All posts by John Skrhak

John Skrhak | Gadgets, Sports and Toys Fanatic | Read about them all here.

‘PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds’ smashes Steam’s peak user record

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has broken another Steam record, and this time it might stick. The battle royale shooter just surpassed Valve’s Dota 2 to claim the all-time record for peak player count, with 1.34 million gamers fighting for survival versus a little less than 1.3 million for its rival. That’s not bad for a game that was only released in Early Access form in March.

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Waymo seeks to delay trial in Uber trade secrets lawsuit


Waymo wants more time to review evidence in its self-driving car trade secret lawsuit against Uber.


Waymo, the self-driving car unit of Google parent Alphabet, is asking a federal judge to postpone the trial of a trade secret lawsuit against Uber, citing recently obtained evidence related to the case.

The lawsuit, in which Waymo accuses Uber of stealing secretive self-driving car technology, was scheduled to go to trial October 10. But Waymo requested a continuance in a motion filed Saturday in a Northern California federal court, saying it needed more time to review evidence recently obtained from the ride-hailing startup.

Central to Waymo’s lawsuit is the claim that a former Google employee, Anthony Levandowski, stole 14,000 “highly confidential” files before he left in January 2016 to found his own self-driving truck startup. Uber bought that startup, Otto, for $680 million in August 2016.

Levandowski helped develop Waymo’s lidar technology, a key component in self-driving cars that lets vehicles “see” their surroundings and detect traffic, pedestrians, bicyclists and other objects. Waymo claims the allegedly stolen information has benefited Uber as it’s developed its own driverless car tech.

Waymo had for months been seeking a 2016 due diligence report Uber completed before purchasing Otto, hoping it contained information that would bolster its case. A federal judge ruled Wednesday Uber must hand over the so-called Stroz Report to Waymo.

Uber declined comment.

First published Sept. 17, 10:20 a.m. PT.
Update 10:37 a.m.: Updated with Uber declining to comment.

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Apple’s iPhone X gives Android copycats a big, big gift


Look ma, no Home button!

James Martin/CNET

Every year we see dozens of me-too Android phones that ape the iPhone, except for one big, round giveaway: they lack Apple’s instantly recognizable home button. Now that the iPhone X trades in its most defining visual feature, it’s going to be easier than ever to make Android phones that look like an expensive iPhone, at a fraction of the price.

With Apple’s iconic round button gone, it’s going to be much harder to tell Apple’s copycats from the original at first glance, especially once those other phonemakers figure out how to get the bezel-less look down pat. And especially once you slap on a case. (Xiaomi already figured out bezel-less design with its aspirational Mi Mix; now followed by the Mi Mix 2.)

We mostly see iPhone lookalikes coming from Chinese phone makers, such as Huawei, OnePlus, Xiaomi and Oppo, but there are plenty of other brands that attract buyers by making simpler smartphones that resemble other premium phones. Slim bezels, rounded edges and similar color palettes are easier to ape than expensive hardware within.

No more home button on the iPhone X also means these manufacturers no longer have to worry about including their own oblong fingerprint sensors on the front (they can go to the back).

While some of these companies take a more subtle approach to echoing the iPhone, others, like Oppo, aren’t afraid to take “inspiration” from Apple, from the icon layout down to physical looks.


The Oppo R11 very closely mimics the iPhone’s design, though its home button is a giveaway.

Aloysius Low/CNET

In relatively rich countries like the the US and UK, the iPhone X will sell widely. But in a global landscape, the iPhone X will top every other iPhone as a status symbol that far fewer can afford. It’s no coincidence that lookalike phones often hail from China, a market of billions that Apple’s been trying to crack for years. Homegrown vendors like Huawei and Oppo do well there, their midrange devices selling like hotcakes even with a slight premium over even cheaper rivals. Clearly, looks matter.

If there’s one area that Android vendors may have a tricky time mastering, it’s slashing the bezels. Just doing all the work to achieve a bezel-less phone isn’t as easy as it sounds, and other Android manufacturers may not want to yet dedicate resources to mass production until they see proof of the iPhone X’s commercial success.

However, once the initial investment is made for bezel-less designs and screens that take up nearly all the phone’s face, we’ll start seeing it trickle down from premium phones like the iPhone X, LG G6 and V30, and the Galaxy S8, S8 Plus and Note 8.

Don’t get me wrong, the iPhone will keep its gleam in populous countries like China and India for years to come — if the masses can see what it is.

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Ben Heck’s mini pinball: All about the control board

So here’s where the team is at with the control board for their miniature pinball machine: Felix has put together a prototype board with the Arduino and Teensy microcontrollers, which will control the solenoids and take input from bumpers, buttons and other mechanisms that Ben is designing. Ben had to reprint the disc for the pop-bumper, though, and now it will fit with the conductive metal rings to give us a circuit that can help rack up the points. Let us know what you think about the build so far over on the element14 Community, and please do share any comments you have about C++ programming.

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Qualcomm says cars, not phones, will see the most innovation


Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf expects auto to be a big area of innovation over the next decade. 

James Martin/CNET

Remember that excitement when you held the original iPhone?

You may get that feeling back, only it’ll likely be behind the wheel of a car.

That’s according to Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf, who believes the most exciting advances in tech over the next decade will come in automotive.

“The car is going through a massive wave of innovation,” Mollenkopf said in an interview on Thursday at the Frankfurt Auto Show. Many of those innovations are in areas Qualcomm has expertise, he said. “You’ll see more and more of us here.”

The comments underscore a shift in focus for the world’s largest maker of chips for smartphones. Qualcomm’s technology connects devices — including some models of Apple’s newest iPhones — to cellular networks, as well as acts as the brains of phones like Samsung’s Galaxy S8. But the mobile market is slowing down, and Qualcomm has been looking to expand in faster growing areas.

It’s telling that as the whole tech world paid attention to the launch of Apple’s new iPhone X, Mollenkopf was flying to Germany. It also doesn’t hurt that his company is locked in a heated licensing battle with Apple, and he probably wouldn’t have felt very welcome in Cupertino.

Not just faster, but smarter

As cars do more things, there’s need for more advanced processors to power the vehicles both under the hood and for in-vehicle controls and entertainment. Market researcher IDC estimates semiconductor suppliers will generate $50.1 billion from the automotive market in 2021, up 52 percent from 2016.

Qualcomm’s efforts in automotive are focused around three main areas: Connectivity, computing and electrification, Mollenkopf said. It builds processors to connect a car to other vehicles and to the world around it; improves the experience inside the car for the driver and passengers; and enables new technologies like electric cars and autonomous vehicles.

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Auto “will be the most innovative platform of the next decade,” Mollenkopf told German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who stopped by the Qualcomm booth on Thursday at the auto show to learn about the company’s technology. The most innovative product of the last decade? Smartphones, he said.

Many technologies found in phones will make their way to cars, he said. That includes 5G, the next big phase of mobile connectivity. 5G is expected to be 100 times faster than our current wireless technology and 10 times speedier than what Google Fiber offers through a physical connection to the home. In automotive, it will let cars seamlessly talk to each other or connect to a network for critical vehicle functions.

“Cars are now saying, ‘I need special features because I’m going to rely on the network for mission critical things, safety, transportation efficiency,'” Mollenkopf said. He added that 5G, which is expected in phones in 2019, won’t be far behind in vehicles.


“The speed in which the car is taking in new technology is increasing rapidly,” Mollenkopf said.

That hasn’t always been the case. It took years for the car industry to embrace cellular connectivity, and wireless industry executives often talked about the longer development cycles that went into cars vs. phones.

To expand its footprint in auto, Qualcomm a year ago launched a bid to purchase NXP Semiconductors, the world’s biggest auto chip supplier, for $39 billion. The deal, the largest ever in the semiconductor industry, has run into some EU regulatory hurdles, though. Mollenkopf still expects the deal to close by the end of 2017.

“We haven’t seen anything we didn’t expect both from timing and [the EU] stopping the clock,” Mollenkopf said. “It’s a process we have to go through versus something we don’t think we’ll be able to get through it.”

The smartphone of the future

While Mollenkopf is optimistic about automobiles, that doesn’t mean phones are over.

Apple on Tuesday showed off its vision of the smartphone of the future with the iPhone X. The device has a 5.8-inch OLED screen with ultraslim bezels, and it did away with the traditional home button. The iPhone X introduced Face ID as a new way to unlock the phone and make purchases using Apple Pay.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel (in pink) talks with Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf (fourth from left) at the Frankfurt Auto Show.

Shara Tibken/CNET

Even with the licensing dispute between the companies, Apple reportedly continues to use Qualcomm processors in its newest devices. Mollenkopf declined to comment about the new iPhones beyond saying he hasn’t seen them yet and that teardowns would show what chips are in the devices. With the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, certain versions used Qualcomm modems while others used Intel.

In Qualcomm’s view, “a lot of innovation [in smartphones] is moving into the camera,” Mollenkopf. He noted that Qualcomm in late August signed a deal with a Taiwanese company to introduce 3D cameras in Android devices. That would enable things like the face unlock technology found in the iPhone X. Other areas companies are innovating include augmented reality, security and “hardware that does low power machine learning,” Mollenkopf said.

Another big focus for the next couple of years will be Gigabit LTE and 5G, Mollenkopf said. And more smartphone-like capabilities will move into companion devices like smartwatches and headsets. “The next step is people put things on their eyes,” Mollenkopf said. “They may not do it while they’re walking around, but it may change the way we see video.”

As for the licensing battle with Apple, Mollenkopf still believes the case will be settled out of court, but he couldn’t predict when. In the meantime, Qualcomm is preparing for a trial, he said.

“I do think the history and experience is these things do get settled out of court,” Mollenkopf said. “But sometimes you have to be prepared to go the whole distance.”

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Remembering ‘Alien,’ ‘Twin Peaks’ actor Harry Dean Stanton


Harry Dean Stanton plays a doomed engineer in the sci-fi horror “Alien.”

Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

There are not a lot of actors whose performances can make me cry and laugh in the same film. But Harry Dean Stanton is one of them. And sadly, the beloved actor has left us forever, dying from natural causes at the age of 91 on Friday. 

Stanton played countless characters since his 1954 debut in the TV show “Inner Sanctum,” but I first came across Stanton when he played the doomed engineering technician Brett, in the sci-fi horror film “Alien” (1979). His character was both hilarious and heartbreaking. 

Stanton’s performance in “Alien” convinced me that if I was trapped on a spaceship fighting deadly creatures, I’d want him in my corner — even if he was constantly complaining about the low pay, poor working conditions and my curious cat.

I loved seeing Stanton play the impatient, grumpy boss Bud in “Repo Man” (1984). While everyone else was watching the movie’s main star Emilio Estevez, my eyes were glued on Stanton, who stole every scene he was in. 


Harry Dean Stanton plays the kind of boss most of us would steer clear from in “Repo Man.” 

Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

Stanton had a special way of making his characters the most memorable people in everything he was in. In “The Green Mile” (1999), he played the talkative inmate Toot-Toot who could make even the most stoic prison guards laugh.

In the sci-fi film “Escape from New York” (1981), when Stanton played Snake’s double-crossing buddy Harold “Brain” Hellman, you still couldn’t help but root for him a little.

While watching Molly Ringwald and Jon Cryer get their young hearts broken in “Pretty in Pink” (1986) — it was actually Stanton’s role as Ringwald’s sad, washed-up, alcoholic father who made me cry the hardest. Stanton brought an adult dose of reality to the classic teen rom-com.

Heck, Stanton even made me sit up and notice when he played a bit part in “The Avengers” (2012) as a concerned security guard coming to the aid of a very confused Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) who was lost after one of his many Hulk benders.

But perhaps, Stanton’s most interesting roles are those in filmmaker David Lynch’s many bizarre cinematic worlds. 

As the Fat Trout Trailer Park owner Carl Rodd in Lynch’s latest “Twin Peaks: The Return” TV series (2017) and earlier in the 1992 prequel film “Twin Peaks: A Fire Walk With Me,” Stanton was at his best. The ragged, no-nonsense, guitar-strumming character Stanton played offered a bit of down-to-earth wisdom to series known for its surreal situations. 


Harry Dean Stanton plays the trailer park owner Carl Rodd in “Twin Peaks: The Return.”


My favorite quote from Stanton as Carl was in “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” when he said, “Goddamn, these people are confusing.” That pretty much sums up “Twin Peaks” right there. 

In addition to the “Twin Peaks” saga, Stanton also starred in Lynch’s other films — “The Cowboy and the Frenchman” (1988), “Wild at Heart” (1990), “The Straight Story” (1999) and “Inland Empire” (2006). Clearly, Lynch and Stanton had an obvious mutual respect for each other and it benefited us all. 

“The great Harry Dean Stanton has left us,” Lynch wrote in a statement on Friday. “There went a great one. There’s nobody like Harry Dean. Everyone loved him. And with good reason. He was a great actor (actually beyond great) — and a great human being — so great to be around him! You are really going to be missed Harry Dean! Loads of love to you wherever you are now!”

Stanton was a complete original, and will be missed greatly not only by cinephiles like me, but by his famous collaborators and fans who he inspired greatly like “Pretty in Pink” co-star Jon Cryer, director Edgar Wright, actor Kyle MacLachlan, actor Ed Begley Jr., director Asia Argento and more — who paid their respects on social media. 

Fans can see Stanton in his last role playing an atheist grappling with his own mortality in the upcoming movie, “Lucky,” which is scheduled to be released in theaters on Sept. 29.

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