The Internet of Hungry Things

Server Failure Leaves Pets Hungry

Last Wednesday, some PetNet automatic pet feeders stopped working due to a server outage. The outage affected some users, leaving some pets without meals. PetNet’s $149 device uses a smartphone app to let pet owners feed their pets remotely. The device can be set to a schedule, or operated with the app.

In an email, PetNet stated “We are experiencing some difficulty with one of our third party servers. This is currently being investigated.” The email also said, “You may experience a loss of scheduled feeds and failed remote feedings. Please ensure that your pets have been fed manually until we have resolved this issue”. The outage was at the height of vacation season, with some owners unable to immediately return home to their pets.

PetNet CEO Carlos Herrera told the Guardian that the third-party service was down for ten hours. They rented the server in question from Google and did not have a backup. The company has since found a workaround, and the CEO claims the outage affected around 10% of users. During the outage, feeders on schedules were able to operate, but remote feedings or changing the schedule did not work.

Customers calling to complain about the outage met with some questionable customer service. Some calls went unanswered, and one customer found the representatives “completely dismissive and unapologetic”. Emails to the company often went unanswered, or answered with a generic reply.

“Some pet owners might not know about the outage, as PetNet made few efforts to inform customers.”

Some pet owners may not have even known about the outage, as PetNet made few efforts to inform customers. PetNet sent no phone alerts, only a few bulk email messages. These messages can sit in a user’s inbox or spam folder for days, especially during vacation.

This is another cautionary tale of failure in the Internet of Things. A pet feeder is a great idea of what the Internet of Things can do, but without backups, an entire product line could stop working in an instant. I think that for now, consumers need to have backups in place if they are going to rely on devices that need to work. In this case, having a neighbor check on your pet from time to time might make sure the animal is fed.


Sega Makes Announcements at Comic-Con

Sega Brings Sonic Back to His 2D Roots (Again)

This year’s San Diego Comic-Con has ended, and the internet is flooded with the latest trailers and announcements, including a few from Sega. Coinciding with the upcoming 25th anniversary of Sonic the Hedgehog’s first run, Sega has announced two new games and two “consoles”. 

Sega released trailers for two new games, starting with Sonic Mania. The new 2D adventure re-imagines classic stages, adds new zones, features Sonic, Tails and Knuckles as playable characters, and adds a new drop-dash mechanic. The drop-dash ability gives a burst of speed when landing, probably with a timed button press. Only Sonic used the ability in the trailer, so it might be exclusive to Sonic to match Tails’ flight or Knuckles’ climbing and gliding.

Sonic Generations, released in 2011, blended 2D and 3D sonic gameplay and earned some fairly good review scores. Sonic Team, who were responsible for Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations, two of the most recent “good” Sonic games, are developing Sonic Project 2017. 

The trailer opens with a shot of a giant robot amidst a burning city, with Modern Sonic preparing to go save the day. Modern Sonic dodges falling rubble until Classic Sonic jumps in to lend a hand. Not a lot of story or gameplay details, but the game has a holiday 2017 release window. And who knows? More of the same might be a good thing.

Two weeks ago, Nintendo announced a miniature version of their Nintendo Entertainment System, and now Sega may have a competitor. Only one thing… it’s not made by Sega, it’s made by Chinese company AtGames (and has no parts from the original console). AtGames has a license for the Mega Drive, and has been manufacturing the emulation boxes since about 2012 (with generally bad results). It is likely that the company has decided to re-release the consoles to capitalize on the retro craze as well as Sonic’s 25th anniversary.

AtGames’ Mega Drive will include 80 built-in games such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Golden Axe and Mortal Kombat (along with about 40 puzzle games and other less impressive offerings). The console includes two wireless controllers, and is compatible with original Sega Mega Drive cartridges. Unfortunately, the console seems to connect using AV cables (which only carry up to 480p and might not connect to modern TVs).

The Mega Drive Ultimate Portable Handheld, loaded with the same 80 games as the updated Mega Drive, was also announced. The handheld charges via USB cable, and features an SD card slot for expanding your collection. Both “consoles” will retail at around $65.

“Both "consoles" will retail at around $65.”

Sega’s putting eggs in a few baskets next year. Sonic Mania will likely reach a similar success to Sonic 4, and Sonic Project 2017 might be able to outsell Sonic Generations. Both games have a lot of potential, and fans look forward to their release. 

These renewed consoles aren't particularly exciting, partially due to the large variety of software emulators available for PCs and even phones. The consoles elicit skepticism, as third-party consoles tend to be easy ways to cash in on nostalgia. In today’s age, nearly every device can handle multimedia, so a dedicated gaming machine is a tough sell to less nostalgic or budget challenged gamers. Still, it would be great to see a few good-natured jabs between the two companies, much like this classic commercial.


Firefox Announces Adobe Flash End-of-Life Roadmap

Adobe Flash Disabled by Default in Firefox Starting Next Year

“In 2017, Firefox will require click-to-activate approval from users before a website activates the Flash plugin for any content” says Mozilla through its official blog. Following Google’s lead, who turned off Flash by default back in May, Mozilla will begin phasing out the antiquated plugin.

Released in 1996 as Macromedia Flash Player (Adobe acquired Macromedia in 2005), the player has long been a hindrance. It is among the largest consumers of battery life, despite false claims by Adobe themselves. Mozilla, like Microsoft and Apple, will begin limiting Flash animations and resource use in Firefox “later this year.”

Credit: Mozilla Blog

“Firefox ESR... will continue to support plugins such as Silverlight and Java until early 2018, for those users who need more time for their transition.” Users of the ESR (Extended Support Release), mainly corporations, nonprofits, and the public sector, will have more time to get on board with newer technologies like HTML5. This is good news for schools and business alike. But even slow adopters must accept that browser plugins are a thing of the past; Adobe Flash is the only NPAPI plugin that will even be allowed after whitelisting.

Editor's note: Despite criticizing Steve Jobs for his betrayal of the “digital hub” promise, I highly value the thoughts he shared on many facets of the technology world, including Flash.

Evolution 2016 Fights its Way to Live TV

Highlights From the Year’s Largest Fighting Game Event

The Evolution Championship Series (often called EVO) took place last weekend from July 15th to 17th. As one of the premier fighting game tournaments featuring favorites like Super Smash Bros., Street Fighter and Tekken, this year’s EVO drew in 5,000 players for Street Fighter V alone. With over 14,000 competitors, the Las Vegas, Nevada event broke its previous attendance record.

"With over 14,000 competitors, EVO broke its previous attendance record."

Nine games were featured at EVO, with a few side events for other games. The nine featured games were: Street Fighter V, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Killer Instinct, Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3, Pokken Tournament, Mortal Kombat, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Guilty Gear Xrd Revelator, and Tekken 7 Fated Retribution. Among them, Pokken Tournament is the only new franchise to the EVO lineup.

During the Super Smash Bros. for Wii U tournament, Japanese competitor Kamemushi defeated the previously untouchable Chilean EVO champ, Zero. What makes this particularly noteworthy is that Kamemushi used Mega Man, who sees almost no play competitively. Even better, Kamemushi defeated Zero with a shutout victory, three games in a row. The video for the three tense games can be found here.

"Kamemushi used Mega Man, who sees almost no competitive play."

What makes this EVO interesting was that the grand final for the Street Fighter tournament aired on ESPN2. ESPN2 saw over 201,000 viewers, and don’t forget the almost 183,000 viewers on Twitch. ESPN has recently been adding esports content, including streaming Counter Strike Global Offensive tournaments live on Friday nights. 

The Street Fighter V grand final deserves its own highlight reel as well. South Korea’s Infiltration fought against Japan’s Fuudo in the top 8, with Fuudo taking the set. Not ready to give up just yet, Infiltration earned a rematch with Fuudo by winning the loser’s bracket. The rematch started with the competitors trading beatdowns until Infiltration went and secured the first set. Infiltration rode the momentum through the second set, with Fuudo being unable to bring himself back in.

Infiltration ended EVO with a german suplex into the ring corner. In the post-game interview, Infiltration only needed two words to light up the arena, “download complete”. After a few extra matches, Infiltration had seen enough of Fuudo’s playstyle to shut him down. The grand final match can be found here.

"After a few extra matches, Infiltration had seen enough of Fuudo’s playstyle to shut him down."

EVO 2016 was an incredible event. With tournaments for 9 games, there were plenty of interesting matches (often at the same time). Namco Bandai also announced that EVO would be going to Japan this year. With more information to come at the Tokyo Game Show in September, this is great news for fighting game fans everywhere. Anyone who would like to learn more about this year’s EVO can find the official website here.


Microsoft Wins One for Privacy

US Government Can’t Seize Customer Emails Stored Outside the Country


The second US court of appeals ruled Thursday that the US government can’t force a company to turn over emails stored on servers located outside the US. Back in 2014, a lower federal court ordered Microsoft to turn over emails of a criminal suspect which were stored on servers in Dublin, Ireland.

"The second US court of appeals ruled Thursday that the US government can’t force a company to turn over emails stored on servers located outside the US."

The lower court ruling falls under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), specifically Title II, Stored Communications. Commonly known as the Stored Communications Act (SCA), Title II regards voluntary and compelled disclosing of "stored wire and electronic communications and transactional records". The ECPA was created to supplement the Fourth Amendment, which only protects “persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures". The ECPA makes no mention of extradition from foreign countries, which is handled by extradition treaties. As such, the ECPA alone will not allow the seizing of emails from Microsoft’s Ireland servers.

In recent years, the Justice Department has been at odds with US companies over data. There is an ongoing discussion about the balance of privacy and security. Companies have invoked privacy arguments to protect customers, while law enforcement has argued that they need access to data for security reasons. 

"In recent years, the Justice Department has been at odds with US companies over data."

A ruling at the federal appeals court level is very powerful. This is because the Federal court system is 3-tiered, with district courts, appeals courts and the US Supreme Court. Some will remember the recent San Bernardino case involving the FBI’s orders for Apple to unlock an iPhone. The divisive case was dropped, with the FBI suddenly finding a third-party to unlock the phone.

Rulings made by a district court may be appealed to a Circuit Court, which hears all appeals within its geographical circuit. Very rarely, a case may make it to the US Supreme Court. A ruling made by the US Supreme Court is binding on all lower courts, meaning they must follow that ruling in deciding future similar cases. This is called precedence, and works similarly for US circuit courts. Thursday’s ruling will prevent companies from having to give up communications stored overseas for similar Federal cases in the second circuit, and the decision may be referenced all over the country.

"This is good news for tech companies, especially those that provide cloud services."

This is good news for tech companies, especially those that provide cloud services. Customers care deeply about whether a company can be trusted to protect their data. Added to the mix is the very outdated set of laws regarding data and privacy (the ECPA was passed in 1986). This is a step in the right direction, but we still have a ways to go.


Nintendo Announces "New" Console

And it’s NOT the NX

Nintendo has just announced a new (or maybe old?) console, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). A palm-sized, HDMI version of the old favorite is slated for release on November 11th this year.

"A palm-sized version of the old favorite is slated for release on November 11th this year."

The NES Classic Edition includes the system, one NES Classic Controller, (which will work with Wii and Wii U virtual Console games), an HDMI cable, an AC adapter and 30 pre-installed games. The list includes many favorites like Final Fantasy, Donkey Kong, Mega Man 2, and the three Super Mario Bros. Games.

Nintendo has said little about the hardware, but it doesn’t take anything state of the art to run the 8-bit classics. They’ve also mentioned that each game will have “multiple suspend points”, for resuming play at a later time without passwords. This suggests that the console will be some sort of emulator, rather than running the games natively. It then begs the question whether the games will be in their original, potentially bugged glory, or receive some minor updates.

This move by Nintendo is aimed at those who grew up with the console as well as those who have never experienced it. The console appears to have all of the same physical features of the original console at a smaller size, including the dust cover over the cartridge slot. This could be important, and brings to mind Nintendo’s fairly recent patent for a system “not provided with an optical disk drive for reading out a program and/or data from an optical disk.” This might indicate plans for some type of expansion card containing more games for the console, or just an attempt to keep the NES Classic’s appearance as faithful as possible.

"Nintendo's move is aimed at both those who grew up with the NES and those who have never experienced it."

The NES Classic will retail for $59.99. Anyone who’d like to know more about the console, including the full list of pre-loaded games, can check out the official Nintendo store page here.


The Windows 8 Charms Menu

In this way, Windows 10 on a 2-in-1 can't measure up

Windows 8... the mere mention of that operating system triggers PTSD-like flashbacks for many; it was a touch-first operating system loaded onto millions of traditional computers. (That is, those that lack a touchscreen.) For that reason, Microsoft's operating system from October 2012 to July 2015 will live in software infamy. But Microsoft introduced a lot of new ideas in Windows 8 and not all of them were terrible.

Case in point: the Charms Menu. What was it? The Geek Squad describes it as “a combination of the old Control Panel and Search combined with the functionality that allows users to easily share content.” Microsoft used to brag (when not cached, the link redirects to Windows 10 FAQs) that “the Search charm uses Bing Smart Search so you can search your PC, the web, and OneDrive, plus some apps and the Windows Store.” 

"This vestige of Redmond’s forlorn OS should have remained in the Windows 10 tablet mode."

The Charms Menu was a genuinely useful interface mechanism on a touch display. Clearly, pointing your cursor to the top or bottom right-hand corner was unintuitive but this is a vestige of Redmond’s forlorn OS that should have remained in the Windows 10 tablet mode. All devices, touchscreen or otherwise, running Windows 10 have the ability to make the system touch-optimized. The Action Center, which according to Microsoft is “where you'll find app notifications and quick actions,” houses this toggle. 

The Action Center also serves as the successor to the Charms Menu by granting the user quick access to a number of commonly used features including the new Settings app and OneNote. But while it has the same purpose in mind, its execution is flawed. A unified client for incoming notifications is a welcome addition, but Bing Smart Search is now hidden inside the Cortana app, Microsoft's digital assistant.

"A unified client for incoming notifications is a welcome addition."

Moreover, the large and easily accessible Start Button once housed in the Charms Menu returns to its historical location, to much fanfare. Gone too is universal sharing; it can be added to the title bar of a Windows Store app but that responsibility is left up to developers. Sharing capabilities are buried in the ribbon menu of the File Explorer, but Modern UI applications use a different front-end to browse files.

On the whole, Windows 10 is a much more user-friendly operating system than its predecessor. However, no OS is perfect and Windows 10 is no exception. Alas, poor Charms Menu, we hardly knew ye.

Games Done Quick Earns $1.2 Million for Charity

Gaming for All the Right Reasons

Last week, from July 3th to July 9th, Summer Games Done Quick raised over $1.2 million dollars for Doctors Without Borders. The weeklong video game speedrunning event, where professional gamers try to beat games as quickly as possible, was streamed around the clock on the video gaming streaming site Twitch.

Doctors Without Borders, also called Médecins Sans Frontières, is an international medical humanitarian organization. The organization provides aid in almost 70 countries whose survival is at stake, mostly from armed conflict, epidemics, exclusion from health care, natural disasters, or malnutrition. This organization was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999.

SGDQ 2016 had a long list of games and some incredible talent on hand this year. Starting off with Mario Sunshine, (a personal favorite) Bounceyboy beat the Gamecube classic in just an hour and twenty minutes. From difficult games to terrible games, viewers (who double as contributors) are amazed every year at the sheer variety of titles on display, and surprised at just how deep the world of speedrunning goes. 

There were a lot of highlights during the event. A Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze race between Canadian and American players showed just how competitive the scene is. There was also a blindfolded Castlevania: Symphony of the Night run, a no power-up run of Super Mario World, and a Super Mario Bros. 3 run, which included the rare in-game coin ship event.

There was also a lot of fun to be had, such as when donors requested Ribbedkilla sing “Whole New World” during the magic carpet level in his Disney’s Aladdin speedrun. Soon enough, host Edobean, a speedrunner herself, joined in with the Jasmine portion of the song. 

All in all, it was a great event for a great cause. Games Done Quick won’t be doing Awesome Games Done Quick until next January, but you can find a playlist of all of last week’s speedruns here.


iOS 10's New Lock Screen Defeats Its Original Purpose

Uncharacteristic Privacy Oversight Front and Center in iOS 10

With Apple’s iOS 10 on the horizon, the lock screen is about to get a lot more important for a plurality of users. iOS 10 put the lock screen, which has not seen a major revamp since the design language change introduced in iOS 7, front and center. This new implementation turns the lock screen into a more powerful Notification Center, essentially dialing up the Android approach on version 4.4 KitKat and later.

What Google and Apple are forgetting is the single purpose of the lock screen; it’s a screen meant to lock you out until you authenticate to the system, whether that be through your fingerprint, a PIN or password, swiping on a picture, or having the front-facing camera snap a pic of your face.

“Displaying your sensitive information without authentication favors ease-of-use over privacy.”

Being able to access your calendar, the weather, and messages without going directly into the app is useful, but that’s what notifications (the kind you swipe down for) and widgets are for. Displaying your sensitive information without authentication favors ease-of-use over privacy. The whole reason there is a lock screen is that so if someone picks up your phone, your personal information isn’t at their fingertips. 

It’s ridiculous that Apple thinks its users can’t be bothered to unlock their phone to access their notifications. This “improvement” is a solution in search of a problem.

Does Pokémon GO Need to Go?

Journey to the Indigo League Proves Treacherous

Nintendo and Niantic Labs’ new augmented reality (AR) mobile game released for Android and iOS this Tuesday and has since become the hot topic on the internet. Unfortunately, not all talk is good.

Pokémon GO is free-to-play, but supports microtransactions. The mobile game lets players catch, battle, train and trade Pokémon. (Trading was not yet implemented at time of writing.) Pokémon, the wildly popular Japanese game of collecting Pocket Monsters, appear in the real world through AR using either static backgrounds or live video. There is also an optional wearable accessory called the Pokémon GO Plus, which connects via Bluetooth and lights up and vibrates when a Pokémon is near. Players create an avatar, and have to walk around the real world to move the avatar in-game. If you would like more information, check Pokémon GO’s Wikipedia page or official site.

First of all, many would-be players are experiencing issues starting the game in the first place, including:
  • Login authentication error
  • Servers experiencing issues
  • Pokémon Trainer Club registration issues
  • Frozen screens on unsupported devices
  • Error messages when trying to launch the camera

During more than ten attempts to play since Thursday, I experienced the “GPS unavailable” and “servers down” problems. A web search will bring up Pokémon GO’s known issues guide, but it should be noted that Niantic Labs “are working on a solution” for distorted audio and heavy battery use.

“Pokémon GO is not yet available in all countries, and hackers are taking advantage of that fact.”

Pokémon GO is not yet available in all countries, and hackers are taking advantage of that fact. Malicious APK files can be found online containing a remote access tool called DroidJack, which grants the hacker full access to users’ devices. This is primarily a concern in countries outside the initial release in certain areas of the US, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. Anyone who downloads the app from the Google Play or iOS stores will not have to worry about malicious activity.

Now let’s get to the real problem with Pokémon GO… people. Pokémon GO tries to place Pokémon in locations that make sense. Want a Water Pokémon? Try Going to the beach. However, there are some more interesting Pokémon appearances.

The game also places Pokémon and items near landmarks, such as a police station in Denver, which states they do not need to enter the station to catch a Sandshrew, and kindly asks trainers to look both ways before crossing the street.

"Policemen tell trainers not to enter their precinct and to look both ways before crossing the street.”

Pokémon GO encourages discovery, such as when a Wyoming teen found a dead body while playing. Although the event is obviously not the developer’s fault, the article made the rounds as good clickbait.

In one case, a man’s house was made into a gym. Pokémon GO uses maps to find points of interest, and might turn them into a gym for players to gather and challenge. The map in question was over 40 years old, and the church in which he lives is no longer a church. That has not stopped him from becoming the unfortunate owner of a Pokémon gym, with a steady group of people dropping by uninvited.

It is more than likely that these types of frustrations may go to court sometime soon. Trespassing aside, Pokémon GO may be responsible for a small drop in the US obesity rate. At least until people get creative. Pokémon GO may also lead to a sharp rise in distracted driving, as evidenced from tweets like this one.

“It’s only a matter of time until we have our first death related to Pokémon GO.”

The game itself is fine, and it serves its intended purpose of getting people out of the house, but the danger that the potential distraction presents is worrisome. It’s only a matter of time until we have our first death related to Pokémon GO. Anyone who’d like to (safely) give Pokémon GO a shot can download it from Google Play or from the iOS App Store.


Google’s Nexus Program

From Developers’ Device to Hero Phone

Nexus One (left) and Nexus 6P (right)

The Google Nexus program has come a long way in six years. Since the first device, the HTC Nexus One, released in 2010, much has changed with the search giant’s sans-bloatware smartphone offerings. 

While these devices stay true to the original goal of introducing the next version of Android: 
  • Nexus One debuted 2.1 Eclair
  • Nexus S gave us 2.3 Gingerbread
  • Galaxy Nexus brought 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich
  • Nexus 4 unveiled 4.2 Jelly Bean
  • Nexus 5 was the first to have 4.4 KitKat
  • Nexus 6 introduced 5.0 Lollipop
  • Nexus 5X and 6P show off 6.0 Marshmallow
There has been a noticeable shift since the Nexus 6 arrived on the scene. That phone was the first Nexus phone to offer a truly premium experience (a Nexus tablet called the 9 was released around the same time, touting an NVIDIA processor and iPad-level screen resolution). This was reflected in its cost.

“The Nexus 6 was the first Nexus phone to offer a truly premium experience.”

Unlike its predecessors, which stayed under the $400 mark unlocked, the Nexus 6 went for $650 when it was released in autumn 2014. Such a stark departure from its previous strategy (the Nexus 5 retailed for nearly half the 6’s price at just $350) marked a substantial change in the way Google views these devices.

Instead of a merely being a testing ground for the latest version of their OS, Google now seeks to be big dog of the Android yard, by far the largest by sheer market share, instead of a sidelined trainer. The Nexus 6P was a clear response to the iPhone 6 Plus and outshone it in numerous ways including screen-to-bezel ratio, screen resolution and, arguably, build quality. (The latter virtue having only been achieved twice prior with Samsung’s 2015 flagships: the S6 and Note 5.)

“Google now seeks to be the big dog of the Android yard.”

The Nexus 5 and earlier Nexus handsets carved out a respectable niche in the Android world and since Google’s revenues stem primarily from serving ads, there wasn’t pressure to come out with a killer product. That being said, Google has long since grown weary of Android fragmentation and scooping up the lion’s share of sales could solve this problem to an extent the Google Play Edition and Android One concepts failed to. 

The Nexus 6 was a failed start because of its price point and borrowed design from the Moto G (which suits the G well, but many tech reviews felt it scaled poorly to the 6-inch Nexus). The 6P remedied these caveats by slimming down from 5.96 inches to a more comfortable 5.7 form factor. It also stars at $250 less than the Nexus 6 at $499. 

Consumers and reviewers alike have been kinder to the 6P than the phablet that came before it and Google is expected to announce its successor this fall, months after LG and Samsung released their 2016 flagships and in conjunction with the release of the iPhone 7 Plus.


Microsoft Goes All-Out with Full-Screen Nagging

With the end of Microsoft’s free Windows 10 upgrades in sight, the company has decided to make one last push with full-screen prompts to upgrade.

The screen provides four options:
  1. Upgrade to Windows 10 immediately
  2. Be asked again in three days
  3. Ask to be reminded three more times
  4. Opt out of other notifications
The notification will not appear for anyone who has already opted out, made certain tweaks to their registry, or used one of the various tools available online.

I, for one, am glad that Microsoft will soon end its nag campaign. Just last week, a court granted a woman a $10,000 judgment for lost wages and the cost of a new PC (Microsoft wisely dropped the appeal to avoid further litigation costs). Microsoft has deservedly gotten a lot of flack for its annoying tactics, including ruining a gamer’s livestream (warning: the video contains coarse language) and interrupting a weather broadcast.


Davis & the Jake-Man 07: The Future of Computing