TIME twitter

Your Twitter Favorite Button Just Got a Lot More Powerful

Social Media Site Twitter Debuts On The New York Stock Exchange
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This is why mysterious tweets are showing up in your Twitter timeline

If you’ve noticed tweets from people you don’t follow popping up on your Twitter timeline, you’re not going crazy.

Twitter has updated its help document with information explaining why new tweets, in addition to sponsored tweets and ads, now show up in your timeline, in addition to the regular digest of tweets from Twitter accounts that you follow.

“When we identify a Tweet, an account to follow, or other content that’s popular or relevant, we may add it to your timeline. This means you will sometimes see tweets from accounts you don’t follow. We select each Tweet using a variety of signals, including how popular it is and how people in your network are interacting with it. Our goal is to make your home timeline even more relevant and interesting,” says the updated document.

Importantly, favoriting something is not the sole decider in whether the new tweet shows up on your timeline.

TIME could not immediately confirm with Twitter what, exactly, qualifies a tweet as “popular or relevant,” but it seems to involve how many retweets and favorites something gets–meaning that the once relatively impotent little star next to a tweet has just been given new–if rather ambiguous–life.

TIME Hacking

Hacking Traffic Lights Is Apparently Really Easy

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Security researchers in Michigan reveal vulnerabilities in crucial roadway infrastructure

In the 1969 classic The Italian Job, Michael Caine and crew commit a major gold heist by hacking into the traffic light system of Turin, Italy, to cause a massive traffic jam, giving the robbers a perfectly synced path to escape through the gridlock.

As it turns out, this piece of high-action Hollywood theatrics is not merely screenwriter fantasy. According to cyber security researchers at the University of Michigan, pulling off a caper like that wouldn’t even be difficult today.

“Our attacks show that an adversary can control traffic infrastructure to cause disruption, degrade safety, or gain an unfair advantage,” writes the research team led by computer scientist J. Alex Halderman.

“With the appropriate hardware and a little effort, [a hacker] can execute a denial of service attack to cripple the flow of traffic in a city, cause congestion at intersections by modifying light timings, or even take control of the lights and give herself clear passage through intersections,” according to the researchers’ findings.

The Michigan team identified three main weaknesses in traffic control systems in the U.S.: use of unencrypted wireless communication signals, default usernames and passwords, and the use of a traffic controller—the machine that interprets sensor data and controls lights and walk signs, etc.—that is vulnerable to known hacks.

Traffic signals that were at first use isolated machines have evolved into the interconnected systems we have today, which facilitates big improvements in traffic flow and safety. Unfortunately, it also leaves traffic control systems vulnerable to a system-wide attack that would have been impossible in a pre-computerized era.

Researchers also identified some relatively easy fixes for the vulnerabilities they found, but added that “the real problem is not any individual vulnerability, but a lack of security consciousness in the field.”

Here’s a clip of the traffic hack scene from the 2003 remake of The Italian Job. Computers really have come a long way.

TIME Gadgets

Wireless Price Wars Continue with Cheaper Verizon, Sprint Plans

Just note the fine print: Limited-time promotions may lead to higher prices around the corner.

We have truly entered the Bizarro World of wireless service, in which carriers keep inventing new ways to slash prices instead of further gouging their customers.

Verizon and Sprint are the latest to retool their plans, with promotional pricing for the former and permanent price changes for the latter.

If you’re a new subscriber to Verizon on an individual plan, you can now get 2 GB of data, unlimited talk and unlimited text for $60 per month. And if you sign up for Verizon Edge, which lets you trade up to a new phone for free once per year, the plan drops to $50 (plus the monthly installments on the phone itself). Either way, the new plan is $30 cheaper than before.

Some caveats apply: Verizon says this pricing is “promotional,” but doesn’t say when the promotion will end. And it’s only good for single-line, 2 GB plans. If you need more data or more lines, you get the same pricing as before. Also, existing subscribers can only get the reduced pricing when they upgrade to a new phone.

As for Sprint, the carrier is offering new shared data plans that are cheaper in many scenarios than plans from AT&T and Verizon. Like its larger rivals, Sprint is offering a single bucket of data shared across all phones and tablets, but the baseline data prices are less expensive.

For instance, Sprint charges $100 per month for 20 GB of shared data, while AT&T and Verizon charge $150 per month for the same data allotment.

On top of that data charge, you also have to pay per line. If you’re going with a standard two-year contract and subsidized phone, Sprint’s per-line prices are the same as its rivals, at $40 per month.

Alternatively, you can pay the full price of the phone in monthly installments. This provides a discount on the per-line fee, and lets you trade up to a new phone for free every 12 months. AT&T and Verizon have an edge here, as they both charge $25 per line for plans with less than 10 GB, and $15 per line for plans with 10 GB or more. Sprint makes the $15/$25 cutoff at 20 GB, so its plans tend to work out best for families who need a lot of data.

To kick off the new family plans, Sprint is offering a promotion that waives all per-line fees “through 2015,” and tacks on another 2 GB for each line. That means you could put a family of five on a 20 GB plan and pay only $100 per month, and you’d actually have 28 GB to play with through next year. But you have to sign up by September 30, and the plan would increase to $175 per month starting in 2016.

If you’re wondering about Sprint’s “Framily” plans, which offered higher discounts as you added more people, Re/code reports that they’ll still be available. It’s just that Sprint won’t market them as much.

Sprint hasn’t been much of a competitor lately, even as T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon all dropped prices to keep up with one another. But after abandoning its attempted T-Mobile takeover and bringing on a new CEO, it seems that Sprint is ready to rejoin the price wars. Things are only going to get weirder from here.

TIME Google

YouTube Videos Playing Automatically? Sit Tight

Well, that's annoying.

All the livelong day, YouTube videos have been autoplaying in my web browser (I’m using Google Chrome). I just opened 19 tabs at once, and my computer basically threatened to walk off the job. My other browsers aren’t affected, so this appears to be a Chrome-YouTube joint.

A fix is coming. It’s apparently a problem on YouTube’s end, and the team is aware of it. Check out this Google thread for updates.

[Android Police]

TIME Management

Steve Ballmer Steps Down From Microsoft Board

Steve Ballmer Steps Down From Microsoft Board
Owner of the Los Angeles Clippers Steve Ballmer looks on after being introduced for the first time during the Los Angeles Clippers Fan Festival at Staples Center on August 18, 2014. Jeff Gross—Getty Images

Ballmer said his new commitments, like owning the Clippers, make it "impractical" to continue serving on board

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said Tuesday he has stepped down from the company’s board. Ballmer’s announcement came in a public letter addressed to the company’s current CEO, Satya Nadella.

Ballmer, who retired from the company’s helm in February but kept a seat on the board, cited the time commitments of his existing responsibilities—like owning the Los Angeles Clippers—as his primary reason for departure, which is effective immediately.

“In the six months since leaving, I have become very busy. I see a combination of the Clippers, civic contribution, teaching and study taking a lot of time,” Ballmer wrote. “Given my confidence and the multitude of new commitments I am taking on now, I think it would be impractical for me to continue to serve on the board, and it is best for me to move off.”

Ballmer said he will remain Microsoft’s biggest individual shareholder, and encouraged his workplace of 34 years to move boldly “to monetization through enterprise subscriptions, hardware gross margins, and advertising revenues” while also continuing to manage Microsoft’s software business.

“I promise to support and encourage boldness by management in my role as a shareholder in any way I can,” Ballmer added.

Nadella penned a public response to Ballmer’s letter, thanking Ballmer for his support and wishing him well.

“As you embark on your new journey, I am sure that you will bring the same boldness, passion and impact to your new endeavors that you brought to Microsoft, and we wish you incredible success. I also look forward to partnering with you as a shareholder,” Nadella wrote. “On behalf of all of Microsoft and the Board of Directors, thank you.”

TIME Companies

Uber Just Hired Obama’s Political Guru to Battle ‘Big Taxi Cartel’

Key Speakers At The Year Ahead: 2014 Conference
David Plouffe, former senior adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama and Bloomberg News analyst, speaks at the Bloomberg Year Ahead: 2014 conference in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., on Nov. 20, 2013. Bloomberg—Bloomberg /Getty Images

David Plouffe, Obama's 2008 campaign manager, calls opposition to Uber "unwinnable"

Uber has hired one of President Barack Obama’s top political advisers to help wage an increasingly fierce turf war with taxi cab associations.

David Plouffe, the Democratic strategist who successfully steered Obama’s 2008 bid for the White House, will join Uber as Senior Vice President of Policy and Strategy and manage the company’s global campaign to extend its ride-sharing service to new cities, the company announced Tuesday.

“Our opponent – the Big Taxi cartel – has used decades of political contributions and influence to restrict competition, reduce choice for consumers, and put a stranglehold on economic opportunity for its drivers,” Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said in a statement on the company’s blog. “We needed someone who understood politics but who also had the strategic horsepower to reinvent how a campaign should be run.”

Plouffe said in a statement that he is “thrilled to be joining Travis Kalanick and the great team at Uber.”

“I’ve watched as the taxi industry cartel has tried to stand in the way of technology and big change,” Plouffe added. “Ultimately, that approach is unwinnable.”

Taxi-hailing and ride-sharing services, including Uber, Lyft and others, have frequently been threatened with cease and desist orders from city officials who accuse the companies of working outside of the regulatory framework set up for licensed taxi drivers.

Uber hiring Plouffe should also put to bed rumors that the political strategist might head back to the White House to serve as Obama’s Chief of Staff.

TIME Companies

Uber Wants To Bring You Your Diapers and Shampoo

The Hamptons Lure Uber Top Drivers Amid NYC Slow Summer Weekends
The Uber app Bloomberg/Getty Images

Uber, but for deliveries

Uber wants to be your delivery boy now, too. The car-hailing service is testing a new delivery feature called Uber Corner Store that will allow customers to get more than 100 items sent right to their doorstep in a matter of minutes.

Via the Uber app, users can select the “Corner Store” option, and will then receive a text from the company with a list of items available in their area. Next, an Uber driver calls the customer and takes his or her order. Then the goods get delivered to the customer’s home. There’s no additional delivery fee and customers are not expected to tip their driver, according to an Uber blog post.

For now the service is only available as a test trial to a limited number of users in the Washington, D.C. area. The item list is mostly limited to pricey name brand products—you’ll be buying Pampers or Huggies, for instance, not store-brand diapers. But Uber says it plans to expand the number of products offered and extend the service, currently only available on weekdays, to weekends and late nights.

Uber Corner Store will compete directly with Google Shopping Express, which lets users receive buy products and receive deliveries from local stores, and Amazon’s same-day delivery service. The new service illustrates Uber’s ambition to extend far beyond being simply a taxi app. The company is also experimenting with a courier service in New York and a moving service called UberMovers in Atlanta and Nashville.

TIME Computers

(Not Very) Bold Prediction: $200 Laptops Aplenty for the Holidays

Inside a Best Buy Store Ahead of Earnings
Customers look at laptop computers at a Best Buy store. David Paul Morris—Bloomberg / Getty Images

For years — years! — we’ve been waiting for the $200 laptop.

Sure, laptops dip down to the $200 during super sales like Black Friday. And snagging a $179 Chromebook — Chromebooks are laptops too, you know — is now a relatively easy feat to achieve. Remember netbooks? Those things were known to flirt with the $200 price point toward the end of their collective lifespan, occasionally breaking through it entirely.

But the holidays this year will look different. Instead of searching, waiting, hoping — stampeding! — for a $200 computer, you’ll actually have a fair amount to choose from, and they’ll likely be in stock and regularly priced around $200 or less.

Over at GigaOM, Kevin Tofel passes along news of the so-called HP Stream 14, which was supposedly leaked to German blog Mobile Geeks. The Stream is apparently a 14-inch Windows laptop with very Chromebook-like innards that comes with 100 gigabytes of storage for two years, just like Chromebooks.

Microsoft doesn’t want to see Chromebooks continue to erode its share of low-end laptop sales. That’s straight from the horse’s mouth: As the Verge reports, Microsoft COO Kevin Turner recently said, “We’ve got a great value proposition against Chromebooks, we are not ceding the market to anyone.”

If that sounds aggressive, get this: Turner alluded to 7- and 8-inch models in this HP Stream line going for around $100 during the holidays. Aggressive indeed.

While ever-falling component costs lead to cheaper and cheaper computers, Bloomberg reported earlier this year that the licensing fee Microsoft charges hardware makers to use Windows on their machines has reportedly dropped exponentially for systems in the sub-$250 price range. It apparently dropped from $50 down to just $15, which of course paves the way for lower retail prices as well.

It’s the perfect storm: Chromebooks are popular low-end machines, and Microsoft wants to stem the tide. These aren’t going to be the most powerful computers in the history of computing, but if you’re looking for something that can handle simple tasks like email and web surfing on the cheap, you’ll have plenty of options later this year.

Vintage Computer Ads

TIME Video Games

Take a Gander at Swing Copters, the Next Game from Flappy Bird’s Creator

Instead of tapping the screen to flap sideways, you tap the screen to propel yourself up.

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The creator of Flappy Bird‘s next game is upon us, and it’s called Swing Copters. It’s another single-tap game from designer Dong Nguyen that’ll arrive this Thursday, August 21. It’s free to play with ads, or if you like, Nguyen will let you pay $0.99 to remove them.

In the game, you play a little bug-eyed dude wearing a Tweedledee propeller hat. Above you lie open spaces between girder-like platforms that jut from the screen’s edges. Tap the screen and up you go, slewing to one side or another so that you have to course-correct continuously.

On either side of the opening hang hammers that threaten your passage, swinging to and fro like blunt pendulums. The hammers seem like the later stages of certain Flappy Bird vamps, specifically even more insanely difficult versions of that game where the pipes moved up and down.

TouchArcade laid hands on the game ahead of its rollout, putting up a video illustrating what it looks like in action (that’s it above). The object is braincell-stupefyingly simple: clear gates, then trump your gates-passed score, just like your pipes-passed one in Flappy Bird. There’s a medal system, too, presumably bronze, silver or gold, though the guy in the video never manages to clear enough gates to clinch one.

It does look harder than Flappy Bird, but then try flipping your screen on its side as you watch the video, and I suspect you’ll agree that it looks an awful lot like a vertical remaster of Flappy Bird.

TIME Special Effects

“Electronic Makeup” Will Probably Terrify You

A creepy vision of the future—maybe

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The project above, led by Nobumichi Asai, shows what is possible using cutting-edge face-tracking and computer-generated effects. So-called electronic makeup is the result of projected images on a models face. It’s all happening in real-time, making the possibilities for film and theater vast. If you watch the video, you can see it’s not perfect yet. But the experiment shows what may soon be possible.

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