As a nexus of both computer programmers and other creative builder and maker types, SXSW (and Austin generally) is a great place to witness the overlap. John Zitterkopf and his pal Red, while helping to run the giant (and charitable!) LANFest at this year's event, had on hand for display a few of their own modded computer cases. John and Red are both part of Austin Modders, which helps Austinites swap tools and ideas (in-person, and via forums) for creating the kind of enclosures that computer makers simply can't — they're too time-intensive and too personalized for that. It's especially fun to see the effects that the newly widespread availability of laser cutters makes possible. (C'mon, O'Reilly, isn't it time for another Austin Maker Faire?)
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Hugh Pickens writes "Steve Lohr reports that an impressive crossword-solving computer program called Dr. Fill matched its digital wits against 600 of the nation's best human crossword-solvers, finishing only 141st at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in New York. 'I wish it had done better,' says Dr. Matthew Ginsberg, the creator of Dr. Fill and an expert in artificial intelligence. Dr. Fill typically thrives on conventional crosswords, even ones with arcane clues and answers; it solved one of the most difficult puzzles at the tournament perfectly. But the computer does poorly with clever clues based on puns or jokes, because humans and machines solve the crosswords very differently. Humans recognize patterns based on accumulated knowledge and experience, while computers make endless calculations to determine the most statistically probable answer. The computer program is literal minded, and tends to struggle on puzzles with humor, and puzzles with unusual themes or letter arrangements. Take this clue from a 2010 puzzle in The Times: Apollo 11 and 12 (180 degrees). The answer is SNOISSIWNOOW, seemingly gibberish. A clever human could eventually figure out that those letters, when rotated 180 degrees, spell MOON MISSIONS. Humans get the joke, while a literal-minded computer does not. 'Occasionally, Dr. Fill just doesn't get it,' says Ginsberg. 'That's my nightmare.'"
spidweb writes "The latest Humble Bundle has gone live, with five new games for Windows, Macintosh, Linux, and Android. It consists of Zen Bound 2, Avadon: The Black Fortress, Canabalt, and Cogs, with Swords & Soldiers thrown in for anyone who pays at least the average. As always, the games are pay-what-you-want and DRM-free, and this is the initial Linux and Android release for many of them. Of course, as is the tradition with Humble Bundles, other games are likely to be added on later."
Fluffeh writes with news that U.S. Congressmen Baca (D-CA) and Wolf (R-VA) have proposed a bill that would require most video games to have a warning label decrying their "potential damaging" long-term effects on children. "Under the one-page Violence in Video Games Labeling Act (PDF), packaging for all video games except those rated 'EC' for Early Childhood would be required to prominently display a message reading: 'WARNING: Exposure to violent video games has been linked to aggressive behavior.' The proposed label would be required even if the video game in question is not violent."
First time accepted submitter jeffrlamb writes "Cheating in live chess matches — fueled by powerful computer programs that play better than people do, as well as sophisticated communication technologies — is becoming a big problem for world championship chess. Kenneth W. Regan is attempting to construct a mathematical proof to see if someone cheated; the trouble is that so many variables and outliers must be taken into account. Modeling and factoring human behavior in competition turns out to be very difficult."
xwwt writes "Wil Wheaton is working with Felicia Day on a new show called Tabletop, which will air on the YouTube Channel Geek and Sundry. The show will be about board games and gaming in general. This is how he describes it: 'My ulterior motive with Tabletop is to show by example how much fun it is to play boardgames. I want to show that Gamers aren't all a bunch of weirdoes who can't make eye contact when they talk to you, and that getting together for a game night is just as social and awesome as getting together to watch Sportsball, or to play poker, or for a LAN party, or whatever non-gamers do with their friends. I want to inspire people to try hobby games, and I want to remove the stigma associated with gaming and gamers.' The first show airs April 2nd."
MojoKid writes "At last count, Activision Blizzard pegged the number of World of Warcraft subscribers at 10.2 million. It takes a massive amount of gear to host all the different game worlds, or realms, as they're referred to. Each realm is hosted on its own server, and in late 2011, Activision Blizzard began auctioning off retired server blades from the days of yore to benefit the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. They sold around 2,000 retired Hewlett-Packard p-Class server blades on eBay and donated 100 percent of the proceeds (minus auction expenses) to the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, which seeks to advance the treatment and prevention of catastrophic diseases in children. This article has a look at one of those retired server blades."
mikejuk writes "Atari is offering up to $100,000 in a contest for a new version of Pong, the classic game that launched video games 40 years ago, for the iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch. The judges for the contest include Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari, who came up with the original idea for Pong. So, what does a 21st century Pong look like? How does it play? And what role does touch have in this, the simplest of games?"
itwbennett writes "Microsoft dropped a bomb yesterday: they won't be showing new hardware this year or 'anytime soon.' Microsoft told Kotaku that '2012 is all about Xbox 360.' Meanwhile, Bloomberg's mysterious sources are saying that Microsoft 'may show the successor to its Xbox 360 in June 2013 at the E3 conference and put it on sale that same year.' This would 'be a fast journey from announcement to launch,' says Peter Smith, 'but it'd mean we'd still get a new Xbox for holiday 2013, which is about the earliest anyone has expected it to arrive anyway.'"
bednarz writes "The Smithsonian's 'Art of Video Games' exhibition opens today. To kick it off, they're holding a three-day festival with panel discussions, live action gaming, and crafting activities. 'Video games allow us as human beings to explore our dreams, our fears, our thoughts, our morals, and engage with each other in a way that no other medium allows us to. I find that inspiring and beautiful, and I am so happy to be alive during this time. We are going to experience, I think, one of the greatest surges of artistic intent in human history, and I believe that the majority of it will come through video games,' said Chris Melissinos, former Sun exec and guest curator of the new exhibition."
In this video, Brian Alspach tells you how Gamestar Mechanic helps turn kids from game players into game authors, which helps them learn a lot about programming and how computers work in easy steps while having a good time. If you're a parent, you'll especially want to read this page on their site, which will help reassure you that these folks know what they're doing, and might even (hint hint) give you the idea of suggesting that your local school should subscribe to Gamestar Mechanic, which several thousand schools already do. The price varies between free and $6 per month, which is a great deal for something that can engage children for many hours every day -- and just might keep a parent or grandparent interested, too.
Blizzard announced today that Diablo 3 has finally gotten a release date: May 15th. "After many years of hard work by our development team and months of beta testing by hundreds of thousands of dedicated players around the world, we’re now in the homestretch," said Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime. This comes after significant changes to the skill and rune systems in the beta, and news that the PvP system would be delayed so that they could focus on finishing the campaign. The game will be available for Windows and Macs, either via a DVD or as a direct download through Battle.net. For those interested, a skill calculator is available to get a feel for what different abilities do, and many of the skills have videos showing how they work.
An anonymous reader writes "Computer scientists at the University of Colorado and the Stevens Institute of Technology have shown that gamers that play with friends play better. The study used the blockbuster FPS Halo: Reach as a testbed, and combined ground truth data on friendships from an anonymous survey with data about the multiplayer competitions extracted using the Reach Stats API. They found that the more friends you have on your team, the more assists, the fewer betrayals, the more you score, and the greater the probability your team wins, and that this 'friends for the win' effect goes above and beyond the benefits of playing with skilled strangers. (They also show that older gamers are statistically better than younger players, contrary to popular opinion.) Study lead Prof. Aaron Clauset, writing on his blog, says that friends 'may be able to effectively anticipate or adapt to each others' actions or strategies without an explicit need for verbal (and thus time consuming) communication or coordination,' and 'these effects may be fairly universal, and not merely limited to the traditional domains like sports and war, where practicing together has a long tradition.'"
itwbennett writes "If you drew the short straw among your Minecraft-playing friends and ended up running the game server, this news is for you. A YCombinator-funded startup called Minefold will handle all the server admin tasks for just $5 a month. 'Minefold isn't the first firm to offer servers dedicated to game hosting (see for example gameservers.com) but as far as I know they're the first to structure things so each player pays his own way,' writes Peter Smith. 'In other words, if I want to set up a Call of Duty 4 server at Gameservers I can, but it'll cost me (for example) $15.95/month for a 16 player server. So I pay Gameservers and I get my buddies all to send me a few bucks to defray the costs. It's a messy system. Using the Minefold model, everyone would pay $5/month to play wherever they want. On my server today, on someone else's server tomorrow and on their own server the day after that.'"
Intrepid correspondent Timothy Lord writes, "I talked at SXSW with Kari Hale of League For Gamers, an organization started just a few months ago by Red 5 Studios founder CEO Mark Kern. (Kern was also team lead for World of Warcraft.) League for Gamers shares some of the goals of groups like the EFF and EPIC, but — as you might guess from the name — is tightly focused on the world of gaming. The group owes its existence to SOPA; the money used to start it up had initially been budgeted for Red 5 Studios' appearance at the most recent E3, but E3 sponsor's Entertainment Software Association's support for SOPA led Kern to withdraw from the show. Kari gave a quick rundown of the origins of the League, what it hopes to accomplish, and what sorts of efforts it's so far undertaken."