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Gadgets & Gizmos

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Microsoft is buying Minecraft

Minecraft.net

Do your kids play Minecraft? (Or do you?) It's a popular open-ended game that lets users explore a Lego-like virtual world. It's been dowloaded 100 million times to PCs around the world, it's the most popular game on Xbox, and it's the top paid app in Apple's and Google's online stores — and the company that makes it (Mojang) is being purchased by Microsoft for $2.5 billion.

What will that mean for the game? That's still not clear. The company's software development team is joining Microsoft Studios, but founders Markus Persson (known as "Notch") Carl Manneh and Jakob Porsér are leaving the company. Mojang posted their confirmation online today.

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How do you really feel about that new U2 album showing up in your iTunes music library?

itunes.apple.com

Also from Macworld today: Regardless of how you feel about getting U2's new album for free (even at that price, was it worth what you paid?), you might not appreciate having it suddenly show up among your music — you know, the music you actually decided on your own that you personally think is important to you? Here's a good explanation of why you are or aren't seeing it in your music library, and how you can make it go away for good if you decide you really don't want to see it.

There are a few folks out there who are genuinely angry about this, by the way. The way Apple was doing this did seem unusual to me on Tuesday — that they were actually buying it for people, rather than just making it available as a free download. Apple clearly wanted to make a big splash, something offering a free download wouldn't do. …

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Why you're suddenly paying much less for iCloud now (unless you weren't paying for it before)

Apple Inc.

We got an email on our home account yesterday evening letting is know that our current iCloud storage plan was going to start costing us a little less than half what we signed up to pay. (Yes, we pay for iCloud — we can't seem to back up two iPhones for my wife and I, plus two iPod touches for our kids, plus my iPad in the storage you get with a free account, as much as I'd like to.) Plus, we'll get the difference in a prorated refund.

"Nice," I thought. "Wait — huh?"

Here's what's up with that, courtesy of the newly decimated Macworld staff.

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What was up with Apple's terrible live video stream yesterday? Maybe this

Apple CEO Tim Cook smiles as he introduces the Apple Watch on Tuesday in Cupertino, Calif.

Associated Press

Apple CEO Tim Cook smiles as he introduces the Apple Watch on Tuesday in Cupertino, Calif.

Apple didn't have the best of luck providing a live video stream of the big show they put on yesterday. Anyone who counted on being able to watch the company's live video stream likely had trouble seeing it — and when they could see it, they had trouble making out what CEO Tim Cook and friends were saying through the Chinese(?) translation that seemed dubbed over the English audio.

"So what the hell happened?" asks TUAW.com writer Yoni Heisler. "How did Apple, which did quite a bit to hype up this event, manage to completely botch what would have otherwise been an exciting way to take in all the festivities?" Could they really have misjudged how many people would want to see what was going on?

Heisler points to a theory suggested by Dan Rayburn at Streaming Media: It wasn't the number of viewers that was the problem, it was the Twitter integration they attempted on the pages hosting the video feed, adding some special code to display tweets about the event. …

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So, Apple put on a little thing today …

Apple Inc.

Did you watch (no pun intended)? That thing was, like, 2 hours long! Anyway, Here's the nitty gritty:

  • The Apple Watch is unveiled. (That's it in the photo, of course.)
  • The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus look exactly like you'd been told to expect, but have some nifty new tech under the hood.
  • You'll be able to pay for stuff using an iPhone and Touch ID.
  • iOS8 will be available starting Sept. 17.
  • If you have an iTunes Store account, you just bought U2's new album (tho' it didn't cost you anything).
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    Apple is set for its big (whatever) announcement tomorrow

    Apple Inc.

    In New York, they've already started lining up (MacDailyNews). For what? Well, no one can say for certain, although some claim to be making educated guesses. (MacRumors.com).

    Here's what we do know: Apple has scheduled an invitation-only event for 1 p.m. Eastern time tomorrow, Sept. 9, at the Flint Center in Cupertino, Calif. They've posted a countdown to their own live coverage. If you'd rather, you can bookmark links now to others' live coverage, too (Macworld, MacRumors via Twitter, TUAW — even the stuffy New York Times). For some as yet unknown reason, they built a huge white construction in front of the Flint Center, seemingly taller than the theater itself (9to5mac.com). Maybe it's a stage for U2 (Business Insider).

    That pretty much covers everything we know for sure. However …

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    Should your phone detect nudity in your selfies?

    iStockphoto.com

    In a story posted to the New York Times' Bits blog this morning, Farhad Manjoo wonders why smartphones don't have features designed specifically for the way you take your naked selfies.

    It seems funny, but don't laugh. At least, Manjoo says we shouldn't. "In the wake of the release of several female celebrities’ nude images, it’s time that the tech industry begin taking the naked-photo security problem seriously," he says. "People carry smartphones with them wherever they go. People are also frequently found without clothing. Sure, some may counsel against the commingling these two states of nature, and sure, some people comply. But preaching abstinence isn’t working."

    Maybe there are things the companies that make your smartphone could be doing to detect nudity in your photos, and offer parental protection and document a security trail when it's detected. But I personally can't imagine any feature on a phone or camera that will reduce the need to offer anyone considering a naked selfie this simple, straightforward advice:

    Don't.

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    The celebrity nude photo hacking scandal: Two things you need to do right now

    Jennifer Lawrence arrives at the Oscars show in March.

    Getty Images

    Jennifer Lawrence arrives at the Oscars show in March.

    As of Tuesday afternoon, the FBI is investigating reports that several celebrities' online accounts had been hacked, leading to the posting of their nude photographs online.

    At the center of the scandal is Apple's iCloud service, with Kirsten Dunst leveling possibly the most public accusation:

    Apple hasn't admitted blame, but says it's looking into the matter. It is known that Apple has fixed a security gap in its Find My iPhone service — as I understand it, there had been no limit placed on the number or rate of incorrect login attempts, allowing hackers to try logging in repeatedly with a series of random or commonly used passwords until they found one that worked. (It's what's called a "brute force" attack.)

    Regardless of whether it turns out Apple's oversight was indeed to blame, it seems clear that taking a couple simple, common precautions could have protected Dunst, Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Watson (never read the comments, Emma), et al., from a breach like this one — and they can protect you, too. …

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    Remember that Facebook Messenger loophole?

    The Messages tab in my newly updated Facebook app doesn't have messages in it anymore — even after using the canceled-download trick.

    Facebook

    The Messages tab in my newly updated Facebook app doesn't have messages in it anymore — even after using the canceled-download trick.

    I mentioned it a few days ago. From the screen shot above, it looks like Facebook might have closed it.

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    Dropbox Pro now offers 1TB of storage for the same price

    Dropbox.com

    This came out Wednesday, but it was news to me today — the same Dropbox we've been paying $99 a year for at my house now comes with 1TB of storage. (That's 1,000GB, or 1,000,000MB, or — well, you get the idea.) I've written in passing about Drobox before. In short, I've found it totally worth the price. The new upgrade comes with other enhancements in security and sharing, but to me the w00t was clearly the 1TB.

    (Tip o' the hat to TUAW.)

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    Don't believe what you're reading on Facebook and Twitter about vaccines and autism

     Phil Plait, right, gets his vaccinations. So should you.

    Slate.com

    Phil Plait, right, gets his vaccinations. So should you.

    Phil Plait is doing his best today to help keep you from falling for the latest conspiracy theory being spread by a known fraud and quack:

    Stuff like this used to make me really angry, but now it makes me sad. Diseases like measles, pertussis, chicken pox, and polio are dangerous, and they’re making a comeback, in no small part due to misinformation spread by anti-vaxxers.

    I know that many of the people making these claims are honest; they're speaking from their heart out of concern for their children. As a parent and a human being, I’m concerned about this as well. And that’s precisely why I write about the realities of vaccines: They are extremely effective, and their risk is incredibly small compared with their benefits. Conspiracy theories like this new one have the potential to do a lot of damage. Ironically, by avoiding vaccinations, the people it’s likely to hurt are the very ones their parents are trying to protect.

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    Busted: Five myths about Facebook's Messenger app

    Facebook recently forced smartphone users to download its standalone Messenger app if they want to send messages. Many are upset about the change.

    Associated Press

    Facebook recently forced smartphone users to download its standalone Messenger app if they want to send messages. Many are upset about the change.

    The paper picked up this nifty Messenger myths vs. reality article in today's paper. It's a great refresher if you've got concerns about the hysteria surrounding Messenger — and even if you don't, really.

    I wasn't sure about some of the reasoning ("Facebook says it's forcing users to make the switch because a standalone app offers more features. For example, the app is faster, offers a selfie cam" — but the regular old Facebook app let me use my phone's front-facing camera, and I'm not sure how a Messenger "selfie cam" could be different), but I did appreciate the walkthrough for the still-working-as-of-this-moment workaround for getting your messages back on the tab in the Facebook app.

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    In which I briefly test your patience by just rambling about another of my favorite things

    Yesterday, I gushed about The Wirecutter; today, it's something else entirely.

    I always felt like there's a fine line between talking about technology and talking about science, in the sense that appreciating one means, on some level, appreciating the other. You really can't love your smartphone, for example, and believe the moon landings were a NASA hoax.

    Yet some people do.

    So I've become fond of Phil Plait, an astronomer, author and tireless science evangelizer for Slate. Today, he's calling out folks who deny climate change is happening, and/or that human beings play any role in it. He also calls attention to the dangerous antivaccination movement. He's a great follow on Twitter, too (@BadAstronomer — get it?).

    Here's my take: Your politics and religion are about your search for personal Truth, with a capital T. But good science is about Fact. It's about what we can actually observe and measure about the universe around us, from the most grandiose scale to the most microscopic. And if your Truth doesn't fit well with the way the universe works … well, it's not the universe that's going to bend to accommodate you.

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    The Wirecutter's summertime gear list looks like good advice year-round

    thewirecutter.com

    I'm a relative newcomer to The Wirecutter, Brian Lam's project that maintains regularly updated best-of lists curated by qualified reviewers — but I'm becoming a big fan.

    Despite the intense soldering-iron-and-safety-glasses tone of the site's title, it offers simple guides to finding the best headphones, or TV set or camera, of course, but also guides for finding a good water bottle, weather app (Android or iOS), yoga mat or surge protector. You get a full explanation about the reviewers' preferences, why the top pick was chosen (which often helps you realize you might be better off in your circumstances with their second choice) and what torture they put their gizmos through. They even provide price alerts when one of their picks goes on sale.

    Anyway, I was browsing through their "Summertime Gear for 2014" page today, and trust me: the advice you'll find here can help Floridians year-round. Find a great beach umbrella or beach towel. What you need for a good barbecue or picnic. Stuff you can stash in your car and forget about until you really need it. …

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    Your phone might take a dive, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's dead

    a

    iStockphoto.com

    a

    Rob Griffiths (@rgriff) posted a story to Macworld early this morning describing the dip his phone took in a 10-foot-deep lake last weekend — and how he brought it back from the dead.

    His method was pretty extreme (he eventually completely disassembled the phone, dried everything with compressed air and reassembled it), but it's good to know some simpler ways to salvage a phone that's taken a dunk.

    First of all: Act quickly. Get your phone out of the wet as soon as you can. Resist the urge to start pressing buttons. Instead, immediately power it down and disconnect anything and everything that can be disconnected. Remove the battery (if your phone has a removable battery), take out the SIM card and open every socket and door that might be covered. Only after that, take a towel and dry the outside of your phone. …

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