The UpStream

Razer releases a special keyboard and mouse combo for Xbox One

posted Saturday Dec 22, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Razer releases a special keyboard and mouse combo for Xbox One

A few months ago, Microsoft revealed their plans to bring keyboard and mouse support to the Xbox One. After testing support within the Insider program, support was rolled out to all Xbox One owners recently. The biggest problem with using a keyboard and mouse with the Xbox is that no combo has been designed for the standard Xbox usage: a couch. Luckily, Razer, the leading manufacturer of gaming accessories for serious gamers, has been hard at work in partnership with Microsoft to design and release such a product.

This week, Razer and Microsoft unveiled the Turret, a gaming quality keyboard and mouse combo designed specifically for use with the Xbox One. Obviously, the set is wireless, as running a cable across the living room just wouldn't do. They focused on making the battery life great, with 40 hours of use per charge. They also feature RazerChroma, which is compatible with the Xbox Dynamic Lighting feature, making the keyboard lights change in response to the game you're playing.

Of course, it all uses the company's high-quality technology, such as their mechanical switches, making the keyboard super responsive. One of the things that really sets the keyboard apart is the retractable mouse pad. It allows you to sit back on the couch, with the keyboard on your lap, and use the mouse without any trouble. With a dedicated wireless keyboard and mouse set designed for Xbox, this could begin the acceptance of the technology for the console.

The set is available for pre-order now, from both Razer and Microsoft for $250. The price is right in line with comparable Razer keyboards for PC. The set will ship at the end of Q1 2019, starting March 31, 2019.

Apple's quality control is failing, iPad Pros are shipping bent

posted Saturday Dec 22, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Apple's quality control is failing, iPad Pros are shipping bent

Once upon a time, Apple was run by a maniac with a level of obsession that could become painful for the people around him. This man was Steve Jobs, and he was known to do everything in his power to prevent anything even close to wrong from leaving his company. When the iPhone 4 was announced, it was to come in both black and white. However, it took over a half year before we would see the white model because Jobs wasn't presented with a shade of white he liked. Even when something slipped his notice, he blamed other companies.

After ceding control of the company, things changed fairly quickly. Today, it is not unusual for Apple to ship broken, defective, or knowingly poorly designed products. The iPhone 5, which was the last product Jobs had his hands on, shipped with scratches and dents. Then there was the famous #bendgate, where iPhone 6 would bend in a pocket. This week, Apple has combined both of these controversies into a new one, featuring the new iPad Pro.

According to owners in the MacRumors forums, some units have a bend in the body. Some claim that it happened after transporting it in a bag or backpack, while others claim that it was there when they opened their box. As it turns out, the latter seems to be more likely, as Apple has confirmed this is a reality. The company claims that this manufacturing defect is a normal part of the manufacturing process and that the bend will not get worse over time.

The question is, is this change in the company's treatment of its customers and lack of manufacturing control acceptable? Phone sales have slipped enough that the company is not reporting individual model sales anymore. iPad sales have always been slow, with Android and Windows devices outselling the company's tablets. The stock price has also shown a fall, down nearly 20 percent in 2018. It might be time for Apple to return to the obsessiveness of Jobs.

Facebook bans all positive reference to sex in surprise change

posted Saturday Dec 8, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Facebook bans all positive reference to sex in surprise change

Facebook has updated its Community Standards to address sexual content, and that changes are surprising. In fact, the general feeling that comes out of the change is that you cannot make any positive references to anything vaguely sexual, but you can make reference to most negative aspects of sexuality. For example, you can post about sexual exploitation, but cannot mention in a message that you are "looking for a good time tonight."

Obviously, there are a lot of problems with this move. The first glaring problem is that Facebook is a social networking platform, and therefore, a way for people to connect. Many dating apps, like Tinder, use Facebook as their primary connection point. Others allow you to link your Facebook to your profile to allow you to connect, or research, your potential partner. Once you are connected, it is not unusual to communicate with one another. I know, big surprise for a social network. As part of that communication, you might just want to discuss what types of things you're into, to see if you're a good match. That is no longer acceptable.

But that is just the beginning of the limitations. You can no longer post any content,

Using sexual hints such as mentioning sexual roles, sex positions, fetish scenarios, sexual preference/sexual partner preference, state of arousal, act of sexual intercourse or activity (sexual penetration or self-pleasuring), commonly sexualized areas of the body such as the breasts, groin, or buttocks, state of hygiene of genitalia or buttocks.

So, you cannot indicate that you are straight or gay, or that you are interested in someone who is dominant or submissive because that would indicate "sexual preference/sexual partner preference." However, the Facebook profile still includes an "interested in" category, with the options for male and female. However, by filling out an included aspect of the Facebook profile, you will be violating the Facebook Community Standards. This is going to have a major impact on the LGBT community, who have mostly found Facebook to be a good place to congregate to discuss topics of interest.

The second major issue is that by putting such draconian rules into place, Facebook is simply asking for trolls. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation,

For many users, life on Facebook might continue as it always has. But therein lies the problem: the new rules put a substantial portion of Facebook users in danger of violation. Fundamentally, that's not how platform moderation policies should work - with such broadly sweeping rules, online trolls can take advantage of reporting mechanisms to punish groups they don't like.

Combined with opaque and one-sided flagging and reporting systems, overly restrictive rules can incentivize abuse from bullies and other bad actors. It's not just individual trolls either: state actors have systematically abused Facebook's flagging process to censor political enemies. With these new rules, organizing that type of attack just became a lot easier. A few reports can drag a user into Facebook's labyrinthine enforcement regime, which can result in having a group page deactivated or even being banned from Facebook entirely. This process gives the user no meaningful opportunity to appeal a bad decision.

In other words, if someone wanted to punish or even close the profile of someone they disagree with, they could simply begin reporting them for suggestive content. Because of how bad Facebook's accountability system works, once the content or profile is flagged as abusing terms of service, reversing that decision can be incredibly difficult. In fact, one of our broadcast partners experienced exactly this, losing their Facebook page twice because of false claims made against them. In both cases, it was easier to start from scratch than it was to fight Facebook's governing body.

It is always a scary scenario when an organization as large as Facebook decides not only to censor speech but to make common and important human topics off limits. It is not good for anyone involved, including the company enforcing the censorship itself.

Tumblr makes stunning policy change: deleting all NSFW content

posted Saturday Dec 8, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Tumblr makes stunning policy change: deleting all NSFW content

Blogging platform Tumblr has always had a complicated relationship with adult content. Despite always officially supporting it, they have closed accounts for years for doing things that were not against the platform's terms of service. In particular, gay adult blogs have had a harder time with being closed for not violating policy. On the other hand, the platform has also had a problem with illegal content being posted to the site, often without any repercussions.

Adding to Tumblr's dual nature with NSFW content is their relationship with Apple. It is a well-known fact that Apple's app guidelines leave a lot to be desired when it comes to the things that apps can and cannot do. For example, they censored the dictionary because it included "objectionable content." In this case, the objectionable content was words and their definitions. Facts can be offensive to some people, but that one was over the line. They also require dating and hookup platforms that allow nude photos to prevent those photos from being viewed on the iOS versions of their apps.

It was only a few weeks ago that Apple pulled the Tumblr app from the App Store, citing exactly these issues. In particular, it had to do with the presence of illegal content, but also involved their inclusion of adult content in the app. Some agreement was reached between Apple and Tumblr's owners Verizon, which brought the app back within a couple of days. The details of the agreement were not made public, but we are starting to get an idea of what might have happened.

This week, Tumblr announced that they would purge all adult content from the platform. As of December 17, 2018, all adult content will be gone, and blogs might be closed. According to the announcement,

There are no shortage of sites on the internet that feature adult content. We will leave it to them and focus our efforts on creating the most welcoming environment possible for our community.

However, this is not really true. No other platform allows content creators to interact with their fans quite the way that Tumblr does. The reality is that Verizon is likely trying to appease Apple with this move. The fast turnaround and the timing make it pretty obvious why this is happening. Unfortunately for users, a lot of non-adult content is being flagged as objectionable, as part of the pre-purge preparations.

We have seen sports photographers have photos of swimmers and divers have photos from competitions flagged as objectionable. You might be able to understand how a photo of a boy or man in a swim brief might get flagged, other types of content are, as well. Many bloggers are having photos of shirtless men flagged as objectionable. It seems that the rushed nature of the move is not making for a smooth process.

In addition, the platform is about to lose a large percentage of its userbase. Most of the internet knows that the primary use of Tumblr is adult-oriented content. By banning the thing that makes the platform popular, they might just see the platform collapse entirely, whcih is what Google experienced when they tried the same thing a few years ago.

A wild Steam challenger appeared: Epic Games Store

posted Saturday Dec 8, 2018 by Scott Ertz

A wild Steam challenger appeared: Epic Games Store

Just a few years ago, if you wanted to purchase a videogame on PC, you almost certainly were going to do it through Valve's Steam Store. Steam was the undisputed king of the gaming world. Today, that scenario is no longer a reality. Between the Microsoft Store, Discord Store, EA Origin, and more, Valve has never seen so much competition.

One thing that is consistent across the majority of the current game stores (with the exception of publisher-owned stores) is that the platforms take a large cut of the sale. For example, on Steam, publishers get only 70 percent of the game's sale. On the Microsoft Store, publishers get 80 percent of the game's sale. This large percentage is part of why companies like EA have built their own launchers and stores to eliminate the margin loss.

This week, another game store has come to try and challenge Steam, while addressing the concerns of publishers. Building on their unbelievable success with Fortnite, Epic Games has announced the Epic Games Store. Not only did they announce it, they launched it publicly. The feature that will set Epic apart is the 88 percent that publishers get to keep. A 12 percent cost of goods is amazingly low, so there is a possibility that they could succeed here.

This is not Epic's first challenge to traditional game distribution. When they released Fortnite for Android, they eschewed Google's Play Store entirely, preferring instead to distribute directly from their website. For most people, this installation method was new and scary, as they had to turn off some security features on Android (at least during the installation process). What they found was that people were willing to take the risk in order to get the game.

That is an important aspect of developing a new storefront: getting people to use it. If they can attract publishers through their lower margin and attract gamers with the quality or quantity of games, they might actually have a chance in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Chinese smartphone companies mired in surging new global concern

posted Saturday Dec 8, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Chinese smartphone companies mired in surging new global concern

Over the past few years, fears over Chinese smartphones manufacturers has grown. In the US, under the previous administration, Congress banned the import of any Huawei phones, later downgraded from an outright ban to a governmental ban. Under the current administration, bans were renewed and expanded to include ZTE, and then reduced once again. Following the US lead, Japan has reportedly banned governmental use of both manufacturers' handsets.

These bans come from reports of Chinese government-backed software included on the phones, with the intent to log keystrokes and data transmissions. These fears were raised after several security firms raised concerns over some software discovered deep inside the Android operating system installed on handsets tested. Handsets are not the only concern, however, as UK telecom company BT has announced they will not use Huawei's hardware for their 5G installation and will, in fact, remove all existing Huawei hardware over the next 2 years.

Adding to Huawei's global troubles is the arrest of CFO and deputy chairman, Meng Wanzhou. She was arrested by Canadian authorities at the request of US law enforcement, with extradition expected quickly. While charges have not been made public, it is likely that it has to do with violations of international sanctions against Iran. The company has reportedly shipped handsets to the country, despite sanctions over human rights concerns.

During the last Olympic games, Samsung had to scramble to deal with the sanctions themselves. While not shipping handsets to Iran regularly, their plan, as a title sponsor, was to give special phones to every Olympian. Unfortunately, sanctions prevented them from following through on the gifting to both Iran and North Korea. Olympians from those nations were required to return the phones after the games. Huawei could certainly learn a lot from the commitment of Samsung in this case.

This will not be the end of troubles for these two manufacturers, however. With 5G installations underway internationally, Huawei stands to lose a lot in their network infrastructure sales. And, if more countries follow the lead of the US and Japan, handset sales will be a problem, as well.

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