The UpStream

Ford Announces Plan to Invest Heavily in Electric Vehicles

posted Sunday Dec 13, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Ford Announces Plan to Invest Heavily in Electric Vehicles

Although many do not know this, electric vehicles have a very long history. Electric vehicles first hit the scene in the mid-19th century and was actually the preferred method of propulsion for quite a while. The internal combustion engine took over the market in consumer vehicles about 100 years ago, but electric has continued to hold a major stake in other types of vehicles, such as trains.

For consumer vehicles, electric came back into fashion at the end of the 20th century, when Saturn released the EV1. It was never mass-marketed, nor was it mass-produced. It did create mass buzz, though, generating enough interest in the state of California that Ford, Toyota and more got into the market as well. As the companies started producing the vehicles, the state got excited with the technology and created legislation demanding the mass production of these vehicles. The companies responded by stopping all production and revoking the leases in the wild.

The companies were able to crush the vehicles, but they couldn't crush the market interest in them. Eventually, these same companies began releasing hybrids, which began to ease the vehicles into the market. Over time they began releasing electric vehicles again, and new companies like Tesla got into the market, pushing the technology quicker.

This week, Ford has announced that they will dedicate $4.5 billion into electric vehicles over the coming 5 years. The company will use the investment to enhance their existing electric vehicles, as well as adding 13 new EVs to the lineup. Their first enhancement will be changing the charging process in the Focus Electric, allowing it to rapid charge to 80% in 30 minutes. That 80% will give drivers about 100 miles of drive time, easing some of the fears GM, Ford and Toyota tried to instill into the public during the last round.

Are you excited about Ford making 40% of their vehicles electric over the next 5 years? Let us know in the comments.

Dave Chappelle Teams with Yondr to Ban Smartphones at His Shows

posted Sunday Dec 6, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

Comedian Dave Chappelle has always been known for doing things just a bit differently. The comic turned down a multi-million dollar gig with Comedy Central and retreated to Africa during his prime. Recently, he has returned to his joke-telling ways. However, with the advent of social media and pocket-sized digital cameras, Chappelle is working on trying to make sure his sets don't end up on the Internet.

For a few years now, Chappelle has banned the use of cell phones at his performances all over the country. If a comic goer is caught with one out, they were usually escorted out of the building. But now he is taking things a step further. For his 13 shows in Chicago that are sold out, the comedian has partnered with tech startup Yondr.

Yondr makes small pouches that lock when the pouch is inside a designated "no phone zone." When you leave the zone, the pouch unlocks, allowing access to your device again. For the venue who uses Yondr, customers go through a check-in process and are asked to place their smartphone into one of the pouches.

The idea of having phones and other handheld devices removed from a concert or performance is certainly something I would like to see. We were recently fortunate enough to attend a private concert with Maroon 5, and there were hundreds of people with their hands in the air, holding up iPhones and tablets, capturing the show. These people were spatially unaware to their surroundings and were watching the event through the device rather than looking 15 feet in front of them at the performers. Things like that have always been a pet peeve of mine.

And while I'd like to see a world where that didn't have to exist, the ability to access one's phone in an emergency situation is something that is crucial, and by law is non-negotiable in some states. Yondr may not be the perfect answer, but it certainly has tried to address the question. You can still sneak a second phone in, or put a burner phone in a pouch.

What do you think? Is Yondr going too far? Should performers simply ban devices and refuse to perform if they are out? Sound off in the comments below.

Facebook Tweaks News Feed Algorithm to Display More Relevant Content

posted Sunday Dec 6, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

Facebook Tweaks News Feed Algorithm to Display More Relevant Content

Facebook's News Feed constantly undergoes changes and updates in order for the company to try and stay ahead of the curve and deliver relevant information to its users. Whether you like the new News Feed or not doesn't seem to matter, as Facebook continues to give the feed a makeover every couple of quarters. However it goes just beyond cosmetics, with the social networking giant also tweaking the algorithms that drive the content that is chosen to be displayed.

In this alteration of what you'll see, Facebook is trying to make it simpler for its users to ignore nonsensical "news" topics and unnecessarily viral posts. Over the past few months, they have polled tens of thousands of users per day in what they are calling "story surveys." Those surveys would pit two posts next to each other, and would ask the user which they would like to see more.

Facebook says that these surveys are greatly improving the user experience.

With this update, if a significant amount of people tell us they would prefer to see other posts more than that particular viral post, we'll take that into account when ranking, so that viral post might show up lower in people's feeds in the future, since it might not actually be interesting to people.

A big problem with Facebook's users is their sometimes blind sharing of hoaxes. Facebook says that the newly-configured News Feed should help keep those posts from being shown. Combined with the new algorithm and surveys, the company introduced a feature earlier this year that allows users to mark a post as false. These three tools together should prevent me from seeing that Derek Jeter has died for the fifth time this week.

Of course, another solution would be to choose which of your friends' posts you'd want to see in the first place, or even deciding which friends might need to be unfriended. There's also the ability to hide those annoying posts, but that requires a bit of effort: 3 clicks of a mouse.

Prenda Law Lawyer Forced to Sell Condo, Liquidate Assets

posted Sunday Dec 6, 2015 by Scott Ertz

The Prenda Law saga has been absolutely fascinating to follow. The company was accused of planting content on The Pirate Bay in order to entrap users. Comcast confirmed that Prenda was responsible, linking the posts and TPB account (Sharkmp4) to IP addresses registered to Prenda's own John Steele.

As the case advanced, judges had tough questions for the team. The team was either unable to, or unwilling to, answer these questions, which essentially killed the case. Sanctions were imposed, and the case was finalized with the company not only not winning their lawsuits, but instead being forced to pay a tremendous amount of money.

So, let's play "Where are they now?" with the Prenda guys. Well, Paul Hansmeier, one of the named partners in the company, is being ordered by a US Bankruptcy Court to sell his condo as well as other assets in order to pay his personal $2.5 million in debts. Judge Kathleen Sanberg said,

Here, the debtor has a pattern and practice of dishonesty with the courts.

This case was designed for one purpose only, to thwart the collection efforts of debtors. It was not because the debtor now wants to pay creditors in full.

The moral of the story here, folks, is that lying to the court will always end badly. Lying to the court when you are destined to lose will end with you selling your home and everything of value in your life.

Firefox Removes Controversial Ads from Browser

posted Sunday Dec 6, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Firefox Removes Controversial Ads from Browser

2014 was an interesting year for Mozilla. Their newly promoted CEO was found to have donated money in support of Proposition 8 in California, the measure that banned same sex marriage in the state, which was ultimately overturned by the Supreme Court. This led to a revolt within the company.

Along with this bright idea, the foundation also decided to try out a weird new feature: extra advertising. In a day when ad blockers are becoming more normal, for better or worse, implemented advertising directly into the browser was a bit of a surprise. The decision caused a lot of backlash from users who were not happy to be forced into ads on their start screen.

Being a free software product, though, everyone should know that Mozilla has to make money somehow to continue producing Firefox. That revenue will not be coming from launcher ads, though. The foundation officially announced that the program will be terminated and replaced with a content discovery platform on the new tab screen. This is more in-line with what the other browsers do, especially Microsoft's Edge.

The blog post announcing the change of policy does not say that Mozilla is out of the advertising business all together. In fact, the author Darren Herman said,

Advertising in Firefox could be a great business, but it isn't the right business for us at this time because we want to focus on core experiences for our users. We want to reimagine content experiences and content discovery in our products. We will do this work as a fully integrated part of the Firefox team.

This means that Firefox hasn't made this decision because of user feedback, but instead because they are focusing their efforts elsewhere. They are likely to revisit the idea of advertising in the future, but not until they restructure their priorities. This announcement will, for now, make users happy, but don't let your enthusiasm cloud your judgement: it's not forever.

Double Fine Productions Crowdfunding Psychonauts 2

posted Sunday Dec 6, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Double Fine Productions Crowdfunding <i>Psychonauts 2</i>

In 2005, a game was published that did not receive the respect that it deserved. The game was called Psychonauts, and it followed Raz, a boy with psychic abilities that defies the norm and runs away FROM the circus to go to a summer camp. At the camp, he expands his psychic capabilities by entering people's minds and helping them face their fears. The game was a sleeper hit, becoming popular long after its initial release.

In 2011, Double Fine acquired the rights to the game, modernizing the title and releasing it for newer platforms. However, ever since the acquisition, there have been rumors about Double Fine producing a sequel to the game. In 2012, Minecraft creator got involved with the concept, offering to fund the project himself. Unfortunately, that did not work out and Notch backed out of the project, leaving Double Fine without the funding to produce the game.

At The Game Awards 2015, Double Fine, which is well-known for crowdfunding games, announced that they wanted to pursue the game with the public's support. As opposed to their past interactions with crowdfunding, this time they have taken to Fig, a platform specifically designed for videogame crowdfunding. In addition to crowdfunding, qualified investors can also get involved, which sets the platform apart from Kickstarter or Indiegogo.

The company is offering a lot of rewards on pledges from $10 to $10,000. For $10 you get an official thank you, and for $10,000 you get a trip with the team to Whispering Rock along with a ton of related materials, including the games, soundtracks, videos, figurines and more. The company is looking for $3.3 million to fund the game, and are approaching $2 million in pledges as of writing.

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