Flatte said.

Samsung Curved OLED

One product area might be OLEDs, such as those used in televisions.

What would they do?

The computers would have basic processing, data gathering and transmission capabilities but won't replace silicon used in the fastest computers today. However, the plastic material could be cheaper to produce as it wouldn't require silicon fab plants, and possibly could supplement faster silicon components in mobile devices or sensors.

"The initial types of inexpensive computers envisioned are things like RFID, but with much more computing power and information storage, or distributed sensors," Flatte said. One such implementation might be a large agricultural field with independent temperature sensors made from these devices, distributed at hundreds of places around the field, he said.

The research breakthrough this week is an important step in giving plastic computers the sensor-like ability to store data, locally process the information and report data back to a central computer.

Mobile phones, which demand more computing power than sensors, will require more advances because communication requires microwave emissions usually produced by higher-speed transistors than have been made with plastic.

It's difficult for plastic to compete in the electronics area because silicon is such an effective technology, Flatte acknowledged. But there are applications where the flexibility of plastic could be advantageous, he said, raising the possibility of plastic computers being information processors in refrigerators or other common home electronics.

"This won't be faster or smaller, but it will be cheaper and lower power, we hope," Flatte said.

PLastic OLEDs

In the new research, Flatte and his colleagues were able to convert data encoded in a magnetic film from an electric flow into optics for an organic light-emitting diode (OLED). The LED was made out of the plastic, and connected to the magnetic film through a substrate. Plastics can't handle electricity; the data had to be converted into optics for communication.

"The plastic devices are very important in certain areas of light emission but have tended not to be important in communication," Flatte said.

mimo baby

Another possibility? Wearable baby garments.

The researchers were more concerned about making the technology happen—environmental concerns related to plastic are a completely different discussion, Flatte said.

To be sure, there are plastic devices with silicon computers in them already on the market, like a baby garment from Rest Devices, which has electronics to measure a baby's motion, temperature, breathing patterns and pulse. And before this week, basic transistors made out of plastic had been demonstrated. Now, this latest research establishes a method for plastic devices to read data from storage.

"The writing problem would have to be solved. But I think [reading] is an important step forward," Flatte said.


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Was Steve Jobs a jerk? Hiring case questions his character

Tech workers suing over an alleged no-poaching agreement among Silicon Valley firms are fighting an attempt by defendants to ban evidence that might portray Steve Jobs as a bad guy.

The case centers on alleged secret agreements struck among companies including Apple, Google and Adobe that they would not try to hire each others' workers. The tech workers say that drove down their wages and restricted their mobility.

In the pretrial period, plaintiffs referred to materials such as outside blog posts referencing Jobs and Walter Isaacson's best-selling biography of the former Apple chief. Isaacson's biography reveals both a "good Steve" and a "bad Steve." People, in Jobs' eye, were either "enlightened" or "an asshole," Isaacson writes in the book.

"Manipulation, selfishness, or downright rudeness, we couldn't figure out the motivation behind his madness," reads one statement from the book.

Hearsay?

Last week, defendants said that information was negative hearsay and improper character evidence, introduced by plaintiffs to portray Jobs as "a bully." Emails between Jobs and other Silicon Valley executives are permissible as evidence, defendants said in a court filing, "but free-floating character assassination is improper."

But not everything in Isaacson's biography is hearsay, and some statements could be used as evidence in the trial, the tech workers now say. In an effort to have material from the book banned as evidence, companies are mischaracterizing it, plaintiffs said in a court document filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Apple's ebook antitrust case employed statements from the biography as evidence in the trial, said the plaintiffs, who include Silicon Valley engineers and other workers.

At best, defendants' objections are premature, plaintiffs said. At worst, they signal an intention to interfere with the presentation of admissible evidence, "merely because such evidence may also reflect poorly on Mr. Jobs," they said in the filing.

Email entered into the record

Apple did not immediately respond to comment.

Jobs' personality, the plaintiffs say, is already on full display as evidence in the no-hiring case. Case in point: "If you hire a single one of these people, that means war," Jobs told Google co-founder Sergey Brin at one point, according to a previous filing.

"Defendants will have a full and fair opportunity to object to plaintiffs' presentation of evidence, including evidence concerning Mr. Jobs, at trial," plaintiffs said.

Workers seek US$3 billion in damages in the case, which is expected to go to trial in late May.


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Google invites Glass wearers to brave LA's beaches

Users of Google Glass will get to meet and compare their techie headgear this weekend at a spot where appearance is everything.

On Saturday in Los Angeles, the Internet company is holding a 3.6-mile run from its offices in Venice to the Santa Monica Pier and back. They'd better hope it's a cloudy day: Instead of sunglasses, runners will be sporting Google's face-mounted computer, Glass. (Though Google, conveniently, is now selling clip-ons.)

Anyone who owns one of the US$1,500 devices can participate. They'll even get to try out fitness software on Glass made by Strava, which makes a GPS tracker and performance analytics software for athletes. That way they can see how fast they ran while trying to be discreet taking celebrity photos.

Google must really want people to get on board with Glass. The device, though still in beta, first shipped to developers early last year and has generated tons of publicity, but the company's still pushing to get the product out in front of people.

Space at the event will be limited, Google said in a post on its Google+ page for Glass. "Join your fellow Glass Explorers for a 3.6-mile jog to the Santa Monica Pier and back while we take the latest Glassware, Strava, for a spin," says an invitation posted Friday on Eventbrite. The run starts at 9:30 a.m.

Who knows how many Glass wearers actually live in L.A. and would want to be seen running around in the conspicuous headgear. The gathering might make them targets for ridicule or worse: Some Glass wearers have literally run into trouble while wearing the unit out in public, partly from people worried about the product's video recording features.

Even in the tech hub of San Francisco, a wearer apparently was attacked this month for wearing Glass while walking through the city's Mission District. Gentrification in that area has caused some of its longtime residents to lash out against tech folks in general.

Google is not giving up, though. This week the company held a one-day online sale of the device to the general public, which ended in a sell-out, according to Google.

Events like the run this weekend should help the company get Glass in front of less tech-savvy people. On a warm holiday weekend at the beach, it may even look a little bit cool.


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Unbounded Robotics launches robot platform for education, research

Written By kom nampuldu on Jumat, 18 April 2014 | 16.01

If you fear the rise of robots, the latest humanoid-style machine has an "emergency stop to prevent robot apocalypse."

That tongue-in-cheek feature belongs to UBR-1, which has been launched by California startup Unbounded Robotics.

The robot is aimed at a variety of applications in research and education. With a price tag of US$50,000, it's a relatively cheap "mobile manipulation platform," as Unbounded describes it.

The startup has compared the UBR-1 to an iPhone without any third-party apps—essentially a platform for developers.

"Our robot can be used in a wide variety of applications; really anything that involves manipulation and repetition," CEO Melonee Wise said in an email interview.

"We see a great deal of potential in service robotics, particularly as the boundaries between industrial and personal robotics continue to erode."

The machine can move around and interact with the environment using its one arm. The arm has seven joints, and can move along seven axes of motion. Its pincer-like manipulator can grasp objects weighing up to 1.5 kg.

The UBR-1 has a Hokuyo UST-20LX 2D laser scanner to help avoid objects as it moves around, a Primesense 3D sensor as well as cameras and microphones.

The 73 kg, wheeled robot can move at a top speed of 1 meter per second and its battery can last three to five hours when it's in continuous operation. When it runs out of juice, it will self-dock into a recharging unit, which works off a standard household power supply.

The UBR-1 runs on the open-source Robot Operating System (ROS), which was developed at California-based Willow Garage, of which Unbounded is a spinoff.

The robot inherits much of the design and functionality of Willow Garage's $280,000 beer-fetching PR2 robot, which has been used by robotics researchers at various universities.

Last week, Google was one of several investors that contributed to a $2 million seed financing package for Savioke, another Willow Garage spinoff. Savioke said it plans to produce a robot that can work in places such as nursing homes and hospitals.

Unbounded is taking pre-orders for the UBR-1, which will initially ship in August to customers in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The company said it is looking for distributors in Asia, Australia and Europe.


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Google lawsuit against Rockstar to stay in California

A Google complaint against Apple-backed patent consortium Rockstar will stay in a California court rather than be moved to Texas where Rockstar already has patent lawsuits against Google's Android partners, the California court ordered Thursday.

Backed by Microsoft, Apple, BlackBerry, Ericsson and Sony, Rockstar acquired Nortel Networks' patents for US$4.5 billion after outbidding Google in 2011.

Rockstar, which created a subsidiary called MobileStar Technologies in Plano, Texas a day ahead of filing its lawsuits, has wanted the California action by Google to be dismissed or transferred to the Texas court, which is generally seen as being more friendly to holders of patents.

The circumstances suggest that the MobileStar subsidiary was set up as "sham entity" for the sole purpose of avoiding jurisdiction in other fora, District Judge Claudia Wilken of the California court wrote in her order. Rockstar claims a principal place of business in Plano, Texas but most of its key management is in Canada where Nortel was headquartered, she wrote.

After Rockstar filed the suits in Texas in October against Samsung Electronics, HTC and five other companies, Google asked the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to rule that it does not directly or indirectly infringe seven patents of Rockstar. In the Texas court, Rockstar charged the seven Google partner companies of infringing some or all of the seven patents.

The lawsuits filed by Rockstar in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Marshall Division, have placed a cloud on the Android platform, threatened Google's business and relationships with its customers and partners and its sales of Nexus-branded Android devices, and created a "justiciable" controversy between Google and Rockstar, Google said in the complaint.

"Because Google, the accused infringer, resides in California, much of the evidence is here. Some of the evidence may be in Canada or other states; however, that does not make Texas the more convenient forum," District Judge Wilken wrote in her order.

Judge Wilken also drew a link between the dispute and Apple. "Google demonstrates a direct link between Apple's unique business interests, separate and apart from mere profitmaking," Wilken wrote. Rockstar's litigation strategy of suing Google's customers "is consistent with Apple's particular business interests," she wrote.

The Rockstar suits in Texas may be transferred and consolidated in the California court, or they might be stayed in Texas and be reopened upon completion of the California suit, which likely will resolve some of the infringement issues in the Texas court, Judge Wilken wrote.


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Investors try last-minute Mt. Gox revival as liquidation looms

The clock may be running out on Mt. Gox, but a consortium of investors still wants to relaunch the failed Bitcoin exchange.

A website called SaveGox.com has emerged calling for a halt of the liquidation of Japan-based Mt. Gox, which the Tokyo District Court is expected to authorize.

"Liquidation is a last resort when all other avenues fail, including rehabilitation. No attempt has yet been made to save Mt. Gox," the website says.

The consortium of U.S. investors calls upon Mt. Gox creditors to help stop a liquidation of the exchange, and support plans to audit its books and distribute bitcoin to creditors to reduce their losses.

Mt. Gox collapsed in February with liabilities of ¥6.5 billion ($63.6 million), saying nearly half a billion dollars worth of bitcoin was unaccounted for and that hackers had exploited a software problem.

SaveGox.com says Mt. Gox was hacked and that until a "suitable internationally recognized auditor" investigates what happened, the true scale of the liabilities will remain unclear.

The site cites as its backers Bitcoin investor Brock Pierce, entrepreneur Jonathan Yantis, venture capitalists William Quigley and Matthew Roszak, and John Betts, described as a Wall Street veteran. Earlier this months, reports said the consortium was offering 1 bitcoin (roughly US$490 at current prices) to buy Mt. Gox.

"You have to understand, of course, that Mt. Gox is much more than just the assets that it has," Quigley said in a TV interview with CNBC early this week. "The company still has a very important role, we believe, in the continuation of Bitcoin."

The site says Mt. Gox's 127,000 customers worldwide would be best served by its rehabilitation, but it does not provide specific details about how to rebuild Mt. Gox. The consortium did not immediately respond to an email requesting further information.

Rejecting Mt. Gox's bid for rehabilitation as it had no viable plan, the Tokyo District Court on April 16 appointed a provisional administrator to take over Mt. Gox's affairs as a prelude to full bankruptcy proceedings.

If the court moves ahead with liquidation, Mt. Gox's assets would be evaluated, sold off and any cash would be distributed to creditors based on their claims. The process would take longer than regular bankruptcies in Japan due to the complexity of the case.

Under a rehabilitation scenario, however, the tens of thousands of users who lost bitcoins in the collapse could potentially receive a share of future profits.

The site also suggests the consortium and a company it launched, Sunlot Holdings, had been working with Mt. Gox CEO Mark Karpeles toward rehabilitation until the Tokyo court moved to reject the rehabilitation option.

"We believe Mark Karpeles has changed course in an effort to avoid personal liability, but in doing so has sacrificed your interests," the site says, addressing creditors.

Karpeles and Mt. Gox have been accused of fraud in a class-action suit in the U.S., to which he was summoned for questioning by a Texas court in connection with the exchange's collapse.

A judge in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Texas, however, granted a motion by Karpeles' lawyers to delay his deposition, which had been scheduled for April 17.

Taking into account developments at the Tokyo District Court, the judge said a new date would be decided on or after April 24.

Karpeles could not be reached for comment.


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Strong PlayStation sales create supply problems for Sony

Written By kom nampuldu on Kamis, 17 April 2014 | 16.00

Sales of Sony's PlayStation 4 platform have surpassed 7 million units worldwide but supply problems are continuing, the electronics giant said.

Now available in 72 countries and regions, the platform had notched the milestone as of April 6, Sony Computer Entertainment said Thursday, about a month after it announced sales hit 6 million.

"We are still facing difficulties keeping up with the strong demand worldwide," Andrew House, SCE president and group CEO, said in a release.

A spokesman for the company in Tokyo would not elaborate on the issue, saying only that "PS4 sales have been very strong and as a result, PS4 is temporarily in short supply."

The console was available on Thursday at Yodobashi Camera and other major retailers in Japan, where it launched in late February.

The PS4 had sold more than 1 million units on its first day when it launched in the U.S. and Canada in November 2013. Such was the brisk demand that in January, U.S. video game retailer GameStop issued a press release when it received a fresh supply of PS4 units.

In March, House told The Wall Street Journal that supplies of the PS4 could be tight until summer, when he expected "a full supply situation."

SCE also said that more than 20.5 million PS4 titles had sold worldwide as of April 13, and that 2014 will see about 120 titles made available for the console including major releases such as Watch Dogs and Alien: Isolation.

The PS4 beat out rival Microsoft's more expensive Xbox One in sales through the end of 2013.

The PS4 is priced at $399 while the Xbox One was originally priced at $499, though it has benefited from price-cutting sales campaigns.


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