United States Enforces Electronics Ban on Certain Flights

Non-Stop Flights from Middle East and North Africa Affected

Last Tuesday, the United States Department of Homeland Security announced a ban on large electronics on certain flights to the U.S., following a similar ban in the UK on March 18. Specifically, passengers would not be able to bring any electronics larger than a cell phone into the cabin of certain flights to the United States. The ban went into effect only 96 hours later, and airlines which did not comply could lose their license for U.S. flights.

The new policy only covers non-stop flights to the U.S. from one of ten airports in the Middle East and North Africa. Inbound flights from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Turkey are affected by the UK ban.

This includes some of the busiest airports in the world, located in Istanbul, Turkey and Dubai. Nine airlines including Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines are affected, although not of their flights will be included. Also of note is that the UK ban includes different countries from the U.S. ban.

“The ban will not affect flights operated by U.S. or European airlines.”

The ban will not affect flights operated by U.S. or European airlines, as none offer a non-stop flight from the specified regions. U.S. airlines are still expected to suffer, due to the affected flights bringing fewer layovers. 

Specifically, the ban states that passengers may not carry any electronic device larger than a cell phone into a plane’s cabin. Laptops, e-readers and more are included in the ban, but certain medical devices are exempt. These devices must be checked and placed in the cargo hold for the duration of the flight. For now, passengers will have to make do with terrible in-flight movies.

Senior administration officials have instituted the ban as a security measure against risks of terrorist activity on commercial planes. The Guardian cited an anonymous source claiming a plot was discovered involving hidden explosives in a fake iPad.

“It is not currently known whether any more countries will be added to the list in the near future.”

At time of writing, the ban does not have an expiration date. It is not currently known whether any more countries will be added to the list in the near future. Further details on the ban should be publicized in the coming weeks, but for now, Business Insider has a more thorough write up on the U.S. ban.


Review: Super Mario Run

Mushroom Kingdom comes to Mobile

Super Mario Run finally made its way to Android last Thursday. As Nintendo’s first mobile game, Super Mario Run was created to test the waters for Nintendo games on mobile platforms. Although the game saw some early success on Apple devices in December, it has since failed to hit Nintendo’s target sales numbers.

Super Mario Run is designed as a game that you can play with one hand. It plays in the style of the newer 2D Mario games, with a few changes for the mobile platform. Mario will run automatically and vault over small ledges and enemies without having to do anything, while tapping the screen will make Mario jump from the ground or from walls. 

Mario will usually only run from left to right, but certain blocks will allow him to jump backwards, and other blocks and platforms will stop him so that you can properly time the next segment. Falling from the edge or being hit while small will use one of your consumable “bubbles”, which will float Mario harmlessly back through the level until you tap the screen.

"Super Mario Run places a lot more focus on collecting coins."

Run keeps the familiar “get to the end of the level” goal, but places a lot more focus on collecting coins. Each level has three sets of special coins, and each set of five must be collected in a single run before unlocking the next set. Often the levels will split into an upper and lower path, so having to replay a level a few times for each set of coins is common. Thankfully all levels can be replayed endlessly, with no stamina system to wait on (just your phone’s battery).

Besides the level-based Tour mode, Run also has the Toad Rally mode. Toad Rally is Run’s competitive mode, and players can challenge friends and stranger worldwide. Players earn coins and toads by playing through timed, endless versions of levels from Tour mode. Toads are can be impressed when the player performs “daring moves” like jumping out of a roll or leaping off an enemy.

Tickets are needed to play Toad Rally, and are earned by collecting all of the pink coins in a level, from completing bonus games, or occasionally from completing Toad Rally races. During my playtime, the tickets seemed plentiful, although I did receive an extra 20 by purchasing the game.

"Tickets are needed to play Toad Rally, Run’s competitive mode, and must be earned."

Coins earned from both Tour and Toad Rally can be used in the player’s own version of Mushroom Kingdom. They can decorate the kingdom with houses and other buildings, some of which provide benefits like coin earning mini-games. Only a few buildings can be bought while playing the free version, as different colored Toads required to unlock buildings and other playable characters aren’t available.

Super Mario Run is interesting in that it has a pay-once model, with a four level demo. This model works well in making sure players know what they are paying for before making the purchase. The full game includes 6 worlds with 4 levels each, and three sets of coins in each provides a fair amount of replayability for $9.99.

Super Mario Run's free to play, pay once model saves gamers the headache of microtransactions.

The levels are short, with starting timers of ninety seconds. Each level feels unique in its own way, and familiar stage tropes are presented with new twists on the Mario formula. A dedicated player can beat all levels in a few hours or days, but the special coins add some extra playtime for completionists. The levels each feature the catchy tunes the series is known for.

The only powerups featured in Run are the super mushroom and super star. Because of the limited control scheme, fan favorites like the fire flower couldn't be used without complicating the game a bit. The super star also triggers a coin rush in addition to making Mario invincible for a time. 

"So far, Nintendo is sticking to their pay once model."

At time of writing, Nintendo seems to have no further plans for Super Mario Run. A daily login event coinciding with the Android release gave players a few goodies, but Nintendo has not announced further content such as levels or characters. So far, Nintendo is sticking to their pay once model.

Super Mario Run is a Nintendo game through and through. There is attention in even the smallest details, like the delay after unpausing to get your bearings or placing coins so that the player jumps perfectly on an enemy’s head. Enemies move so that even if you’ve been delayed by a pitfall, you can still perfectly time the next part of the level. The game is a great value for $9.99, but do remember that this is not a traditional Mario game.

Davis’s Tech News March 21 - March 27

"Davis's Tech News" is a weekly digest of #technews
curated by D&theJM's Senior Technology Correspondent, Davis.


Proposed Cyber Defense Bill Will Let Victims Hack Back

Should We Legalize Cyber Self-Defense?

The last few years have been awash with headlines of data breaches and hacks. Banks, food chains, tech firms, everyone is now a target for cybercrime. Georgia Representative Tom Graves (R) has proposed an amendment to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). The amendment would allow victims of a cyber attack to fight back. 

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act was written in 1986, and is both vague and outdated. Its vague wording allows prosecutors to seek severe punishment for many everyday activities. Fun fact: deleting your internet history is a felony.

“Fun fact: deleting your internet history is a felony.”

Cyber legislation is difficult to write, as there are many nuances and specifics to web technologies. Despite our shrinking level of privacy, politicians are eager to make new rules for the Internet. In 2015, the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) raised privacy concerns, but still passed. In December, President Obama signed an act allowing a single judge to let the FBI hack into botnets containing millions of computers.

Graves’ draft for the “Active Cyber Defense Certainty Act” (ACDC) has been gaining bipartisan support. The bill will change some of the rules and language in the CFAA, which is filled with problems. The ability to hack back after a breach is a much desired tool, but there are several arguments against it to consider.

The bill will allow victims to hack back in the event of a “persistent unauthorized intrusion” of a computer. A victim can collect information about the attacker to share with law enforcement. They may also “disrupt continued unauthorized activity against the victim’s own network”. The bill would not allow destroying information on another computer, causing physical injury or threatening public health or safety.

“Persistent” may be too broad a word for a hacking bill. An intrusion can last anywhere from seconds to years, so there is quite a sliding scale right now. Multiple intrusions and whether information is copied or destroyed are key in sentencing, but aren’t mentioned. The word “intrusion” will protect victims after unauthorized access, but not denial of service. 

The bill also overlooks the very real chance of misattribution. Botnets and other web technologies make it difficult to pin down a smart hacker. There is a high chance that your attacker is a victim themselves, completely unaware of their part in the attack. Government intrusions are also exempt from hacking back, but it is difficult to know whether a cyber attack is from the government or not.

“The bill also overlooks the very real chance of misattribution.”

Jurisdiction is the next big problem, as many hackers lie outside of the United States. Hacking an attacker in another country could run afoul of international law, as hacking back is not allowed in many countries. Even worse if it happens to be a government entity.

There is also the issue of whether a victim has the skills to hack their attacker. Anyone can search for “hacking tools”, download something suspicious and wind up in worse shape than before. The victim could also alert the attacker, giving them the chance to cover their tracks. Trying to hack the hacker may lead to retaliation much worse than the first attack.

There are even concerns that the bill may become an affirmative defense for hackers. A hacker could claim that they were helping law enforcement or assisting victims as some sort of cyber vigilante. So long as they can convince the jury who shot first, they may be protected under the amended CFAA. 

“A hacker could claim that they were helping law enforcement or assisting victims as some sort of cyber vigilante.”

The Active Cyber Defense Certainty Act is currently in a phase of public discussion. Anyone interested can provide feedback and recommendations. After initial critiques, Representative Graves still believes the bill is a good idea, and he will be submit in a few months. The bill is currently far from perfect, but it has a lot of potential for discussion. The bill’s draft can be found here.


Apple AirPods Review

$159 EarPods that Ship Eventually

Apple’s AirPods, which having been announced half a year ago can no longer be considered new, are starting to make it into the hands of average consumers. Apple formally made them available on the thirteenth of December. Essentially missing the holidays, “the trouble [appeared] to stem from Apple’s effort to chart a new path for wireless headphones,” according to a source of the Wall Street Journal. With each earbud, or “AirPod,” able to function individually as a standalone headset, there was much more wireless functionality that needed to be crammed into the tiny earphones than your typical set of wireless buds.

Regardless of the reason behind the delay, it was undoubtedly a missed opportunity for the Cupertino, California-based tech giant. That being said, it’s impossible to say with certainty how much of the post-holiday shortages are due to high demand versus low supply. (Tech coverage and consumer online queries regarding Apple’s wireless earbuds have both fall off a cliff, so that points to supply being the culprit.) Your correspondent ordered a pair in late December and they didn’t arrive until mid-February. American retailer and Apple Authorized Reseller Best Buy, for instance, lists the AirPods as backordered until May.

When they finally arrived, Apple’s AirPods were decidedly underwhelming. The “magic” of the pairing process was, well, magical. Beyond the initial setup, however, things took a sour turn. Noise isolation was nonexistent, battery life was middling, and sound quality indistinguishable from the thirty-dollar EarPods that ship with every iPhone. The W1 wireless chipset, which has been covered previously on D&theJM, is the secret sauce to the AirPod entrĂ©e. Sadly, what the consumer is left with is an overpriced meal.

The only silver lining to this consumer’s experience with the Apple AirPods was that your correspondent was able to hawk them on eBay for a sizable profit, as the aftermarket for this device is quite generous thanks to the aforementioned shortages. This modest publication’s web hosting is paid for until 2021 thanks to this very public misstep of the iPhone producer.


Nintendo Switch Roundup

One Week After Release

The Nintendo Switch launched last week on March 3. For many, this is the first time they've gotten their hands on the Switch. Whether they’re playing in store or at home, the first week of a console’s launch is often where many issues are found. The Switch’s launch has been successful so far, although there have been a number of problems.

Smashing Sales

The Switch is selling really well so far, and has already broken some of Nintendo’s hardware sales records. Nintendo stated that the Switch "sold more in its launch weekend than any other Nintendo hardware in history." The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has also sold more than any other Nintendo launch title in Europe, even outselling Wii Sports (which was bundled with the console). March is usually a quiet month for the gaming industry, and these numbers are incredible for a launch outside of the holiday season.

Sales records aren’t the only kind Nintendo has broken so far, as Breath of the Wild’s review scores have been incredible. Most notably, Metacritic now has the highest number of perfect review scores for any game to date. Although it is still not the highest rated game on the site, it is still along the top, following games like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 and Grand Theft Auto 4. The image below, courtesy of Nintendo Life, lists review scores and comments from many major game outlets. 

Losing Control

Some Switch owners have reported problems with the controllers desyncing from the system. The issue seems to affect the left “Joy-Con” more often, and Nintendo issued a day one fix. Some who installed the fix have since reported that the issue is still present

Nintendo’s Joy-Cons communicate via Bluetooth, which shares the 2.4GHz wireless band with many home routers and devices, so interference may be a possibility. Accordingly, Nintendo’s troubleshooting guide suggests keeping the joy-cons away from Laptops, tablets, wireless headsets, wireless printers, microwaves, wireless speakers, and cordless phones. 

One Youtuber has since opened up the Joy-Cons, finding a flaw in the controllers’ design. In the same video. he describes a warranty-voiding fix. (This site does not take responsibility for any damage from the use of this video!) The Bluetooth antenna in the controllers seems to be located along the top outside edge of the controller, and the placement of player’s fingers can block the signal. On the other side of the antenna seems to be a piece of metal, adding more interference at the source.

Nintendo has asked players to make sure that the joy-cons are attached to the switch while rebooting in order to apply the update, so there is a possibility that some haven’t followed that step. The company hasn’t issued any official statements since the update, so they are likely still investigating the problem.

Record Scratch

Glixel, Rolling Stone’s gaming outlet has reported that the system’s dock scratches the screen. “We’ve been super careful with our Switch since it arrived a little over a week ago and we’ve been keeping it nestled comfortably in one of Miguel’s giant woolen socks whenever we transport it. Unfortunately, after only a week of daily use it’s already gathering a healthy collection of little scratches in the bottom left hand corner, as you can see in the photo.”

By now, there are a few Switch owners who wish they’d known about this sort of design flaw. Although it might not be a problem for an old-styled console gamer, anyone who transitions between the go and the couch may regret not buying a screen protector online.

Speaking of accessories, Dbrand, a manufacturer of phone cases, computers, headsets and game consoles released a report advising consumers not to buy any kind of adhesive skin for the Switch. The company issued a warning via Reddit and Twitter. "Simply put, the coating which exists on the JoyCons [sic] . . . is either cured or designed in a way which doesn’t play well with adhesive".

Dbrand tested their product on Switch units before and after launch, finding their adhesive would leave marks on both the console and the Joy-Cons. The company will not make skins for the console, and will be refunding Switch skin orders over the next few days.

Don’t Copy That Floppy

Many gamers have been surprised by the Switch’s miniscule 32GB internal storage, especially when compared with the multiple terabytes offered to PS4 and Xbox One owners. For reference, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild takes up 13.4 GB, nearly half of the Switch’s internal memory. A MicroSDXC card slot will let gamers expand storage by up to 2 terabytes, but 2 terabyte cards don’t currently exist, and 128 or 256 gigabyte cards are expensive.

Making storage even more difficult is the issue of save files. Save files for the Switch can not be transferred to external storage, or to another Switch console. Nintendo told Kotaku, “At this time, it is not possible to transfer save data from one Nintendo Switch system to another”. 

For now, save files can only be deleted to make space on the internal storage. This is very odd considering that both the Wii U and 3DS allow save files to be transferred, and the availability of cloud saves for other major platforms. Nintendo has likely received some backlash over this, so they may consider allowing save files to be transferred via a firmware update.

Not So Online

Until last week, pre-release versions of the Switch did not have any online features, and what has been released so far can be considered limited. Many features were “unlocked” with a day one update, so many are still figuring out what exactly Nintendo’s online feature set includes.

So far, the Switch’s E-Shop is understandably bare. The console’s launch lineup, alongside a few indie ports like Shovel Knight mean the Switch might gather a bit of dust before the holiday season.

Nintendo has also brought back the much hated friend codes, with a friendly change. Friend codes only need to be shared one way now, and once entered, a friend request will be sent. 

Those who have linked a Nintendo account can add suggested friends they’ve encountered in mobile games like Super Mario Run. There is also a “Search for Local Users” function, which will let players add other nearby Switch owners as friends. 

Even once a user has gone through the whole friending process, there seems to be little to do online compared to both PS4 and Xbox One. The Switch’s online features don’t include old standbys like messaging, voice chat or even game invites. 

Right now, the Switch doesn’t even have a Web Browser (except for logging in to captive portals on public hotspots) or any social media apps. Nintendo is planning on adding Netflix and Hulu support in the future.

Nintendo has promised that there will be a premium online service, but many online features will be relegated to an app for smart devices which won’t be available until Fall. Subscriptions for Nintendo’s new online service are expected to be between $17 and $26, cheaper than both PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Gold, but nintendo is still deciding what that service will entail.

Looking Forward

Despite a number of problems, people definitely like the Switch. Despite its problems, including a very small launch lineup, it has a lot to look forward to. This holiday season will see the next Mario game, Super Mario Odyssey. The mustachioed plumber will leap through an open world reminiscent of New York City, with a few new platforming twists.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, which includes the base game and all the DLC to date, and additional features. Players can hold up to two items at once, a driver assist feature can help new drivers, and classic power ups from older games will be in the game. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is set to release April 28.

Nintendo also has a new Fire Emblem game headed to the Switch. Fire Emblem Warriors will pit characters from the other games in a Dynasty Warriors style mashup, much like Hyrule Warriors did in 2014. Fire Emblem Warriors will release in the Fall. 

These and other announced games are on the horizon. Many gamers may have bought the Switch day one, but many are also waiting for that one must-have game. Nintendo’s online services are far from a competitive offering, and there are a few inconveniences with the Switch’s design. We will have to see whether the Switch stays strong come this holiday season.


LG G6 Announced at Mobile World Congress

With the Galaxy S8 looming, will life be good for Korea’s second-most dominant smartphone manufacturer?

This past Sunday saw the unveiling of LG’s latest flagship smartphone, predictably called the LG G6. The phone has a full aluminum chassis (unlike its predecessor, whose frame was metal but had an outermost layer of plastic), three different generations of Gorilla Glass, and a 5.7-inch 2:1 screen with HDR support.

In an interview with The Investor, LG Mobile president Cho Juno said “preparations for the G6 [were started] more than six months earlier than usual,” and that LG “have also secured enough products to sell this time,” in reference to the shortage of LG G5 devices at launch. (The shortage went largely unreported due to poor sales figures for the G5; no one will notice that your phone is out of stock if no one wants to buy your phone).

LG claims that the G6 has been “tailored to fit in one hand” and the dimensions of the phone in comparison to other flagships support this claim: the G6 is 71.9mm wide, narrower than the iPhone 7 Plus (77.9mm) and the Galaxy S7 Edge (72.6mm). The 2:1 aspect ratio of the handset can be thanked for this feat. The major downside to this uncommonly tall smartphone is a potential lack of ergonomics due to screen height.

"The G6 will support split-screen multitasking at launch due to its Android Nougat software." 

But the G6’s 2880 x 1440 resolution may be both a curse and a blessing. Having a screen twice as tall as it is wide lends itself to split-screen multitasking, which the G6 will support at launch due to its Android Nougat software. Those 320 additional vertical pixels will enable all apps on the G6, both split-screen and full screen, to display more information at a given time and require less scrolling. In a world where nearly two billion people are scrolling through Facebook, less scrolling has an immediate benefit to most consumers. 

A Korean reporter named Jaepil Choi, writing for IT news website Etnews, broke a story three days prior to the G6 launch event claiming that the G6 will released on March tenth. We’ll know in a week whether this prediction was based in fact. What makes the claim interesting is that it doesn’t jibe with the release date of the prior two G-Series phones: April twenty-ninth and twenty-third for the G4 and G5, respectively. If Choi is to be believed, this change signifies a sense of urgency on the part of LG. Releasing their new flagship a month-and-a-half early will be a way to get out in front of fellow Korean tech giant Samsung and their much-anticipated Galaxy S8.


Will AMD Ryze or Fall?

Can AMD Truly Beat Intel at its Own Game?

The computing industry is certainly abuzz lately, and with the looming battle between chip makers Intel and AMD, who can blame them? Last Wednesday, AMD released details for its new processors, including specs and prices, with the release date of March 2. AMD hasn’t been a true competitor to Intel since the late 2000’s, and with so much riding on Ryzen, can AMD’s product match its hype?

First, let’s go over what exactly Ryzen is. The Ryzen series is AMD’s upcoming line of CPUs, formerly known as “Zen”. The reason for the name change is because AMD could not trademark Zen due to there being a lot of Zen-named products on the market.

Key features of the new chips’ architecture are increased power efficiency, simultaneous multithreading and use of the AM4 CPU socket supporting DDR4 RAM. These features are especially attractive to gamers, who like to be on the bleeding edge of technology. Zen is built completely from scratch, and has been made specifically to compete with Intel’s processors.

“Zen is built completely from scratch, and has been made specifically to compete with Intel’s processors.”

Last year, AMD made huge waves in the graphics card market with its Radeon 400 series of graphics cards. Their 8GB $239 Radeon RX 480 closely matched market leader NVIDIA’s GTX 1060, winning in price, but losing from five to twenty percent in performance. 

The new cards weren't enough to topple NVIDIA, but AMD’s share of the discrete graphics market rose to about thirty-five percent in 2016, and they’ve further improved their reputation for providing more bang for your buck.

Last Wednesday, AMD opened the floodgates with plenty of new information on the Ryzen series, detailing their high-end processors. The Ryzen CPUs are x86 processors split into three families. Ryzen 7 for the high-performance and price market, Ryzen 5 for the middle market, and Ryzen 3 for the budget-conscious low end.

Three of the Ryzen 7 series CPUs have been detailed, but details on Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 3 remain scarce for now. In terms of raw specs and price, Ryzen 7 looks great, and compare directly to some of Intel’s better processors.

  • Ryzen 7 1800X: 8 Cores/16 Threads, 3.6 GHz base, 4.0 GHz turbo, $499
  • Ryzen 7 1700X: 8 Cores/16 Threads, 3.4 GHz base, 3.8 GHz turbo, $399
  • Ryzen 7 1700: 8 Cores/16 Thread, 3.0 GHz base, 3.7 GHz turbo, $329

Initial benchmarks seem promising for gamers, with the $499 Ryzen 7 1800X outperforming the $1050 Intel Core i7 6900K by about seven percent in Sniper Elite 4, but this benchmark was curated by AMD during its press event. 

“The Ryzen hype might be well-deserved, but no one can say for sure until the product is released on March 2.”

The Ryzen hype might be well-deserved, but no one can say for sure until the product is released on March 2. For the first time in years, AMD is a good competitor to Intel, and has already forced a few Intel price drops. AMD seems to not only have matched Intel in performance, but completely beaten them in price. Ryzen CPUs are already available for pre-order from retailers and OEMs worldwide, but seem to have sold out at some retailers, including Amazon.