Google has unveiled its ambitious new plans for a sprawling, modern Googleplex. The new facility, being developed by architect Bjarke Ingels, features a series of glass, canopies the size of city blocks, new biking and walking paths and an emphasis on green space. Renowned designer Thomas Heatherwick is also involved in the project. Google hopes to complete the first stage of development by 2020, but the company will first have to win approval from Mountain View’s city council amid growing concern over Google’s control over the development of the community.
'Seaman' did not become a blockbuster, but a cult hit
The world is eulogizing the great Leonard Nimoy after the 83-year-old actor passed away Friday. To be sure, the man best known as Spock in various incarnations of Star Trek had a long and varied career. People will be remember the ways in which he influenced, moved or made them laugh for weeks to come.
To me Nimoy’s greatest performance was in what, for most, will seem a minor footnote. In the late-1990s, he provided voice-over narration for one of the strangest, most wonderful experiments in video game history: Seaman. Released for Sega’s Dreamcast console, the Japanese game put a virtual pet in the care of players who were charged with feeding, nurturing and guiding its evolution from sea to land. You could talk to the creature through a microphone accessory plugged into the Dreamcast’s controller and, eventually, he would begin talking back. It was strange.
But also delightful. The game, which Nimoy welcomed you to every time you booted up with a joke or piece of advice, did what emerging (if flawed) technology does best, giving you a sense of what might be possible. A lot of the time it didn’t work correctly, or at all. (Voice-recognition was much less sophisticated, not to mention the lackluster processing power of Sega’s ill-fated console.) But the game was a kind of equation with wonder as the chief variable. And Nimoy’s voice lent the whole thing shape and credence, turning what might have been a trifling experiment into something pretty grand.
You can see gameplay and some of Nimoy’s work here.
VLC lets you play all sorts of different media
A popular video-playing app is finally back in the App Store.
VLC, the cross-platform multimedia player that plays a variety of different file types, is once again available on iOS devices after being pulled from the App Store around the time iOS 8 released in September. The app makes it easy to play format types that aren’t easily compatible with Apple devices.
In addition to the iOS version, VLC updates are rolling out for Android, Windows Phone and desktop, CNET reports. The Android version will support Android TV, while the desktop version will automatically rotate vertical videos for easier viewing. An upcoming update plans to add Chromecast support.
A fight between heavyweights
Ericsson AB has asked US regulators to block all domestic sales of Apple products as part of an escalating patent dispute between the two tech giants.
The request came as Ericsson filed seven separate lawsuits against Apple, alleging that Apple’s highly popular devices infringed on upwards of 41 patents, Bloomberg News reports.
Apple suspended royalty payments to Ericsson in January, after the two companies failed to renew an agreement over licensing fees. Apple accused Ericsson of “abusive” pricing that attempted to skim profits off of unrelated innovations. Ericsson has countered that its licensing terms did not “extract more than the value we put on the table.”
These apps will help you know when to grab your umbrella
Opening this story with a weather-related adage or aphorism would have been great, if Mother Nature’s approval ratings weren’t currently quite so low. Things have gotten so bad for the topic of weather in general that Game of Thrones has even stopped warning its fans that “winter is coming.”
But guess what — it’s here, and we’re all white walkers. So don’t bother making chit-chat by talking about the weather, tap about it instead. No matter the conditions, these ten apps will keep you covered, because believe it or not, it can actually get worse than this.
Ideal for runners, dog walkers, and anyone who’s looking to dodge the raindrops (or snowflakes), this app uses GPS and local radar to forecast precipitation with down-to-the-minute accuracy. Arm this one up with its push notifications, and you’ll always be aware when a storm is passing through.
In addition, the $3.99 app has a widget that allows it to sit in your iPhone’s notification screen, giving you the next hour’s weather without having to dive into Dark Sky’s full interface.
This app has outlasted many weather reporters, having helped users stay out of the eye of the storm since 2009. Pulling official maps from the National Hurricane Center and providing push alerts, the $2.99 app is a favorite of users from South Texas to the Northeast because it provides audio and video updates, long range models, and allows you to share information with friends and family easily through email, text messaging, and Facebook.
Currently on sale for $1.99, this iPhone and iPad app puts pro-level maps in your hands, giving you overlays of rain, snow, and cloud cover, as well as detailed 24-hour forecasts and 7-day outlooks. Great for storm-watchers, it not only tells you the air pressure, humidity, and wind direction, but shows you how the clouds progress with animated maps. In addition, the ability to pin multiple favorite locations makes this app a favorite for frequent travelers.
Sure, it seems almost comical to wonder if it will snow again, but this iPhone and iPad app will help you track the inches before they pile up. For $1.99, you get a great bar graph visual of hourly snowfall, worth its weight in the wet stuff when it comes to planning out your shoveling strategy. Lauded for its accuracy, it will even give you lightning strike information. But the question is, do you think you’ll enjoy thundersnow as much as this guy?
When the big one hits, you’ll know it. But in the meantime, you may want to also keep track of the little and medium ones, too. This free and ad-forsaking earthquake app will notify you of rumblings worldwide, sending alerts as well as earthquake-related news from all over the world.
Pulling its its information from U.S. Geological Survey data, it plots incidents on a color-coded, worldwide map complete with fault lines. And with social media and email integration, you can keep your loved ones in the know about seismic events that may impact them.
Lots of apps are all flash and no substance, but this free iPhone and iPad app by Weather Underground dazzles while keeping you warm and dry. Its maps comes with various data layers and overlays, from radar and satellite to showing weather advisory areas and storm fronts. It even displays animations of both the jet stream and surface air movement — crucial details for knowing how the weather is churning around you.
Toss in some gorgeous single-site sweeping radar animations and hyperlocal information sourced from more than 100,000 personal weather stations, and Storm practically gives you a meteorologist in your pocket.
Using location-based technology to make sure weather alerts reach you no matter where you go, this $2.99 app can keep you appraised of everything from severe thunderstorms to flash flooding, while providing severe weather forecasts, showing live video feeds, and displaying current radar and mapping info. When electricity or television goes out, this kind of information can be a life-saver, as many of its loyal users have already attested.
No one knows natural disasters like the American Red Cross, and its free twister-focused app is all about being prepared and ready when the next one touches down. With settings able to alert you in the event that storm clouds are forming, the app provides step-by-step instructions on what to do next. The app also has the ability to monitor multiple locations, and by providing information direct from NOAA, you’ll be sure to have the most up-to-date details. It also has siren and strobe functionalities to help people find you in case you get lost during the storm.
A longtime favorite of weather-watchers, this free app harnesses the power of more than 100,000 personal weather stations scattered around the country, which allows it to provide hyperlocal current conditions that could even come from your own street. Paired with a trove of historical weather data, it can pump out 10-day forecasts that include snow and rain information.
But if things are off, crowd-based reporting lets people provide corrections to the conditions — or lets them report things like hazardous road conditions — making this the most user-friendly and user-based weather service out there.
If you’re a visual person, and you don’t waste that skill looking for animals in the clouds, Weathertron’s chart-and-graph oriented presentation of the weather is the perfect thing for you. With bold graphics and an easy to understand presentation, the $1.99 app can do everything from provide current conditions to seven-day forecasts at a glance. Currently running in 15,000 cities worldwide, the app pares down weather data to its essential information, making it perfect for people who are on-the-go but need to keep an eye out for puddles, too.
And you don't even have to know where you want to go
Google has updated its flight-search tool and included an array of cool features.
Much like most flight-comparison sites, Google offers a range of fares and available flight options.
But for undecided travelers, the newest feature lets users plug in countries or whole regions. For example, enter “flights to Europe” and a map will appear showing varying prices for different European destinations.
And if you really have no idea where to travel, you can even hit the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button to generate a completely random location.
Flexible-date search options are also available so users can compare prices across multiple months, and the search engine will even suggest tips for how you can bag a cheaper deal.
Google Flights was launched in 2011, but the latest version of the site was announced on Wednesday.
Read next: 10 Google Maps Tricks You Need to Know
It has a lot of diamonds
Many have speculated that version of Apple’s upcoming smartwatch could retail for vastly more than the $349 entry-level price the company announced when it unveiled the device last year. In fact, by some estimates, the Cupertino, Calif.-based technology giant could net as much as $5 billion per quarter from sales of its highest-end gold version alone. Then there are the planned versions below, put out by reseller Brikk. Its top-of-the-line model will cost just shy of $70,000.
The company says it plans to take apart Apple’s devices and reassemble them—with extra luxury. According to a Brikk release, the company will do the following:
Each piece is disassembled inside Brikk’s state-of-the-art laboratory in Los Angeles by a team of skilled engineers. They are hand polished, then plated with five layers of diverse metals before their final plating in either two layers of gold or platinum. High quality diamonds are set with a microscope in a custom-machined bezel. Each piece is then reassembled and tested before shipping to clients.
More information about the final availability of the Apple Watch will be available in early March, when the company holds its “Spring Forward” event in California.
Mobile-friendly sites will do better in search results next month
Google is once again tweaking its search algorithm with a new change that should have some benefits for users.
The company announced in a Thursday blog post that it will rank mobile-optimized sites higher in search results starting April 21. Sites that work well on a smartphone will get a “significant” boost over other sites, the company says.
The change should ensure that people conducting Google searches on their phone typically arrive on easily-readable sites rather than messy desktop-based layouts that are hard to navigate on a small screen. Google offers a form where developers can input a URL to see whether it is mobile-friendly or not.
In addition to the algorithm change, Google said starting Thursday it will begin surfacing content hidden within apps more prominently in search results. If a developer has enabled App Indexing, Google’s search bots can crawl the contents of an app just like a Web page. Information from the app can show up along with regular search results on Google.
It makes sense that Google would want to incentivize App Indexing. The search giant doesn’t have the stranglehold on information queries on phones as it does on the desktop because people often boot up more narrowly-focused apps (Amazon for shopping, Yelp for food) instead of using Google to trawl the entire World Wide Web. More indexing means more valuable information that Google can present to users and serve ads against.
Net neutrality doesn't fix the most pressing problem with our internet service.
On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission officially approved net neutrality regulations intended to protect consumers and businesses from internet service providers.
The new rules, broadly outlined earlier this month by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, will restrict ISPs like Comcast and Time Warner from blocking or slowing down traffic to certain websites, or allowing certain companies to pay extra for better treatment.
These regulations are positive step, but those swept up by the hype might end up disappointed when the real thing finally arrives. That’s because net neutrality doesn’t seriously address anything cable companies are currently doing, nor will it help with the number one issue most people care about: the price and quality of their service.
What Net Neutrality Really Does
Let’s start with the restrictions against blocking or slowing down websites. It’s obviously good that cable companies will now be prevented from actively censoring content, but this isn’t something ISPs ever actually practiced.
“I think it’s funny that the three big rules are no blocking, no throttling, no paid prioritization,” Dan Rayburn, principal analyst at Frost & Sullivan and owner of StreamingMedia.com, told MONEY. “That’s all great, but do we have a single instance of an ISP doing any of those things?”
That might sound surprising to those who’ve heard Netflix’s repeated complaints that various ISPs, particularly Comcast, were intentionally degrading its service unless the company paid a “toll.” Isn’t that exactly what net neutrality is meant to stop?
Well, sort of. What Netflix and Comcast are really fighting over is something called “interconnection” or “peering,” where sites with especially heavy traffic have to pay more for extra capacity. Comcast says Netflix should be charged for using additional resources, whereas Netflix thinks it’s being strong-armed into forking over more than it should.
The new net neutrality regulations give the FCC some oversight over these agreements to determine if they’re “just and reasonable,” but that standard is so vague as to make an already complicated issue difficult to enforce. In Chairman Wheeler’s proposal, broadband providers are allowed to pretty much do whatever they want as long as they defend their actions as “reasonable network management,” which, as The Verge points out, is “a term which the ISPs have already been using to justify congestion at interconnection points.”
What Net Neutrality Doesn’t Fix
The upshot of all this is very little will change for the average U.S. internet user in a post-net-neutrality world. That’s a bad thing, because America does have a very serious internet problem desperately in need of regulatory assistance: namely, the fact that our internet connections are slower and costlier than the rest of the developed world’s.
The solution to this problem is simple: more competition. FCC data from 2013 shows 55% of American households have no choice in their broadband provider, and the agency has said Comcast will be the only broadband provider for nearly two-thirds of consumers if the company is allowed to merge with Time Warner Cable. It’s not hard to see why cable companies don’t have to compete very hard for your business.
Competition is scarce because it’s prohibitively expensive for a new company to build its own fiber network. The FCC could have fixed this problem by requiring “last-mile unbundling,” a policy that would force major broadband providers to lease their own networks to competing ISPs, when it reclassified broadband under Title II of the Communications Act. However, Chairman Wheeler explicitly ruled unbundling out of any net neutrality regulation.
This means the average internet user is going to be paying more for subpar internet for the foreseeable future. The Obama administration is planning to address this by encouraging cities to develop their own broadband networks, which, if effective, should create more competition and faster internet service. But such a solution is far away and will likely face significant legal hurdles.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying net neutrality is actively bad. We’re better off in a world with these kinds of restrictions. That said, the new rules should be seen as little more than a preventive measure for abuses that have largely yet to occur. For more meaningful reform, Americans should throw their support behind other policies that will break broadband monopolies and actually improve their connections. The fight for a better internet isn’t over. It’s barely begun.
A previous version of this article said a Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger would increase the number of consumers with no choice in broadband providers to two-thirds of Americans. The FCC says a merger would indeed result in two-thirds of U.S. households having only one broadband provider, but this is not likely to be an increase.
From 58 genders to an infinite selection
Facebook added a fill-in-the-blank option for gender on Thursday that lets users describe their gender identity freely.
“Now, if you do not identify with the pre-populated list of gender identities, you are able to add your own,” Facebook said in a statement.
The update is a step forward in Facebook’s efforts to expand gender identity, which previously included creating 58 options for gender from “cis woman” to “two-spirit” in Feb. 2014.
Google+ similarly unveiled an “infinite” gender category in Dec. 2014, allowing users to describe their gender identity using words of their choice.