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Crackdown 3 Shows Off Power of Azure, Only Limited by ISP

posted Sunday Aug 16, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

<i>Crackdown 3</i> Shows Off Power of Azure, Only Limited by ISP

As we fully move into current-gen gaming on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, we're finally starting to see the consoles pushed more and more. For the Xbox One, the Azure cloud was supposed to make playing games more immersive and dynamic, however fans seemed to hate innovation when this feature set was announced back at E3 2013. Because of this, many games pulled back on using cloud services to improve gaming experiences, however some first-party titles were still taking advantage of the superior performance. This week, Reagent Games stamped their approval on cloud-backed gaming as well, saying that Crackdown 3 will be so intense, your only bottleneck will be your Internet service provider.

In an interview, Microsoft Studios' GM Shannon Loftis said that the power of the cloud is real. Crackdown 3 will take full advantage of it with the game's multiplayer destruction, and the servers that host the 100% destructable cities can scale up and down, using more server power when needed. The only thing Microsoft and Reagent can't guarantee, however, is the connection between you and your ISP, which may limit how much chaos you will witness while playing.

We can ensure that what leaves the data center is in a particular state, but not what happens between then and when it gets to people's houses. There's code on the client side that ensures that all the instances stay synced and that you're seeing what I see and that it all runs smoothly.

It's worth mentioning here that the studio is saying that you will be affected; it's just saying that it might be a problem if you have a much slower connection than your peers in-game. Considering the fact that at Gamescom, we saw Crackdown 3 in all its glory leveraging the cloud, the game has already proven that it drives the Xbox One into being an insanely powerful console. Maybe this will be the game that finally pushes developers back to harnassing the tools that Microsoft gave them to really make this generation of consoles mean something.

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Over $100 Million Made from Hacking 150k Press Releases

posted Sunday Aug 16, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

Over $100 Million Made from Hacking 150k Press Releases

Classify this one as next-level insider trading. The Securities and Exchange Commission has issued a statement that says hackers out of the Ukraine hacked databases containing press releases that weren't released yet in order to use the information to make over $100 million on the stock market.

The SEC says that the hackers would secretly access the press releases and share the info they found with stock traders across the globe for a cut of their earnings on said information. The US government has arrested five suspects so far and has filed charges on 32 other people based on these findings.

Two particular gentlemen, Ivan Turchynov and Oleksandr Ieremenko, were allegedly behind the entire operation, according to the SEC. The agency says that these two worked their way into Marketwired, PR Newswire and Business Wire, three of the biggest news wire services. The hackers would then grab embargoed press releases and send them to businesses and investors. The SEC says over 150,000 pressers were stolen but would not say how long this was going on for.

The thieves aren't the only ones involved in this elaborate setup. Traders were actually sending the men lists of companies and press releases to go after, but only after they were sold on the idea. There was even a video made about how the traders could get access to the information.

SEC's Director for the Division of Enforcement, Andrew Ceresney, said,

This cyber hacking scheme is one of the most intricate and sophisticated trading rings that we have ever seen, spanning the globe and involving dozens of individuals and entities.

In all, 14 businesses and 16 stock investors have had civil charges filed against them. Seven other people, along with Ieremenko and Turchynov are looking at criminal charges. The SEC said they have already been granted the order to freeze any and all bank accounts and assets related to the crime.

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Columbia House Files for Bankruptcy

posted Sunday Aug 16, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

You remember Columbia House, right? You know, the website and mail-order service where you could get 13 records, tapes, CDs or DVDs for JUST $1? As a kid, I thought this was the coolest and best deal ever, and I remember seeing those commercials on TV, in the mail and online for as far back as I can remember. And even though some of their marketing tactics were downright shady, it pains me to report that another nostalgic company has fallen.

Columbia House, which is now owned by Filmed Entertainment, Inc. has filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection this week. The company has acknowledged that it can no longer compete in selling CDs and DVDs with the advent of digital music. It seems like that statement could have been made about 5 years ago with the same impact.

This decline is directly attributable to a confluence of market factors that substantially altered the manner in which consumers purchase and listen to music, as well as the way consumers purchase and watch movies and television series at home.

In its hey-day, Columbia House brought in $1.4 billion. That was in 1996. Since then it's been a spiral downward, with the company only making $17 million last year. How anybody was still paying them money is beyond me, but here we are. Even crazier, the company stopped selling CDs in 2010 and was completely outsourcing its DVD distribution until this announcement.

It's crazy to think how such a shady company stayed in business for so long, and that only the change in technology led to its closure. I can't tell you how many horror stories I've seen over the years of young adults getting suckered into the long-term commitments to Columbia House with no way out. While I wasn't one that fell for the 12 CDs for a penny or a dollar or whatever, I did fall victim to similar scams at the time with other companies. So while it's weird to see another 90s brand crumble, this one is oddly satisfying.

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Microsoft Extends NFL Partnership to Include New Surfaces and a New App

posted Sunday Aug 16, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

Microsoft Extends NFL Partnership to Include New Surfaces and a New App

The NFL and Microsoft have had a bit of a tumultuous partnership. A couple of years ago, the full push behind Microsoft's Surface as the technology that powered on-field devices ended up with announcers calling them iPads. This led to Microsoft issuing a statement and demanding all personnel know what the computers were actually called. This seemed to have fixed the problem, with NFL teams adopting more and more Microsoft technology, and even venturing into the virtual reality world. Now, the partnership between the National Football League and the team behind Windows has been extended even further, with new things coming for the fan, player and coach.

Fans of the NFL who are using Windows devices will benefit from having a new app for the Xbox One and Windows 10 that will feature improved video playback, new stats and an added fantasy football tracker. The NFL app on the Xbox One was badly missing a fluid user interface and not many people used it as it was reported that the app would freeze and crash on occasion. And with fantasy football becoming more and more popular, being able to snap a tracker on your Xbox seems like a perfect match for those watching football through their TV input on the console. Adding it to other Windows 10 devices gives customers the ability to check out all the content while away from home.

Added to the app will be a new feature called Next Gen Stats. The NFL has added sensors into player equipment that will provide really cool stats like the distance a player has traveled throughout a game or play, how fast they were going and even replays that feature player movements combined with those stats.

Next Gen Stats have opened up a new game for NFL fans to play, called NGS Pick'em. This new quick-hit game lets Xbox users pick players who they think will perform well in a game and will award them prizes for picking the right ones. The winners will be picked weekly, with one winner for the entire season getting tickets to Super Bowl 50. Microsoft has said all these features will be identical on the Windows 10 app as well, naturally.

For coaches and players, Microsoft has supplied them with an abundance of new Surface Pro 3 tablets. Players have fallen in love with the older Surface Pro 2s, as it gave them next to real-time feedback on their last plays and current performance on the field. Coaches were using the computers over printing each and every play from the 12 angles they have access to and instead were swiping, zooming and drawing right on the screen. Referees will get to join in on the tech fun, too, as they will continue to use a Surface for all replay reviews under the hood.

Lastly, Microsoft has made sure that nobody will forget what these devices are called ever again. Instead of just putting the Microsoft logo or the word on the back of the Surfaces, each and every one will have the word Surface labeled on the back of the special housing, in big, bold white lettering. This way, the only people who will misname them again will be those with a secret anti-Surface agenda.

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RIAA Attacks CBS and BitTorrent, BitTorrent Responds Rationally

posted Sunday Aug 9, 2015 by Scott Ertz

RIAA Attacks CBS and BitTorrent, BitTorrent Responds Rationally

It has been quite a while since the Recording Industry Association of America, or RIAA, has made any moves that required discussion. Over the past few weeks, however, the industry trade group has begun sending out letters to organizations that they believe to be actively harmful to the music industry as a whole. First they contacted CBS complaining that the company provides software that promotes the theft of otherwise legal music.

In particular they take offense to software that allows people to strip the audio from online streaming services, such as YouTube. These products are easily obtained from all over the Internet, including in most of the YouTube clients available in Google Play, the Apple App Store and Windows Store. So, with all of this easy availability, why CBS? Because they own CNET, and CNET runs Download.com, one of the original popular software download services. The site dates back to 1996, before most people really knew about the Internet.

In addition to the audio strippers, Download.com also hosts installers for BitTorrent. The BitTorrent client for windows on Download.com has nearly 24 million downloads as of this writing, which is likely the actual reason for targeting CBS. This guess is because BitTorrent was the next company to receive one of these letters. RIAA believes that BitTorrent is used solely for the transfer of illegal content and they want it to stop.

The problem with this assertion is that BitTorrent is a protocol, no different from HTTP. The protocol can be used to transfer any content, and is used by many companies to transfer large amounts of data in a decentralized manner, allowing them to free resources on their corporate servers. For example, Amazon, Blizzard, Facebook and Twitter all use the protocol. It is less than likely that Facebook is out there moving music they don't own.

BitTorrent responded to the claims in a rational, calm manner, certainly setting themselves apart from, say Napster, who would respond to RIAA like a scolded child. In a statement, the company said,

Our position is that they are barking up the wrong tree, as it seems they were with their approach to CBS last week.

As informed commentary in the past few days has made plain, there is a distinction between the BitTorrent protocol and piracy. Piracy is a real thing, but BitTorrent, Inc. is not the source. We do not host, promote, or facilitate copyright infringing content and the protocol, which is in the public domain, is a legal technology.

We do however have a direct-to-fan platform for artists and content owners to use. More than 30,000 publishers have signed up for it to date, including some of the most popular music artists around the world.

It is difficult to vilify a company who provides a service for the purchasing of music direct from artists by saying they promote the theft of music. It is actually in their best financial interest to discourage theft and, instead, encourage the purchasing of said music through their own platform. My guess is this is RIAA trying to get their name back out into the world as a legal group, though I suspect it will be with the same laughable tactic they have used before. Anyone remember the older woman who was sued for using Morpheus to download music, though she had a Mac and the software wasn't available on Mac?

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Reddit Begins Implementing New Rules, Bans Racist Communities

posted Sunday Aug 9, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Reddit Begins Implementing New Rules, Bans Racist Communities

After the Ellen Pao disaster, Reddit has been working to implement the new policies announced at her resignation. The process has not been a particularly simple one, as backlash from some of the communities on the site has been vocal. Fortunately, those communities have been a small percentage of the overall userbase.

The vocal minority might have something new to complain about soon, however, as the company has altered their policies once again. Now, instead of quarantining offensive communities, such as those that promote racism, they will ban them. While you might immediately look at this as a positive move, let me explain to you the culture of Reddit and why there is likely to be a negative response associated with the decision.

The stated goal of the site is to provide a safe place for the free exchange of ideas. One of the things that comes along with free speech is the likelihood that some people will be offended by said speech. As the site grew, a larger than expected portion of the community became more a place for people to say insane or hurtful things rather than to spread ideas and thoughts. This has left the executives with an interesting dilemma: do they back off of their idea of a true free speech zone, or do they deal with the public outcry about it being a community filled with hate?

Right now, they are trying to find a harmony between the two sides. In removing communities who intention is to take advantage of the free speech zone only to say hurtful, offensive and racist things, they seem to have found a balance they think will keep their users and community positive, while still mostly adhering to the intentions of the site. It will not make everyone happy, but it should not affect those who use the site for the purposes it was originally created to serve.

In addition to offensive content, the management will also take steps to remove what CEO Steve Huffman calls animated child pornography, likely referring to the rising popularity of lolicon or shotacon on Reddit and similar sites. While not technically illegal in the west, many believe that the content leads to the mistreatment of minors in the real world, and sites like Reddit are taking a preemptive stand against the content. It's a pretty smart move as the company does not need any potential legal issues as they are trying to redefine themselves on the Internet.

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