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Internet Television

Taking cues from Chromecast, Sharp turns TVs into art displays 08 January 2015, 00.14 Internet Television
Taking cues from Chromecast, Sharp turns TVs into art displays
One of the features Sharp had on display at its CES booth looked vaguely familiar: Sharp’s 2015 TVs automatically display a series of works of art and great-looking photos when not in use, which the company is calling
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Online outlets showed Hebdo images but offline media didn’t. Why? 08 January 2015, 00.14 Internet Television
Online outlets showed Hebdo images but offline media didn’t. Why?
As the world struggled to understand the violence in Paris, where 12 cartoonists and other staff at the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo were gunned down by Islamic extremists, media outlets were faced with a challenge: Should
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Neil Young: Pono won’t be a hardware company for long (video interview)
Neil Young’s high-definition audio startup Pono just started selling its Pono player, but the music legend told me during an interview at CES in Las Vegas Wednesday that he sees Pono getting out of the hardware business
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Tesco sells Blinkbox to TalkTalk and may offload Dunnhumby 08 January 2015, 00.14 Internet Television
Tesco sells Blinkbox to TalkTalk and may offload Dunnhumby
The British supermarket giant Tesco is, to put it mildly, having financial difficulties. On Thursday it unveiled a range of measures that it hopes will help dig it out of its hole. These include the sale of Tesco Broadband and
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Deezer buys mobile-focused Muve Music from Cricket / AT&T 08 January 2015, 00.14 Internet Television
Deezer buys mobile-focused Muve Music from Cricket / AT&T
Paris-based music streaming service Deezer has acquired Muve Music, the mobile-focused music service from Leap Wireless. Leap is a virtual mobile operator better known for its Cricket service, which was itself acquired by
Read More 163 Hits 0 Ratings

Earth News Reports

FitDesk Lets You Pedal Your Way to Fitness While You Work
Share on TumblrEmail Telecommuting saves workers money on subway or gas costs while conserving energy – but it can also mean less exercise. The folks at FitDesk have a solution – a brilliant bicycle/desk that
Read More 66 Hits 0 Ratings
10 websites for designers to get free PSD templates 26 May 2015, 17.17 Green Architecture
10 websites for designers to get free PSD templates
PSD files/templates are very useful resource for designers. It saves time and makes it easier to make a new design simply by customizing the existing one. Rather than creating from a scratch, it’s more smart step to modify
Read More 85 Hits 1 Rating
Spectacular sketches by PEZ 26 May 2015, 17.17 Green Architecture
Spectacular sketches by PEZ
PEZ is the artist name of a talented French illustrator. His art goes far beyond simple illustrations, but what we share in this post are his incredibly detailed sketches. In this series, PEZ took on some famous characters with
Read More 76 Hits 0 Ratings
Google reveals Literata, a new typeface for Google Play books
So far, Droid Serif was the default font for reading books on Google Play. Earlier in May, Google quietly introduced a new typeface to replace it along with the release of the latest version of PlayBooks. Google introduced
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A collection of vintage Photoshop textures 26 May 2015, 17.17 Green Architecture
A collection of vintage Photoshop textures
Textures are a great way to add some depth to your designs, it can also make the designs much more realistic, if that’s what you are trying to achieve. For a vintage look-and-feel, the Photoshop textures in this post will
Read More 81 Hits 1 Rating
3D printed books by Tim Burtonwood 26 May 2015, 17.17 Green Architecture
3D printed books by Tim Burtonwood
Although 3D printing is gaining ground on a larger scale at quick speed, most of the 3D printing projects you’ll see are still experimental. Tim Burtonwood is one of these experimenting 3D artists who took on publishing
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Bookmarks that look like a character’s legs are sticking out
On Designer Daily, we love good books and creative bookmarks. There is no way we couldn’t feature these awesome bookmarks designed by Olena Mysnyk. On the Ukrainian designer’s Etsy shop, you can find all the
Read More 74 Hits 0 Ratings
15 cool gift ideas that were inspired by bikes 26 May 2015, 17.17 Green Architecture
15 cool gift ideas that were inspired by bikes
Are you a crazy bicycle lover? Is yes, then you have reached the right place because here we have a collection of 15 cool gift ideas that were inspired by bicycles. Get your favorite one and enjoy! 1. Bicycle pizza cutter You
Read More 82 Hits 1 Rating
Poop-powered bus breaks world speed record 26 May 2015, 17.17 Transportation
Poop-powered bus breaks world speed record
Share on TumblrEmail The UK’s poop-powered bus has set a speed record for a regular service bus with a top speed of 76.8 miles per hour (123.5kph). The vehicle is called the ‘Bus Hound’ (a tongue-in-cheek
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Watch this man set the world record for farthest hoverboard flight
Share on TumblrEmail Catalin Alexandru Duru, an inventor from Canada, set the world’s record recently for the longest flight by hoverboard. Ever since Marty McFly surfed the streets of Hill Valley on a
Read More 82 Hits 0 Ratings

Technology News Reports

FitDesk Lets You Pedal Your Way to Fitness While You Work
Share on TumblrEmail Telecommuting saves workers money on subway or gas costs while conserving energy – but it can also mean less exercise. The folks at FitDesk have a solution – a brilliant bicycle/desk that
Read More 66 Hits 0 Ratings
Poop-powered bus breaks world speed record 26 May 2015, 17.17 Transportation
Poop-powered bus breaks world speed record
Share on TumblrEmail The UK’s poop-powered bus has set a speed record for a regular service bus with a top speed of 76.8 miles per hour (123.5kph). The vehicle is called the ‘Bus Hound’ (a tongue-in-cheek
Read More 69 Hits 0 Ratings
Watch this man set the world record for farthest hoverboard flight
Share on TumblrEmail Catalin Alexandru Duru, an inventor from Canada, set the world’s record recently for the longest flight by hoverboard. Ever since Marty McFly surfed the streets of Hill Valley on a
Read More 82 Hits 0 Ratings
This bike lane in Korea is topped with 20 miles of solar panels
Share on TumblrEmail Is this the greenest road ever? This video, shot by a drone, shows a stretch of highway in Korea featuring a solar-powered bike lane running right down the middle. The lane is offset,
Read More 545 Hits 0 Ratings
Vancouver will be powered by 100 percent renewable energy 13 April 2015, 23.28 Transportation
Vancouver will be powered by 100 percent renewable energy
Share on TumblrEmail Vancouver, Canada, has become the latest city to commit to running on 100 percent renewable energy. Following a City Council vote on March 26 in favor of making the switch, the city
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Gustavo Penna’s modular bus stop blends into the urban landscape in Brazil
Share on TumblrEmail Gustavo Penna Arquiteto & Associados just completed their design for the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) bus stop in Brazil- a modular metallic structure that blends into the urban landscape.
Read More 560 Hits 0 Ratings
The Troll Hunters 13 April 2015, 23.28 Tech
The Troll Hunters
We’ve come up with the menacing term “troll” for someone who spreads hate and does other horrible things anonymously on the Internet. Internet trolls are unsettling not just because of the things they say but for the
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Paralyzed Again 13 April 2015, 23.28 Tech
Paralyzed Again
One night in 1982, John Mumford was working on an avalanche patrol on an icy Colorado mountain pass when the van carrying him and two other men slid off the road and plunged over a cliff. The other guys were able to walk
Read More 102 Hits 0 Ratings
Toolkits for the Mind 13 April 2015, 23.28 Tech
Toolkits for the Mind
When the Japanese computer scientist Yukihiro Matsumoto decided to create Ruby, a programming language that has helped build Twitter, Hulu, and much of the modern Web, he was chasing an idea from a 1966 science fiction novel
Read More 105 Hits 0 Ratings
IBM’s Watson Could Make a Knowledgeable Tour Guide
IBM researchers are exploring Watson’s abilities to answer museumgoers’ questions. By Rachel Metz on April 10, 2015 IBM’s Watson, the machine-learning computer that won Jeopardy! in 2011 and has found work searching
Read More 133 Hits 0 Ratings
Why Zapping the Brain Helps Parkinson's Patients
Deep brain stimulation could lead to a more effective, self-tuning device for Parkinson’s. By Courtney Humphries on April 13, 2015 Using electrodes (the white dots in this MRI image) on the brain’s surface,
Read More 99 Hits 0 Ratings
Mad Men Recap: Money Can’t Buy Don Draper Love
Seeing Mad Men through its ads: Every week, WIRED takes a look at the latest episode of Mad Men through the lens of the latest media campaign by advertising agency Sterling Cooper & Partners. “Yes…but is it art?”
Read More 93 Hits 0 Ratings
Why Everyone Went Nuts Over Hillary Clinton’s New Logo
Hillary Clinton speaks at the University of Miami on March 7, 2015. Rodrigo Varela/Getty Images On Sunday, shortly after Hillary Clinton announced her bid for the 2016 presidency, the internet erupted with a chorus of
Read More 84 Hits 0 Ratings
Veep GIF and a Graf: Selina Fails Pretty Much Immediately
Veep GIF and a Graf: Selina's Prompt Failure | WIRED Veep GIF and a Graf: Selina’s Prompt Failure Visually Toggle Menu Visually Toggle Search Click to go back to Wired Home PageSUBSCRIBE 1 / 1HBO HBO Last night Veep
Read More 81 Hits 0 Ratings
The 3DR Solo Is One Scary-Smart Drone 13 April 2015, 23.27 Tech
The 3DR Solo Is One Scary-Smart Drone
Great drone footage is mesmerizing, no matter what it depicts. (Exhibit A: This video of a truck driving through mud in super-slow-motion.) But perfect shots—the swooping landscapes, the hovering overheads—are hard to come
Read More 138 Hits 0 Ratings
This Week’s Trailers: True Detective Leaves Us Guessing
It feels like a lifetime ago that Rustin Cohle first darkened our doorways with his bleak and opaque philosophizing, and yet, it’s only been a year! And even though time is a flat blah blah blah, one more trip around the sun
Read More 88 Hits 0 Ratings
The Netflix of China Is Invading the US With Smartphones
For Letv, it's all about the screen time. Pau Barrena/Bloomberg/Getty Images When I describe Letv as the Netflix of China, Mark Li corrects me. “It’s the other way around,” he says. “Netflix is the Letv of the US.” He
Read More 69 Hits 0 Ratings
Blackberry wants to force popular services onto its platform in the name of net neutrality
Blackberry CEO John Chen has penned on the company’s blog his argument for extending net neutrality rules to the application and content layers. He cites the opening up of its Blackberry Messenger service (BBM) on the
Read More 106 Hits 0 Ratings
Hard drive failure rates point to clear winners and losers in 2014
One of the most common questions we’re asked about hardware reliability is whether there’s a real difference between the various storage manufacturers. This information is typically locked up like Fort Knox, which is one
Read More 115 Hits 0 Ratings
Windows 10: Microsoft raises the stakes for mobile Windows
In the two-plus-hour Microsoft press event revealing the details of Windows 10, none of us on the ET staff can recall hearing the words Android or iPhone, or any mention of how Windows would be improving its interoperability
Read More 118 Hits 0 Ratings
Canonical unveils Snappy Ubuntu Core, a lightweight operating system for your home
For the past few years, Canonical, the UK software developer behind the Ubuntu operating system, has been working to extend its traditional desktop operating system into a much broader range of products. Today, the company
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Elon Musk unveils new plan for global satellite internet, while Google invests a billion in SpaceX [UPDATED]
Update (1/20/2015): Multiple sources are claiming that Google is preparing a billion dollar investment into SpaceX that would give the company’s nascent internet plan an enormous capital boost. It’s not clear what kind
Read More 151 Hits 0 Ratings
Google ends existing Google Glass program, restructures program under Nest CEO
After months of controversy and limited visibility into the future of the program, Google has decided to restructure the Google Glass division, end the Explorer program, and hand the project off to the CEO of Nest, Tony
Read More 113 Hits 0 Ratings
Nissan and NASA team up to build autonomous cars for use in space
Share on TumblrEmail Nissan and NASA have inked a new partnership to further research autonomous vehicles that could be used not only here on Earth, but also in space. The five-year research and development
Read More 627 Hits 0 Ratings
Solar Impulse unveils route for first round-the-world flight powered by the sun
Share on TumblrEmail Slated for take off in either late February or early March 2015, the Solar Impulse 2 flight is expected to span approximately 25 flight days
Read More 589 Hits 0 Ratings
This cleverly designed bamboo bike charges mobile devices 24 January 2015, 00.26 Transportation
This cleverly designed bamboo bike charges mobile devices
Share on TumblrEmail Bambootec, a consortium from Yucatán, Mexico, has created a bamboo bicycle that turns pedaling into electricity for charging mobile devices. The bike also has a navigation dashboard in
Read More 655 Hits 0 Ratings
Resurrecting a Meltdown-Proof Reactor Design 24 January 2015, 00.25 Tech
Resurrecting a Meltdown-Proof Reactor Design
A new molten salt nuclear reactor design could make nuclear power safer and more economical. By Kevin Bullis on January 22, 2015 A view inside the 1970s version of the Oak Ridge molten salt nuclear reactor. A new take on
Read More 157 Hits 0 Ratings
Microsoft’s New Idea: A Hologram Headset to Rewrite Reality
A wearable display set for release by Microsoft later this year can augment your world with realistic, interactive virtual objects. By Tom Simonite on January 21, 2015 Microsoft has developed a version of the game
Read More 165 Hits 0 Ratings
Microsoft Researchers Get Wrapped Up in Smart Scarf
In the quest to make wearable electronics useful, researchers take a close look at the neck. By Rachel Metz on January 21, 2015 Microsoft researchers have created a scarf that can be commanded to heat up and vibrate via a
Read More 127 Hits 0 Ratings
Hawaii’s Solar Push Strains the Grid 24 January 2015, 00.25 Tech
Hawaii’s Solar Push Strains the Grid
Kauai’s utility takes a second stab at battery storage as solar heads toward 80 percent of peak power. By Peter Fairley on January 20, 2015 Shipping containers full of lithium batteries will stabilize Kauai’s grid
Read More 152 Hits 0 Ratings
Ford Finally Discovers Silicon Valley 24 January 2015, 00.24 Tech
Ford Finally Discovers Silicon Valley
Ford engineers show off a system for upgrading outdated infotainment hardware at the company’s newly opened Silicon Valley research center. Josh Valcarcel/WIRED “Cars!” says Dragos Maciuca, when asked why he left his
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Aspiring Singer Arrested in Israel on Suspicion of Hacking Madonna
Christie Goodwin/Redferns/Getty Images The specific hackers behind the Sony breach and data leaks may never be identified or arrested. But authorities say they have caught a hacker behind another high-profile breach: the
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Leatherman’s New Wearable Tech Can Repair Your Wearable Tech
Every link in the Leatherman Tread bracelet contains usable tools. It will come in both stainless steel and black DLC finishes (shown). Leatherman The Leatherman Tread will come out this Summer. It’s an interesting
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Here’s the Secret Silk Road Journal From the Laptop of Ross Ulbricht
freeross.org As the saga of the Silk Road has unfolded over the last four years, everyone has had an opinion about the unprecedented, billion-dollar online narcotics bazaar, from press to politicians to prosecutors. Even the
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The Strangely Competitive World of Sci-Fi Writing Workshops
courtesy Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust Each summer budding authors flock to writing workshops like Clarion, Clarion West, and Odyssey, which help prepare students for a career in fantasy and science fiction by
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While You Were Offline: American Sniper’s Fake Baby and a Drug-Buying Bot
Warner Bros. This week, Tumblr launched “Fandometrics,” a ranking that literally scores which fandom is more active and popular on the platform at any given moment. Is this a sign of an oncoming Internet apocalypse, or
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Google calls on FCC to mandate line-sharing, pits itself directly against Comcast and other ISPs
In the ongoing battle between net neutrality advocates and the ISPs, one of the hot-button issues that’s emerged is whether or not ISPs should be regulated as common carriers. Such regulation under Title II of the
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Microsoft is building a new web browser for Windows 10, may kill off Internet Explorer
According to a few sources from within Microsoft, it appears that the company is working on a new web browser — codenamed Spartan — that will debut with Windows 10. Spartan will reportedly look like a mix of Firefox and
Read More 105 Hits 0 Ratings
The Interview breaks online movie sales records: A case for simultaneous releases
It is exceedingly hard to find an angle that presents The Interview in a positive light — and yet, of course, Sony Pictures’ marketing department has managed to do just that. Yesterday, four days after the film’s
Read More 98 Hits 0 Ratings
Comcast announces plans to roll out gigabit internet by the end of the year
The various established telcos and cable operators have been under pressure ever since Google announced it would begin rolling out fiber networks to consumers in test locations across the country. Now, Comcast is gearing up
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Living with Amazon’s Echo: A cylinder of fun and frustration
Since I already own a Roku, a Chromecast, and an HTPC, I wasn’t in the market for another streaming device, especially not one that only does audio. But one thing about the Amazon Echo caught my attention immediately —
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Detroit Electric’s SP:01 will be the world’s fastest two-seater electric car when it hits the streets in 2016
Share on TumblrEmail Detroit Electric just unveiled the production version of the SP:01 electric sports car, which the automaker says will be the fastest pure-electric, two-seater electric car when it hits
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Johanson3′s electric cargo bikes are the perfect answer for the modern commute
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CES 2015: Wearables Everywhere 08 January 2015, 00.13 Tech
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CES 2015: Unleash the Drones! 08 January 2015, 00.13 Tech
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Critics Say New Evidence Linking North Korea to the Sony Hack Is Still Flimsy
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Chinese man builds working electric car from wood 26 December 2014, 02.50 Transportation
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How to capture and stream video from a PS4 26 December 2014, 02.50 Technology
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Can Japan Recapture Its Solar Power? 26 December 2014, 02.50 Tech
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In Praise of Efficient Price Gouging 26 December 2014, 02.50 Tech
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2014 in Mobile: The Year of Wearable Gadgets 26 December 2014, 02.50 Tech
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“Smart” Software Can Be Tricked Into Seeing  What Isn’t There
Humans and software see some images differently, pointing out shortcomings of recent breakthroughs in machine learning. By Caleb Garling on December 24, 2014 Images created to trick machine learning algorithms. The
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“Smart” Software Can Be Tricked Into Seeing What Isn’t There PDF Print E-mail

Humans and software see some images differently, pointing out shortcomings of recent breakthroughs in machine learning.

Images created to trick machine learning algorithms. The software sees each pattern as one of the digits 1 to 5.

A technique called deep learning has enabled recent breakthroughs from Google and other companies in getting computers to understand the content of photos. Now researchers at Cornell University and the University of Wyoming have shown how to make images that fool such software into seeing things that aren’t there.

The researchers can create images that appear to a human as scrambled nonsense or simple geometric patterns, but are firmly identified by the software as an everyday object, such as a school bus. The trick images offer new insight into the differences between how real brains and the simple simulated neurons used in deep learning process images.

Researchers typically train deep learning software to recognize something of interest—say, a guitar—by showing it millions of pictures of guitars, and each time telling the computer “This is a guitar.” After a while, the software can identify guitars in images it has never seen before, and assign its answer a confidence rating. It might give a guitar displayed alone on a white background a high confidence rating, and a guitar seen in the background of a grainy cluttered picture a lower confidence rating  (see “10 Breakthrough Technologies 2013: Deep Learning”).

That approach has valuable applications such as facial recognition, or using software to process security or traffic camera footage, for example to measure traffic flows or spot suspicious activity.

But although the mathematical functions used to create an artificial neural network are understood individually, how they work together to decipher images is unknown. “We understand that they work, just not how they work,” says Jeff Clune, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Wyoming. “They can learn to do things that we can’t even learn to do ourselves.”

These images look abstract to humans, but are seen by the image recognition algorithm they were designed to fool as the objects described in the labels.

To shed new light on how these networks operate, Clune’s group used a neural network called AlexNet that has achieved impressive results in image recognition. They operated it in reverse, asking a version of the software with no knowledge of guitars to create a picture of one, by generating random pixels across an image.

The researchers asked a second version of the network that had been trained to spot guitars to rate the images made by the first network. That confidence rating was used by the first network to refine its next attempt to create a guitar image. After thousands of rounds of this between the two pieces of software, the first network could make an image that the second network recognized as a guitar with 99 percent confidence.

However, to a human, those “guitar” images looked like colored TV static or simple patterns. Clune says this shows that the software is not interested in piecing together structural details like strings or a fretboard, as a human trying to identify something might be. Instead, the software seems to be looking at specific distance or color relationships between pixels, or overall color and texture.

That offers new insight into how artificial neural networks really work, says Clune, although more research is needed.

Ryan Adams, an assistant computer science professor at Harvard, says the results aren’t completely surprising. The fact that large areas of the trick images look like seas of static probably stems from the way networks are fed training images. The object of interest is usually only a small part of the photo, and the rest is unimportant.

Adams also points out that Clune’s research shows humans and artificial neural networks do have some things in common. Humans have been thinking they see everyday objects in random patterns—such as the stars—for millennia.

Clune says it would be possible to use his technique to fool image recognition algorithms when they are put to work in Web services and other products. However, it would be very difficult to pull off. For instance, Google has algorithms that filter out pornography from the results of its image search service. But to create images that would trick it, a prankster would need to know significant details about how Google’s software was designed.

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Singapore Wants a Driverless Version of Uber PDF Print E-mail

Singapore plans to let anyone test driverless cars in one of its busy neighborhoods in 2015.

This electric car, retrofitted to drive itself, is being tested in Singapore.

As driverless cars edge slowly toward commercial reality, some people are wondering how cities might change as a result. Will traffic lights disappear? Will parking garages become obsolete? Will carpooling become the norm?

Singapore is keen to find out. The city-state will open one of its neighborhoods to driverless cars in 2015, with the idea that such vehicles could operate as a kind of jitney service, picking up passengers and taking them to trains or other modes of public transportation. The vehicles might be like golf carts, taking people short distances at low speeds, similar to the driverless vehicles demonstrated this year by Google (see “Lazy Humans Shaped Google’s New Autonomous Car”).

Lam Wee Shann, director of the futures division for Singapore’s Ministry of Transport, said during a panel held at MIT last month that the government wants to explore whether autonomous vehicles could reduce congestion and remake the city into one built around walking, bicycling, and public transit.

“Singapore welcomes industry and academia to deploy automated vehicles for testing under real traffic conditions on public roads,” Lam said in a follow-up e-mail interview. He declined to say whether Google or any other companies pursuing driverless cars have contacted Singapore yet.

At 700 square kilometers, Singapore is about three times the size of Boston, but it has 5.5 million residents versus Boston’s 646,000. Because it is so dense, Singapore is aggressively trying to discourage car traffic. For example, if you want to own a car in Singapore you have to pay a “certificate of entitlement” fee that’s roughly equal to the price of a car. It also offers free travel on city trains before peak periods (along with free breakfast vouchers).

Through the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, the city has had pilot tests of driverless cars for several years, starting with two driverless golf carts on the campus of the National University of Singapore. This year it added a Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric car, retrofitted to be autonomous. A driverless bus called the Navia is used as a shuttle at Singapore’s Cleantech eco-industrial park and on campus at Nanyang Technology University.

All of these experiments “provide first-and-last mile connectivity to main public transport nodes,” Lam said.

This fall, people in Singapore were able to try out driverless cars for the first time. Driverless buggies were deployed in the Chinese and Japanese gardens in the Jurong Lake District. The system featured an online booking system and vehicle-to-vehicle communications. The buggies ran for two weekends, and carried 500 people over 400 kilometers in total.

Cities with driverless cars could eventually eliminate mainstays like traffic lights. Paolo Santi, a senior researcher with the MIT/Fraunhofer ambient mobility initiative, said at the MIT event that his lab has done simulations showing that twice as many driverless cars could route themselves through intersections, easing congestion and reducing the greenhouse gas emissions caused by stop-and-go driving. Santi hopes to carry out experiments in Singapore to see how pedestrians and bikes affect driverless cars at intersections.

Many challenges remain. On the panel at MIT, Nhai Cao, a senior global product line manager at TomTom, a navigation vendor, noted that, “current maps are not good enough for autonomous vehicles.” Driverless cars, he said, need maps that are three-dimensional and accurate to within 20 centimeters. 

Lam also noted that if driverless cars are available to everyone, that could translate into more people taking car trips. “An autonomous vehicle could add on a lot more road trips, and we can ill afford that,” he said. 

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Cape Watch: The Avengers Get a Pouty Teen and Suicide Squad Gets More Villains PDF Print E-mail

CapeWatch17

Marvel Entertainment (left, right), Warner Bros. (center)

Before you curl up by the yule log for the holidays, spare a few thoughts for those truly in need: the Hollywood executives who work so hard to bring us the superhero movies we enjoy all summer. While we settle down for a few days off and a chance to recharge, those brave, tireless souls will be dreaming up new ways to lure us into theaters over the next few years. Whether they get gifts or coal in their stockings relies on the success or failure of their efforts, years from now … but until then, here are the highlights of this week’s superhero movie news.

SUPER IDEA: Another DC Villain Joining Suicide Squad

With a line-up that already includes Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, the Enchantress, the Joker, and Harley Quinn, you might think that there are already enough bad guys in David Ayer’s 2016 Suicide Squad adaptation. Maybe not. This week, somone on Reddit reported being part of a test group for potential storylines for the movie, and named both Lex Luthor and Arrow villain Deathstroke as possible additions to the cast.
Why this is super: With this many troublesome tykes around, Suicide Squad might get a little crowded—but if nothing else, it’ll quickly build out Warner Bros.’ DC movie universe in terms of bad guys to use in future flicks.

SUPER IDEA: Marvel Borrowing a Page From Mary Shelley

Talking to Entertainment Weekly, Avengers: Age of Ultron writer/director Joss Whedon likened the follow-up to Marvel’s 2012 smash to a piece of classic literature, saying that artificial intelligence is “our new Frankenstein myth. … We create something in our own image and the thing turns on us.” Ultron, he said, would be that idea writ large. “I don’t remember seeing an artificial-intelligence movie where the robot is bonkers—the most emotionally unstable person in the film—and who has the knowledge of 3,000 years of recorded history and who is a pouty teen, all at the same time,” he teased.
Why this is super: If there’s one man we trust with the idea of an emotionally-petulant teen killing machine, it’s Joss Whedon. And, let’s be honest; it’ll be a lot of fun to hear James Spader whine that Tony Stark isn’t the boss of him, especially if it’s accompanied by an army of unstoppable robots.

SUPER IDEA: Sony Maybe, Possibly Finding Spidey’s Sinister Six

According to a report on ComicBookMovie.com, information dumped online following the Sony hack might point at a possible cast for Drew Goddard’s Amazing Spider-Man spin-off movie, Sinister Six. If true, then the following actors are up for roles: Tom Hardy, Emily Blunt, Woody Harrelson, Colin Firth, and Channing Tatum. Also mentioned in the discussion, interestingly, is the possibility of bringing Emma Stone back as her own clone in a future installment, following her character’s untimely death in this summer’s Amazing Spider-Man 2. Well, at least they realized that was a mistake.
Why this is super: Many of the names are unlikely to be available—Hardy and Tatum are already connected with Warners and Fox superhero series, respectively, and Blunt is one of the rumored choices for Marvel’s Captain Marvel—which gives this list an air of wish-list casting more than anything else. However, they’re all interesting and, in some cases, unlikely choices, which suggests that the movie might be surprisingly fun, if it actually gets made…

SUPER IDEA: James Gunn Knows That Thanos Is a Problem

It turns out, James Gunn was just aware as you that Thanos didn’t really have anything to do in Guardians of the Galaxy this summer. “His presence doesn’t really serve being in Guardians, and having Thanos be in that scene was more helpful to the Marvel universe than it was to Guardians of the Galaxy,” the director told Vulture, describing the character’s big scene as the hardest to write for the entire movie. “You’re setting up this incredibly powerful character, but you don’t want to belittle the actual antagonist of the film, which is Ronan. You don’t want him to seem like a big wussy.”
Why this is super: Thank God that it wasn’t just us. Thanos literally had no purpose in that movie other than setting up future Marvel films, so it’s oddly reassuring for the sake of future movies to see that Gunn realized this. Whether or not it means we’ll see less of this needlessly gratuitous guest-starring in future, we can but hope, but at least we’re not alone.

MEH IDEA: Not So Fast With That Wonder Woman Movie, Folks

Well, this was unexpected. In a New York magazine profile of director Michelle MacLaren, the Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad veteran said she couldn’t say anything about her announced gig as director of the Warner Bros. Wonder Woman for a surprising reason: the movie hasn’t actually been greenlit yet, and despite the announcement of a 2017 release, there’s nothing officially on the calendar. “I really, really, really can’t talk about this,” she said. It sounds as if there’s not a lot to talk about, anyway.
Why this is villainy: Waaaait. So the movie was announced and MacLaren gets the job of directing it, but it might not happen? That’s some Olympic-level trolling there, Warner Bros. This is how you’re ending the year? That doesn’t make us feel too good about all the other movies announced at the same time, we have to say.

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NASA’s Best Images of Earth From Space in 2014 PDF Print E-mail

Plankton Blooms. Patagonian Coast, Argentina
Upwelling currents from the deep mix with dust from the continent and iron-rich water from the south to provide a feast for phytoplankton. These tiny creatures photosynthesize, and provide food for thriving fisheries. False-color image taken by the Suomi NPP satellite on Dec. 2. NASA

Plankton Blooms. Patagonian Coast, Argentina
Upwelling currents from the deep mix with dust from the continent and iron-rich water from the south to provide a feast for phytoplankton. These tiny creatures photosynthesize, and provide food for thriving fisheries. False-color image taken by the Suomi NPP satellite on Dec. 2.
NASA

Dust and Clouds Over the Sahara Desert
The Sahara contributes more dust to the atmosphere than any other desert. Saharan dust accounts for more than half the dust settling on the ocean and helps fertilize land in the Americas. In this image, taken by ESA astronaut Alex Gerst on the ISS on Sep. 8, the land surface is almost entirely obscured by dust. NASA

Dust and Clouds Over the Sahara Desert
The Sahara contributes more dust to the atmosphere than any other desert. Saharan dust accounts for more than half the dust settling on the ocean and helps fertilize land in the Americas. In this image, taken by ESA astronaut Alex Gerst on the ISS on Sep. 8, the land surface is almost entirely obscured by dust.
NASA

Tornado Tracks, Northeast Nebraska
On June 16, five tornadoes struck northeastern Nebraska. The tracks of two of these storms can be seen as brown swaths, one heading right through the town of Pilger, in this false-color image taken by the Terra satellite on June 21. Jesse Allen/NASA

Tornado Tracks, Northeast Nebraska
On June 16, five tornadoes struck northeastern Nebraska. The tracks of two of these storms can be seen as brown swaths, one heading right through the town of Pilger, in this false-color image taken by the Terra satellite on June 21.
Jesse Allen/NASA

Haze in the Kashmir Valley, South Asia
Ringed by mountains, the Kashmir valley is an effective trap for smoke and air pollution from charcoal and biomass burning. True-color image taken by the Terra satellite on Dec. 5. Jeff Schmaltz/NASA/LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response

Haze in the Kashmir Valley, South Asia
Ringed by mountains, the Kashmir valley is an effective trap for smoke and air pollution from charcoal and biomass burning. True-color image taken by the Terra satellite on Dec. 5.
Jeff Schmaltz/NASA/LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response

Holuhraun Eruption, Iceland
Iceland is one of the most volcanic places on Earth. This year, lava has been pouring out of the Holuhraun lava field between Badarbunga and Askja volcanoes, making for a spectacular show, especially as seen close up by a drone. But it's also impressive from space, as shown in this false-color image taken Sep. 6 by the Landsat 8 satellite. Jesse Allen/NASA/USGS

Holuhraun Eruption, Iceland
Iceland is one of the most volcanic places on Earth. This year, lava has been pouring out of the Holuhraun lava field between Badarbunga and Askja volcanoes, making for a spectacular show, especially as seen close up by a drone. But it's also impressive from space, as shown in this false-color image taken Sep. 6 by the Landsat 8 satellite.
Jesse Allen/NASA/USGS

Hurricane Edouard, Atlantic Ocean
Shown here about midway between Africa, North America and Europe, Hurricane Edouard was the fourth Atlantic hurricane of the season. It never threatened any land, but made for a great natural laboratory for NASA. This true-color image was taken by NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman from the ISS on Sep. 16. NASA

Hurricane Edouard, Atlantic Ocean
Shown here about midway between Africa, North America and Europe, Hurricane Edouard was the fourth Atlantic hurricane of the season. It never threatened any land, but made for a great natural laboratory for NASA. This true-color image was taken by NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman from the ISS on Sep. 16.
NASA

Earth, Eastern Hemisphere
Part of NASA's Blue Marble collection, this image is a composite built from images taken during eight orbits by the Suomi NPP satellite on March 30. Robert Simmon/NASA Earth Observatory/NOAA

Robert Simmon/NASA Earth Observatory/NOAA

Venice Lagoon
Astronaut photos such as this one, taken from aboard the ISS on May 9, are used to monitor the Venice Lagoon. The fragile lagoon is protected from the Adriatic Sea by a narrow barrier island. NASA

Venice Lagoon
Astronaut photos such as this one, taken from aboard the ISS on May 9, are used to monitor the Venice Lagoon. The fragile lagoon is protected from the Adriatic Sea by a narrow barrier island.
NASA

Sea Ice, Greenland Sea
The waters of the coast of Greenland are covered in a beautiful, swirly pattern of sea ice in this true-color image taken by the Aqua satellite on Aug. 18. Jeff Schmaltz/NASA/LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team

Sea Ice, Greenland Sea
The waters of the coast of Greenland are covered in a beautiful, swirly pattern of sea ice in this true-color image taken by the Aqua satellite on Aug. 18.
Jeff Schmaltz/NASA/LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team

Gulf of Alaska
This beautiful image of the North Pacific Ocean and the Alaskan coast is a composite made from images taken on several orbits by the Aqua satellite on May 2. Norman Kuring/NASA

Gulf of Alaska
This beautiful image of the North Pacific Ocean and the Alaskan coast is a composite made from images taken on several orbits by the Aqua satellite on May 2.
Norman Kuring/NASA

Funny River Fire, Alaska
Between May 19 and 21, the Funny River fire burned around 43,000 acres on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula. You can see big, fluffy pyrocumulonimbus clouds, which sometimes occur over fires and volcanic eruptions, in this image taken on May 20 by the Landsat 8 satellite. Jesse Allen/NASA/USGS

Funny River Fire, Alaska
Between May 19 and 21, the Funny River fire burned around 43,000 acres on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula. You can see big, fluffy pyrocumulonimbus clouds, which sometimes occur over fires and volcanic eruptions, in this image taken on May 20 by the Landsat 8 satellite.
Jesse Allen/NASA/USGS

Green River, Utah
This stretch of the Green River in eastern Utah is known as the Bowknot Bend for obvious reasons. This image was taken by an astronaut aboard the ISS on Jan 22. NASA

Green River, Utah
This stretch of the Green River in eastern Utah is known as the Bowknot Bend for obvious reasons. This image was taken by an astronaut aboard the ISS on Jan 22.
NASA

Typhoon Neoguri in Moonlight, Pacific Ocean
This storm was imaged near Japan by the Suomi NPP satellite's special day-night band on the night of July 8. Jesse Allen/NASA

Typhoon Neoguri in Moonlight, Pacific Ocean
This storm was imaged near Japan by the Suomi NPP satellite's special day-night band on the night of July 8.
Jesse Allen/NASA

Colorado River, Mexico
On Mar. 23, an experiment began that sent 130 million cubic meters of water into the Colorado River over eight weeks. Though it's only 1 percent of what flowed naturally in the river before it was dammed, it was hoped the water would recharge groundwater systems and restore habitats. This image was taken Apr. 16 by the Landsat 8 satellite. Robert Simmon/NASA/USGS

Colorado River, Mexico
On Mar. 23, an experiment began that sent 130 million cubic meters of water into the Colorado River over eight weeks. Though it's only 1 percent of what flowed naturally in the river before it was dammed, it was hoped the water would recharge groundwater systems and restore habitats. This image was taken Apr. 16 by the Landsat 8 satellite.
Robert Simmon/NASA/USGS

South Sandwich Islands
Beautiful cloud wakes have formed behind the South Sandwich Islands in this natural-color image taken by the Aqua satellite on May 1. Island mountains disturb the otherwise fairly uniform airflow over the ocean creating v-shapes in the clouds. The stripes in the wakes are the crests and troughs of the the air flow. Jeff Schmaltz/NASA/LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response

South Sandwich Islands
Beautiful cloud wakes have formed behind the South Sandwich Islands in this natural-color image taken by the Aqua satellite on May 1. Island mountains disturb the otherwise fairly uniform airflow over the ocean creating v-shapes in the clouds. The stripes in the wakes are the crests and troughs of the the air flow.
Jeff Schmaltz/NASA/LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response

Grand Canyon, Arizona
This image of the Grand Canyon was taken by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station on March 25. NASA

Grand Canyon, Arizona
This image of the Grand Canyon was taken by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station on March 25.
NASA

Saharan Dust Across the Atlantic Ocean
Dust from the Saraha desert is shown flowing across the Atlantic Ocean toward South America in this composite image taken by the Suomi NPP satellite on June 25. Minerals in the dust provide critical fertilization for the Amazon. Norman Kuring/NASA

Saharan Dust Across the Atlantic Ocean
Dust from the Saraha desert is shown flowing across the Atlantic Ocean toward South America in this composite image taken by the Suomi NPP satellite on June 25. Minerals in the dust provide critical fertilization for the Amazon.
Norman Kuring/NASA

Sochi, Russia
The best view of the Olympics is sometimes from space. The Olympic flame burns in the circular Medals Plaza in Sochi in this image taken by astronauts aboard the ISS on Feb. 10. NASA

Sochi, Russia
The best view of the Olympics is sometimes from space. The Olympic flame burns in the circular Medals Plaza in Sochi in this image taken by astronauts aboard the ISS on Feb. 10.
NASA

Kavir Desert, Iran
The lack of vegetation in the Kavir Desert beautifully exposes the geology of the area. The stripes and swirls are layers of rock that have been folded and deformed by tectonic forces and flattened by wind erosion over time. This image was taken by an astronaut aboard the ISS on Feb. 14. NASA

Kavir Desert, Iran
The lack of vegetation in the Kavir Desert beautifully exposes the geology of the area. The stripes and swirls are layers of rock that have been folded and deformed by tectonic forces and flattened by wind erosion over time. This image was taken by an astronaut aboard the ISS on Feb. 14.
NASA

The Great Lakes
This winter, the Great Lakes were covered with the second largest extent of ice in history. This natural-color image was taken on Feb. 19 by the Aqua satellite when 80.3 percent of the lakes were covered in ice. Jeff Schmaltz/NASA/LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team

The Great Lakes
This winter, the Great Lakes were covered with the second largest extent of ice in history. This natural-color image was taken on Feb. 19 by the Aqua satellite when 80.3 percent of the lakes were covered in ice.
Jeff Schmaltz/NASA/LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team

San Miguel Volcano, El Salvador
Ash from an eruption in December 2013 can be seen on the flanks of El Salvador's San Miguel volcano in this image taken by the EO-1 satellite on Jan. 15. Jesse Allen/Robert Simmon/NASA

San Miguel Volcano, El Salvador
Ash from an eruption in December 2013 can be seen on the flanks of El Salvador's San Miguel volcano in this image taken by the EO-1 satellite on Jan. 15.
Jesse Allen/Robert Simmon/NASA

Arkansas River, North Little Rock, Arkansas
Some of the Arkansas River's old meanders can be seen in this image, taken by astronauts aboard the ISS on Feb. 21. The meanders represent a time when the river was allowed to flow freely over the Mississippi River's floodplain. NASA

Arkansas River, North Little Rock, Arkansas
Some of the Arkansas River's old meanders can be seen in this image, taken by astronauts aboard the ISS on Feb. 21. The meanders represent a time when the river was allowed to flow freely over the Mississippi River's floodplain.
NASA

Nishino-Shima Island, Western Pacific Ocean
This image of a new volcanic island that sprouted near Japan in December 2013 was taken by the Landsat 8 satellite on Aug 21. The island has continued to grow, swallowing up another new island next to it. Jesse Allen/NASA/USGS

Nishino-Shima Island, Western Pacific Ocean
This image of a new volcanic island that sprouted near Japan in December 2013 was taken by the Landsat 8 satellite on Aug 21. The island has continued to grow, swallowing up another new island next to it.
Jesse Allen/NASA/USGS

Lake Sharpe, South Dakota
Circular agricultural fields stand out on the land in the center of Lake Sharpe, which is actually a deep meander in the Mississippi River in South Dakota. Eventually, it may be come an actual oxbow lake if the river cuts it off at the neck and takes a more direct route. This image was taken on Dec. 26, 2013 by an astronaut aboard the ISS. NASA

Lake Sharpe, South Dakota
Circular agricultural fields stand out on the land in the center of Lake Sharpe, which is actually a deep meander in the Mississippi River in South Dakota. Eventually, it may be come an actual oxbow lake if the river cuts it off at the neck and takes a more direct route. This image was taken on Dec. 26, 2013 by an astronaut aboard the ISS.
NASA

Russia at Night
The thin green line of the aurora borealis can be seen along with the moon above Russia in this image taken by a astronaut aboard the ISS on April 2. NASA

Russia at Night
The thin green line of the aurora borealis can be seen along with the moon above Russia in this image taken by a astronaut aboard the ISS on April 2.
NASA
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Cult Edit of It’s a Wonderful Life Is the Best Holiday Movie You’ve Never Seen PDF Print E-mail

Whether it’s to avoid politicking with estranged uncles or because cinephilia is genetic, every family has its own holiday-movie tradition—and the largest share of that pre-Santa screentime likely belongs to It’s A Wonderful Life. Frank Capra’s feel-good tale is an elder statesman of holiday cinema, but for years it was also truly inescapable: Republic Pictures famously neglected to renew its copyright in the 1970s, accidentally allowing the film to enter public domain. It’s A Wonderful Life aired annually on seemingly every major cable channel until a 1990s Supreme Court decision allowed Republic to regain its rights (and eventually strike a deal with NBC).

For a small group of comedy writers, however, their yearly viewing couldn’t be further from Bedford Falls. Instead, they gather ’round a never-aired 1996 Comedy Central special: Escape From It’s A Wonderful Life.

“My family watches it the way we used to watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or A Charlie Brown Christmas,” says Jay Martel, a lead writer on the project (he’s currently showrunner and executive producer for Key & Peele). Obviously there’s some topical references that don’t hold up, but it’s very silly, and silly plays well in every era.“

“Silly” only describes the film, though; the idea itself was genius. As Comedy Central President Kent Alterman tells it, Republic’s newly rekindled copyright only applied to the underlying story and soundtrack—not the visuals. So while other networks gave up their annual broadcast in light of the NBC agreement, the early Comedy Central team had an idea: what if they recut the film and added a new soundtrack?

“I think the Upright Citizens Brigade came in with a pitch that George Bailey was a pimp, and there were a lot of other ideas along those lines,” Martel recalls. “In my pitch, the one we ended up doing, he’s trying to escape from the movie because he’s sick of it. Kent liked it, he introduced me to UCB, and I hired them to help write it and do the voices.”

its a wonderful life tv

NBC

In Escape, George Bailey is a post-modern enigma, a man tired of being a “1990’s actor working on a 1940’s salary.” Bailey references Pulp Fiction, Independence Day, and 12 Monkeys, knowing that action and adventure is where the money’s at. So even though Bedford Falls relies on revenue from annual It’s A Wonderful Life productions, he wants out for something bigger. Suddenly, the star of the show starts going off-script, injecting drugs, guns, and sex into the storyline—and all the rest of the town cast can do is pray. (“Please Father, keep me from killing George Bailey when he starts ad-libbing in our big scene together.”)

“We came up with an outline that put things in a certain order for the story we wanted to tell, but once we got to that point we had to sit down with editors and work through each scene to match the dialogue to how people’s lips were moving,” Martel says. “We had a little latitude in terms of speeding up the lips or the sound, but that part was really painstaking to make the outlandish things we wanted people to say work with people’s mouths.”

Martel says everyone involved (Amy Poehler, Gilbert Gottfried, and Matt Walsh were all part of the cast) was thrilled. If you take the time to seek out Escape today—apparently some copies leaked out to people like Frank Rich, but there’s also a not so hidden Real Media version on the UCB’s website, and parts were mysteriously uploaded to YouTube last year—the film holds up. Not everyone may recognize the Right Said Fred references, but riffs on Robert Downey Jr. and Ted Turner are relevant all over again.

An Unlikely Future

Still, Escape remains an unaired experiment, and will likely never be part of the Christmas canon. It didn’t take a Potter-slumlord to sabotage things—only corporate bureaucracy. While Republic disagreed with Comedy Central’s copyright interpretation, Escape was never taken to court. First, the two sides discovered they were under the same umbrella—Viacom. “Papa Viacom may not want the kids suing each other,” a Comedy Central spokesperson told The New York Daily News at the time. “Comedy Central and Republic are talking ‘amicably.’” The film was put on ice at the eleventh hour, as evidenced by newspaper previews for a could’ve-been-December 18 airing.

“It was devastating,” Martel says. “We were doing the final sound recordings, so I was in the sound studio when we found out. At that point I knew it was really funny and I was proud of it. Every year in the fall, I kind of remind Kent, ‘Hey, maybe it’d be a good year to put that on the air,’ and he always gets really excited, but then I don’t know what happens to it. It may always be wrapped up in a lawyer’s fear of what may happen if it’s ever shown.”

As far as Martel knows, the film is as legally viable as it was nearly 20 years ago. But for now, there are no plans to air Escape or give it a VOD release. Even if the film never gets the audience it deserves, its legacy is undeniable: it was one of UCB’s first TV projects, and marked the first time the group worked with Martel. He ended up getting along so well with UCB’s Ian Roberts that the two went on to become longtime screenwriting partners (they share EP and showrunner duties on Key & Peele). So though the Martels and others skip Jimmy Stewart yearly, the original continues to hold a special place in the hearts of the Escape crew.

“I loved It’s A Wonderful Life before I started tearing it apart and putting it back together, but the process made me love it even more,” Martel says. “It’s like taking apart a beautifully constructed building or something, you find yourself saying ‘oh my gosh, this is really well made.’”

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The Best Games of 2014, From Mario Kart to Sunset Overdrive PDF Print E-mail

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
With Shadow of Mordor Monolith Productions gave us two things: a great, fun Lord of the Rings game that was Assassin's Creed meets Batman: Arkham City meets Middle-Earth in the best possible way. But more importantly, it gave us the nemesis system—a new way to think about both character design and non-linear narrative. —Bo Moore Warner Bros.

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
With Shadow of Mordor Monolith Productions gave us two main things. For one: a great, fun Lord of the Rings game that was basically Assassin's Creed meets Batman: Arkham City meets Middle-Earth in the best possible way. But more importantly, it gave us the nemesis system—a new way to think about both character design and non-linear narrative. By crafting your enemies on the fly with a mix-and-match system of character models, traits, strengths, weaknesses, and character quirks, Shadow of Mordor's narrative evolves as a direct response to your presence in the world. It's a new approach to character design, and one we hope to see much more of in the future. —Bo Moore

Warner Bros.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
I know I wasn’t alone in wishing for an entire game based on the puzzle levels from Super Mario 3D World, yet Captain Toad exceeded my expectations. —Daniel Feit Nintendo

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
I know I wasn’t alone in wishing for an entire game based on the puzzle levels from Super Mario 3D World, yet Captain Toad exceeded my expectations. Like Monument Valley, there’s a toy-like charm to the tiny levels that Captain Toad & Toadette explore, and Nintendo’s EAD Tokyo team has always excelled when it comes to crafting levels. With a hero and heroine who cannot jump, the variety of environments in Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker keep the game’s simple goals interesting and fun. And most stages have a secondary goal for an extra layer of challenge. —Daniel Feit

Nintendo

Goat Simulator
There are absurd games, and there is this. Coffee Stain Studios’ Armin Ibrisagic wrote that the pitch began as an office joke: “goats are funny, let’s do a goat game.” The resulting Goat Simulator does just that: you are a goat and your only goal is to goof around.—Daniel Feit Coffee Stain Studios

Goat Simulator
There are absurd games, and there is this. Coffee Stain Studios’ Armin Ibrisagic wrote that the pitch began as an office joke: “goats are funny, let’s do a goat game.” The resulting Goat Simulator does just that: you are a goat and your only goal is to goof around. Unrealistic, buggy physics allow your goat to reach great heights and headbutt parked cars into oblivion. There’s a resemblance to the sports-playground games of the past; imagine if Tony Hawk forgot his skateboard, walked on all fours and was a goat. Development is ongoing: a recent update added a (fake) massively-multiplayer world, lampooning RPG tropes by adding character classes such as “microwave.” —Daniel Feit
Coffee Stain Studios

Whatever Your Favorite Telltale Game Was (tie)
This year was when the company's signature formula of episodic, gripping choose-your-own-adventure stories blossomed beyond zombies and grew in all directions. If you wanted more Walking Dead, you got it, but we also had a series based on the Fables comic and the beginnings of two series based on Borderlands and, most excitingly, Game of Thrones. —Chris Kohler Telltale Games

Whatever Your Favorite Telltale Game Was (tie)
Our game of the year for 2012 was Telltale Games' take on The Walking Dead. This year was when the company's signature formula of episodic, gripping choose-your-own-adventure stories blossomed beyond zombies and grew in all directions. If you wanted more Walking Dead, you got it, but we also had a series based on the Fables comic and the beginnings of two series based on Borderlands and, most excitingly, Game of Thrones. It's tough to pick a single episode that stands out---it's whatever type of interactive fiction strikes your fancy. —Chris Kohler

Telltale Games

Mario Kart 8
There's nothing quite like Nintendo's bash-and-crash, family-friendly take on racing games---almost literally, since all other developers seem to have abandoned the field to Mario Kart---and the Wii U update is easily the thing that's keeping that fine layer of dust off of everyone's GamePads in 2014. —Chris Kohler Nintendo

Mario Kart 8
Maybe I'm the last person on Earth bummed about what Nintendo's done to Battle Mode, because Mario Kart 8's reception has been astoundingly positive. There's nothing quite like Nintendo's bash-and-crash, family-friendly take on racing games---almost literally, since all other developers seem to have abandoned the field to Mario Kart---and the Wii U update is easily the thing that's keeping that fine layer of dust off of everyone's GamePads in 2014, and probably well into 2015. —Chris Kohler

Nintendo

Nidhogg
It's a one-vee-one mixture of fencing and tug-of-war with an atari aesthetic. It's simple enough to understand after just a few minutes playing, yet offers competitive depth on par with the likes of Street Fighter and StarCraft. Best of all, matches are as fun to watch as they are to play. —Bo Moore Messhof

Nidhogg
The last few years have seen a great resurgence in a sect of gaming largely killed off by the advent of online play: Local multiplayer. Games like Samurai Gunn, Towerfall and a bevy of others have brought back the joy of sitting on a couch with friends, competing against one another as opposed to some faceless voice on the other end of Xbox Live. The best of these games is Nidhogg, a one-vee-one mixture of fencing and tug-of-war with an atari aesthetic. It's simple enough to understand after just a few minutes playing, yet offers competitive depth on par with the likes of Street Fighter and StarCraft. Best of all, matches are as fun to watch as they are to play. —Bo Moore
Messhof

Jazzpunk
It's the Top Secret! of video games: an absurd series of espionage missions that resembles a traditional story but uses that structure to deliver gags at a rapid pace. Taking full advantage of the medium, Jazzpunk subverts players’ expectations by creating a game world where anything can happen. —Daniel Feit Necrophone Games

Jazzpunk
It's the Top Secret! of video games: an absurd series of espionage missions that resembles a traditional story but uses that structure to deliver gags at a rapid pace. Taking full advantage of the medium, Jazzpunk subverts players’ expectations by creating a game world where anything can happen. Clicking on a random object can trigger a one-liner, or it can transport the player to another environment entirely. One minute you’re searching a beach for clues, the next you’re fighting for survival in a wedding-themed bloodsport. That dogged pursuit of the truly unexpected, more than any one joke or character, is what made Jazzpunk the funniest video game in years. —Daniel Feit
Necrophone Games

Dragon Age: Inquisition
Never mind that it's a fun, exciting role-playing game with a plethora of massive, beautiful, open world maps, Dragon Age: Inquisition has the absolute best characters of any game I can think of in recent memory. The game's main storyline is interesting enough. I liked it, but found myself caring far more about the people I experienced it with. —Bo Moore Electronic Arts

Dragon Age: Inquisition
Never mind that it's a fun, exciting role-playing game with a plethora of massive, beautiful, open world maps, Dragon Age: Inquisition has the absolute best characters of any game I can think of in recent memory. The game's main storyline is interesting enough. I liked it, but found myself caring far more about the people I experienced it with. From the snarky, crude Elven archer Sera to the posh sorceress Vivienne, your companions form the lifeblood of the Inquisition experience. BioWare's writers have outdone themselves. —Bo Moore

Electronic Arts

The Last of Us: Left Behind
We don't often put expansion packs into this list, but Left Behind was no ordinary DLC. WIRED contributor Laura Hudson: "It’s difficult enough to find a game where a woman is the main character. Finding one where you play as a woman and have positive, meaningful interactions with other women? It’s like spotting a goddamn unicorn." Sony

The Last of Us: Left Behind
We don't often put expansion packs or downloadable content into this list, but Left Behind was no ordinary DLC. To quote WIRED contributor Laura Hudson's review: "It’s difficult enough to find a game where a woman is the main character. Finding one where you play as a woman and have positive, meaningful interactions with other women? It’s like spotting a goddamn unicorn. I’ve spent my entire life playing videogames, and Left Behind is the most emotionally powerful experience I’ve ever had in the medium."
Sony

Monument Valley
There is beauty in simplicity. It’s not a challenging game, or a long one. Most of its puzzles are simply a matter of touching a switch. Yet Monument Valley made me feel like I was peering into another world, where my fingers push and pull and twist the environments to guide a tiny person on a journey.—Daniel Feit Ustwo

Monument Valley
There is beauty in simplicity. It’s not a challenging game, or a long one. Most of its puzzles are simply a matter of touching a switch. Yet Monument Valley made me feel like I was peering into another world, where my fingers push and pull and twist the environments to guide a tiny person on a journey. That tactile sensation, coupled with the game’s Escherian geometry, made the experience akin to playing with a magical toy. Monument Valley captivated me---as well as my children, who replay it at every opportunity. —Daniel Feit

Ustwo

Octodad: Dadliest Catch You: an octopus disguised as a human. Them: Humans who are blissfully unaware of this seemingly-obvious fact. Your mission: Conduct your normal life without alerting anyone to your horrible secret. The game: A heartwarming tale of family togetherness, mixed with innovative, brilliant, fun, emergent gameplay. —Chris Kohler Young Horses

Octodad: Dadliest Catch You: an octopus disguised as a human. Them: Humans who are blissfully unaware of this seemingly-obvious fact. Your mission: Conduct your normal life without alerting anyone to your horrible secret. The game: A heartwarming tale of family togetherness, mixed with innovative, brilliant, fun, emergent gameplay. This reminds me of the sort of game I'd spend $40 on during the carefree PlayStation 1 days, like Incredible Crisis or Parappa the Rapper. A triumph. —Chris Kohler

Young Horses

Shovel Knight
There have been a lot (like, a lot) of games that throw back to the 8-bit era, but none were so perfect and so thorough as Shovel Knight. Its creators understood what makes a perfect NES game: Being able to pogo-stick jump like Scrooge McDuck. Everything else is negotiable. —Chris Kohler Yacht Club Games

Shovel Knight
There have been a lot (like, a lot) of games that throw back to the 8-bit era, but none were so perfect and so thorough as Shovel Knight. Its creators understood what makes a perfect NES game: Being able to pogo-stick jump like Scrooge McDuck. Everything else is negotiable. Gorgeous pixel graphics, catchy chiptunes, even an intriguing storyline told in brief caps-lock text and pantomime---this is the best NES game never made. A must-play for aging gamers, and something that'll get the kids wanting to play Dad's stash of old cartridges. —Chris Kohler

Yacht Club Games

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
Competitive Smash players weren't in love with the Wii version of Nintendo's all-star fighting game series. But all seems to be forgotten now that the Wii U version (and the 3DS version) is here. Great new characters round out the roster, and an eight-player mode means nobody has to wait their turn anymore. —Chris Kohler Nintendo

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
Competitive Smash players weren't in love with the Wii version of Nintendo's all-star fighting game series. But all seems to be forgotten now that the Wii U version (and the 3DS version) is here. Great new characters (the dog and bird from Duck Hunt!) round out the roster, and an eight-player mode means nobody has to wait their turn anymore. (Now, if only they could get those GameCube controller adapters and Amiibos back in stock…) —Chris Kohler

Nintendo

Sunset Overdrive
I was blown away to find that Sunset Overdrive was a hilarious, hyperkinetic, finely polished open-city superhero adventure that took the best parts of classic games like Jet Grind Radio and Crackdown and blended them into a perfect rainbow-colored smoothie. —Chris Kohler Microsoft

Sunset Overdrive
I wasn't sure what this holiday season's big Xbox One exclusive was going to be. I never really got into developer Insomniac's previous games. I was blown away to find that Sunset Overdrive was a hilarious, hyperkinetic, finely polished open-city superhero adventure that took the best parts of classic games like Jet Grind Radio and Crackdown and blended them into a perfect rainbow-colored smoothie. Grinding on telephone wires and blowing up orange blob mutants with explosive teddy bears is even more fun than it sounds, and it's more of a platform action game than a straight-up shooter---refreshing, in today's market. —Chris Kohler

Microsoft

South Park: The Stick of Truth
South Park games have a spotted history, insofar as none of them were any good. Stick of Truth was the promised redemption---and boy, did it live up to the hype. —Chris Kohler Ubisoft

South Park: The Stick of Truth
South Park games have a spotted history, insofar as none of them were any good. Stick of Truth was the promised redemption---and boy, did it live up to the hype. An RPG battle system right out of Paper Mario (the good ones, I mean) and a story from Matt and Trey that tied into the show made this like playing an episode of South Park. It's shocking how much fun, and how funny, this game ended up being. —Chris Kohler

Ubisoft

Hearthstone: Game of the Year
With Hearthstone, a small team of Blizzard employees took what had been conceived as a fun side project and built it into one of the best, most widely played competitive card games ever. —Bo Moore Blizzard

Hearthstone: Game of the Year
With Hearthstone, a small team of Blizzard employees took what had been conceived as a fun side project and built it into one of the best, most widely played competitive card games ever. Unlike tabletop CCGs like Magic: The Gathering, Hearthstone's digital interface handles deckbuilding, gameplay setup, and most importantly: Rules. There's no need for an extensive primer or to take a college course in order to understand how the game works---just play it. Blizzard's games focus on the idea of being "epic," but for the pint-sized Hearthstone, "epic" had to mean something different. It's polished, simple, and thanks to brilliant UI design for phones and tablets, playable on the go. —Bo Moore
Blizzard
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How to Get Your New Fire TV Device Up and Running PDF Print E-mail

amazon-settop-inline

Amazon

If you received an Amazon Fire TV box or stick in your gift haul, congratulations: You now own the best deal in the set-top streamer realm. It does a lot of what competing devices do for less, and for an extra $40, you can turn it into a decent gaming console with its optional Bluetooth game controller.

There are differences between the $80 Fire TV box and the $40 stick. Gaming performance is one of them. The box has a quad-core processor with 2GB RAM, a USB port to go along with its 8GB onboard storage, optical-out for audio, and an Ethernet port. The box also gives you access to HBO Go, which won’t be available on the stick until mid-2015.

For half the price, the Fire TV Stick has a more-modest processor, half the RAM, and no Ethernet or USB expansion options. It also doesn’t have the voice-search functionality of its higher-priced sibling. But the dongle does come with its own HDMI interface—you’ll need to supply your own cable for the box—and it matches the box’s dual-band Wi-Fi connectivity.

Despite the differences, the setup and interface for both devices is essentially the same. Here’s how to go from zero to streaming in five quick steps.

1. Connect the device to the HDMI port on your TV, then plug the device into a power source. Make sure your TV is tuned to the appropriate input source. You should see a “Fire TV” splash screen.

2. Put the included AAA batteries into the remote and click the play/pause button. If the Fire TV isn’t responding, hold the Home button down on the remote for a few seconds and then try again.

3. This will prompt the box to start scanning for wireless networks. Select your home network from the onscreen lineup and enter your password.

4. Once the device establishes a connection, you’ll be prompted to enter your Amazon account information or create a new Amazon account. Enter that info using the remote and onscreen keyboard.

5. After that goes through, a short video will play, giving you a tutorial on how to use the remote, the streaming services, and mobile apps to control the Fire TV devices.

And that’s it. You’re ready to start watching and listening.

Amazon Instant Video and Amazon Prime are central to the Fire TV universe, and you’ll see all the streaming offerings from those services right under the main Home menu. When you buy a Fire TV device, Amazon also has a free 30-day trial of Amazon Prime you can sign up for. It’s worth it, but you don’t have to stick to Amazon’s services. Netflix, Hulu Plus, Showtime Anytime, Twitch, Pandora, Plex, and at least a couple of yuletide fireplace simulators are available on the platform. In addition to Amazon Music, there’s also Spotify Connect, which lets you stream tunes from your iOS device or Android tablet to Fire TV devices. You can get HBO Go if you have the full-size box, but it’s not available for the Stick yet.

If you own other Amazon devices, there are a few cross-device perks. Anything you’ve downloaded to your Fire HDX, Fire tablet, or Fire Phone will show up on the big screen, stowed in the cloud and ready to download. All the photos you’ve taken with Amazon’s devices are also automatically ported to the “Photos” section of the Fire TV menu, so don’t be surprised if there are a bunch of selfies greeting you on the big screen when you turn it on for the first time.

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How to Fix the Most Annoying Features of Your New HDTV PDF Print E-mail

HDTV-inline

Jim Merithew/WIRED

Face it, Sherlock: You were befuddled by that massive package under the tree, but it was obviously a TV. The box was huge, flat, had a big “FRAGILE” stamped on it, and there was a smaller package taped to it shaped like a remote. I mean come on now.

Now that the mystery is solved and out of the box, it’s time to set it up. It’s not much harder than just plugging in the set and turning it on, but there are a few extra steps on the way to holiday binge-watching bliss. Let’s get to it.

Make Sure It’s Not in “Showroom Mode”

You don’t need to get your set professionally calibrated to improve its picture quality. But right off the bat, there may be a setting enabled that will make the picture look noticeably awful while giving you a suntan in the process. When your TV is fresh out of the box, plugged in, and turned on, the first thing it might ask you to do is choose between “Home”/”Standard” or “Showroom”/”Demo” mode. Make sure to pick the “Home” option.

That “Showroom” or “Demo” mode is made to make your TV stand out from the crowd in the middle of an electronics store. It blasts the brightness and color saturation, making your TV look like a Times Square jumbotron. If the TV doesn’t give you the option to select a mode when you turn it on—and the picture looks obnoxiously bright by default—dive into the menus and perform a factory reset.

Skip the Soap-Opera Effect

Likewise, your new TV may have all of its fancy motion-handling features—enhancements that combat blur in action scenes—turned on by default. There’s nothing wrong with this when you’re watching sports, home movies, or actual soap operas. But movies? It makes them look uncinematic. You’re not seeing what the director intended.

There’s a deeper explanation of what’s happening with this “soap-opera effect” here, but you may just want an ASAP way to make things look the way you’re used to. The easy way to do it is to put your set in “Cinema,” “Movie,” “Film,” or “THX” mode. If you want to dive deeper into your set’s settings right off the bat, go into the menus and locate the motion-handling settings. Every TV manufacturer has a different name for them—“Clear Motion Rate,” “Motionflow,” “Trumotion,” “SPS,” “AquoMotion,” and so on.

Fill the Screen You Paid For

All right, you have your picture just perfect—or good enough to kick back and stop tinkering with, at least. But why isn’t what you’re watching actually filling the screen? Or maybe it fills the screen, but it looks stretched out and surprisingly low-def for a high-def TV.

Even though an HDTV is capable of showing sharper footage than a standard-definition TV, you also need an HD content source to get the most out of all those extra pixels. If you have a standard-definition cable box, sorry, but standard-definition broadcasts are all you’re gonna get (don’t worry; there’s a workaround in the next section). The TV will handle standard-def feeds in one of two ways: It’ll display it at its native resolution in 4:3 aspect ratio, right smack-dab in the middle of the screen. Or you can enable “Zoom,” “Full Screen,” or “Stretch” mode, where it stretches the 4:3 footage to 16:9, filling the entire screen in craptacular fashion. The best thing to do is to set the TV to “Auto-Adjust” in the picture settings; with that setting, the TV will display all content at its native resolution.

Do you have an HD cable box, but the picture you’re seeing is still curiously low-def? You’re probably not tuned to the HD version of the channel. Those are usually at the higher reaches of the channel guide, and you should be able to set your guide to only display HD channels.

HD Without an HD Box

Are you the last person in the world to upgrade from a standard-definition TV to a high-def set? Well then, congratulations on your patience and your new TV! Here’s the thing, though: you need an HD-capable content source to get the full effect of your new set. If you only have a standard-definition cable box, it won’t deliver HD programming.

But we live in an age of wonder and delight. Beyond Blu-ray, there are plenty of ways to see HD programming on your HDTV without paying for an HD cable package. Most modern TVs have built-in streaming features that let you connect to your home network and watch full-HD content from Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and Amazon Instant Video; you can also boost the experience by using a streaming box or HDMI dongle such as Roku, Amazon Fire TV, or Chromecast.

The set’s streaming features and separate streamer devices won’t cover the major networks, though. You can still see shows in delicious HD from ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and other local stations by plugging in an antenna and running a channel scan. There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all antenna; you’ll just need to find the perfect fit for your environment.

4K Streaming: Higher Than High-Def

Did you really luck out and get a 4K set? Well, you actually have a growing number of options for content there, too. Netflix and Amazon Instant Video both have Ultra HD content available for streaming, as does YouTube.

Those services use different codecs, though. You’ll need to make sure your set is compatible with the 4K video on each streaming platform: Netflix and Amazon use H.265/HEVC, while YouTube uses VP9. You’ll also need an HDMI 2.0 cable to see 4K video at a frame rate higher than 30fps.

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The Right Way to Fix the Internet PDF Print E-mail

If you’re like most people, your monthly smartphone bill is steep enough to make you shudder. As consumers’ appetite for connectivity keeps growing, the price of wireless service in the United States tops $130 a month in many households.

Two years ago Mung Chiang, a professor of electrical engineering at Princeton, believed he could give customers more control. One simple adjustment would clear the way for lots of mobile-phone users to get as much data as they already did, and in some cases even more, on cheaper terms. Carriers could win, too, by nudging customers to reduce peak-period traffic, making some costly network upgrades unnecessary. “We thought we could increase the benefits for everyone,” Chiang recalls.

Chiang’s plan called for the wireless industry to offer its customers the same types of variable pricing that have brought new efficiencies to transportation and utilities. Rates increase during peak periods, when congestion is at its worst; they decrease during slack periods. In the pre-smartphone era, it would have been impossible to advise users ahead of time about a zig or zag in their connectivity charges. Now, it would be straightforward to vary the price of online access depending on congestion and build an app that let bargain hunters shift their activities to cheaper periods, even on a minute-by-minute basis. When prices were high, consumers could put off non-urgent tasks like downloading Facebook posts to read later. Careful users could save a lot of money.

Excited about the prospects, Chiang patented his key concepts. He formed a company, now known as DataMi, to build the necessary software. Venture capitalists and angel investors put $6 million into the company. A seasoned wireless executive, Harjot Saluja, signed on to be the chief executive, while prominent people such as Reed Hundt, a former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, joined DataMi’s advisory board. Everything seemed aligned for Chiang and Saluja as they set out to make “smart data pricing” a reality.

Today, DataMi’s variable pricing idea is on ice. The startup has regrouped in favor of other services, including one that helps businesses calculate how much of their employees’ cell-phone bills should be reimbursed because of work-related usage. The reasons for the switch have little with DataMi’s technical ability to make good on the promise of variable pricing. In early user tests, it delivered everything that DataMi’s patents predicted.

But politics got in the way.

A huge debate has erupted about the degree to which Internet carriers should be subject to a concept known as net neutrality. In its simplest form, the idea is that Internet service providers such as AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon shouldn’t offer preferential treatment to certain types of content. Instead, they should send everything to their customers with their “best efforts”—as fast as they can manage. Nobody can pay your ISP for a “fast lane” to your house. Carriers can’t show favoritism toward any of their own services or applications. And nobody providing lawful content can be slowed or blocked.

At this point, net neutrality is only a principle and not a law. Though the FCC put an ambiguously worded version on the books in 2010, it was struck down this year by a federal district court. But now, as the FCC is deliberating how to redo the policy, it’s facing passionate demands to restore and possibly even tighten the rules, giving ISPs even less leeway to engage in what regulators have typically called “reasonable network management.”

Protesters rallied at the Federal Communications Commission in May as the agency considered new Internet rules.

Until about a year ago, Chiang and his colleagues thought their data-pricing idea had so much common-sense appeal that no one would regard it as an assault on net neutrality—even though it would let carriers charge people more for constant access. But then, as the debate heated up, everything got trickier. Ardent defenders of net neutrality began painting ever darker pictures of how the Internet could suffer if anyone treated anyone’s traffic differently. Even though Chiang and Saluja saw variable pricing as pro-consumer, they had no lobbyists or legal team and decided they couldn’t afford a drawn-out battle to establish that they weren’t on the wrong side.

For network engineers, DataMi’s about-face isn’t an isolated example. They fear that overly strict net neutrality rules could limit their ability to reconfigure the Internet so it can handle rapidly growing traffic loads.

Dipankar Raychaudhuri, who studies telecom issues as a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rutgers University, points out that the Internet never has been entirely neutral. Wireless networks, for example, have been built for many years with features that help identify users whose weak connections are impairing the network with slow traffic and incessant requests for dropped packets to be resent. Carriers’ technology assures that such users’ access is rapidly constrained, so that one person’s bad connection doesn’t create a traffic jam for everyone. In such situations, strict adherence to net neutrality goes by the wayside: one user’s experience is degraded so that hundreds of others don’t suffer. As Raychaudhuri sees it, the Internet has been able to progress because net neutrality has been treated as one of many objectives that can be balanced against one another. If net neutrality becomes completely inviolable, it’s a different story. Inventors’ hands are tied. Other types of progress become harder.

Rather than debate such subtleties, net neutrality’s loudest boosters have been staging a series of simplistic—but highly entertaining—skits in an effort to rally the public to their side. In September, popular websites such as Reddit and Kickstarter simulated page-loading debacles as a way of getting visitors to believe that if net neutrality isn’t enacted, the Internet could slow to a crawl. That argument has been picked up by TV comedians such as Jimmy Kimmel, who showed a track meet in which the best sprinters represented cable companies with their own fast lanes. A stumbling buffoon in his underwear portrayed the shabby delivery standards that everyone else would endure.

Even President Barack Obama has been publicly reminding regulators of his commitment to net neutrality. In August he declared, “You don’t want to start getting a differentiation in how accessible the Internet is to different users. You want to leave it open so the next Google and the next Facebook can succeed.”

Clearly, most Americans aren’t happy with their Internet service. It costs more to get online in the United States than just about anywhere else in the developed world, according to a 2013 survey by the New America Foundation. In fact, U.S. service is sometimes twice as expensive as what’s available in Europe—and slower, too. Meanwhile, the University of Michigan found in a recent public survey that U.S. Internet service providers rank dead last in customer satisfaction scores against 42 other industries. Specific failings range from unreliable service to dismal call-center performance.

With lots of U.S. consumers wanting the government to do something about Internet service, strengthening net neutrality feels like a way to do it. Given that most Internet providers are urging the FCC to let this principle disappear from the books, it’s natural to call for the opposite approach. Yet that would probably be the wrong move. It’s possible to overdose on something even as benign-sounding as neutrality.

Bitstreams

The two sides in the net neutrality debate sometimes seem to speak two different languages, rooted in two different ways of seeing the Internet. Their contrasting perspectives reflect the fact that the Internet arose in an ad hoc fashion; there is no Internet constitution to cite.

Nonetheless, many legal scholars like to point to their equivalent of the Federalist Papers: a 1981 article by computer scientists Jerome Saltzer, David Reed, and David Clark. The authors’ ambitions for that paper (“End-to-End Arguments in System Design”) had been modest: to lay out technical reasons why tasks such as error correction should be performed at the edges, or end points, of the network—where the users are—rather than at the core. In other words, ISPs should operate “dumb pipes” that merely pass traffic along. This paper took on a remarkable second life as the Internet grew. In his 2000 book Code, a discussion of how to regulate the Internet, Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig said the lack of centralized control embodied in the 1981 end-to-end principle was “one of the most important reasons that the Internet produced the innovation and growth that it has enjoyed.”

The Internet has progressed because net neutrality has been one of many objectives that can be balanced against one another. If neutrality becomes completely inviolable, it’s a different story.

Tim Wu built on that idea in a 2002 article published when he was a law professor at the University of Virginia. In that and subsequent papers, he wrote that the end-to-end principle stimulated innovation because it made possible “a Darwinian competition among every conceivable use of the Internet so that only the best survive.” To promote that competition, he said, “network neutrality” would be necessary to eliminate bias for or against any particular application.

Wu acknowledged that this was a new concept, with “unavoidable vagueness” about the dividing line between allowable network-management decisions and impermissible bias. But he expressed hope that others would refine his idea and make it more precise.

That never happened. The line remains as blurry as ever, which is one reason the debate over net neutrality is so intense.

Barbara van Schewick, a leading Internet scholar at Stanford and a former member of Lessig’s research team, expresses concern that if profit-hungry companies are left unfettered to choose how to handle various types of traffic, they “will continue to change the internal structure of the Internet in ways that are good for them, but not necessarily for the rest of us.” She warns of the perils of letting Internet providers promote their own versions of popular services (such as Internet messaging or Internet telephony) while degrading or blocking customers’ ability to use independent services (such as WhatsApp in messaging or Skype in telephony). Such practices have occasionally popped up in Germany and other European markets, but they have rarely been seen in the United States, a disparity that van Schewick credits to the FCC’s explicit or implicit commitments to net neutrality.

Internet service providers such as AT&T have publicly insisted that they wouldn’t ever rig their networks to promote their own applications, because such obvious favoritism would cause customers to cancel service en masse. Skeptics counter that in many locales, consumers have little choice but to stick with their current broadband provider, because there is barely any competition.

Van Schewick also argues that it would be a mistake to let the likes of AT&T or Comcast charge independent content and service creators (including Internet telephony providers such as Skype or Vonage) to secure the best possible access to end users. Though such access fees exist in other industries—cereal and toothpaste companies, for example, pay “slotting fees” to major grocers in order to get optimal shelf space in stores—van Schewick warns that charging such fees to online companies would “make it more difficult for entrepreneurs to get outside funding.” In other recent writings, she has said it would be ill-advised to let carriers decide without input from customers whether to optimize different versions of their services for different types of traffic, such as video versus speech and text.

But while van Schewick and other advocates are trying to promote an “open Internet,” codifying too many overarching principles for the Internet makes many engineers uncomfortable. In their view, the network is a constant work in progress, requiring endless pragmatism. Its backbone is constantly being torn apart and rebuilt. The best means of connecting various networks with one another are always in flux.

“You can’t change congestion by passing net neutrality or doing that kind of thing,” says Tom Leighton, cofounder and chief executive of Akamai Technologies. His company has been speeding Internet traffic since the late 1990s, chiefly by providing more than 150,000 servers around the world that make it possible for content creators to store their most-demanded material as close to their various users as possible. It’s the kind of advance in network management that helped the Internet survive the huge increases in traffic over the last two decades. To keep traffic humming online, Leighton says, “you’re going to need technology.”

If some people want their Internet connections to deliver ultrahigh-resolution movies, they might be better served by flexible arrangements that eschew strict equity for all bits and instead prioritize video.

A central tenet of net neutrality is that “best efforts” should be applied equally when transmitting every packet moving through the Internet, regardless of who the sender, recipient, or carriers might be. But that principle merely freezes the setup of the Internet as it existed nearly a quarter-century ago, says Michael Katz, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, who has worked for the FCC and consulted for Verizon. “You can say that every bit is a bit,” Katz adds, “but every bitstream isn’t the same bitstream.” Video and voice transmissions are highly vulnerable to errors, delays, and packet loss. Data transmissions can survive rougher handling. If some consumers want their Internet connections to deliver ultrahigh-resolution movies with perfect fidelity, those people would be better served, Katz argues, by more flexible arrangements that might indeed prioritize video. Efficiency might be more desirable than a strict adherence to equity for all bits.

House of Cards

About a year ago, Netflix’s customers noticed something disquieting when they tried to stream popular shows such as House of Cards. Their download speeds became annoyingly slow and some shows wouldn’t load at all, regardless of whether these customers relied on Time Warner Cable, Verizon, AT&T, or Comcast. Network congestion had taken hold—with transmission speeds dropping as much as 30 percent, according to Netflix’s own data. Last March, Netflix’s CEO, Reed Hastings, lashed out at the major U.S. Internet service providers, accusing them of constraining Netflix’s performance and pressuring his company to pay big interconnection fees.

Over the next few months, Netflix and its allies portrayed this slowdown as an example of cable companies’ most selfish behavior. In communications with the FCC, Netflix called for a “strong version” of net neutrality that would block the companies from charging fees to online service providers. In his blog, Hastings declared that net neutrality must be “defended and strengthened … to ensure the Internet remains humanity’s most important platform for progress.”

But the situation isn’t as black-and-white as Hastings’s indignant posts suggested.

For many years, high-volume sites run by Facebook, YouTube, Apple, and the like have been negotiating arrangements with many companies that ferry data to your Internet service provider—backbone operators, transit providers, and content delivery networks—to ensure that the most popular content is distributed as smoothly as possible. Often, this means paying a company such as Akamai to stash copies of highly in-demand content on multiple servers all over the world, so that a stampede for World Cup highlights creates as little strain as possible on the overall Internet.

There’s no standard way that these distribution arrangements are negotiated. Sometimes no money changes hands. In other situations, content companies pay for distribution. In theory, distribution companies could pay for content. In Netflix’s case, as demand has skyrocketed for its movies and TV shows, the company has negotiated a wide range of ways to help route its content around the Internet as efficiently as possible.


As Ars Technica reported earlier this year, Netflix started to realign its distribution methods in mid-2013. As its traffic soared, that created greater demands on all the Internet service providers that needed to handle House of Cards and its kin. By some estimates, Netflix last year was accounting for as much as one-third of all U.S. Internet traffic on Friday evenings. One of Netflix’s distribution allies (Level 3) restructured its terms with Comcast, reflecting the expenses associated with extra network connections, known as peering points, that Comcast needed to install in order to handle this rising traffic. Another (Cogent Communications) balked at the idea of defraying Comcast’s costs, and as a result, additional connections from Cogent to Comcast weren’t installed.

The result: Netflix’s videos began to stutter. In the short term, Netflix resolved the problem by paying for more of the peering points that carriers such as Comcast and Verizon required. More strategically, Netflix is arranging to put its servers in Internet service providers’ facilities, providing them with easier access to its content.

In the long run, carriers and content companies are likely to keep tussling about the ways they connect—simply because these are the sorts of business contracts that must be revisited as circumstances change. That’s why Hundt, FCC chairman from 1993 to 1997, says it’s a mistake to portray Netflix’s scuffle with the carriers as a critical test of the neutrality principle. It’s more like a routine business dispute, he says. “This is a battle between the rich and the wealthy,” he adds. “Both sides will have to figure out, on their own, how to get along.”

Hundt says the Netflix fight shouldn’t distract regulators who are trying to figure out the best way to keep the Internet open. They should be focusing, he says, on making sure that everyday customers are getting high-speed Internet as cheaply and reliably as possible, and that small-time publishers of Internet content can distribute their work. It’s worth noting that much of the lobbying in favor of net neutrality is coming from large, publicly traded companies that make momentary allusions to the well-being of garage-type startups but are mainly focused on disputes that apply to the Internet’s biggest players. A tiny video startup doesn’t generate enough volume to force Comcast to install extra peering points.

Zero Rating

In the rest of the world, where net neutrality is not insisted on, innovative approaches to wireless Internet pricing are catching on. At the top of the list is “zero rating,” in which consumers are allowed to try certain applications without incurring any bandwidth-usage charges. The app providers usually pay the wireless carriers to offer that access as a way of building up their market share in a hurry.

In much of Africa, people with limited usage plans can enjoy free access to Facebook or Wikipedia this way. In Europe, many music-streaming sites have hammered out arrangements with various wireless carriers in which zero-rating promotions become a major means of marketing. In China and South Korea, subsidized wireless options are springing up too. Such arrangements can help hold down mobile-phone bills and possibly even get people online for the first time.

Much of the lobbying in favor of net neutrality is coming from large, publicly traded companies that make momentary allusions to the well-being of garage-type startups.

In the United States, T-Mobile lets customers tap into a half-dozen music sites, such as Pandora and Spotify, without incurring usage charges. And AT&T has been experimenting with zero rating. But overall, things are moving slowly.

Consumers around the globe may find zero rating delightful, but net neutrality champions such as Jeremy Malcolm, senior global policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, object on principle because it lets content providers pay carriers for access to consumers. In his view, carriers can’t be trusted in any situation that involves special deals for certain services.

When Tim Wu talked about net neutrality a decade ago, he framed it as a way of ensuring maximum competition on the Internet. But in the current debate, that rationale is in danger of being coöpted into a protectionist defense of the status quo. If there’s anything the Internet’s evolution has taught us, it’s that innovation comes rapidly, and in unexpected ways. We need a net neutrality strategy that prevents the big Internet service providers from abusing their power—but still allows them to optimize the Internet for the next wave of innovation and efficiency.

George Anders is a writer based in Northern California. He shared in the 1997 Pulitzer Prize given to the Wall Street Journal for national reporting. 

This story was updated on October 15 to delete a reference to GreenByte. DataMi is still developing a service with that name even though it has put the variable-pricing aspect of it on hold.

Credits: Illustration by Matt Dorfman, photo by Alex Wong | Getty Images, data source from Sandvine

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Page 5 of 93

Computer News Reports

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YouTube Launching Paid Spotify-Like Streaming Music Service Before End Of 2013
Google is set to launch a YouTube music streaming service before the end of 2013, at least if current persistent rumors are to be believed. This service will work the same way as Spotify, with a hefty catalog of music
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Is Online Streaming Availability To Blame For Movie Piracy? Research Suggests It Could Be
Do people pirate things because they’re cheap and want to get whatever they can for free? Or is the practice less sinister and more about getting hold of things that aren’t available in the format they favor? These are
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Netflix Originals Keeping Subscribers Happy | Original Content Strategy Already Working
Original content looks like being a small but significant part of the future of online television.. It’s certainly an area Netflix, amongst others, has explored, and one which, according to a new report, looks to be working
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YouTube Founders Unveil MixBit, A Vine & Instagram Competitor With Hidden Tricks
The mobile video space is becoming more crowded by the day. Following on from Vine and its six seconds of recording simplicity, and Instagram and its 15 seconds of recording simplicity, comes MixBit. Can this new startup
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YouTube Opening New Production Studio In New York | Original Content Ramped Up
YouTube is set to continue its efforts to evolve from the home of a disparate collection of funny animal videos into the home of truly talented individuals all creating professional-quality programming. In order to affect this
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Google Launches Chromecast, a $35 Dongle That Streams Content From Mobile To TV
Google recently unveiled Chromecast, a $35 dongle that is able to stream content from mobile devices to your television. This is Google’s latest attempt to grab a foothold in the TV industry, which it’s going to need to be
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Hulu Owners Decide Not To Sell After All | Fox, NBC, & Disney Reinvest Millions Instead
Hulu has been withdrawn from sale for the second time in its history, with the joint partners once again deciding against accepting the bids that were coming in, just as they did in 2011. Instead, the three partners are
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Video on Instagram Arrives To Compete With Vine | Facebook & Twitter Go Head-To-Head
Facebook and Twitter have been at war as competing social networks for a number of years. But the latest battleground between the two is mobile video, with Video on Instagram (owned by Facebook) arriving as a direct response
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PalmPad: HP Slate in Palm Clothing? 17 June 2013, 15.02 4G Voice, Video, & Data
PalmPad: HP Slate in Palm Clothing?
Dec. 21, 2010 - 12:39 PM PDT Dec. 21, 2010 - 12:39 PM PDT Summary: It’s being reporting today that HP/Palm is preparing to release the “PalmPad” next month. The story is accompanied by a diagram showing the PalmPad.
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Home Health Monitoring is Big Business 17 June 2013, 15.02 4G Voice, Video, & Data
Home Health Monitoring is Big Business
Dec. 21, 2010 - 7:55 AM PDT Dec. 21, 2010 - 7:55 AM PDTSummary: Remote health monitoring generated €7.6 billion globally in 2010, an amount destined to grow as this nascent area of healthcare is used more heavily in the
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Last Minute Geek’s Holiday Gift Guide 17 June 2013, 15.02 4G Voice, Video, & Data
Last Minute Geek’s Holiday Gift Guide
Dec. 20, 2010 - 11:36 AM PDT Dec. 20, 2010 - 11:36 AM PDT The geek in your life is hard enough to find appropriate gifts for the holidays, and this year, once again you waited until the last moment. Never fear, we have scoured
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Android This Week: Leveling Off; Fring Calling; LogMeIn 17 June 2013, 15.02 4G Voice, Video, & Data
Android This Week: Leveling Off; Fring Calling; LogMeIn
Dec. 18, 2010 - 6:00 AM PDT Dec. 18, 2010 - 6:00 AM PDTSummary: The growth of Android in the smartphone space has been phenomenal, but recent ad statistics show it may be leveling off. VoIP calling is hot on Android, however,
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MobileTechRoundup 226 17 June 2013, 15.02 4G Voice, Video, & Data
MobileTechRoundup 226
Dec. 17, 2010 - 8:00 AM PDT Dec. 17, 2010 - 8:00 AM PDT Summary: Join James, Matt and Kevin live for this week’s audio podcast where they’ll cover the week’s mobile technology news and share experiences with the
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Kindle for Android Gets Periodicals, In-App Store 17 June 2013, 15.02 4G Voice, Video, & Data
Kindle for Android Gets Periodicals, In-App Store
Dec. 17, 2010 - 7:08 AM PDT Dec. 17, 2010 - 7:08 AM PDTSummary: Amazon has rolled out a major new version of the Kindle app for Android that adds magazines and newspapers to the standard e-book fare. The app also adds shopping
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Samsung ATIV Smart PC 17 June 2013, 15.02 4G Voice, Video, & Data
Samsung ATIV Smart PC
The tablet market is going into hyperdrive.  The announcement of Microsoft’s foray into the tablet market utilization with Windows 8 architecture made a few ripples.  It will be really interesting to see how this plays
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Norton Hotspot VPN 17 June 2013, 15.02 4G Voice, Video, & Data
Norton Hotspot VPN
One of the thorniest issues is traveling and maintaining security.  Norton has come up with a nice little VPN package that allows for secure surfing while on open networks. If you have ever been in a hotel, most likely you
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FNN Home Technology
English (United Kingdom)
Tesla's sales model? It's simple: don't sell cars: If you are waiting with bated breath for electric vehicles to revolutionize the transportation sector, you are likely to pass out. If it happens, it will not be an overnight process. That...
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