GNC #1183 Alien Light Flashes



Are alien light flashes powering alien starships? That is the hypothesis of some scientist who are trying to figure out what these brilliant lite flashes are. Plus all the tech news you can handle today from a 100% wiped out host.

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Nominate Someone for MIT’s Disobedience Award



The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has created a unique opportunity. They created the first-ever MIT Media Lab Disobedience award.  The winner will receive a cash prize of $250,000 – with no strings attached.

The award will go to a person or group engaged in what MIT believes is “an extraordinary example of disobedience for the benefit of society.” The award will honor work that impacts society in positive ways, and is consistent with the following set of key principles: non-violence, creativity, courage, and taking responsibility for one’s actions. Some examples include: scientific research, civil rights, freedom of speech, human rights, and the freedom to innovate.

The MIT Media Lab Disobedience Award seeks to highlight effective, responsible, ethical disobedience across disciplines, and around the world. Disobedience Award objectives are to build awareness and support of disobedience-robust work being done and to promote role models for younger people.

People nominated for the award must meet eligibility requirements:

  • The recipient must be living.
  • The recipient must have taken a personal risk in order to affect positive change for greater society.
  • Both individuals and groups are eligible to win the prize.

MIT will be accepting nominations from March 6, 2017 to May 1, 2017. You can nominate someone by filling out an online form. They plan to announce the winning recipient at their summer event on July 21, 2017. MIT will announce a shortlist of nominees prior to that event.


Dubleup Credit Card Power Bank



There’s a saying in photography that the best camera is the one that you have with you, and it’s a similar story when it comes to power packs for smartphones and tablets. The best battery pack is the one you have with you, and to make sure that you do have it with you, here’s the Dubleup Credit Card Power Bank, launching today on Kickstarter.

The Dubleup Credit Card Power Bank can be preordered on Kickstarter with a 15% discount for early birds. Coming in three different colours (black, silver, gold) and two connector types (Apple Lightning and micro USB) there should be a match for both colour preference and device type, though a USB C connector would’ve been cool. I’ve had the power bank for a fortnight and it seems well-enough made with no obvious problems – everything closes up, nothing catches, there are no rough edges. I think the top surface is metal and the back is a high density plastic but it’s hard to tell.

 

Physically the pack is 86 x 54 x 5.5 mm with curved edges and the connector is built-in, popping out when needed. On the back, there’s a power button and three LEDs showing the charge level in thirds. The height and width dimensions are genuinely credit card sized but the depth means it’s a little fat. To be fair, it was the thinnest one that I could quickly find on the internet from a vendor that I’d trust. The thinness comes at the price of capacity – it’s only 1,280 mAh which would about charge an average smartphone from 20% to full. Obviously it depends on the size of the smartphone’s battery! The charging current is 1A (not 2A) and in the box there’s a short USB to microUSB connector for charging the Power Bank.

 

I’ve done a quick unboxing video for the Dubleup Power Bank. I say quick but it’s five minutes but should give you a real idea of the size of the battery pack.

Overall, the Dubleup is a small solution to the everyday problem of not quite having enough power to get through the day. It is relatively expensive at AU$79 inc shipping, (US$60/GB£48), for the capacity but if the size means it’ll stay in your purse, wallet or bag when other battery packs get left at home, it’s probably worth it. YMMV. Delivery is expected in June and there are a few early bird discounts (AU$60) if you get in quick.

Thanks to Dubleup for providing the Credit Card Power Bank for review.


Blizzard Wants Overwatch Players to Stop Farming EXP While AFK



Blizzard has enacted the first of a series of measures designed to dissuade Overwatch players from gaining experience (EXP) while they are away from their computer’s keyboard (AFK). This problem is happening in Custom Games, and Blizzard has enacted the first of their escalation plan in order to dissuade players from doing that. If the behavior continues, more of the escalation plan will be put into place.

Game Director Jeff Kaplan explained things in a Forum Post in the Overwatch Forums on Battle.net. He makes it clear that the purpose of introducing the Game Browser and Custom Game features was to enable players to experience Overwatch in unique and different ways. They were aware the features could be exploited, and created an internal escalation plan – just in case players abused the features. From the Forum post:

…It’s very disappointing to us that players abused the system to gain experience while inactive. As some of you have noticed, Skirmish in Custom Game no longer rewards experience. Also, the AFK timer is now in place in Skirmish mode (in Custom Game only). This change is rolling out over a 24 hour period and should be live in all regions by the end of today.

Jeff Kaplan also took the time to make it abundantly clear that there is no moral ambiguity about gaining EXP while AFK in a Custom Game.

I’ve seen some discussion in the community and in the press on this topic and sometimes it gets talked about as if this is a grey area. Is this wrong or is this ok? Well, let me take a grey area and make it starkly black and white for you. Abusing and exploiting Custom Game or any other game mode to earn experience in Overwatch while inactive is NOT ok. The reason I want to be absolutely clear about this is in part because we are going to start to take disciplinary action against people who partake in these activities.

He goes on to clarify behaviors that will get your account banned:

  • If you create a Custom game that in any way encourages players to gain experience while inactive, you risk having your account banned.
  • If you join any game mode – including Custom Games – with the intent of gaining experience while being inactive, you risk having your account banned.
  • Do not name your Custom Game that in any way even implies that gaining experience while inactive is OK – not even as a joke – because doing so puts you at risk of having your account banned.

If this behavior doesn’t stop, more of the internal escalation plan will be enacted – until it reaches the final part that involves turning off the ability to gain experience in a Custom game. Players who don’t want to see the Custom Game feature limited further are asked to help Blizzard by reporting players who get into a game, and then go AFK, for the purpose of gaining EXP.


Don’t Use Your Joy-Con Near Your Aquarium



An unexpected thing is happening with at least some of the Joy-Con controllers. Nintendo Switch players noticed that when the controllers are used wirelessly, they malfunction in ways that are not conducive to game play. One possible cause is that the player put the Nintendo Switch too close to their aquarium.

Some people have noticed that when they use their Joy-Con controllers wirelessly – the characters in the game seem to move on their own (or the characters don’t respond at all). Others have had problems with Joy-Con responding intermittently, or losing connection with the Nintendo Switch console.

Nintendo released an article about Joy-Con not responding, or responding incorrectly, when used wirelessly. It starts by troubleshooting the typical issues.

Check if your console has the latest updates. Make sure the Joy-Con controllers are charged. Try and decrease the distance between the Joy-Con and the Nintendo Switch console. (In other words – sit closer to it).

If that doesn’t fix the problem, it is possible your Joy-Con is getting interference from something else in your home. Nintendo says it is best if the Nintendo Switch console is placed out in the open.

Make sure the Nintendo Switch is not:

  • Behind a TV
  • Near an aquarium
  • Placed in or under a metal object
  • Pressed against a large amount of wires and cords
  • Within three to four feet of another wireless device, such as a wireless speaker or wireless access point.

In addition, Nintendo suggests you check for the following sources of interference and turn them off:

  • Laptops, tablets, etc.
  • Wireless headsets
  • Wireless printers
  • Microwaves
  • Wireless speakers
  • Cordless phones
  • USB 3.0 compatible devices such as hard drives, thumb drives, LAN adapters, etc.

According to Nintendo, in most cases it will be enough to move the devices on the list three to four feet away from the Nintendo Switch console and/or Joy-Con controllers. If that doesn’t work for you, Nintendo suggests you power those devices off when you want to use the Nintendo Switch.


Blizzard Takes Action Against Real-Money Raid Clears



Blizzard Entertainment does not want World of Warcraft players to require other players to give them real-world currency in exchange for assistance with a dungeon or raid. Doing so breaks the World of Warcraft Terms of Use – and Blizzard has taken action against players that were doing this.

To be clear, it is perfectly acceptable for one player to help another player to get through a part of the game. People join guilds for the purpose of having lots of other players that they can do raids or dungeons with. Any player, running through Azeroth, who wants to randomly heal a player in need, is perfectly welcome to do that.

All of that is fine. World of Warcraft is the type of game that works best with a helpful community of players. Parts of the game require players to get a group together because some of the content is impossible to complete without help.

Asking another player to pay you real-word currency for that help, however, is not okay. In a Forum Post Community Manager Ornyx stated the following:

We’ve recently taken action against a number of accounts that were actively participating in and/or advertising the sale of in-game raid or dungeon clears in exchange for real-world currency. Such behavior is a clear violation of the World of Warcraft Terms of Use.

Ornyx continued to point out that many of the people who were doing that were members of top raiding guilds. Ornyx also made it clear that the players Blizzard took action against “had illustrated full knowledge and intent to violate the Terms of Use”. The Forum Post doesn’t include information about what specific action was taken against those players.

Doing a “gold run” – where a player offers to help another player through content in exchange for a certain amount of in-game gold – is perfectly acceptable. Ornyx states that it is fine to sell assistance with obtaining items, achievements, PVP rating, or other in-game benefits in exchange for in-game gold.

Blizzard wants players to report people who are advertising that they will help another player in exchange for real-world money. The Forum Post lists some common warning signs:

  • A “broker” is offering to match buyers with service-providers. Commonly, a broker will collect real-word currency from a buyer while offering gold to a guild or group that will actually provide the service.
  • Someone offering a service is unwilling to discuss terms of payment via in-game tells, and insists on using a non-Blizzard application to communicate.

In short – helping another player get through content in World of Warcraft is absolutely ok to do. Offering to help a player get through content in exchange for in-game gold is fine. Offering to help another player get through content in exchange for real-world currency breaks the World of Warcraft Terms of Use and will result in action taken against you.


GNC #1182 Russian Extortion



It appears that there is a lot of Russian Extortion happening to liberal leaning organizations. This should be a lesson for all of us to remember that your email could be hacked at any moment and your entire email archive be on display for the whole world. Be careful folks. Lots of other tech news today and shame on the DOJ.

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Creators of Rocksmith Respond to Facebook Trolls



Rocksmith logoIt’s pretty much a given that if you do anything online that attracts an audience, you’ll run into internet trolls whose sole purpose is to harass you. This problem is as old as the internet itself, and it’s only gotten worse in the age of social media.

There are a lot of different ways to handle ‘net trolls. The old adage, “Don’t feed the trolls,” advises that simply ignoring troll commentary is the best way to go. Direct engagement rarely works, as trolls will use these interactions as an excuse to keep the harassment loop going. The truly brave (and patient) may try another route when it comes to trolls; An appeal to reason.

That third option was recently implemented by the makers of Rocksmith, a guitar-instruction program available on many platforms. Rocksmith offers up many songs by popular recording artists that can be downloaded and used within the program. And every time Rocksmith would announce new downloadable songs, the trolls would come out in force to complain about Rocksmith’s latest song selections.

Rocksmith recently responded to these naysayers on its Facebook page:

Folks, we’re going to say this as nicely as we can: Nobody cares what you don’t like.

Okay, now that we read it, that doesn’t seem all that nice. But it’s something worth considering before you post on our page and tell the world that whatever artist, song, or genre currently being discussed is “garbage,” “fake,” “worthless,” or any other negative adjective you can dream up. “Real,” “good,” “fake,” “bad” – none of that holds any power here. That’s simply not how we see music.

As the moderators of this page, our philosophy is simple: There’s music that inspires you to play guitar and bass, and there’s music that does not. We don’t make DLC based on what you *dislike* — we only make DLC based on what people actually tell us they want. That’s why we have a request app, embedded on this page – so you can offer specific song suggestions directly to the team. But once something’s released, it’s there for the people who want it. If that’s not you…honestly, we don’t need to know. Knowing what you’d rather see in the future is far more valuable. Something good could come from that. Nothing good comes from you suggesting that your entirely subjective taste in music is superior to everyone else’s.

What’s more, in all the time we’ve moderated this page, we have never seen someone respond to a “your band sucks” post with “Now that you mention it, I don’t like my favorite band anymore.” You cannot stop people from connecting with music; it’s a personal, emotional relationship, and it’s a fight you cannot win. It’s not a fight we want to host on our page, either. Don’t pick that fight here.

If it helps, think of Rocksmith like a restaurant. Check the menu, then choose only the items that seem appetizing. You’re not expected to order everything on the menu, and if you were to say “take this off the menu because I don’t personally want to eat it,” you’d get funny looks. If it’s not to your taste, just look for something else that is. Our menu has nearly 1,000 options for millions of customers, each hungry for something different, and we add to the menu every week. If you find something that doesn’t appeal to your tastes…keep looking. There’s gotta be something on that menu for you. There’s something for everybody else, too.

So, please: Before you waste any time or energy insulting music that does not inspire you to play — for the good of your own community — stop, and shift gears. Nobody cares what you don’t like, but there’s plenty of other things we can talk about.

Thanks.

Rocksmith’s response to troll comments is succinct and on point. Instead of lashing out, the message explains why positivity (telling Rocksmith what songs you’d like to see in the future) is so much better than negativity (telling Rocksmith why you hate the new songs they’ve added).

I hope this message helps to keep the trolls at bay, at least for a little while, on the Rocksmith page. This message also serves as a good example to other companies who are dealing with similar problems on social media.


Dropbox Pro Becomes Dropbox Plus



Cloud storage and file sharing service Dropbox has become an integral tool for the freelance work I do. The service makes it incredibly easy to share large media files with clients. After using Dropbox since its early days, I finally upgraded to a Dropbox Pro account last year, as my needs began to outpace what the basic, free version had to offer.

I received an e-mail yesterday from Dropbox stating that the Pro service I’ve been using is being renamed Dropbox Plus:

The name of your current plan, Dropbox Pro, is changing to Dropbox Plus.

Don’t worry—the name is the only change we’re making. You’ll still get the same 1 TB of space and advanced features—like stress-free sharing and remote device wipe—at the same price.

For more info, read the Dropbox Plus overview in our Help Center.

More from the Dropbox Help Center:

Many Dropbox Pro users first used Dropbox Basic, our free plan. In the past, we’ve had users express confusion about the Pro plan name when upgrading. For example, some people assumed it was only intended for use at work.

While there are some great additional features on Dropbox Pro, for many users the 1 TB of storage space is the most important feature, and the main reason they choose to upgrade.

We simply updated the name to “Dropbox Plus” to better reflect that this plan offers more storage than Dropbox Basic, plus helpful sharing features.

Dropbox has pointed out multiple times in these communications that this is a change in name only. Dropbox Plus users will continue to have access to all of the same features we’ve enjoyed under Dropbox Pro.

For the most part, this name change appears to be for clarity and marketing purposes only.


RIP, MacSuperstore



MacSuperstore entranceWhen I moved to San Luis Obispo, CA in 2005, I was concerned about the city’s lack of a nearby Apple Store. But those concerns were quickly erased when I discovered MacSuperstore, an authorized Apple reseller that had been in business since the 90’s. The store offered everything that a corporate Apple Store had to offer, and more, as it wasn’t constrained by the limitations Apple puts on its own stores. MacSuperstore could deal in used products, as well as items from third-party vendors that Apple would never stock in its own stores.

Being the only authorized Apple reseller in the area, MacSuperstore saw steady success. And apparently, the independent store’s good fortunes put MacSuperstore’s locale on Apple’s radar. In 2007, Apple opened the Higuera Street Apple Store in downtown San Luis Obispo. I wrote a (now long-gone) blog post at the time criticizing this decision, as it felt like Apple was moving in on MacSuperstore’s turf and pushing out an established business that you’d think Apple would see as a valued partner instead of a competitor.

The years carried on and MacSuperstore seemed to weather the Apple Store’s encroachment. MacSuperstore even moved into a bigger, fancier location, right next to the new Target store on the west side of town.

But the local market is apparently not big enough for two Apple dealers. Last December, seemingly out of nowhere, MacSuperstore sent this e-mail to customers:

Dear Customers & Friends,

It was August 1998….. the iMac was a week old and MacSuperstore came to life. A little store with big dreams (who else would put “superstore” on a 1,200 sq/ft store)?

Over the years, we’ve dedicated ourselves to providing the best possible customer care along side the world’s best tech products; unfortunately, the industry and the way folks shop has changed a lot, and our efforts to represent Apple have come at a cost. These days, with box stores and online sources heavily discounting the same products, Apple needs the “little guys” less and less.

After much consideration, we have decided to close our doors. In the end, no matter how happy our customers are or great the store looks, a business has to be profitable to survive.

We appreciate the dedication of our customers in giving us a chance to serve you. Seeing the positive impact of technology in the lives of our customers, has been what kept us going these 18 years. It has been a good run, but a necessary ending.

Thanks for everything…

Shane

(The e-mail was signed by Shane Williams, founder of MacSuperstore.)

I was shocked to get that e-mail, as I thought the store was doing fine. I was also concerned about some trade-in credit I had remaining with the store. But MacSuperstore stayed a class act ’til the end, giving me cash on the spot for the trade-in credit, no questions asked.

It’s impossible to say just how much Apple’s influence in the local market affected MacSuperstore’s bottom line. Brick-and-mortar shops are being assaulted from all directions these days, and it’s likely MacSuperstore lost some customers to online sellers. Still, during a conversation I had with a knowledgable MacSuperstore employee on one of the store’s final days, he said that Apple has pretty much stopped licensing independent stores as authorized resellers. He also said that, due to Apple’s own requirements, MacSuperstore couldn’t sell their Apple license to a new buyer. MacSuperstore had bought out several other Apple retailers in nearby markets over the years. All of those stores have since closed, along with the San Luis Obispo shop.

I’ll definitely miss having this unique store in my hometown. Of course, the Higuuera Street Apple Store is likely to be there for years to come. But, that corporate store will never have the heart and soul of that independent reseller on the other side of town.

RIP, MacSuperstore.