We've Moved!

By Mike on 10:53 pm

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Yes, I've finally dumped Blogger for greener pastures. You can now find us at our new home, mmntech.ca. The new site has better features, a cleaner look, more social interactivity, and (eventually) a forum. Hop on over to the new MMNTech, the elements of gadgets and gaming.

Microsoft Reverses Xbox One DRM decision

By Mike on 4:42 pm

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It was bound to happen eventually. All the outrage over the Xbox One's DRM scheme has paid off. Microsoft announced today that they would be stripping the controversial restrictions from the console. GiantBomb broke the story earlier this afternoon.

Story developing. As of writing, Xbox.com has crashed due to the overload.

UPDATE: Xbox Wire Q&A has outlined the changes

Microsoft stated that they have listened to customer feedback and have implemented the following changes. 

-Xbox One will no longer require an internet connection. You will only need to connect to the internet during initial setup of the console.
-Status quo on used games will remain. You will be able to buy, sell, rent, and trade as you would on the Xbox 360.
-Xbox One games will not be region locked. 

This follows an earlier report this week from publishers, who stated they were caught off guard by the used game restrictions. None had made a decision regarding a ban at that point.

This is very good news for Xbox fans who felt betrayed by the initial restrictions. Microsoft took a major beating at E3 when Sony announced the PS4 would lack the controversial DRM, and would cost $100 less. Early pre-order reports suggest the the Xbox One is lagging behind sales of the new Playstation.

Who's watching the watchers

By Mike on 10:55 pm

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I was reading Arthur R. Miller's fantastic article from the November 1967 issue of The Atlantic. Miller is a lawyer and civil procedure professor at New York University. Some two years before the invention of the internet, he wrote about the dangers of unchecked government surveillance on the American public. Miller's focus has long been privacy and computers, so he's no fly-by-night on the subject. With the NSA/PRISM scandal, his words 46 years ago ring eerily true today.

There are a few problems with digital data snooping. You can most certainly build a profile on anyone in America or anyone using American network infrastructure. However, there's no guarantee that data is accurate, or even complete. The problem is that we as human beings tend to consider computers as being infallible. This form of observation bias can greatly distort the truth.

Data can also mean different things in different contexts. A stamp of depression on your medical record could mean a prescription refill to your doctor. To law enforcement, it could flag you as a potential danger to society. Especially in the wake of mass shootings by mentally ill individuals. Police have access to a whole host of information on you. Arrests still stand on your record even if you're found not guilty by the courts. You may be innocent, but to the cop on the roadside you'll always be "positive CNI, flag victor." This could prevent you from getting jobs, or crossing borders. There's really a lot of information on you that could be damning in the wrong hands. Which is why the "nothing to hide" argument is dead wrong and downright dangerous.

Miller suggests a number of safeguards to protect public privacy. First off, government data should not be in the hands of intelligence agencies. An independent bureaucracy should established to act as gatekeeper for all government data requests. Even then, requests should be very limited in scope, with strict limits on who has access to them. He asks congress to implement laws preventing public and private data from being accessed by the government without cause. Government should also open its database to the public. Allow all citizens full access to their specific file and establish a process for them to correct errors within these files. Lastly, he asks congress to legislate mandatory digital locks to prevent government and private officials from making unauthorized access to your data.

That was almost fifty years ago. Which of these suggestions has the US government implemented? None, really. The NSA was having a field day with the data of US and foreign citizens without any checks or balances. The USA PATRIOT Act allowed for it under the guise of defending America from terrorism. In fact, they say it stopped several attacks. However, they were typically vague on the details. Problem is, the terrorists know they're being watched. Unless they're grossly incompetent, they will take active steps to cover their trail. The only people surveillance states really hurt are the innocent American and foreign citizens who were unknowingly being profiled.

Uncle Sam is watching you. cover of The Atlantic Nov 1967. Drawing by Ed Sorel
 The US government is calling NSA leaker Edward Snowden a traitor, citing the leaks as "extremely damaging" to national security. The only thing the leaks damaged was the credibility of the Obama administration. Especially after the president campaigned on easing the PATRIOT Act to deal with Bush era privacy concerns. Since then surveillance has ramped up considerably, making the administration look hypocritical. Perhaps Mr Obama needs to take Mr Miller's recommendations seriously.

Now, you may be reading this and wondering how the heck can you protect yourself. I'll be blunt, you can't. There's no such thing as fool proof security. Everything you send over the internet is potentially up for grabs. Even the most mundane data can be valuable to the right people. Your texts, your banking information, that secret project your company is working on, what websites you've been to, who your friends on Facebook are. All of it. Especially when you're dealing with a hacker with limitless resources and ISP level data mining. At that point, even encryption doesn't matter. Any code is breakable if it's worth breaking.

What you can do is limit your online footprint. There's all sorts of tools out there. There's anonymous browsing via the Tor network. You can even get Linux distros with it built in. A friend of mine developed the NinjaStik, which is a custom, Tor enabled distro on USB key. Tor works across multiple points to hide where data came from, but it doesn't hide what data is. So it's not the be all, end all.

VPN services work like Tor but enrypt the data. However, your VPN provider may still be subject to data requests on its customers. Paid services tend to take security more seriously but even they can succumb to government pressure.

You can also transition your information away from Big Data. Use your own email server instead of Gmail, and install encryption extensions. Use Diaspora* for social networking instead of Facebook and Twitter. Install the DoNotTrackMe browser extension to prevent advertisers from tracking your browsing habits. Install HTTPS Everywhere to force encryption on all websites that support it. All this makes it harder for private companies to form a digital profile on you. That means the government has to work harder to get your information, which may not be worth it to them. Make yourself the user, not Big Data's product.

The final thing you can do, if you're an American citizen, is contact your congressional representative and let them know you don't approve of snooping. Phone them and let them know your vote depends on theirs. A call or letter says way more than a Twitter campaign ever could. Then go sign the StopWatching.Us petition by Mozilla to force the government to reveal the full extent of the program. If you're outside the US, sign the EFF's petition to pressure big data to be more transparent and demand a public investigation into the scandal.

Playstation 4 dominates at E3

By Mike on 11:04 am

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I think it's fair to say that a lot of Playstation fanboys are gloating today. Needless to say more than a few Xbox fans are still icing their bottoms to sooth the burn. Sony came up on stage last night and delivered one of the best E3 presentations I've seen in a few years. This is definitely a company who have learned from their mistakes. They delivered exactly what developers and gamers said they wanted. The PS4 is a powerful system where the games, and only the games, matter.

Unfortunately, I missed about the first half hour of the presentation. Perhaps the only big disappointment of the night was the lack of Vita content. There's a new bundle but they did nothing to ease concerns over lack of new content. Of course that quickly got put back of mind when Sony pulled out the black box from underneath the covers.

We had already seen the controller. We knew what that looked like. Now we've seen the system itself. The overall design of it is very reminiscent of the slim PS2. A slightly two toned, matte plastic parallelogram. Unfortunately, we didn't get a booty shot. Sony states that it will have HDMI, optical audio, and gigabit ethernet. Analogue outputs are conspicuously missing though.

For storage, Sony has confirmed that it has a 500GB hard drive, which will be user upgradable. They also took some time to show off the new 720p Playstation Eye. It's slimmer than the Kinect and also has its own auxiliary port, so it won't hog one of the two USB 3.0 slots like the old one did. It will be sold separately for a price of $59.

The PS4 in all its glory. Via Playstation Lifestyle

After showing a few games, Sony dropped the big bomb shell of the night. Jack Tretton took the time to deal with the elephant in the room, and also take a stab at the Xbox One. Gamers were concerned that Sony would be implementing similar digital rights management due to publisher pressure. It's now confirmed that PS4 will operate at the status quo. It does not require an internet connection, nor does it place a ban on used games. You will be able to buy, sell, and trade your games just as you've always been able to. Sony's Brad Douglas also confirmed via Twitter that the PS4 will not be region locked. So you can all stop worrying and start mocking your Xbox fanboy friends. Turns out freedom is cheap too, as the PS4 will retail at $399.

Sony listened, the PS4 requires no online authentication and allows used games
The one downside we did get last night is on the online front. You will now have to buy a Playstation Plus membership to get online. If this is the worst of it, Playstation fans are getting off easy. It will offer the same perks and continue to work across all three platforms. Sony is also promising at least one free PS4 game every month to subscribers. Those who already have PS+ know it pays for itself pretty quickly.

If you're in to streaming services, Sony says they will not be put behind this new pay wall. One of the biggest complaints about the Xbox is it requires a Gold subscription just to watch Netflix.

Sony was rather mum about media content. Playstation is working closer with Sony Pictures and BMG to improve things on that side. American gamers will also get access to Red Box Instant.

Sony is also integrating more cloud features via their Gaikai game streaming service. You will be able to stream Playstation 3 games to your PS4. So those concerned about backwards compatibility need not worry too much. What Sony did not mention were pricing plans for Gaikai, or if it will be included with your PS+ subscription. Unfortunately, the service will only be available in the US initially.

Right now, the Xbox One isn't looking very good by comparison. Though I would not count them out just yet. There's still a chance for them to backtrack on their planned restrictions. Unfortunately, Microsoft allowed a full six months of negative publicity to build up. It's going to take an awful lot to reverse that, and win their customers back. Right now, Sony has resoundingly stomped them. We asked for it, they gave it. As it stands today, the PS4 is the best eighth generation system right now.

We'll start looking at the PS4's game lineup a little later this week.

8th Gen side by side

By Mike on 8:26 pm

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With the Xbox One being announced this week, we've finally rounded out the list of eighth generation consoles. Here's a side by side comparison of specs for the Wii U, PS4, and Xbox One.

Updated June 19th, 2013

Xbox One Playstation 4 Wii U
CPU AMD "Jaguar" 8-core APU, x86-64 AMD “Jaguar” 8-core APU, x86-64 IBM Espresso, tri-core at 1.24ghz, PowerPC based
Graphics Custom AMD GPU, 1.23 TFLOPS peak performance, 768 GPU cores AMD Radeon APU capable of 1.84 TFLOPS peak performance, 1152 GPU cores AMD Latte, 550mhz, based on AMD Radeon HD 4000 series*
Memory 8GB DDR3-2133 with 5GB available to games 63GB/s bandwidth on 256-bit bus / 32mb eSRAM 102GB/s  8GB GDDR5 at 5500mhz,  176GB/s bandwidth on 256-bit bus 2GB DDR3-1600, 12.8GB/s Bandwidth, 1gb reserved for OS
Disc Drive Blu-ray Blu-ray Proprietary Wii U Optical Disc, 25GB capacity
Internal Storage 500GB, non upgradable 500 GB, upgradable 8GB / 32GB Flash
External storage External USB drives Unknown SD card or external USB hard drive
Connectivity USB 3.0, built in WiFi Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n WiFi, USB 3.0, Bluetooth 2.1 802.11n WiFi, USB 2.0, sensor bar port
AV Outputs HDMI; supports up to 1080p and 4K HDMI, Optical; supports up to 1080p for games and 4K for video HDMI, analogue AV Multi Out; supports up to 1080p
Operating System Xbox OS, modified Windows 8 Kernel Playstation 4 OS HOME
Controller Xbox One Controller, 1080p Kinect DualShock 4, Playstation 4 Eye, Playstation Move, PS Vita Wii U GamePad with touch screen, Pro Controller, Wii Remote, Balance Board, Classic Controller, 3DS
Backwards Compatibility No Partially. PS3 games will be streamed via Gaikai.  Yes, can play Wii games
Online and Entertainment Services Xbox Live, Live TV, Cloud. Xbox Live Gold required for online play Playstation Network, Gaikai cloud service, Netflix, Hulu, RedBox Instant. Playstation Plus required for online play. Nintendo Network, eShop, Miiverse, Tvii, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon
Requires Internet Connection One time, for initial setup of console No No
Supports pre-owned games Yes, no restrictions Yes, no restrictions Yes, no restrictions
Supports save states, instant on, background downloads and updates Yes Yes No
Launch Price $499 $399 $299 and $349

*Unconfirmed/Rumoured. These specs are only rumoured but will most likely be part of the final design.

For comparison purposes, here's last generation's specs.

Xbox 360 Playstation 3 Wii
CPU 3.2GHz IBM Xenon tri-core, based on Power PC 970 3.2Ghz IBM Cell Broadband Engine Processor, 1 PPE, 6 SPE cores IBM Broadway 32-bit, 729mhz single core. 2.9GFLOPS peak performance
Graphics AMD Xenos 500mhz, based on AMD Radeon X1800 series nVidia RSX 550mhz based on GeForce 7800 series AMD Hollywood, 243mhz
Memory 512mb GDDR3 clocked at 700mhz, shared between CPU and GPU 512MB XDRAM clocked at 3.2ghz, split into two separate 256mb blocks for system and graphics 88MB GDDR3 shared between system and graphics
Disc Drive DVD Blu-ray Proprietary Wii Optical Disc 8.54GB capacity, GameCube Disc
Internal Storage None to 320GB, hard drive or flash, user upgradable with proprietary hard drive modules 20GB – 500GB 2.5 inch hard drive, user upgradable 512MB internal Flash
External storage Supports external USB flash and hard drives Flash cards (early models), external USB drives, limits on ability to store games SD Card, GameCube Memory Card
Connectivity 10/100 Ethernet, USB 2.0, IR receiver. 802.11n WiFi can be added via a USB dongle, WiFi built in to later S models 802.11G WiFi, Gigabit Ethernet, USB 2.0, Bluetooth 2.0 802.11G WiFi, USB 2.0, Bluetooth
AV Outputs Analogue output, optical audio, HDMI added to later models; supports up to 1080p, most games 720p HDMI, Optical, analogue AV output; supports up to 1080p, most games 720p Analogue AV Multi Out; supports up to 480p
Operating System Xbox 360 Dashboard XrossMedia Bar Wii Menu
Controller Wired Xbox 360 Controller, Wireless controller, racing wheel, Kinect SixAxis, DualShock 3, Playstation Move, Playstation Eye Wii Remote and nunchuck, Balance Board, GameCube Controller, Classic Controller, Nintendo DS
Backwards Compatibility Partial, supports some but not all original Xbox games Yes, Playstation, PS2 supported only on early models Yes, GameCube
Online Services Xbox Live Playstation Network Nintendo Wi-Fii Connection, WiiConnect24, Wii Shop Channel
Requires Internet Connection No No No
Supports pre-owned games Yes Yes Yes
Launch Price $300 Core / $400 20Gb Premium $499 20GB / $599 60GB $250 US

Sources: Wikipedia, Xbox, Sony, IGN, Kotaku, Anandtech

Digesting the Xbox One announcement

By Mike on 11:34 pm

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In case you were living under a rock, dear gamer, the new Xbox One was announced today. I must say I felt rather underwhelmed with Microsoft's presentation. Especially after Sony's strong showing back in March. Here's a peak and some commentary at what's coming up for the nextbox.

It has an odd name
When gamers refer to the Xbox One, they usually mean the original Xbox. Guess that well known fact went unnoticed at Redmond. It's a bit of an odd choice, and completely out of left field. Many figured it would be called the Infinity, which makes (ahem) infinitely more sense. Then again silly names can work sometimes. Just look at the Wii. Though I still think it's code name Revolution was cooler.

It will be out by the end of the year
Microsoft hasn't set a date but they did confirm it will launch by the end of 2013. Expect a November launch window in the run up to the holidays. That seems to be the norm these days.

We don't know how much it costs
Microsoft didn't say a word about pricing, or even if there would be different models to buy. With cable integration, we can speculate that this may be part of the much rumoured subsidization program. So far, Redmond is tight lipped on the subject.

Keep reading after the break more details on the Xbox One

Quick Tech: 3 Jailbreak Apps that should be in the App Store

By Mike on 1:52 pm

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Apple has hit 50 billion app downloads. Many more if you count all the unofficial apps that can be grabbed from Cydia on a jailbroken iPhone. Some of these are infinitely useful and belong in the realm of official status.

The brilliance of Flux is you never notice it working, yet it's becomes impossible to live without. As the sun sets, this app adjust the colour temperature of your display to a warmer hue. It's well known that bright white light in the evening causes eye strain and sleep problems. Flux makes using your iDevice at night a lot less stressful on the old peepers.

Have a problem with the 16GB iPad's lack of storage? No problem! Just pay $200 more for the 64GB version. What if that's still not enough? Say you have a huge movie and music collection, or you edit a lot of photos and videos on the go. Tough lucks. The iPad is one of the few high end tablets that doesn't officially support removable storage. Even Microsoft's craptastic Surface has a card slot. Thankfully there's iFile. It's a file browser for the iPad but it also lets you use the camera kit and an SD card to store whatever you want. Apple doesn't trust it's users to deeper into iOS's file system. However, it's hard to deny how useful something like this is.

Full control of you phone's settings from the notification menu. That's all you really need to know about BossPrefs. Adjust brightness, turn off cellular data and WiFi, or free up memory with one touch. Go in deeper to see memory and disk usage, and your IP address. It eliminated the kludge involved with adjusting basic settings, without using the settings app. Apple will never put a utility like this in the store, since it gives the user too much unsanctioned power. Though it's something that should be integrated into the next iOS.

Got some more jailbreak apps and tweaks you can't live with out, and want to see go official? Post them in the comments.

Durango's mandatory installs a sign of DRM to come?

By Mike on 11:31 pm

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More rumours for the next Xbox have come out today. This time they give as a small peak into what the console may have to offer it. Some of it is not good, at least according to IGN. VGLeaks put out several screenshots from the Durango development kit, the software used to program games for the console. IGN analysed the images and confirmed them to be accurate through sources. Some of their findings are pretty run of the mill, namely a next generation Kinect sensor. However, two things stood out.

Firstly, the Durango requires mandatory game installs. Much like modern PC games, the discs are only used to install data and are not accessed during gameplay. On one hand this will greatly speed up load times for the console. On the other hand it could be behind something more sinister.

The Durango will be "always on, always connected" online. This could be used for DRM in the same way EA and Ubisoft have on the PC platform. The concern here is the mandatory installs and constant internet connectivity could be used to block second hand games.

At this time it's all wild speculation. However rumours of Microsoft putting their console on lockdown haven't sat well with gamers. Many commenting on IGN's article said they're more inclined to buy a PS4 if these rumours are true. If the Durango bans used games, it will be the only console this upcoming generation to do so. It would be a very stupid move. 

Microsoft's silence on the Durango has been deafening. They have yet to officially acknowledge the console even exists. This has allowed Sony to steal the spotlight from them. Delaying the unveiling, as well as their refusal to clarify gamers' concerns, may end up hurting them a lot more than they think. As we've seen before, a runaway success for one generation doesn't necessarily equal a repeat for the next. 


SimCity not an MMO, fully playable offline say hackers

By Mike on 11:28 am

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Well now this is interesting. Hackers have already been plodding away at SimCity and found out the game can indeed be played offline. It involves putting the game into some sort of "debug mode". It's fully playable though it can't save cities or interact with other regions. By the sounds of it, the process is relatively simple. To make an offline, single player version, programmers would just have to add local saves. Something that could easily be patched in. This fully dispute's EA's claim that online functionality is so deeply interwoven into SimCity that an offline version was impossible.

Furthermore, a Maxis insider told Rock, Paper, Shotgun that the servers only handle cloud saves and communication between players. All the computational business happens on the local end of things. He stated he can't understand why EA keeps claiming otherwise.

It's also been suggested that the servers don't even react to your gameplay in real time. Kotaku found out that the game could run happily offline for 20 minutes before it realized it wasn't connected to the server. This backs up the hackers claims and proves SimCity really isn't an MMO at all, nor does it need the servers to run.

So it seems EA isn't being completely honest over their always-on functionality. The servers do enhance gameplay but are not necessary for it. Yet EA continues to state otherwise. The plot keeps thickening.

-Rock, Paper, Shotgun

SimCity 5 unleashes a random disaster on itself

By Mike on 12:00 am

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Electronic Arts once again has egg on their face. The latest fiasco has to do with SimCity 5 and its always-online functionality. EA had planned to reinvent the game as a multiplayer experience. Instead gamers were met with clogged servers and dropped connections, rendering the game unplayable. It launched without enough servers to meet demand. EA says they plan to add more over the weekend to address customer concerns. This is just the latest PR disaster for the company, who Consumerist named the "worst in America".

For those less technically inclined, the always-on DRM SimCity uses requires a player to be connected to an EA server in order to play. Should the connection be lost on their end or yours, the game is rendered unplayable. This method of copy protection has been met with controversy since its introduction a few years ago. Many gamers feel it's unnecessary for single player games. Aside from that, it has been plagued with technical problems since day one. The issues with SimCity are only the latest in long line of rocky launches. Last year, Diablo III was met with harsh criticism when gamers could not log on to its servers. Prior to that, Ubisoft was met with outrage when the same thing happened to those who had bought Settlers 7.

The definition of insanity is attempting the same thing over and over, yet expecting different results. In the case of always-online copy protection, it has never worked. While Diablo III managed to keep piracy to a minimum, the problems with the system generated a lot of ill will towards Blizzard/Activision from the gaming community.

SimCity Burning - or how gamers really feel buying EA. From GotGame.com

EA has followed the classic corporate model for the entertainment industry. Buy up competition and focus on producing products at low cost in high volumes. Suits with MBAs control the creative process, and most don't even posses a creative molecule in their body. The conglomeration of studios has definitely hurt gaming. PC gaming in particular has taken it on the nose more than other platforms. Gamers are often still treated as pirates even though they legally obtained their games.

So far SimCity's problems have been met with strong backlash from the gaming community. Video game publications are recommending people not buy it, at least not until EA gets their act together. Most companies would freak at this level of negative press. Yet EA seems to blow it off as a lot of whining over spilled milk.

What has happened is inexcusable and rather amateurish  A company that large should anticipate large server demand at launch and prepare accordingly. They didn't and in my opinion, they don't deserve your $60 because of this.

Though I will take the time to take a knock at my fellow gamers. We knew this was coming. EA never hid the fact that SimCity would require a constant server connection to play. We also know that these systems have never worked properly in the past. Why would this time be any different? Yet people still bought the game. People are probably still buying it. That's the fatal flaw. As Forbes columnist Paul Tassi put it, the only way to force EA to change is to vote with your wallet.

Images from