Category Archives: Toys, Technology. Electronics, Software

Amazon’s ‘Studios’ effort picks first TV shows to develop

“Buck Plaidsheep” (left) is meant for kids, “Magic Monkey Billionaire” is for the older set.


Buck: Frank Suarez; Monkey: Diana Wright

Amazon’s “Amazon Studios” project has announced the first four TV series it will develop: three animated shows and a mockumentary, all of which were pitched by way of the Amazon Studios Web site.

The Studios project announced last month that it was looking for comedies and kids shows. The Studios effort — which hitherto had been focused on short and feature-length films — is designed to provide original programming for Amazon’s Instant Video service.

Amazon Studios works differently than traditional Hollywood production companies in that it solicits original scripts via the Web — writers can have their pitches reviewed publicly or by the studio staff. If a project gets picked to be moved along to the Studios’ Development Slate, the creators receive $10,000, and the show may eventually be produced.

The Amazon Studios Web-centric process for submitting show proposals — and what to expect if they’re picked for development and go into production. Public submissions appear on the Amazon Studios site, where people can comment on them.

Here are the creators’ descriptions of the first four chosen shows. “Buck Plaidsheep” is for kids; the others are for adults.

  • Magic Monkey Billionaire When their magician owner dies after winning the lottery, Rabbit and Monkey are shocked to learn that he left his money to happy moron Monkey and donated evil genius Rabbit to a 2nd grade class. In each episode, Rabbit hatches a plan to steal Monkey’s billions.
  • Buck Plaidsheep Buck Plaidsheep, the courageous critter from Fleecy farm, will face any danger and solve any problem. Armed with a variety of vehicles, whether it be a jet pack, rowboat, hang glider or even a jeep, he always has the best vehicle to get the job done.
  • Doomsday This comedy mockumentary follows Gabriel Bell, a new age prophet, conspiracy theorist, public speaker, and self-proclaimed ‘Wisdom Warrior,’ as he seeks to spread the word of (and perhaps even generate a little money from) his prophecy that the world will end on December 6th 2012. We also explore the lives and supposed final days of four fans of Gabriel, who all believe in his theories for very different reasons.
  • The 100 Deaths of Mort Grimley In this animated comedy, Hell desperately needs new customers. Mort Grimley, a middle-aged suicide, is forced by Belphegor, Hell’s corporate slave, to get 100 more people to kill themselves or be doomed to spend eternity right next to the cruel mother he tried to escape.

Amazon Instant Video is looking to compete with rival offerings from Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube, all of which are developing their own programming. The services need to differentiate themselves, and to flesh out their content without having to lean too much on traditional Hollywood studios — some of which have been holding back prime programming from streaming services so they can distribute it themselves.

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Kickstarter project adds a magnetic skin to iPhones

The MagSkin is a stick-on magnetic backing for the iPhone 4 and 4S.

The MagSkin is a stick-on magnetic backing for the iPhone 4 and 4S.

Daniel Weyer)

Not everyone wants to keep their
iPhone hidden away in a pocket. Some folks prefer to hang them on hooks or wear them around their necks.

And what about sticking them on a fridge, filing cabinet, or other metal surface? If my wife’s phone had a magnetic backing, she could slap it on the door to our garage, thereby increasing her chances of remembering to take it to work. (Don’t tell her I said that; she’ll kill me in my sleep.)

To paraphrase the ol’ saying, there’s a Kickstarter project for that. MagSkin adds a magnetic backing to your iPhone 4/4S, thereby giving it an adheres-to-metal personality. (What, you thought I was going to say “magnetic”?)

The MagSkin is an adhesive skin that creator Daniel Weyer hopes to offer in a variety of styles and colors, including a temperature-sensitive version and snakeskin.

The MagSkin will be available in a variety of colors, including blue snakeskin.

The MagSkin will be available in a variety of colors, including blue snakeskin.

Daniel Weyer)

According to Weyer, the skin is less than a millimeter thick, but strong enough to “fully support the weight of the smartphone when placed vertically against a refrigerator or other ferrous metal.”

Assuming the project gets fully funded, Weyer expects MagSkin to ship in September. Most of the early-bird options are sold out, but as of this writing, you can pledge $15 or more to get a MagSkin in your choice of colors, shipping included. (Weyer hasn’t decided on the final pricing yet, but says it will “probably” be $19.95 — including two “docking magnets” to allow the MagSkin to be used with non-metallic surfaces.)

You could, of course, buy inexpensive magnetic sheets and cut your own MagSkin-style backing — but it wouldn’t look anywhere near as cool as Weyer’s.

Personally, I rarely find myself wishing for a way to adhere my iPhone to a metallic surface, but I can certainly see the appeal for some folks. If you’re one of them, well, consider funding this project!

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The 404 1,080: Where we paint the sixteenth chapel (podcast)


Carlo Rossi Lifescapes)

Leaked from today’s 404 episode:

– Ray Bradbury may soon be honored online with “451” error code for Internet censorship.

– Time Warner Cable grabs patent to prevent DVRs from skipping commercials.

Twitter to grant Web sites extra characters with “expansive Tweets.”

– Select audiences at Disney-Pixar’s “Brave” will be treated to Dolby’s new Atmos sound system.

Episode 1,080

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Put the pedal to the metal in these games for iOS


Ever since I was a kid I’ve had a fascination with racing. My father took me to motorcycle GP races at the age of four and we went every year for most of my young life. The big name racers of the day, the roar of the engines, and the smell of formula fuel as they sped around the track all added to the fun and excitement for the young version of me.

These days I’m not much of a spectator racing fan, but if a new racing game comes out (really on any platform), I somehow automatically become interested. A big racing game release today on iOS got me looking for more fun driving games — and while I know they’re not for everybody — if you like to “go fast” these games are for you.

This week’s collection of iOS apps is all about racing. The first lets you upgrade
cars and compete on numerous tracks with a 3D top-down view. The second challenges you to compete, driving old-school go carts around tracks and has a great overall feel. The third is a well-polished sequel that many racing game fans will probably automatically download.

Mini Motor Racing

In the early part of the race it can be rough as you jockey for position.

Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Mini Motor Racing (99 cents) is a game I’ve been playing since its release in December of last year that keeps me coming back for more with tight controls, car upgrades, and great racing action. A recent update on June 7 added online multiplayer, a feature I’ve been wanting since I first downloaded the game.

You start with four vehicles to choose from, each with their own different attributes, body types, and handling, but you’ll unlock more as you win races. The default control system is solid, with a steering wheel on the left and a nitro button on the right (gas is automatic), but there are more control setups in the options to suit your playing style. For quick customizations to your selected car, you can touch a paint button to quickly switch to a paint job you like, but you’ll need to earn money while racing if you want to make serious upgrades.

On the racetrack, you’ll compete with three AI controlled racers. As you slide around corners, you can hit the nitro button for an extra boost, but be careful to have plenty of room (like long straight-a ways) or it might do more harm than good. You’ll also be able to grab extra nitros and more cash on the track as you race so don’t worry too much about wasting nitros. The action in Mini Motor racing is fantastic, with excellent physics, great looking 3D models and shadows, and tons of challenge as you find the best line around each track.

When the race is over, you’ll earn cash you can use for upgrades to add to your top speed, acceleration, handling, and Nitro. It’s a great system because you can pick a favorite car style then upgrade it to take you through the early part of the game.

The only issue I have with Mini Motor Racing is the online multiplayer. I’ve had success playing with local players on the same Wi-Fi network and in Bluetooth range, but when I try to play online it’s sometimes tough to match up with other players. I’m not sure if it’s the time of day (mostly international players?) or a problem with the game itself, but online multiplayer is spotty at best in my experience.

If you like racing games that let you upgrade your car and offer plenty of new challenges, Mini Motor Racing is a great option. With the recent update, they’ve added a ton of new content so this game is definitely worth your money.

Go Karting Outdoor

What makes this game fun might be more about nostalgia, but I still like the simulation feel.

Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Go Karting Outdoor (Free, so you can try it first. 99 cents for the full game) doesn’t have the polish of the other games in this collection, but it offers a unique racing style that’s sure to appeal to racing fans who want realism (and a bit of nostalgia).

You’re not going to find upgrades and flashy car models here; Go Karting Outdoor tries to make it feel like you’re actually racing go carts around a track, and everything from the sounds and the feel of the car stay true to the experience of go cart racing.

You don’t get many customization options either. You can only pick the color of your cart and choose between the 270cc easier handling cart or the faster 390cc, which requires more skill to control. The 270cc is the default, and I definitely recommend running through a few races before you upgrade to the more powerful go cart.

Where this game shines is how it closely resembles actual go cart racing. The sound of the engine has that tell-tale lawn-mower like rumble and the steering feels muddy as you brake hard for sharp hairpins. In other racing games the steering would be unacceptable, but when you know you’re racing a go cart it feels just right.

Overall, Go Karting Outdoor may not be for everybody because its a very stylistic experience, but if you raced go carts as a kid or want to try something different than the usual fare, check out this game.

Asphalt 7: Heat

The graphics in this game are incredibly smooth, and so is the racing.

Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Asphalt 7: Heat (99 cents for a limited time) is the latest in Gameloft’s popular arcade racing franchise and it doesn’t disappoint, with more than 60 cars to race and tons of tracks to make your way to the top.

Where Go Karting Outdoor runs on a minimum of polish, Asphalt 7 has all the bells and whistles. To start off, you get 60 licensed cars from manufacturers all over the world including Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, and several others, all intricately detailed and great looking on the Retina display. There are six different game modes where you’ll be challenged to race in 15 different leagues for a total of 150 different races. Tracks are based in real cities around the world including locations like Paris, London, and Miami (with all the appropriate landmarks). You also have achievements (called Goals, in this game) for everything from finishing your first race to completing a league (and everything in between).

The control system is just like the others from this franchise. The default control mode has you tilting to steer with the gas always on, and you have a button on the lower right to get a nitro boost. Like Mini Motor Racing, you also have pick-ups around the track for both cash and nitro, so don’t worry too much about overusing your speed boost.

In between races, you’ll be able to upgrade your cars with cash earned while racing. There is also a tiered racing system that requires you to earn stars in order to unlock tiers of cars and upgrades. Upgrades include top speed, acceleration, nitro efficacy, handling, and more. Stars and cash don’t come easy, so if you really want to advance in Asphalt 7: Heat, you’re going to have to commit to competing in a lot of races.

You also have the option to race against up to five friends on a local network or online. In this latest addition to the franchise, multiplayer has been fleshed out a bit more, with a full stat tracking system so you can compare your stats with your friends. In my testing, I was able to get online immediately and had a smooth racing experience, but that could be because the game is so new.

Lastly, like many modern games for iOS, you also have the option to buy your way to the top (a practice I don’t agree with). In app purchase lets you buy both stars and cash, so if you’re willing to spend the money, you can upgrade that way (though it doesn’t seem like it would be as much fun).

Overall Asphalt 7: Heat is another solid arcade racing game from the popular franchise with enough new content to make it a worthy purchase (especially at 99 cents). If you like arcade racing or any of the other titles in this series, you should check out this game.

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The 404 1,079: Where we ban all the skinnies (podcast)

On today’s 404 episode, we’ll solve the mystery of phantom cell phone vibrations and why we’re so often tricked into thinking our phones have a mind of their own. One psychologist from the University of Sydney thinks that it has to do with electrical currents running through parts of the body surrounding the phone, while another professor of psychology believes it’s in ours heads, that our addiction to technology has made us paranoid about e-notifications.



Walking around New York in this heatwave is enough of a workout for anyone these days, but some gym-goers in Canada are so sick of skinny people making them look bad that they’ve issued a ban on anyone that can’t be described as “plus size.”

According to the NY Daily News, Body Exchange gym in Vancouver claims to be a “safe haven” for overweight people that feel scrutinized when they work out next to those without an addiction to food. Unfortunately, we’ll have to defer to Richard to comment on this story, as neither Jeff nor I have ever been inside a gym.

Next we’ll all complain for a few minutes about YouTube video ads reaching an all-time high, but we’re still thankful that the service exists–how else would the Internet find out about school bus injustices in Greece, New York?

Two days ago, a Redditor posted a video showing a pack of teenagers bullying an innocent bus monitor.

The video garnered so much sympathy for the woman that instead of issuing the community’s typical brand of Web justice, readers actually set up a separate CALL TO ARMS thread to galvanize support. A redditor them established an indiegogo account to collect donations for an early retirement/vacation, and so far the KAREN FUNDRAISER has amassed over $196,000!

Other stories leaked from today’s rundown include the new Samsung Galaxy S III bursting into flames and melting its casing, a gym in Canada banning skinnies from working out, and a special CNET Exclusives for a pair of Outdoor Technology DJ Slims Bluetooth headphones!

Quick order of business: we’re starting to clip out and upload some of the best-of segments of each 404 episode to our 404 YouTube page.

We’re hoping that these shorter clips will be easier to share with friends and spread across the Web, so don’t forget to check out our Facebook page for daily updates and subscribe to our YouTube channel!

The first one features our response to a voicemail questioning what to wear when you see your favorite band. Enjoy!

Bathroom break video: Sea otter pup shields eyes from the sun.

Episode 1,079

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Belkin debuts Slingbox competitor: @TV Plus

The $149.99 Belkin @TV Plus ships in mid-July (click to enlarge).


I’m not sure I like the name, but Belkin has made a surprise entry into the place-shifting arena with @TV Plus, a $149.99 set-top box that allows your to stream video from your home TV to your
tablet, smartphone, or laptop over WiFi or a 3G/4G cellular connection.

Belkin makes no bones about it: this is a director competitor to Slingbox, which was acquired by EchoStar a few years ago and has languished a bit while maintaining the dominant position in the niche place-shifting market.

Like the Slingbox, @TV Plus works with both standard and high-definition programming and can connect and control multiple sources, such as a digital cable box, satellite receiver, or DVD player. Belkin says its feature set is comparable to the Slingbox Pro-HD, which retails for $299.

The one big advantage @TV Plus has over Slingbox is that it’s Wi-Fi enabled, so you’re not limited by a wired Ethernet connection. Belkin also says that it can record live TV directly to a mobile device for viewing when not connected to Wi-Fi or a data network. Interesting.

You connect to your cable or satellite box via a component video connection (click to enlarge).

David Carnoy/CNET)

@TV Plus works with the @TV mobile app, which will available for both iOS and
Android platforms when the product ships around July 15. The @TV app is free for tablets and $12.99 for smartphones.

Here’s a quick look at the feature highlights:

  • Watch live and recorded TV anywhere your tablet, smartphone, or laptop can access Wi-Fi, 3G, or 4G
  • Streams standard and HD programming
  • Record directly on mobile devices
  • Easy-to-use Channel Guide with swipe surf for easy scrolling
  • Wi-Fi enabled: Compatible with all Wi-Fi enabled tablets, smartphones, and laptops
  • Works with the @TV app
  • Compatible with both
    Mac and Windows PCs, Android, and iOS devices
  • No additional monthly service fees
  • Price: $149.99
  • Availability: July 15

While I only saw the device streaming video over a WiFi connection (yes, it was smooth), I didn’t see the set-up process, which Belkin reps claimed was easier than the set up for Slingbox. We should be getting a review unit soon and will have a review up before the product ships. On the surface at least, it looks like a a very intriguing alternative to Slingbox. But I’ll wait to use it in a real-world environment (rather than a controlled press demo) before making any more judgments.

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