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Ben Heck builds WASD-replacement footpedals

Ben Heck builds WASD-replacement footpedals

Ben Heck’s footpedals, built in response to a viewer request, are designed to replace the traditional WASD control scheme in PC gaming.


Noted hacker and maker Ben ‘Heck’ Heckendorn has published details of his latest creation under Element14′s auspice: footpedals designed to ‘replace’ WASD gaming controls after their 32 year run.

The WASD control system, which uses the aforementioned letter keys in place of the traditional cursor keys, was first seen in the 1982 game Mazogs where it served to make up for the Sinclair ZX81′s lack of sensible keyboard layout. It caught on in the era of first-person shooters when mouse-look became the norm, allowing the left hand to sit at a more comfortable distance from the mouse-controlling right – unless you’re a sinister lefty, of course – while also providing easy reach to other keys that could be mapped to weapon changes, jumping, object usage or leaning.

WASD as a control layout has become so normalised that gaming keyboards typically come with replacement keycaps for those specific letters in eye-catching colours or with a deeply scooped design. Now, though, its days may be numbered – at least, if Ben Heck has his way.

Known for his innovative controller designs and homebrew laptops, including one based on a Commodore 64 and another on an net/news/modding/2008/02/04/ben_heck_unveils_xbox_360_elite_laptop/1">Xbox 360, Heck is now the resident hacker at electronics giant Farnell/Element14 where he has created one possible successor to the WASD layout: footpedals.

A viewer of the Ben Heck Show, dissatisfied with the ‘finger-twister’ training required to excel at modern games, suggested the creation and Heck obliged. A pair of foot pedals provide mapping to four keys by responding to two levels of motion: a partial press activates one mode, while a heavier press activates the second. The result, Heck claims, is a natural-feeling control system that allows for forward, backward and strafing motion without the need to lock the left hand to the WASD cluster.

The entire project has been created from scratch, using a 3D printer for the pedal parts and the popular Teensy microcontroller – chosen for the ease at which it can be turned into a joystick, keyboard or mouse Human Interface Device controller – for interfacing with the PC.

If you’re curious how it was made, or how it works, Heck’s video on the project is reproduced below.

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Microsoft unveils Kinect for Windows v2

Microsoft unveils Kinect for Windows v2

Microsoft’s Kinect for Windows v2 hardware is slightly more understated than its Xbox One equivalent, but requires two external boxes – a data hub and a dedicated power supply – to operate.


Microsoft has formally unveiled the Kinect for Windows v2 hardware, based on the updated Kinect depth-sensing camera system developed for the Xbox One console.

Like its predecessor, the Kinect for Windows v2 will officially only support Microsoft’s own operating system – although it didn’t take long for hackers and tinkerers to get its predecessor running on rival platforms – and come complete with a software development kit for coders who want to add support for the tracking technology to their own products.

The design of the Kinect hardware has changed little from its Xbox One incarnation, aside from Microsoft replacing the Xbox logo from the top-left of the panel with a more platform-neutral Kinect version. The power indicator, previously a glowing-green X shape, has also been revised a subtle single LED.

The Kinect for Windows v2 isn’t purely plug-and-play, however: while the Xbox One version works with but a single cable, its Windows variant needs a couple of extra boxes which come bundled. The first is a power supply, suitable for international use and accepting a laptop-style figure-eight cable; the second is a separate hub box, which takes power from the PSU and accepts a USB 3.0 connection to the host PC. A single cable combining both data and power then leads to the sensor unit itself.

The Windows port of Kinect v2 is expected to include all the functionality of its Xbox One cousin, including the ability to track a user’s heartbeat by looking for micro-fluctuations in skin tone caused by the pumping of blood. Its specifications suggest, however, that it will require a USB 3.0 port to operate – an indication of the increased data traffic caused by the higher-resolution sensors.

Microsoft has not yet provided a release date or pricing information for Kinect for Windows v2.

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Food-gnashing compost container tops Grommet awards

Green Cycler composter

Grind your way through your food scraps.


(Credit:
Ecotonix)

The Ecotonix Green Cycler is a compost container for a new age. It doesn’t just sit around in your kitchen, silently holding your vegetable scraps. It takes those scraps and eats them up, grinding them into little bits for faster, more convenient composting in your compost bin. The Green Cycler was just honored as a winner of product-launch platform The Grommet’s product-pitch showdown, taking top honors in the ready-for-market category.

The $99 Green Cycler first launched in 2012 and has gone through some updates since then. It features a crank-powered set of shredder blades that grind food waste down into a size that composts much more quickly than big chunks.

The other top product-pitch winner is Increment Studios’ O-Rings, a set of sensory learning toys geared for special-needs kids. It took the prize in the ready-for-crowdfunding category. The colorful rings are made with different materials to encourage kids to stack them and play with them while exploring the different weights and textures. The company is planning a Kickstarter launch to fund the O-Rings.

The Grommet product-pitch competition focuses on items that work as hacks or problem-solvers. The winners will get a launch campaign on The Grommet, which specializes in bringing new products to market. Other finalists included Litter One, a biodegradeable cat box, and Tray Bien, a laptop bag/tray for holding both your computer and drinks during a flight. Look for both the Green Cycler and O-Rings to get a boost from The Grommet exposure.

O-Rings sensory toys

These toys are designed for special-needs kids and their friends.


(Credit:
Increment Studios)

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Google Maps hack turns any Street View into an urban jungle

Times Square as a jungle

My, Times Square is looking particularly lush today.


(Credit:
Screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET)

If you want to see New York as a wilderness area, you can watch the CGI makeover in “I Am Legend,” or turn to the Urban Jungle Street View site. Urban Jungle takes advantage of a little-known part of Street View called depth data. This allows the positioning of objects in the correct 3D space, so it really looks like a tree is growing out of the middle of Times Square.

It can be hard to navigate around once you’re in the Urban Jungle map because the usual Street View directional cues are absent. Also, everything that might look familiar is covered in vegetation. This is really more about the novelty of slathering Street View locations with greenery. It works best in locations with tall buildings, but feel free try it out on your own house.

The Urban Jungle experiment may not be around for long. Einar Öberg, the site’s creator, confesses on Twitter that he’s “breaking terms of use like it’s no tomorrow.” That’s mean you had better get in on the jungle-making fun while you still can.

I tried to use the Urban Jungle Street View to navigate into special Street View locations like the Large Hadron Collider and the Earl’s Court Tardis, but wasn’t able to get it to work. This would be a nifty feature if there is way to enable it. If there is, and I just missed it, then set me right in the comments. I really want to see the Tardis console draped with vines.

Bizarre roadside views from Google Street View (pictures)

(Via Boing Boing)

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Mobile March Madness tips for staying in the game

March Madness Live

The welcome screen for March Madness Live.


(Credit:
Screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET)

You’ve got March Madness fever, and the only solution is more cowbell. Scratch that. The only solution is to harness the awesome power of mobile technology and turn your smartphone and tablet into your personal ball boy.

Whether you’re a seasoned pro or someone who fills out your bracket based on which mascot is most likely to eat the other, you can rely on your mobile device to provide non-stop tournament coverage. You can also rely on it to be the most discrete way to watch games, check your bracket, and see what social media has to say while you’re stuck at work.

Make it official
Let’s start with the source, the one app to rule them all: the official NCAA March Madness Live. The free app is back, along with some updates over last year’s model. The tournament bracket has been redesigned with a handy pinch-to-zoom interface, there’s an integrated news section, and an even stronger focus on social-media updates.

All of the games are available as live streams through the app, but there are some restrictions. Any game due to broadcast over the air on CBS is open to anyone to watch. (Disclosure: CBS is the parent company of CNET.) Games that are scheduled for cable, however, require proof of a paid TV subscription. There is one way to skim around this (sort of). The app gives you a three-hour grace period to watch games before you have to log in, so choose wisely, grasshopper.


ESPN Tournament Challenge

Face off against celebrities with the ESPN app. (Click to enlarge.)


(Credit:
Screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET)

Post-Selection Sunday
You survived the insanity of Selection Sunday; that means you’ve been dreaming in brackets and agonizing over your Final Four. You can’t stand to be away from your bracket for more than a few minutes, so be sure you have a bracket app on your mobile device. Naturally, March Madness Live has a bracket section, but it’s not your only option.

The free ESPN Tournament Challenge app for
Android or iOS looks pretty slick and lets you build a bracket group with your buddies, all pretty standard fare. To sweeten the pot, it also lets you compete against celebrity brackets. Last year’s celebrities included the likes of Will Smith, Takeo Spikes, and Common. It’s a bit like TMZ meets March Madness.

Only the thrillers
With 68 teams scheduled to play throughout the tournament, you’re going to have to make some decisions about which games to watch. You could pore over the schedule, or you could just sit back and let the Thuuz app tell you what’s worth watching. The free app gives out game ratings on a scale of 1-100. A score of 85 or up means it’s a great game. This is updated live, so you can get alerts of impending bracket busters or overtimes. The excitement alert is particularly handy. When a game hits a certain “excitement threshold,” you get a notification so you can get your eyes on it in time to catch the best action. It sure beats watching the video replay later.

Sneak March Madness at work
You don’t have to be James Bond to discreetly sneak March Madness past the watchful eyes at work. If you already have your phone cued up, it’s simple enough to steal a glance at a game or check the score under your desk. Are we encouraging this sort of behavior? No, but if you’re going to it anyway, you might as well get away with it. Here are a few ways to get a more complete experience without taking a sick day:

Grab an earful
Local radio stations usually carry the tournament games, so break out your earphones and download the TuneIn app to get access to 100,00 live radio stations. You’ll get the play-by-play in a format designed for listening, so there’s no awkwardness around holding a phone or
tablet on your lap that makes your co-workers wonder why you’re constantly looking down at your crotch.

Put up a privacy screen
If you prefer to leave your tablet or smartphone on your desk with impunity, then at least try to hide it with a privacy screen protector. These sheets fit over the display and make it so only people looking head-on can see what’s shaking on the device. Anybody looking at it from the side will just see a dark screen, which might raise questions about why you’re standing up and yelling at your blank
iPad. Just try to keep yourself under control.

Get creative
Last year, a clever college-basketball fan hacked a simple notepad, carving out a niche for his phone to sit. It looked like he was studiously taking notes, but he was actually watching the games stream live. This would work equally well in either a work or school environment.

Whatever method you choose to stay jacked into the tournament, just try not to let your productivity slump too much. You don’t want to give yourself away. Have a marvelous mobile March Madness, folks.

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MIT’s super-speedy robot fish makes flashy escape

Robot fish

MIT’s Andrew Marchese and Daniela Rus put the soft silicone rubber outer skin on their robotic fish. The rubber was cast in a 3D-printed mold.


(Credit:
M. Scott Brauer)

Some robot fish we’ve seen wouldn’t be able to escape a predator if their fins depended on it.

Enter the new fish-shaped “soft robot” developed by Andrew Marchese, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. It can execute an escape maneuver called a “C-turn” in about 100 milliseconds, matching the speed of fish in the wild. Such swiftness is one of the things that most sets this robofish apart.

Soft robots are machines that have gushy exteriors and move around through the use of fluids or gases pumping through vein-like internal tubes. They’re of interest because they don’t hurt when they bump into people (nor do they scratch the furniture). “We’re excited about soft robots for a variety of reasons,” Daniela Rus, one of the researchers who designed and built the fish, said in a statement. “As robots penetrate the physical world and start interacting with people more and more, it’s much easier to make robots safe if their bodies are so wonderfully soft that there’s no danger if they whack you.”


Like a robot fish to water…


(Credit:
Video screenshot/CNET)

The fact that the fish can perform an escape maneuver “is really important for the field of soft robotics,” Marchese said in the below MIT video about the invention. “It shows that soft robots can be both self-contained and capable of high performance. The maneuver is so fast and it’s got such high body curvature that it shows soft robots might be more capable than hard robots in some tasks.”

The robofish consists of a hard control module that stores the electronics and a carbon dioxide canister in its head and abdomen. From here, two inflatable tubes travel down each side of the fish to its tail. These tubes have nozzles that feed them carbon dioxide. The opening of the nozzle controls how fast the fish moves, while the amount of tube inflation controls the angle at which the fish changes direction. The electronics module also contains a receiver that allows it to be controlled wirelessly, and the entire robot is covered in soft, waterproof silicone rubber made from a 3D-printed mold.

The novel gas-though-tube-controlled movement differs from other robotic fish we’ve seen, like the one invented at the U.K’s University of Bath, which moved thanks to an undulating fin on its underside.

Rus, director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, said a normal robot with hinged joints couldn’t possibly move so fast and that the unique propelling mechanism of the robofish — inflating and deflating internal tubes with carbon dioxide — gives it a distinct advantage over its land-dwelling clunky cousins. “The fact that the body deforms continuously gives these machines an infinite range of configurations, and this is not achievable with machines that are hinged,” she said.

Currently, the robofish can only swim for a few minutes before it runs out of gas. The researchers are working on a new version that should last up to a half-hour and will use water to pump through the tubing in the fish’s body to propel it.

Of course, the MIT crew didn’t build their robot with the thought of lazy fish-tank owners in mind. In addition to pushing along the science of soft robotics, Rus believes the invention can also help wildlife scientists conduct research, by having it swim along with schools of fish while collecting data about their movements and habits like this robofish invented by an engineering professor at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University.

Additionally, “we also view this research as a first step toward creating soft robots that can operate in human-centered environments,” Marchese told Crave. “We are especially interested in developing a new kind of soft hand and manipulator that embodies the materials and principles demonstrated by the soft robot fish.”

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Scrabble to get new official word: Twerk? Derp? Photobomb?

Should twerk, texting, selfie or manscape be chosen as the next new word in Hasbros official Scrabble Players Dictionary? You decide!

Should twerk, texting, selfie or manscape be chosen as the next new word in Hasbro’s official Scrabble Players Dictionary? You decide!


(Credit:
Hasbro)

Sneaking in a made-up Scrabble word and getting away with it is almost as much fun as playing a legitimate one that uses three Zeds — Zyzzyva, anyone? Word nerds who attempt to sneak illegal words like “huzzah” and “bazinga” past their friends may be happy to know that they can now nominate a new word into Hasbro’s official Scrabble Players Dictionary, which hasn’t been updated in more than nine years.

Fans have the chance to chime in on the Hasbro Game Night Facebook Page comments section to suggest their favorite new word to be added, now through March 28.

Numerous words reflecting geek culture have been recommended, including photobomb, noob, lifehack, pwned, selfie, login, meh, blogger, wifi, doge, geocache, emoji, and cosplay. Even slang terms like bling, bromance, twerk, embiggen, and manscape are on the fan-submitted list.

After all, if words like zax (a hand tool), banzai (Japanese battle cry), and coryza (a head cold) can be legitimately used in a game of Scrabble, why can’t derp and bestie become potential double-word score candidates?

So far, kwyjibo is the most proposed word in the comments section. Don’t recognize it? Kwyjibo is the insulting word Bart Simpson attempts to convince his dad Homer Simpson means “a big dumb balding North American ape with no chin and a short temper” in “The Simpsons” episode “Bart the Genius.” If it had been a real word, Bart would have scored 116 points!

On April 2, Merriam-Webster and Scrabble will reveal 16 words chosen from the Hasbro Game Night Facebook page for a Scrabble Word Showdown where fans can cast their votes until the final word wins. The winning word will be announced on April 10 and be included in the fifth edition of Merriam-Webster’s Official Scrabble Players Dictionary.

The most popular fan suggestion for the new Scrabble word is kwyjibo which Bart used as a triple score and insult toward Homer in The Simpsons.

The most popular fan suggestion for the new Scrabble word is “kwyjibo” which Bart used as a triple score and insult toward Homer in “The Simpsons.”


(Credit:
Fox)

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Dark Souls II Review


Dark Souls II Review

Dark Souls II Review

Price: £35.00
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platforms: X360, PS3, PC (April Release)

If you thought Dark Souls was a tough game to play, consider for a moment what making a sequel to it must be like. Putting aside the pressure of following up the most infamously, mysteriously captivating game of recent years, there’s the double problem of preserving the absolute precision crafted into Dark Souls’ many systems, while simultaneously changing, refining and improving it to make a new game feel worthwhile. It’s like making a sequel to the Rubik’s cube. Not a job we’d ask for, that’s for sure.

So how have From Software approached this unenviable task? Well, there’s a clue in that earlier paragraph. See, officially Dark Souls is a hack ‘n’ slash RPG, but beneath its brutal exterior Dark Souls is a puzzle game. The realm of Lordran was one giant riddle that dared the player to solve it, to unravel the secrets of its whispered story. Each area was a little maze to be navigated, each boss an enigma that shifted and changed and, of course, fought back.

Dark Souls II Review
As it turns out, what From have done for the difficult second album is, in the end, quite simple. They’ve given you a whole new puzzle to solve. And for the most part, this works.
Broadly speaking, Dark Souls II plays very similarly to the first game. Changes to the game’s mechanics and balancing have been made, but they’re small, initially imperceptible alterations that only become apparent during the course of your adventure. What is clearly different from the start is the world your story takes place in. Drangleic is the new conundrum that awaits your investigation through plodding feet and biting steel, a sprawling realm in which you must search for a cure to your curse by seeking out and obtaining four Great Souls which, you are told, will unlock the way to your salvation.

Aesthetically Drangleic is similar to Lordran before it. The heyday of the land is centuries behind it, and what’s left is a crumbling ruin presided over by creatures long since given over to corruption. Where Drangleic really differs from Lordran is in its size. Dark Souls II’s world is considerably larger than that of the previous game in both breadth and depth. It’s also a more varied world, blending familiar landscapes and architecture with new and more alien areas. Places like The Forest of Fallen Giants and Heide’s Tower of Flame strongly evoke the Undead Burg and Anor Londo respectively, while others like Earthen Peak and Brightcove Tseldora bring entirely new and equally awe-inspiring sights to the Souls universe.

Dark Souls II Review
Despite the increased visual variation, what Drangleic as a whole has in common is that it’s about as friendly and welcoming as a Somali warlord. Concerns that From might have for whatever reason made the game easier can be put to rest. In any location a momentary slip of concentration or bout of overconfidence will result in a quick and messy demise, while parts of Drangleic are just as punishing as anywhere in Lordran, if not more so. The Shaded Woods are a particularly harrowing locale, where the very environment turns against you, concealing unseen horrors in one area before seemingly mocking you with maddening ambient laughter in another.

Dark Souls II Review
And if you want to talk bosses, Dark Souls II has definitely got you covered. There are dozens of them, and they too come in new varieties. Alongside your towering giants and swift, deadly warriors are new “swarm” type bosses who attempt to smother you through sheer numbers. They also range more broadly in terms of the challenge they offer. Some of the earlier bosses might not pose too much of a threat to an on-form Dark Souls veteran, but if you’ve got a mental blacklist that bears the names of the Capra Demon and Ormstein and Smough, prepare to add “Ruin Sentinals” and “The Duke’s Dear Freja” to it, because they will bring you to your knees. And these are early-to-mid game adversaries, never mind the monsters which crop up later on.

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Watch Dogs Release Date confirmed

Watch Dogs Release Date confirmed

Watch Dogs sees players roaming an open world, GTA-style, but with the ability to hack everything around them.


The highly anticipated next-gen sci-fi adventure, Watch Dogs, has finally been given an official release date, with Ubisoft confirming the title will be available from 27 May 2014.

Originally scheduled to arrive shortly after the launch of the PS4 and Xbox One, the Watch Dogs release date was put back, along with that of Ubisoft’s other big new franchise the open-world driving game The Crew, only weeks before the consoles arrived.

Along with the likes of Titanfall, Battlefield 4 and Destiny, Watch Dogs was expected to be one of the early big hitters for the new consoles. However, only Battlefield 4 managed to arrive on time, with Titanfall due out on 11 March in the US and 13 March in the EU and Destiny and The Crew are still yet to receive a release date.

“We are pleased to be able to reveal to gamers all over the world the new release date for Watch Dogs,” said Geoffroy Sardin, EMEA Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Ubisoft. “We are extremely confident that the additional time we afforded the dev team to refine and polish the game will be more than worth the wait.”

Watch Dogs sees players take control of Aiden Pearce, a vigilante who is also a hacker extraordinaire that can use his skills to manipulate the world around him, controlling traffic lights, stealing money, and accessing secret information. The look and style is very much GTA with hacking, thanks to the 3rd person view and heavy use of cars in the game.

Although earmarked as one of the big new franchises for the next-gen consoles Watch Dogs will also be arriving for all existing platforms such as PC, PS3, Wii U and Xbox 360. Players on the PS3 and PS4 will get access to an exclusive 60 mins of extra gameplay, however.

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Could this iPhone 6 concept be a new, cheaper model?

Pretty, but is it practical?


(Credit:
Video screenshot by Eric Mack/CNET)

In the great tradition of new iPhone concepts just because comes the below take on what a new iPhone 6 could look like. But we’re not talking about just any iPhone 6. This is the iPhone 6C series, the follow-up to the inexpensive, colorful iPhone 5C that appealed to… um, I’ll get back to you on that part.

And yet, designer Joseph Farahi has mocked up a very nice-looking plastic iPhone here that certainly has more appeal than the actual iPhone 5C.

And given the rumors that the next iteration of the iPhone will come in multiple sizes, a design similar to this could actually be in the works. It just seems very unlikely that it will be touted as a follow-up to the 5C.

Specifically, Farahi imagines an inexpensive
iPhone 6 with a 4.7-inch “retina” display, 8-megapixel camera, Touch ID, and a thinner and lighter profile than the 5C.

Check out the video below and let us know in the comments if you think it makes any sense for Apple to take another whack at a new, inexpensive iPhone.

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