Category Archives: Gadget News, Reviews, And Features

Flappy Bird is the embodiment of our descent into madness

Flappy Bird

Imagine this scenario, times infinity.

DotGears Studios/Screenshots by CNET)

It was after maybe the 14th or 15th time I’d seen “Game Over” flash across my iPhone screen in the last maybe seven minutes that I decided that the app Flappy Bird — an experience so simultaneously simple and maddening that I could already picture it haunting my dreams — was perhaps the worst smartphone game ever created.

I had hit a high score of 12 on my fourth or fifth attempt, finding myself secretly elated at the speedy proficiency of my mindless tapping timing. And then I proceeded to lose after earning a single point — literally just one successful obstacle cleared — about 10 times in a row. Before I knew it, I was sitting there at my desk, heat crawling up the back of my neck, ready to shake my phone in frustration like a ’90s kid ready to dismantle his NES controller during the “Turbo Tunnel” level of Battletoads.

“Delete it” were the words that echoed in my head as my thumb hovered over the Start button, ready to try once again to achieve absolutely nothing at all but the continuation of a feedback loop so blatant and manipulative that it’s frankly insulting, only you yourself are the one hurling the criticism.

Now, when I say “worst smartphone game,” I don’t mean objectively bad, lacking in quality, or all around worthless. I mean “worst” in the way that Netflix is the worst thing that happened to your reading habits, or Seamless the worst thing that happened to your diet. Flappy Bird is simply just the worst — the worst thing to happen to everything and anything you’re doing at any given moment.

In other words, it’s a beautifully manipulative game that sells advertising against your base-level tendencies to keep trying at something that seems within grasp, but rather is designed to mask its clear and utter propensity to grind you into failure. It’s a work of a genius, and the free app currently holds a solid 4.0 rating on both iOS and Android, with more than 300,000 customer ratings on the App Store after mysteriously skyrocketing to popularity just this past week despite having been uploaded in May of 2013 by Vietnamese developer Dong Nguyen of DotGears Studios.

Like most endless runners, Flappy Bird is a game with no conclusion that subsists solely on your hunger for a higher score and your dumb, completely illogical belief that you will in fact get any value out of playing, let alone feel like you’re getting better at the task at all.

From a mechanics perspective, you simply tap to keep your bird afloat and alter your frequency of taps to maneuver the bird through different size obstacles that, if touched, end your game immediately. It’s basically a combination of the art style of popular smartphone game Tiny Wings — with a pixelated Super Mario twist thanks to some rather unoriginal green pipes — and an experience akin to slamming your head on a desk in an effort to see what’s on the other side.

‘Save yourselves’
And it’s not as if we’re being hoodwinked here. Among the first 20 five-star reviews on the App Store include these fantastic headers: “The death of me”; “The apocalypse”; “Save yourselves”; “Life destroying”; “my life is spiraling out of control”; and my all-time favorite, “Hello Darkness My Old Friend.”

Therein lies the worst part: We know the game is preying on us, and we let it. There is little else as substantive and convincing as Flappy Bird that the smartphone era has driven us to the cliff of insanity when it comes to compulsive behavior, contracting attention spans, and a desire to succeed at something arbitrary and meaningless.

Because ultimately there is absolutely nothing admirable about dusting yourself off from a Game Over and trying again when there’s literally no goal in sight but a higher number and a larger expenditure of your time. You can get a score presumably in the triple-digits, spending a half hour on the verge of an aneurysm, and then find yourself failing in the first few seconds of your next five attempts. There is no puzzle to solve, no mental trick to master. Flappy Bird is infinitely random, and no amount of mental and thumb conditioning save a scary and social-life-threatening amount of practice could push your skills beyond the level at which they pretty much start at off the bat.

And unlike other addictive banes of humanity in the smartphone game space — now-classic titles like Temple Run and CandyCrush — there is no way to go about pretending you’re getting any better or the game any easier. Whereas those other titles have coins and in-game stores to buy power-ups that fool you into thinking that your high score was hard-earned, and not simply manufactured by the amount of time you’ve sunk into it to earn artificial prowess, Flappy Bird just chugs along, awarding you a medal if you manage to beat your high score.

Flappy Bird could have been designed to trick us, to give us a bit of faith in our quest toward nonexistent relief from our compulsion, but the point clearly isn’t to milk players money like other successful mobile games. That makes it all the more sinister, like the fury-inducing QWOP that’s meant to poke fun at the idea of trying to overcome something superficially difficult. We’ve reached out to DotGears Studios to find out if the game’s design has such a hidden purpose — or if Flappy Bird really is as innocent as its pixelated namesake — and will update this post with their response.

And despite all that, I can’t help but keep trying it, every few minutes even as I write this. So as they say in five-star App Store reviews, hello darkness my old friend.

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Lockheed Martin’s autonomous convoy tests bring Skynet one step closer to reality

Drones delivering your latest George R.R Martin instalment? Cute. But the real work of autonomous vehicles is being pioneered in the military. Lockheed Martin has recently completed testing of full autonomous convoys in Fort Hood, Texas. The test is part of the Army and Marine Corps’ Autonomous Mobility Appliqué System (AMAS) program, and saw vehicles successfully navigate an urban-style route, complete with obstacles a real-world convoy might encounter (humans, junctions etc). While regular military vehicles have always been designed to keep their human cargo as safe as possible, the new technology could remove the need for putting soldiers at risk altogether. We’re a way out from seeing this deployed in active service, but for now the results bolster the US Army’s efforts to introduce more robotic systems into real warfare.



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Humans came long after aliens, scientist suggests

How did life really begin?

Science Documentary/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET)

I’ve never thought of humanity as being especially advanced.

Somehow, we struggle so much with such basic things as thermostats and civility that I cannot imagine we’ve been around since either the Big Bang or God’s Big Finger Pressing Play.

Harvard astrophysicist Abraham Loeb gets the feeling that we are one of the last to the universe party.

As reports, Loeb’s research suggests that a mere 15 million years after the Big Bang, alien microbes might have happily survived.

He said: “When the universe was 15 million years old, the cosmic microwave background had a temperature of a warm summer day on Earth. If rocky planets existed at that epoch, then the CMB could have kept their surface warm even if they did not reside in the habitable zone around their parent star.”

Traditional scientific thinking offered that the first stars formed out of hydrogen and helium. There weren’t any so-called heavy elements that would have assisted planet formation.

Loeb asked the simple question: What if there were some heavy elements? There might have been huge stars exploding and emitting them.

Any planets that might have resulted from these explosions would have enjoyed the warmth of cosmic microwave background radiation. Therefore, water may have been present and life forms may have existed.

This puts into question the idea of “Goldilocks Zones,” the areas of the universe that are said to be the right distance from stars — not too warm, not too cold, but just right — in order for the existence of liquid water to have been possible.

But wait. How on earth can we ever know whether Loeb’s theory might have some truth attached to it?

He suggests “searching for planets with atmospheric bio-signatures around low-metallicity stars in the Milky Way galaxy or its dwarf galaxy satellites.”

In essence, if researchers find planets in the vicinity of stars that have merely a few heavy elements, then these might once have been analogous to the very earliest of planets.

Understanding what may or may not have happened billions of years ago is not exactly a simple task.

But one sign that Loeb might be onto something is that his fellow scientists aren’t pooh-poohing it.

Water might have existed in many more places than first imagined. So who knows who or what might have existed in times gone far by?

And who knows what might still exist and be visiting us regularly, only to leave, shaking their heads and bodies in derision?

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New AT&T plan makes it cheaper to share smartphone data off-contract

ATT SIM card punched out

ATT’s current Mobile Share plans can be quite expensive for families and small offices that don’t want to be tied to a contract. However, service is potentially more affordable through a new plan launching today. The tier starts at $130 per month with two off-contract lines for new customers (existing contract customers can also sign up) and 10GB of shared data, but it costs a more modest $15 per extra line instead of the regular $25; the carrier reckons that a family of four could save anywhere from $40 to $100 per month over the regular rates. You can go for more than 10GB of data if your clan craves extra bandwidth, too. It’s not clear if ATT’s deal will be enough to lure families away from low-cost carriers like T-Mobile, but it’s certainly a better offer than before.



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Apple store using sniffers to combat B.O.?

Getting sniffy?

Oliver Eisermann/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET)

Have you noticed that not everyone cares too much about the odor they emit?

Do you recoil at times when you walk past an apparently pleasant-looking person, as the olfactory experience they incite might call for fumigation?

I confess that one place where this might be an extreme problem is the Apple store.

Apple stores are so full of humanity at most times of the day. One has to squeeze through, in order to venerate a product or two.

A report suggests that Apple is aware of this slightly stinky problem. Rocco Pendola of the Street says that the very nice Apple store on Third Street in Santa Monica, Calif., has a terrible B.O. issue.

He says two Apple store employees confirmed to him that the store is stinky.

The alleged cause? Human beings.

Some will naturally accuse those in Apple stores of excessive excitement, leading to unnecessary bodily emissions. Others will simply suggest that hygiene isn’t what it used to be.

In any case, Pendola says he was shown special sensors in the store that activate ventilation when the stink is beyond the brink.

I have contacted Apple to ask whether the company perhaps sprays Burberry scent into its stores in an attempt to keep the atmosphere fragrant. I will update, should I get a whiff of a response.

Apple stores are surely not the only retail establishments that have to combat the malodorous. Last year, an ATT store was accused of smelling like a locker room.

Some businesses — casinos in Vegas and department stores (especially on the ground floor), for example — are highly adept at creating an atmosphere appealing to most noses.

It would be no surprise if Apple has to combat the pong of the throng in order to make shopping in its stores a pleasant experience.

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Two years later, DirecTV customers can finally use Roku players to watch HBO Go

Even as HBO Go has launched on new platforms over the years, people who pay for TV service and HBO have occasionally found that their provider won’t play along. That’s been the case for DirecTV subscribers with a Roku ever since the app rolled out in 2011, but now things have changed. Customers started seeing the change Thursday and now the DirecTV Twitter account confirms subscribers can use their account logins on Roku. The Syfy Now app on iOS also has a fresh update that says it supports DirecTV accounts, while some users say they’ve been able to login to apps for History, AE, and Lifetime, although that doesn’t appear to be officially available yet. Comcast Xfinity customers are the most notable remaining group still denied activations on Roku and Samsung Smart TVs, although the service does support Apple TV and Xbox 360. Will that ever change? After this move and the recent arrival of YouTube on the platform, here’s hoping Comcast, Roku and Time Warner can get together to keep the streak going.



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