TIME Paycheck Friday

5 Unique Drinking Gadgets for Under $50

Come on, you're making some decent money now. Live a little! Consider blowing your paycheck on these worthy splurges.

Digital Beer Koozie ($20)

koolernaut
Beer Outlaw

So much real-time data in this world, and here you are drinking beer without knowing its exact temperature.

The Kool-er-naut brings the tried and true Koozie into the 21st century, with an LCD thermometer and a freezable ice puck that slips into the bottom of this newfangled apparatus for some extra coldness. As a bonus, there’s a chart on the back of the Kool-er-naut that tells you the optimal temperature for various styles of beer.

[Kickstarter (ships October-ish)]

Drink-Making Scale and App ($49.99)

perfect drink
Brookstone

What a time to be alive! Put a glass down on this scale, and its connected app tells you how much of each liquid and ice to pour into your drink (there are hundreds of drink recipes to choose from). If you overpour one of the liquids, the app will readjust the amounts of the remaining liquids on the fly. You can also tell the app which types of booze you have on hand and it’ll return only recipes that can be made with said booze.

[Brookstone]

BeerBelly Booze Smuggler ($29.49)

beerbelly
BeerBelly

I’m no mathlete, but it seems like this fake beer gut would pay for itself before halftime at any exorbitantly-priced sporting event. Simply funnel 80 ounces of your favorite libation into this wearable polyurethane bladder, slip it on under your shirt and waddle through the turnstile looking like any other overweight American. For the ladies, there’s this wine-holding sports bra, too.

[Amazon]

Spinning Beer Chiller ($29.99)

spinchill
SpinChill

Stick a beer into a pile of ice and spin the can around a bunch of times. It’ll eventually get cold. How? Scients. “That’s not how you spell science.” Eh, I’ve heard it both ways.

Now attach the can to this hand-held spinning doohickey that rotates the can much faster and — you guessed it – the beer gets colder faster. The SpinChill can cool a can in one minute, a 12-ounce bottle in three minutes, and a wine bottle in five minutes.

Tailgate-in-a-Box Kit ($39)

instagate
Instagate

Tailgates? Fun. Lugging all the stuff to tailgates? Not fun. Cleaning up all the stuff once you’re stumbling around like a toddler during an earthquake? The utmost in un-fun.

The Instagate one-time-use kit packs a grill, grilling tools, 60-quart cooler, lighter/bottle opener combo, beer pong set, 10 sets of utensils, 12 cups, 10 plates, 20 napkins, 20 condiment packets, and some garbage bags to clean everything up when you’re done. Oh, and the cardboard box folds out into three little tabletops.

[Kickstarter (ships November-ish)]

TIME Companies

Facebook Tests Disappearing Posts Feature

A view of and Apple iPhone displaying th
A view of an Apple iPhone displaying the Facebook app's splash screen, May 10, 2012 in Washington. Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images

The option is being offered to a small group of users

Facebook has quietly released a Snapchat-like feature that allows some users to set their posts to expire at a predetermined time.

“We’re running a small pilot of a feature on Facebook for iOS that lets people schedule deletion of their posts in advance,” a spokesperson for the social network told TIME.

The option, which is being offered to a small subset of users, allows them to set posts to delete anytime from 1 hour to 7 days after they are initially published, The Next Web reports. Facebook has released many features to select groups of users in the past before deciding to either roll them out larger or go back to the drawing board.

Though Facebook hasn’t publicly revealed what the tool actually looks like, some users have taken to Twitter to share screenshots.

Last year, the social network reportedly turned down a $3 billion offer to buy Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send photos and videos that disappear within seconds of a recipient opening them. Market valuations from last month estimated Snapchat’s value at $10 billion.

TIME Video Games

August PS4 and Xbox One Sales Continue to Break Records

Sony says the PlayStation 4 was August's bestselling console for the eighth month in a row.

It’s been a trick for a while now, talking about monthly video game software sales in any capacity, because of digital’s silent encroachment on retail.

Each month when NPD rolls out its retail sales reports and charts, it’s like someone handing you half (or one-third? or three-fifths? or seven-tenths?) of the ballots from a voting station. Last summer, games-biz site Gamasutra stopped bothering with NPD’s monthly data at all. I’ve continued to follow the reports because I find some data more interesting than no data, and have done my best to share the figures in context.

But it’s looking pretty weird at this point, watching the monthly tallies with so many PC gamers having long since migrated to digital sales (mostly via Steam), the thunderous absence of smartphone and tablet software sales in these reports, and console gamers turning increasingly to digital purchases as Sony and Microsoft commit to offering most (if not all) new software digitally, day-one.

The most reliable thing NPD can say about August’s video game retail sales figures, then, since no one’s yet buying PS4s or Xbox Ones using Star Trek-ian matter replicators, is that sales of the PS4 and Xbox One, 10 months along and combined, are “greater by over 70 percent compared to their predecessors.” And Sony, in a side email, says the PS4 was the bestselling console for the eighth month in a row, for those keeping score.

Check the box under “another bumper month” for anyone invested in the set-top model of gaming. Doomsayers are going to doomsay, and who knows where we’ll be in two years, or four, or 10, but for now, everything on the hardware side of console-dom is coming up roses.

But “new physical retail software,” as NPD’s taken to calling new games still bought on disc, fell from $293 million to $232 million, year-on-year: a decline of 21%.

Looking backward, in July, retail software sales fell 15% year-on-year, while hardware sales surged 100%. In June, software was down 3% while hardware was up 106%. In May, software was actually up 57% (as was hardware, by 95%), but May is when Mario Kart 8 hit, and my guess is that most of that anomalous upturn was people buying retail copies of Nintendo’s racer.

The software-down, hardware-up trend continues from there: in April, retail software was down 10% while hardware was up 76%; in March, software was down 27%, hardware up 78%; in February, software was down 9%, hardware up 42%; and I’ll stop at January, with software down 25% and hardware up 17%.

You see the conundrum. Console sales have been soaring as physical software sales have plummeted. Whither digital sales in any of this?

No one knows, since the relevant companies won’t divulge sales figures (the shift from physical to digital has simultaneously been a shift from transparency to secrecy). NPD’s attempts to reconcile digital and retail, working with some of these companies in the background, tend to happen infrequently. And even then, the figures are reported in the most general terms.

TIME social

Facebook Is Testing Disappearing Status Updates

Wish that the status updates you want to share on Facebook weren’t so permanent? Soon, you may be able to make your posts on the social network vanish without a trace – after a set period of time of your choosing, of course. Similar to popular self-destructing message app SnapChat, your Facebook messages may soon have a limited lifespan of your choosing.

As reported by TheNextWeb, Facebook has begun rolling out these temporary status updates to a select group of users of its iOS smartphone app. Those who have access to the feature can select “expiration” times ranging from one hour to seven days. So if you want to talk about a TV episode, for example, you can have your discussion automatically disappear from your Timeline after it stops being relevant. That means less clutter and more focus on the more important events in your life that you have shared.

There’s always a catch with Facebook, though. The one here is that even though your messages can disappear in as soon as an hour, they’ll remain on the Facebook servers. And any information you share will likely still be mined for advertising data, so there’s that to consider when posting, too. Remember that anything you share on Facebook reveals a little bit more about your lifestyle, buying habits and interests.

If you don’t have access to the feature yet, you’ll have to be patient: Vanishing messages are only available as a “small pilot” program, according to Facebook, and only for iPhone, iPod and iPad app users. Still, if it proves both useful and successful, we could all see the functionality soon. Want to learn more about using Facebook? Check out these 5 biggest Facebook mistakes people make, then read up on social network etiquette. And be sure not to miss Techlicious’ updated guide to Facebook privacy settings.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME

Rich Guy Philosophers Hit Silicon Valley

Peter Thiel is only the latest in an old trend

For some time now, there’s been a tendency on Wall Street for rich guys to become philosophers – think George Soros and his reflexivity thesis, or Ray Dalio and his little red book of self-criticism. Now, that trend seems to be coming to Silicon Valley – witness PayPal founder and investor Peter Theil’s new book Zero to One, which, among other things advises young people to drop out of college to do tech start ups (this from a guy with double Stanford degrees). While I agree with Theil’s advice that people should think different (a la Steve Jobs) to really come up with ground breaking innovations, I fear that this book may herald a new era of tech gurus who imagine themselves public intellectuals simple because they’ve made a lot of money.

Joe Nocera and I discussed the topic on this week’s WNYC Money Talking, along with where the tech industry itself is headed in the wake of Apple’s new product announcements.

 

TIME Video Games

Remastered Grand Theft Auto V Release Date Locked In: Consoles Go First

The remastered version of the fastest selling product in entertainment history will arrive in November for PS4 and Xbox One.

The remastered version of Grand Theft Auto V, teased since this summer for PS4 and Xbox One, will finally be available on November 18. But if you were hoping to play it on PC, you’ll have to wait until 2015.

Early 2015, thank goodness: January 27, says Rockstar. But it’s a shame PC owners have to wait through the holidays to play the game. Rockstar’s also released a new trailer for the game, titled “A Picket Fence and a Dog Named Skip.”

I’d guess Rockstar expects to sell a lot more, or at least a lot more immediately, on the console side. The original version, released on September 17, 2013 for PS3 and Xbox 360, became the fastest selling entertainment product (not just video game, but across the spectrum) in history. It’s since been sold-in (to retailers) to the tune of more than 34 million copies. According to this chart, it’s the sixth bestselling game in history, and compared to the five it’s currently listed behind, far and away the fastest selling. It’s bound to fly past Mario Kart Wii and Super Mario Bros., and once the PC version hits the mix next year, I wouldn’t be surprised if it gives Minecraft a run.

The remastered version isn’t just prettier. Rockstar says it’ll include new things to do, additional weapons and vehicles (including aerial ones), more wildlife and traffic, a new foliage system (I assume they mean animation-wise), overhauled radio selections (100 new songs and DJ mixes), additional challenges (Rockstar mentions the shooting range mini-game) and “enhanced damage and weather effects.”

Those who preorder will receive a million bucks of in-game cash to spend in both Grand Theft Auto V and the game’s online mode, Grand Theft Auto Online, says Rockstar. Grand Theft Auto Online will itself see upgrades, including more simultaneous players (up to 30), and comes with all the content released previously for PS3 and Xbox 360. Rockstar says existing characters and progress will transfer to the new consoles.

 

 

TIME Soccer

Player-Powered Stadium Floodlights Have Been Launched in Rio

Kid plays with soccer ball at a refurbished soccer field at the Mineira slum in Rio de Janeiro
A child plays with soccer ball at a refurbished soccer field at the Mineira slum in Rio de Janeiro September 10, 2014. Ricardo Moraes —Reuters

Tiles on the field capture the kinetic energy of athletes as they run

The world’s first soccer field with floodlights powered by player movement was unveiled in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday, but it’s not at the Maracanã.

The never-before-seen technology was in fact launched at Mineira — one of the Brazilian city’s slums, AFP reports.

The technology is called Pavegen, and harvests energy from players’ footsteps using tiles made from 80% recycled material that capture kinetic energy, AFP says. Two hundred of the weatherproof tiles have been installed underneath the playing surface, and the energy from them will be supplemented by solar panels installed on the roof of a neighboring samba school.

Brazilian soccer legend Pelé, who was present for the arena’s inauguration, said the innovation represented new frontiers for the country.

“The whole world started looking at Brazil through football,” he said. “I hope that with projects such as this one, the world will start looking at Brazil through its participation in science.”

Although residents approved the project in a public vote, the cost of playing there — $20 an hour — is too steep for most in the favela, as slums are locally known.

“Today, we have to play outside our community as we can’t pay,” Bruno Olivera, a hospital worker, told AFP.

Pavegen’s chairman said the company is trying to find ways to reduce the cost of the technology.

[AFP]

TIME privacy

U.S. Threatened Yahoo With Massive Fines Over User Data

Yahoo's Headquarters In Sunnyvale, California
A sign is posted in front of the Yahoo! headquarters on May 23, 2014 in Sunnyvale, Calif. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Yahoo tried to fight the government's requests for user information

The U.S. government threatened Yahoo with a $250,000-a-day fine in 2008 if the tech company did not comply with requests for user information, according to roughly 1,500 pages of newly released legal documents.

“We refused to comply with what we viewed as unconstitutional and overbroad surveillance and challenged the U.S. Government’s authority,” Yahoo’s General Counsel Ron Bell wrote in a Tumblr post published on Thursday. “The released documents underscore how we had to fight every step of the way to challenge the U.S. Government’s surveillance efforts.”

Yahoo’s multiple challenges against the government were unsuccessful however, and the company started providing user data to PRISM, the controversial National Security Agency program that was shut down in 2011 and revealed to the public by Edward Snowden in 2013, the Washington Post reports.

Yahoo felt these government requests, which asked for data about whom and when users outside of the U.S. emailed (though not email content itself), bypassed required court reviews of each surveillance target.

Federal Judge William C. Bryson of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review ordered the unsealing of the documents as part of a move to declassify cases and documents that established the legal basis for the PRISM program.

TIME technology

Most Americans Don’t Want Internet ‘Fast Lanes,’ Poll Finds

BU005714
Spike Mafford—Getty Images

A particularly timely finding, as the public comment period for Federal Communications Commission's proposed rule on net neutrality draws to a close

Two-thirds of Americans don’t like the idea of big web companies paying Internet service providers (ISPs) to deliver their content more quickly via so-called “fast lanes” on the Internet, according to a recent poll.

CALinnovates, a San Francisco-based coalition that works on public policy in technology, asked people earlier this month about whether they thought rules should be in place “prioritizing Internet traffic – such as one company willing to pay over another.” Well over half of the respondents–63%–replied either that all traffic should be treated equally or, if priority gets placed, the reason behind the prioritization shouldn’t be because one company pays for it.

The results of the poll, released Thursday, arrive just as the end of the public comment period draws near for the Federal Communications Commission’s sharply criticized proposed rule on net neutrality, the idea that ISPs cannot discriminate against certain web content. The deadline is Sept. 15.

The FCC’s proposed rule on net neutrality has come under fire in recent months, resulting in the Commission’s receipt of a record-breaking 1.4 million public comments.

On Sept. 10, a coalition of tech companies, consumer advocates and public policy groups organized a “day of action” called Battle for the Net, in protest of the FCC’s proposed rule, which generated nearly 2.5 million calls and emails to members of Congress and more than 700,000 comments to the FCC. That coalition advocates for the FCC to categorize ISPs under “Title II” of their statute, which would give the agency the legal jurisdiction to strictly regulate the broadband industry.

When it came to the concept of “net neutrality” within CALinnovate’s poll, however, Americans responded more ambivalently, CALInnovates Executive Director Mike Montgomery told TIME in a conference call. Two-thirds of those polled would like “new laws to deal with fast-paced changes that occur in technology,” but three-fourths weren’t sure the Federal government is capable of keeping up with the pace of technological innovation.

The Internet Association, an umbrella group that includes Google, Amazon, Ebay, Facebook and other web giants, also opposes the FCC’s proposed rule, but like many of those polled by CALinnovates, stops short of advocating for a specific solution.

“Protecting an open Internet, free from discriminatory or anticompetitive actions by broadband gatekeepers should be the cornerstone of net neutrality policy,” said Michael Beckerman, the President and CEO of the Internet Association. “The FCC should leave all of its legal authorities on the table to accomplish this goal.”

TIME Video Games

8 Things Bungie’s Destiny Could Have Done Better

Bungie

I’ve just finished watching the credits roll after sewing up Destiny‘s story-related finale. The credits are optional, just an icon that lights up in the lower righthand corner of the game’s map screen. You can ignore it, and no one would blame you for doing so–I have no idea who 99.8% of those people are either–but I like to give credits sequences their due.

They’re a humbling reminder that a ridiculous number of people probably devoted an insane amount of time to build something unfathomably complex. As someone on Twitter put it after I called Activision’s $500 million early sales windfall surreal: “The whole enormous enterprise of video game production is surreal.” Indeed.

So before you wade into this “cons” list, know there’s a “pros” one in the offing and that I like Destiny more than I don’t.

It’s Bungie doing what Bungie still does better than just about anyone else. It’s a slicker, no-frills version of Halo, sure, only by way of more recent online exemplars like Guild Wars 2 and Diablo 3.

Some of the game’s vistas are gobsmacking, and the way Bungie dynamically folds other players into or out of your particular game instance while keeping areas from overcrowding verges on ingenious.

I’m thoroughly impressed with that stuff, and I’ve only scratched the surface of competitive multiplayer, which I’m pretty sure Bungie views as Destiny‘s heart and soul.

But the game has several unmissable problems. Here are eight that come to mind.

The writing’s pretty terrible…

I’m sorry, Bungie’s team of crack creative writers. I’m sure you lingered over every plot point and sentence and punctuation mark, but as someone who was surprised and inspired by your grand-ol-science-fiction trailer (up to about the 1:00 mark, anyway) wrapped across a gazillion Brobdingnagian screens at Sony’s E3 presser, I was expecting a story more on par with Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312.

Instead, Destiny feels like a paean to fictive mediocrity glommed onto shooting galleries wrapped in locales with meaningless gothic refrigerator-magnet names like “Shrine of Oryx” and “Temple of Crota” and “Rubicon Wastes.” It’s all visual sumptuousness backloaded with a boilerplate story so forgettable I probably couldn’t tell you what happened or why from memory with a gun to my head.

Halo was more ambitious (far from literary, but narratively bolder). The Library level alone was terrific. The series even inspired Hugo/Nebula-winning writer Greg Bear to write a bunch of books that play out in the Halo sandbox.

Destiny‘s story, by comparison, feels like something you get from the worst of the sorts of books you find shelved at the end of a bookstore’s sci-fi/fantasy section, the poorly written ones churned out every few months to placate franchise devotees.

Is that snobbery? Maybe, but it’s honesty from a guy still waiting for gaming’s Alan Moore or Gene Wolfe (that, and I’d argue Destiny‘s buildup promised more).

…as is the voice acting

Poor Peter Dinklage. The guy’s fantastic in Game of Thrones, no argument from me, but here he sounds like someone distractedly reading a bedtime story to a child while texting on his smartphone. My guess — knowing nothing about voice acting, mind you — is that since he plays a sentient robot-thingy, Bungie asked for a more neutral delivery, then forgot to apply the vocoder effect before shipping.

If Dinklage sounded less like bored-Dinklage and more like the computer in Wargames, we might not be having this conversation about wizards, moons and practically studied disinterest.

Carmina Burana wants its musical tropes back

Raise your hand if you’re as tired as I am of composers (in games or films) ripping off Carmina Burana‘s “O Fortuna” anytime they want to establish gravitas.

Some of the game’s music taken by itself is wonderful (I love the choral dissonances of the background music that plays while you’re in orbit, for instance), but marrying arcane-sounding lyrics and ethereal chanting/singing to climactic events for the umpteenth time is now the enemy. (As is not letting you turn the music down or off.)

It feels an awful lot like Halo

The way your health meter replenishes (and the sound it makes as it does), the fast-beeping klaxon that triggers when you’re down to a single health bar, the floating power jumps, the constant chatter of an A.I. companion you have to “deploy” to hack alien computers, the wave upon wave of enemies that storm from drop ships — Halo‘s fingerprints are all over this thing.

What’s wrong with a no-frills Halo and even better-finessed cooperative play? Nothing. Unless you’re burned out on Halo, because Destiny is strictly Bungie furiously tweaking and polishing a 13-year-old template, not subverting the genre, and certainly not tapping into whatever John Romero means (assuming he has the faintest idea what he’s talking about) when he says first-person shooters have “barely scratched the surface.”

Every mission is the same mission

Drop onto a planet’s surface, run down linear overland paths or underground corridors while taking out popup bad guys, deploy your tagalong robot at stations while fending off waves of more popup bad guys, then battle a boss. I’m not exaggerating: that’s every story mission in Destiny.

I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the execution, given how well-rounded everything else feels, but know that Destiny basically has one story-based mission that it trots out ad nauseam.

Where’s random matchmaking for story missions?

Every story mission in Destiny is hypothetically cooperative, but only the Strikes (abnormally difficult boss-surrounded-by-battalions takedown missions) grab other players at random. If you want to play story missions cooperatively, you can, but you have to manually invite friends or pull up your friends list and bother nearby strangers.

It’s sometimes hard to play tactically in first-person scrums

Destiny‘s environments are busy environments. They look terrific, but they’re also overflowing with nuanced geometry in the way of irregular crevices and protrusions, especially underground. It’s easy in cramped confines crosscut by one-shot-kill energy bolts to get stuck on objects, because there’s no depth awareness when everything’s squashed into a hybrid 3D-over-2D plane.

That’s an any-first-person-shooter conundrum, to be fair, but I noticed it more than I usually do in Destiny. That may also be because Bungie employs a third-person view whenever you visit the Tower (Destiny‘s social hub where you can buy stuff, decrypt found items, pick up bounties and collect rewards).

Would a third-person view outside the Tower area break the game? If not, I’d love to see it as optional (speaking as a guy who played the game as the profession designed to lay back and snipe from cover).

Boy, do I miss Legendary mode

I’m that guy who’ll fire up a Halo on Legendary and inch along, dying just to see how each tactical scenario re-rolls: in the Halo games, the tactical permutations are endless.

In Destiny, by contrast, I’m pretty sure my knife-to-the-face/bullet-to-the-head ratio’s been about 60/40 or 70/30. With rare exception, I’m able to sprint right up to throngs of stupid-slow enemies and do the deed without recourse to cover. Playing story missions at either Bungie’s recommended character levels or the optional ones (“normal” or “hard”), Destiny‘s enemies are tenpins, even when the game thinks its compensating by spawning waves in the dozens.

Halo gave you difficulty options to make that sort of tank-rush tactic punitive and often impossible. Destiny, in Bungie’s naked attempt to lubricate your journey toward its multiplayer-angled endgame, just winds up feeling tediously breezy as you roll through the story to hit the game’s level cap over its first dozen-plus hours.

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