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Businesses

Comcast To Offer Pay-As-You-Go TV, Broadband Service (dslreports.com) 38

An anonymous reader quotes a report from DSLReports: Comcast plans to roll-out prepaid cable TV and internet services later this year in portions of Illinois and four other states. According to a company announcement, Comcast's Xfinity Prepaid Services lets users sign up for TV or internet services and renew service for seven or 30 days at a time -- instead of paying by the month. A one-time setup fee of $80 includes equipment and 30 days of service, with users paying $15 for an additional seven days and $45 for an additional 30 days. "We want to create an easy, pay-as-you-go option for people who want more flexibility and predictability when buying our services," said Marcien Jenckes, Executive Vice President, Consumer Services, Comcast Cable. "And our partnership with Boost Mobile will give Xfinity Prepaid customers even more places where they can conveniently sign-up and pay-as-they-go."
Government

Edward Snowden At Comic-Con: 'I Live a Surprisingly Free Life' (theguardian.com) 49

An anonymous reader writes from a report via The Guardian: Director Oliver Stone talked to whistleblower Edward Snowden in front of an audience at a question and answer session on Thursday evening. He compared Snowden's anxiety over his own appearance in his Snowden biopic film "Snowden" to that of Donald Trump, who was cut from one of his films six years before. Snowden replied: "I'd like to avoid that association." At the event, Snowden did also shed some light on his personal life, years after his revelation of the NSA's secret surveillance of the American public's internet activity resulted in criminal charges under the Espionage Act that led to his exile in Russia. "I can confirm that I am not living in a box," Snowden said. "I actually live a surprisingly free life. This was not the most likely outcome. I didn't actually expect to make it out of Hawaii. I thought it was incredibly risky. I had a lot of advantages in doing what I did; I worked for the CIA on the human intelligence side, I worked for the NSA on the signals intelligence side, and I taught counterintelligence. This is not something that's covered that well in the media. I was about as well placed as anybody could be, and I still thought I was going to get rolled up at the airport and that there were going to be knocks on the doors of the journalists." When asked what he thought about Gordon-Levitt's performance in the film where he plays Edward Snowden, Snowden responded: "This is one of the things that's kind of crazy and surreal about this kind of experience: I don't think anybody looks forward to having a movie made about themselves, especially someone who is a privacy advocate. Some of my family members have said, 'He sounds just like you!' I can't hear it myself but if he can pass the family test he's doing all right." Snowden agreed to participate on the film because he thought it could raise awareness in ways his own advocacy could not. Snowden was also in the news recently for developing a way for potentially imperiled smartphone users to monitor whether their devices are making any potentially compromising radio transmissions.
Movies

Man Builds $1.5 Million Star Trek-Themed Home Theater (cepro.com) 158

CIStud writes: This $1.5 million "Star Trek" home theater is the envy of every geek on the planet. The theater is a reconstruction of the bridge of the Starship Enterprise from "Star Trek: Next Generation" and also includes $1 million worth of memorabilia from the classic sci-fi TV show. The home theater was created by financier Marc Bell with the help from Jay Miller of Boca Raton-based Acoustic Innovations. The two started working on the home cinema in 2002 -- before construction of Bell's house even began -- and it took them four years to complete. CEPro reports: "A D-Box controller manipulates hydraulics installed beneath the floorboards, meaning the entire room shakes when anything loud happens on screen. The room also includes a JBL Synthesis sound system, which at the time of installation was only used in commercial theaters. The audio system is currently being upgraded to Dolby Atmos specifications and Bell plans to install a 4K projector. A big movie fan, Bell has had over 3,500 films digitized, which are stored and streamed through a Kaleidescape server. He also spent approximately $35,000 on a Prima Cinema system, allowing him and his family to watch films at home the day they are released in commercial cinemas. A wraparound control center surrounds the 11 custom leather chairs in the theater, eight of which recline into beds, while the doors that open into the theater are exact replicas of the Turbolift doors as seen on the TV show. When someone steps on the circular "transporter," the doors open with that familiar "whoosh" sound." Bell apparently likes to spend his money on others too. He has rented a local movie theater for every Star Trek film released in the past 25 years and has taken all of his employees, friends and their children along on opening night. The Wall Street Journal posted a video on YouTube of the home theater.
Movies

'The Wolf of Wall Street' Movie Was Financed With Stolen Money, Says DOJ (nydailynews.com) 157

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NY Daily News: Federal officials charged a $3.5 billion Malaysian money-laundering scheme helped finance the Leonardo DiCaprio movie "Wolf of Wall Street" -- the Hollywood tale that parallels the corruption charges. U.S. officials seek to recover $1.3 billion of the missing funds, including profits from the Martin Scorsese-directed movie that earned five Oscar nominations. The conspirators used some of their illicit cash to fund Scorsese's tale of "a corrupt stockbroker who tried to hide his own illicit profits in a perceived foreign safe haven," said U.S. Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell. DiCaprio famously played the lead role of convicted fraudster Jordan Belfort, who was ordered to repay $110 million to 1,500 victims of his scam. The identified conspirators included movie producer Riza Shahriz Abdul Aziz, the prime minister's stepson, and businessman Low Taek John, a friend of Najib's family. A third scammer identified only as "Malaysian Official 1" was widely believed to be Najib. Court papers indicated that $681 million from a 2013 bond sale went directly into the official's private account. The nation's attorney-general, Mohamed Apandi, came to Najib's defense Thursday, expressing his "strong concerns at the insinuations and allegations" brought against the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). Apandi's office, after investigating the $681 million bank deposit, announced in January that the funds were a donation from the Saudi royal family. The prime minister wound up returning most of the cash. Federal officials, in their California court filing, indicated they were hoping to seize proceeds from the 2013 movie, along with luxury properties in New York and California, artwork by Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet, and a $35 million private jet. Investigations of 1MDB are already underway in Switzerland and Singapore, with officials in the latter announcing Thursday that they had seized assets worth $176 million. This is shaping up to be the largest U.S. Justice Department asset recovery action in history.
Crime

Feds Seize KickassTorrents Domains and Arrest Owner In Poland (arstechnica.com) 298

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Federal authorities announced on Wednesday the arrest of the alleged mastermind of KickassTorrents (KAT), the world's largest BitTorrent distribution site. As of this writing, the site is still up. Prosecutors have formally charged Artem Vaulin, 30, of Ukraine, with one count of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and two counts of criminal copyright infringement. Like The Pirate Bay, KAT does not host individual infringing files but rather provides links to .torrent and .magnet files so that users can download unauthorized copies of TV shows, movies, and more from various BitTorrent users. According to a Department of Justice press release sent to Ars Technica, Vaulin was arrested on Wednesday in Poland. The DOJ will shortly seek his extradition to the United States. "Vaulin is charged with running today's most visited illegal file-sharing website, responsible for unlawfully distributing well over $1 billion of copyrighted materials," Assistant Attorney General Caldwell said in the statement. "In an effort to evade law enforcement, Vaulin allegedly relied on servers located in countries around the world and moved his domains due to repeated seizures and civil lawsuits. His arrest in Poland, however, demonstrates again that cybercriminals can run, but they cannot hide from justice." KickassTorrents added a dark web address last month to make it easier for users to bypass blockades installed by ISPs.
Japan

Japan Will Make Its Last-Ever VCR This Month (mentalfloss.com) 130

An anonymous reader writes: Most of us stopped using video cassette recorders a very, very long time ago. By 2008, DVD had officially replaced VHS as the preferred home media format, and the glory days of the 1980s -- when VHS and Betamax battled it out to be the number-one choice for watching and recording movies and television at home -- were very much in the rear-view mirror. So it might surprise you to learn that VCRs are still being manufactured -- at least they were until this month. Funai Electric, the last remaining Japanese company to make the units, has announced that the company will cease production on its VCR units, due to declining sales and difficulty acquiring parts. Their VCRs are made in China and sold in many territories, including North America, under brand names like Sanyo, but last year's figures reported just 750,000 sales worldwide.
Movies

Pixels Are Driving Out Reality (vice.com) 300

An article on Motherboard today investigates the reasons why people didn't go "oh-my-god, that was awesome" looking at the CGI-based scenes in the recent movies such as Independence Day: Resurgence, Batman v Superman and X-Men: Apocalypse. Though the article acknowledges that this could be the result of some poor-acting, spotty storyline, or bad editing, it also underscores the possibility that this could be the aftermath of a "deeper mechanism that is draining all substance from our cinematic imaginary worlds?" The author of the article, Riccardo Manzotti to make his case stronger adds that the original Alien movie was able to impress us because what we saw was strongly linked to actual life. From the article: The humongous spaceship Nostromo -- a miniature model -- provoked awe and respect. When the creature erupted from Kane's abdomen -- a plaster model encased in fake blood and animal entrails -- people were horrified. The shock was registered on the faces of the actors, who, per Ridley Scott's direction, weren't told ahead of time that the moment would include a giant splatter of blood. "That's why their looks of disgust and horror are so real," producer and co-writer David Giler said. Manzotti further argues that some of the modern movies haven't left us awe-inspired because there is just too much CGI content. Compared to 430 computerized shots in the original Independence Day movie, for instance, the new one has 1,750 digitized shots. "People have been looking at pixels for much too long," the author argues, adding: Our imaginary world has been diluted and diluted to the point that, so to speak, there is no longer even a stain of real blood, love, and pain. Nowadays, when spectators see blood, they see pixels. [...] VR and augmented reality and the steady pace of CGI have pushed the process of substitution of reality to a higher level. At least, movies were once made using real stunts and real objects. Now, the actual world is no longer needed. The actual world, which is the good money, is no longer required. The virtual world, the bad money, is taking over. Yet, it lacks substance. The author makes several more compelling arguments, that are worth mulling.
Microsoft

Microsoft To Begin Reducing Your Free OneDrive Cloud Storage Starting Today (betanews.com) 212

For those of you who forgot -- or didn't bother -- to keep the 15GB worth of OneDrive storage, starting today you will see a big change in your account. On Thursday, Microsoft will begin shrinking your 15GB OneDrive free storage to 5GB, and also cancel the 15GB storage it gave you as part of camera roll backup bonus. For its part, Microsoft did warn about the changes to people a couple of times over the past few months. It all started when Microsoft gave Office 365 subscribers unlimited OneDrive storage space. Many people abused this, uploading over 75TB worth of movies and other files in some cases. BetaNews reports: If you log into your OneDrive account and find that you still have the full storage quota available, don't be lulled into a false sense of security. The cuts are actually being spread out between July 13 and July 27. Unless you opted out of the change, you're out of luck.
Android

Google Will Let You Share Movies, Apps, and Music You Buy With Up To Six People (cnet.com) 57

Google reportedly plans to introduce Google Play Family Library plan later this month which will enable users to share their Android apps, games, and media purchases with five different people. The feature, which is similar to Apple's Family Sharing plan, is something that many will find super useful. If nothing, you can split the cost of an app or a music album with your friends. CNET reports:It works like this. Everyone in the group will be able to access every single app, video and book that's available to the [primary] account holder. If you decide to let the kids run wild on your media collection, you can even remove specific titles from the library to keep it more kid-friendly, or hide certain artists you might not want to share with others. You don't have to pay extra to sign up for the Google Play Family Library, but you will need a credit card saved to the account for future purchases. To avoid any financial snafus that might come with multiple account users, Google will send a receipt so there aren't any unpleasant (or expensive) surprises.
Movies

Netflix Is The Least-Cancelled of All Major Streaming Services, Says Study (exstreamist.com) 72

An anonymous reader writes from a report via Exstreamist: A recent survey from IBM suggests that nearly 70% of streaming service subscribers never canceled their subscriptions. One of the more likely reasons subscribers cancel is because their credit cards expire and they never get around to updating the information in each service. The other most likely reasons subscribers cancel is because of advertisements (27%), which was above price (25%). Netflix is the least likely to get cancelled of the major services, according to the survey. Hulu and Amazon had a larger number of total cancellations. In terms of numbers, 40% of consumers have stated they have cancelled either Hulu or Amazon, with only 30% having cancelled Netflix. Shortly behind advertisements and price, 20% of users said a lack in quality or quantity of content would likely make them cancel their service. More towards the bottom, 17% said technical issues that hinder a smooth viewing experience would cause them to cancel. Roughly 73% of subscribers would download Netflix content, according to one survey. Another survey suggests that a majority of Netflix subscribers would rather cancel their subscription than see advertisements.
Technology

Hamilton Producer Jeffrey Seller: Live Theater Is the Antidote To Digital Overload (recode.net) 100

As more people come online and get hold of smartphones, we are witnessing a generation that is reliant on their phones to get news, entertainment, and educational resources among other things. They watch movies and TV shows on Netflix and other services, and they listen to music on Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube. Naturally, you would think that people in the Broadway theater business must be threatened that nobody will physically attend their show anymore, but that's not necessarily the case, at least not with everyone. Take Jeffrey Seller, for example, the producer of Broadway megahit Hamilton refuses to fold to the virtual reality laden world, and he has numbers on his side. From a Recode article (you can also found an hour-long podcast on this there): The success of "Hamilton," which is sold out in New York through May 2017 and will soon spread to Chicago, San Francisco and London, has convinced Seller that demand for a real, non-digital experience is stronger than ever. He said 13 million people went to see Broadway shows in the past season, and only 500,000 of those were "Hamilton" attendees. By contrast, when Seller first made a splash as the co-producer of "Rent" in 1996, he estimated total Broadway attendance was around eight million to nine million people. "Experiencing art live with friends, with family, with people we love, is so rewarding that people are searching it out amidst the digital age, in which our faces are in our phones seemingly every other hour of the day," he said.Explaining why he thinks that virtual reality cannot completely take over, in a rather crass example, Seller adds, "Do you want to have sex or do you want to have a virtual reality experience of sex?"
Movies

Wannabe Prime Minister Andrea Leadsom Thinks Websites Should Be Rated Like Films (theregister.co.uk) 208

An anonymous reader quotes a report fro The Register: The UK's possible future prime minister thinks all websites should be classified with minimum age ratings, just like films. Andrea Leadsom is one of two candidates left in the race for the leadership of the Conservative Party; the winner of which will become the country's Prime Minister. Although many are concerned with the authoritarian stance taken by her rival, Theresa May, Leadsom's views on many topics -- including the internet -- have come under scrutiny following her unexpected success in the leadership election. Key among those is Leadsom's apparent belief that the best solution to troublesome content on the internet is to have film-rating organization the British Board of Film Classification rate all websites, and have any unrated websites blocked by ISPs. [Writing in the New Statesman back in 2012, she focused, initially, on the need to protect children. "There are two sound ways to ensure that children are not exposed to dangerous or disturbing content," she argued. "At the level of Internet Service Provider, individual sites can be blocked 'at source' by ISPs [...] The other way is with a move away from the standard '.co.uk' and '.com' top level domains (TLDs) for more explicit content, to separate entirely inappropriate sections of the web."] She argues: "Outside of cyberspace, we have bodies such as Ofcom and the British Board of Film Classification that continually work to ensure our children are not exposed to the wrong things. This could be implemented in some way online, whereby a website would have to have its content 'rated' before being accessible online. While it sounds like a massive leap, the majority of new websites already go through testing when they are hosted to make sure that a site is intact and that files and content are free of viruses. This would simply be adding another check to the list, and in reality it is a burden already carried by film-makers."
Movies

George Takei Opposes Gay Sulu In 'Star Trek Beyond' (hollywoodreporter.com) 354

HughPickens.com writes: Seth Abramovitch reports in the Hollywood Reporter that actor and LGBT activist George Takei says Paramount's plans to have Sulu's character in the upcoming 'Star Trek Beyond' the first LGBTQ lead character in Star Trek history is out of step with what creator Gene Roddenberry would have wanted. [Roddenberry] "was a strong supporter of LGBT equality," says Takei, now 79. "But he said he has been pushing the envelope and walking a very tight rope -- and if he pushed too hard, the show would not be on the air." Takei says he'd much prefer that Sulu stay straight. "I'm delighted that there's a gay character," says Takei. "Unfortunately, it's a twisting of Gene's creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it's really unfortunate." The timeline logic of the new revelation is enough to befuddle even the most diehard of Trek enthusiasts, as the rebooted trilogy takes place before the action of the original series. In other words, assuming canon orthodoxy, this storyline suggest Sulu would have had to have first been gay and married, only to then go into the closet years later. Simon Pegg, who has co-written the latest Star Trek movie, as well as starring as Scotty, has responded to criticism by the actor George Takei at the film-makers' decision to make the character he used to play openly gay. "He's right, it is unfortunate, it's unfortunate that the screen version of the most inclusive, tolerant universe in science fiction hasn't featured an LGBT character until now. We could have introduced a new gay character, but he or she would have been primarily defined by their sexuality, seen as the 'gay character,' rather than simply for who they are, and isn't that tokenism?" says Pegg. "Our Trek is an alternate timeline with alternate details. Whatever magic ingredient determines our sexuality was different for Sulu in our timeline. I like this idea because it suggests that in a hypothetical multiverse, across an infinite matrix of alternate realities, we are all LGBT somewhere."
Network

73% of Subscribers Would Download Netflix Content, Says Survey (allflicks.net) 94

An anonymous reader writes: A report surfaced a couple weeks ago suggesting Netflix is soon going to let users download videos for offline playback. AllFlicks decided to poll 1,000 stakeholders to see what they think of the bold new idea. In their survey, they asked respondents to tell them how important offline viewing was to them. Nearly two thirds of Netflix subscribers said offline support was either "Important" or "Very Important" to them. About a quarter of all respondents chose the most enthusiastic option, "Very Important." Just plain "Important" was the most popular answer, at 39%, and "Not Important" netted a significant minority at 34%. They followed up by asking subscribers if they think they will download Netflix videos if offline viewing becomes possible. The respondents agreed overwhelmingly that they would download Netflix videos if it became possible. A whopping 73% said they would, while only 16% were confident that they would not. In an open-ended question, AllFlicks asked when would they use the feature. Respondents said they'd need offline support when traveling (in particular, air and car travel), camping, and working out in the gym. They did also mention public transit and train commutes. In addition to offline playback, Recode reports that Comcast will allow Netflix onto its X1 platform.
Chrome

Google Cast Is Now Baked Into Chrome, No Extension Needed (trustedreviews.com) 93

An anonymous reader writes: The Google Chrome 51 browser now includes a built-in 'Cast' option within the drop-down settings menu, which can also be accessed from right clicking in a tab. This will then cast the current tab to the appropriate TV or monitor. Previously, if you wanted to cast content from your computer to your Chromecast-equipped display, you needed to download a Chrome extension. Along with the new changes, Google has removed the ability to tweak settings for resolution, bitrate, and quality when casting a tab, so Chrome itself will now control such parameters automatically. Chrome 51 is now available as a stable version, and the Cast option should be rolling out to users now. This casting ability will also be baked into Chrome OS. The report points out several new related features coming in Chrome 52, such as the ability to cast to Hangouts. You will be able to push Chrome tabs to your contacts within an open video Hangout, which may be useful for remote meetings. In addition, the Cast to Hangouts feature will also retrieve your calendar information to find such scheduled Hangout meetings to make quick sharing easier.
Space

Why Did The Stars Wars and Star Trek Worlds Turn Out So Differently? (marginalrevolution.com) 359

HughPickens.com writes: In the Star Trek world there is virtual reality, personal replicators, powerful weapons, and, it seems, a very high standard of living for most of humanity, while in Star Wars there is widespread slavery, lots of people seem to live at subsistence, and eventually much of the galaxy falls under the Jedi Reign of Terror. Why the difference? Tyler Cowen writes about some of the factors differentiating the world of Star Wars from that of Star Trek: 1) The armed forces in Star Trek seem broadly representative of society. Compare Uhura, Chekhov, and Sulu to the Imperial Storm troopers. 2) Captains Kirk and Picard do not descend into true power madness, unlike various Sith leaders and corrupted Jedi Knights. 3) In Star Trek, any starship can lay waste to a planet, whereas in Star Wars there is a single, centralized Death Star and no way to oppose it, implying stronger checks and balances in the world of Star Trek. 4) Star Trek embraces egalitarianism, namely that all humans consider themselves part of the same broader species. There is no special group comparable to the Jedi or the Sith, with special powers in their blood. 5) Star Trek replicators are sufficiently powerful it seems slavery is highly inefficient in that world.
Movies

DVD Player Found In Tesla Autopilot Crash, Says Florida Officials (reuters.com) 485

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: A digital video disc player was found in the Tesla car that was on autopilot when its driver was killed in a collision with a truck in May, Florida Highway Patrol officials said on Friday. "There was a portable DVD player in the vehicle," said Sergeant Kim Montes of the FHP in a telephone interview. She said there was no camera found, mounted on the dash or of any kind, in the wreckage. A lawyer for a truck driver involved in the accident with the Tesla told Reuters his investigators had spoken to a witness who said the DVD player was playing a "Harry Potter" video after the accident, but the lawyer was unable to verify that beyond the witness account. Lawyers for the family of the victim, 40-year-old Joshua Brown, released a statement Friday saying the family is cooperating with the investigations "and hopes that information learned from this tragedy will trigger further innovation which enhances the safety of everyone on the roadways." Lawyers for the family of the victim, 40-year-old Joshua Brown, released a statement Friday saying the family is cooperating with the investigations "and hopes that information learned from this tragedy will trigger further innovation which enhances the safety of everyone on the roadways." Tesla said in a statement Friday, "Autopilot is by far the most advanced driver assistance system on the road, but it does not turn a Tesla into an autonomous vehicle and does not allow the driver to abdicate responsibility."
Space

CBS/Paramount Sets Phasers To Kill On Star Trek Fan-Fiction With New Guidelines (audioholics.com) 254

Audiofan writes from a forum post on Audioholics: The Star Trek fan-fiction controversy that resulted in legal battles between CBS/Paramount and Axanar Productions concluded last week. However, CBS/Paramount have finally put forth its long-awaited guidelines intended to clarify acceptable fan-fiction so that it won't get the creative Star Trek fan sued for copyright infringement. But in doing so, it may have launched Star Trek fan-fiction's torpedo casket into space with a solemn salute. To be or not to be is the question which we ask about the future of Star Trek fan film. Some of the new guidelines for avoiding objections when making your own Star Trek movies and posting them to YouTube include: The fan production must be less than 15 minutes for a single self-contained story, or no more than 2 segments, episodes or parts, not to exceed 30 minutes total, with no additional seasons, episodes, parts, sequels or remakes. Part of the non-commercial requirements include: CBS and Paramount Pictures do not object to limited fundraising for the creation of a fan production, whether 1 or 2 segments and consistent with these guidelines, so long as the total amount does not exceed $50,000, including all platform fees, and when the $50,000 goal is reached, all fundraising must cease. The fan production cannot be distributed in a physical format such as DVD or Blu-ray. If the fan production uses commercially-available Star Trek uniforms, accessories, toys and props, these items must be official merchandise and not bootleg items or imitations of such commercially available products.
Television

IMAX Will Build You a Home Theater -- Starting at $400K (arstechnica.com) 94

An anonymous reader shares an Ars Technica report: If you have about $400K to spare, IMAX's Private Theatre division will now build an IMAX cinema setup in your own home. The entry-level IMAX Private Theatre is the "Palais," which starts at about $400,000 for a screening room with up to 18 seats. For your money you get dual 4K 2D/3D projectors, a proprietary IMAX sound system, and a media playback system that supports everything you might want to throw at it (TV, games, Blu-ray, etc.) No word on the exact specifications of the projectors, but they're probably not IMAX-with-laser. Screen size will vary depending on the setup, but generally they will be 3 metres (10ft) tall or more. Stepping up to the "Platinum" IMAX home theatre for about $1 million gets you a much larger screening room with space for up to 40 people.

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