“HTC Is Dying And Running Out Of Options”

Yours truly, over at Business Insider – HTC Is Dying And Running Out Of Options:

HTC, the one-time king of the Android phone makers, is on a downward course with few options left to correct itself.

Last November, Business Insider’s Nicholas Carlson wrote that HTC was the biggest tech business disaster in 2012. Things have only gotten worse for the company since then.

“Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition” PC review

Dark Souls Prepare to Die Edition

Thanks to the recent Steam Summer Sale, I finally own a copy of Dark Souls. Unfortunately, I own the worst version of the game. 

It’s my own fault for not looking at reviews of the port before purchasing.

Dark Souls on the PC is almost a straight port of the Xbox 360 version. The game assumes that you’re going to be using a 360 controller – even if you’re using a keyboard and mouse, all button prompts show the icons from the 360’s controller, which only increased the already steep learning curve.

Despite my computer’s vastly superior hardware (the 360 did come out 8 years ago, after all), there aren’t any noticeable improvements to the graphics in the PC version. It also runs in a windowed mode by default, and at an awkward resolution at that.

In addition, the game’s innovative multiplayer is stifled on the PC by requiring the use of Games for Windows Live. I haven’t used the service in so long that I couldn’t remember my account details, so I decided to forgo multiplayer altogether. That’s a shame, because the online experience on the PS3 is unlike anything I’ve seen before. You can either summon friends/random players to assist you on your quest, or “invade” another player’s game world, essentially becoming another mini-boss for them to deal with. Here’s a video demonstrating the co-op play.

Thankfully, I was able to fix most of the issues with the help of mods and a helpful community on the Steam forums. The game now runs at my screen’s full resolution and I was able to rebind the keys (something you can’t do in the game!) to something more usable.

Once I got past those issues, the game is still fantastic. Insanely difficult, but fantastic. “Prepare to Die” isn’t just marketing language – you die over and over in even the earliest segments of the game. 

Dark Souls strikes an interesting balance between frustrating and rewarding. Each kill earns you souls, which you can spend at checkpoints to level up your various attributes. When you die, all of the souls that you carry are dropped where you fall. At times, this can be devastating. Conversely, the fact that you can retrieve them gives you a reason to press forward one more time

Every enemy encounter in Dark Souls can be deadly. Giants rats and skeletons, fodder in other RPGs, can  easily kill you if you let your guard down at the wrong moment. You have to be constantly aware of your surroundings and be ready to block, parry, or dodge attacks.

The bosses in Dark Souls are all impressive sights to be seen and challenging to boot. While each has a set of attacks that can be learned and adapted to, you will die several times before you figure out how to do so. Don’t expect Zelda-style bosses where you figure out their weakness and spend another 10 minutes repeating some pattern.

The game lets you combat your enemies in a wide variety of ways, with no particular play style seeming particularly overpowered. One can use a single-handed weapon of choice and a shield, two-handed weapons, bows, and magic. While the game certainly lets you become a “jack of all trades,” I’d advise focusing on one gameplay style per character and becoming really good at it.

The game doesn’t offer as many options when it comes to the story. This isn’t an Elder Scrolls or Mass Effect. The plot is sparse and if you want to learn about the world’s lore, you have to spend some time exploring to find it. That’s not to say that the story is boring – it’s just not what most gamers have come to expect from role-playing games of similar length.

If you’re the type of gamer who doesn’t quit because of a few hours of frustration, I can’t recommend Dark Souls highly enough. Just be sure to buy it on PS3 or Xbox 360 so that you can have decent controls and experience the multiplayer elements.

Russia is using typewriters to prevent leaks

The Telegraph’s Chris Irvine reports that the Russian Federal Guard Service, in charge of protecting secret communications and President Vladmir Putin, is increasing its use of typewriters in order to prevent the kinds of leaks that Edward Snowden brought to light last month:

The FSO is looking to spend 486,000 roubles – around £10,000 – on a number of electric typewriters, according to the site of state procurement agency, zakupki.gov.ru. The notice included ribbons for German-made Triumph Adlew TWEN 180 typewriters, although it was not clear if the typewriters themselves were this kind.

[…]

Unlike printers, every typewriter has its own individual pattern of type so it is possible to link every document to a machine used to type it.

[…]

Nikolai Kovalev, the former director of Russia’s Federal Security Service, told Izvestiya: “From the point of view of security, any means of electronic communication is vulnerable. You can remove any information from a computer. There are means of defence, of course, but there’s no 100 per cent guarantee they will work. So from the point of view of preserving secrets the most primitive methods are preferable: a person’s hand and a pen, or a typewriter.”

Check out the first Grand Theft Auto V gameplay video

This game just became a must-buy for me. The character switching – both between and during missions –  makes the game seem much more dynamic than previous offerings in the series.

It also seems like the different personalities for the characters will remove some of the cognitive dissonance that happened in GTA IV when you’d take Niko, a character trying to make a new life for himself, on a massive killing spree. Now, if you want to play “responsibly,” you can switch to Michael or Franklin and if you want to cause chaos you can switch over to Trevor and not feel like you’re not playing out-of-character.

The first thing sold on the Internet was a bag of marijuana

Online highs are old as the net: the first e-commerce was a drugs deal – Mike Power:

News in this year’s Global Drugs Survey that internet drug dealing was on the rise will have alarmed, surprised or intrigued many people. But the very first thing bought and sold on the net was a bag of marijuana – over 40 years ago.

In 1971 or 1972, Stanford students using Arpanet accounts at Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory engaged in a commercial transaction with their counterparts at Massachussetts Institute of Technology. Before Amazon, before eBay, the seminal act of e-commerce was a drug deal. The students used the network to quietly arrange the sale of an undetermined amount of marijuana.

Facebook single-handedly made its home county the best-paid in the nation

Facebook employees made so much money from the company going public last year that it shot San Mateo County, where the company is headquartered, to the top of the charts for highest average weekly income in the nation.

San Mateo average wages rose to a rate equivalent to yearly earnings of $168,000, significantly higher than even New York County, home of Wall Street and several other high-earning industries.

The Wall Street Journal’s Scott Thurm verified that Facebook’s IPO was responsible for the massive increase by looking at the wages by job sector.

He found that the roughly 6,200 “industrial” workers (which Facebook employees count as) earned $6.8 billion in the fourth quarter of 2012 – which works out to almost $83,000 a week. This lines up with the timing for many Facebook employee’s stock options, which vested in November of last year.

This isn’t the first time that a tech company going public has made a significant number of its employees exceedingly rich. Microsoft compensated many early employees with generous stock options. After a hundredfold increase in its stock price between 1986 and 1996 it was estimated that at least 10,000 “Microsoft millionaires” were created by 2000.

The price of solar is falling faster than experts expected

What Tech Is Next for the Solar Industry?:

The technology that’s surprised almost everyone is conventional crystalline silicon. A few years ago, silicon solar panels cost $4 per watt, and Martin Green, professor at the University of New South Wales and one of the leading silicon solar panel researchers, declared that they’d never go below $1 a watt. “Now it’s down to something like 50 cents of watt, and there’s talk of hitting 36 cents per watt,” he says.

While small changes to the way solar panels are responsible for much of this price drop – things like being able to print the ultra-fine wires used to connect the cells in a panel and cells that can absorb sunlight from both the front and back – the biggest change is going to be the introduction of different semiconductors in the cells themselves:

Even longer-term, Green is betting on silicon, aiming to take advantage of the huge reductions in cost already seen with the technology. He hopes to greatly increase the efficiency of silicon solar panels by combining silicon with one or two other semiconductors, each selected to efficiently convert a part of the solar spectrum that silicon doesn’t convert efficiently. Adding one semiconductor could boost efficiencies from the 20 to 25 percent range to around 40 percent. Adding another could make efficiencies as high as 50 percent feasible, which would cut in half the number of solar panels needed for a given installation.

Failure of ads leading to sponsored articles

Sponsors Now Pay for Online Articles, Not Just Ads:

Advertisers and publishers have many names for this new form of marketing — including branded content, sponsored content and native advertising. Regardless of the name, the strategy of having advertisers sponsor or create content that looks like traditional editorial content has become increasingly common as publishers try to create more sources of revenue.

[…]

Publishers are largely being driven to support the use of sponsored content because of fewer people clicking on banner ads, the abundance of advertising space and other factors make it more difficult to make money from traditional online advertising. As advertising technology becomes more sophisticated, ads can be bought and sold at cheaper rates across the Web. Often they are ignored by the very customers advertisers are trying to reach.

It’s a pretty great deal for both advertisers and publishers. By having their advertisements appear to be regular content, people are willing to share the articles with their social networks. As opposed to banner ads, which people have learned to automatically ignore, this content actually has people telling their friends that they should give it a look:

An article on Google Glass technology was shared almost 2,000 times on social media, indicating that readers may not have cared, or known, if it was journalism or sponsored content, although the series was identified as such.

For publishers, it means less of a reliance on banner ads while still being able to offer content for free (though Forbes and the Washington Post are using both sponsored content and paywalls).

There hasn’t been any major backlash from readers against this rise in sponsored content, so perhaps they don’t care as long as the posts aren’t outright ads.

How to convince science skeptics

A psychology professor at Yale found that when looking at new scientific evidence, we tend to interpret facts through a lens based on our previously held beliefs. With the wrong framing, our brain subconsciously jumps into a defensive mode where we try to rationalize the new information in a way that either makes the information support our preconceptions or pick out the faults so as to not shift our beliefs.

So the key to convincing someone isn’t throwing facts at them, it’s presenting the facts in the context of certain values:

This theory is gaining traction in part because of Kahan’s work at Yale. In one study, he and his colleagues packaged the basic science of climate change into fake newspaper articles bearing two very different headlines—”Scientific Panel Recommends Anti-Pollution Solution to Global Warming” and “Scientific Panel Recommends Nuclear Solution to Global Warming”—and then tested how citizens with different values responded. Sure enough, the latter framing made hierarchical individualists much more open to accepting the fact that humans are causing global warming. Kahan infers that the effect occurred because the science had been written into an alternative narrative that appealed to their pro-industry worldview.

You can follow the logic to its conclusion: Conservatives are more likely to embrace climate science if it comes to them via a business or religious leader, who can set the issue in the context of different values than those from which environmentalists or scientists often argue. Doing so is, effectively, to signal a détente in what Kahan has called a “culture war of fact.” In other words, paradoxically, you don’t lead with the facts in order to convince. You lead with the values—so as to give the facts a fighting chance.

 

The big media monopoly on scoops is over

Big News Forges Its Own Path:

Traditional news organizations used to be free to break news — or not — in their backyard and on their chosen beats. Now they have to be looking over their shoulder — at everyone. And in virtually every aspect of culture, from business to technology to fashion, the big guys now compete with a range of Web sites that break their share of news through obsessiveness and hyperfocus.

The big news that Rupert Murdoch was getting a divorce after a 14-year marriage to Wendi Murdoch did not come from tabloid newspapers, gossip magazines or E!, but from Deadline Hollywood, the business entertainment site run by Nikki Finke.

The business disruption in the media world caused by the Internet has been well documented. But a monopoly on scoops, long a cherished franchise for established and muscular news organizations, is disappearing. Big news will now carve its own route to the ocean, and no one feels the need to work with the traditional power players to make it happen.

Being a big organization with sources at all the major players in every industry isn’t so valuable when other sites can take your big scoop and get as many or more page views by giving a more eye-catching headline and some photos or extra context.

For instance, yesterday the Wall Street Journal broke the story that Google is making an Android-powered game console. Here’s a Google search for “Google game console”.

80,500,000 results and the WSJ article doesn’t even get the top spot.