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The Video Game Industry Is Lobbying Against Your Right to Repair Consoles

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The video game industry is lobbying against legislation that would make it easier for gamers to repair their consoles and for consumers to repair all electronics more generally.

The Entertainment Software Association, a trade organization that includes Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, as well as dozens of video game developers and publishers, is opposing a "right to repair" bill in Nebraska, which would give hardware manufacturers fewer rights to control the end-of-life of electronics that they have sold to their customers.

In recent years, manufacturers from an array of industries have used End User License Agreements to restrict repair options to "authorized" repair centers, which are either owned by or pay a licensing fee to manufacturers themselves. This setup has allowed companies like Apple to monopolize iPhone repair, John Deere to monopolize tractor repair, and Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo to monopolize console repair.

For example, both the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360 have "signature failures" that affected huge numbers of devices: The "Yellow Line of Death" and the "Red Ring of Death," respectively. Sony charged $200 for a refurbished device. Microsoft replaced many Red Ring of Death Xbox 360 devices free of charge, which is laudable. However, the actual fix for the problem was both cheap and easily done by independent companies or even consumers. What was a massive ordeal for customers and the company could have potentially been much easier if independent repair had been supported.

The video game industry has been a particularly notable enemy of fair repair; both Sony and Microsoft put tamper-proof stickers above the screws on their consoles that note that the warranty is "void if removed." These stickers are illegal under the 1975 Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, a federal law that forbids blanket voiding of warranties based on aftermarket repair. These practices haven't been challenged because litigation is expensive and arduous for any one consumer to undertake.

Bills making their way through the Nebraska, New York, Minnesota, Wyoming, Tennessee, Kansas, Massachusetts, and Illinois statehouses will require manufacturers to sell replacement parts and repair tools to independent repair companies and consumers at the same price they are sold to authorized repair centers. The bill also requires that manufacturers make diagnostic manuals public and requires them to offer software tools or firmware to revert an electronic device to its original functioning state in the case that software locks that prevent independent repair are built into a device.

The bills are a huge threat to the repair monopolies these companies have enjoyed, and so just about every major manufacturer has brought lobbyists to Nebraska, where the legislation is currently furthest along. In a letter to bill sponsor Sen. Lydia Brasch (embedded below), the ESA and other major trade groups argued that the bill would "threaten consumer safety and security," is "unnecessary," and "mandates the disclosure of protected proprietary information."

"Manufacturers have strong concerns about independent service providers who may take risks or cut corners leaving themselves or consumers in danger if they perform service without the proper training or safety standards," the letter notes.

Manufacturers have generally raised three points of opposition to right to repair legislation: They say repair is unsafe, they say repair could cause cybersecurity problems, and they say that repair could lead to intellectual property theft. While companies are happy to speak in vague terms about these issues through in closed-door meetings between lobbyists and politicians, none have specifically said how the legislation would harm their businesses or their customers.

"It's very transparent why manufacturers are against this"

Manufacturers are not liable for self-inflicted wounds or injuries caused by third party repair. If you stab yourself with a screwdriver while opening your PlayStation, you won't have much luck suing Sony; if you replace the optical drive with a third party one that explodes for some reason, you can't sue Sony. The legislation does not require manufacturers to sell software unlocking tools to consumers that are more powerful than the ones already given to authorized repair professionals. The legislation has specific provisions that protect trade secrets. Right to repair legislation at the state level is not an intellectual property or Digital Millennium Copyright Act issue, it is a contract/EULA issue; the Librarian of Congress has already granted unlocking exemptions related to repair for many types of electronics.

"It's very easy for the manufacturer to stand up there and say no we're the only ones who know how to do it," Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, told me. "Lawmakers get spun stories by lobbyists who say the sky is falling, and it's very easy to kill legislation."

After referring me to several different press representatives, Microsoft declined to comment. Sony did not respond to a request for comment. Apple has ignored repeated requests for comment. The ESA declined to comment. In two years of covering this issue, no manufacturer has ever spoken to me about it either on or off the record.

"This is not a case of right vs. left or a fringe interest group pushing it," Wiens added. "Everyone wants to be allowed to fix their stuff, and there's only a few organizations that don't want them to be able to. It's very transparent why manufacturers are against this."

Other groups lobbying against the legislation include:
CompTIA - an information technology trade group that represents many independent repair people but also represents Apple, which is vehemently opposed to the legislation (and is doing its own, independent lobbying effort)
CTIA - A wireless telecom trade group that represents Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and other cell phone carriers
NetChoice - an ecommerce trade group that represents drone manufacturer DJI as well as companies like PayPal and AOL.
Information Technology Industry Council - Represents Dell, Blackberry, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Sony, Nokia, and others
Satellite and Broadcast Communications Association - Represents DirecTV and others
TechNet - Includes Apple, AT&T, Comcast, Cisco, HP, Oracle, Uber, SolarCity, Microsoft, and others
Consumer Technology Association - Represents 2,000+ consumer tech companies, throws the annual CES show
Toy Industry Association - Represents VTech (whose tablet for kids notoriously got hacked) as well as many other toy companies
State Privacy and Security Coalition - Represents Google, Facebook, and more than a dozen others

Letter From ESA to Senator Brasch (2) (1) by MotherboardTV on Scribd



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freeAgent
4 hours ago
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CompTIA...really?
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Google WiFi, OnHub routers inexplicably crashed today (updated)

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Google's smart router projects are supposed to provide hassle-free networking, but today many owners are experiencing just the opposite. Reports are streaming in of nonfunctional Google OnHub and WiFi units pushing little more than a flashing blue li...
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freeAgent
19 hours ago
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Investors and employees aren't buying Uber's sexism 'probe'

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Filed under: ,

"This decision is yet another example of Uber's continued unwillingness to be open, transparent and direct."

Continue reading Investors and employees aren't buying Uber's sexism 'probe'

Investors and employees aren't buying Uber's sexism 'probe' originally appeared on Autoblog on Sat, 25 Feb 2017 09:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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freeAgent
19 hours ago
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A Super Smash Bros-playing AI has taught itself how to stomp professional players

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A new challenger approaches.

In a crowded convention center in San Jose, Calif., this past January during the Genesis 4 Super Smash Bros. tournament, away from the main competitive stage, a small group of gamers gathered around a clunky, four-year-old HP laptop. Amidst the onlookers, a professional player called Gravy was battling on familiar ground against an unfamiliar opponent.

The arena was Battlefield, a flat stage with three small platforms, considered the standard for professional play. He’s played professionally as Captain Falcon for nearly five years, and considered one of the world’s top players for the character—but he was losing to the AI playing as the same character. It had only been practicing for two weeks.

The AI, nicknamed Phillip, had been built by a Ph.D student from MIT, with help from a friend at New York University, and it honed its craft inside an MIT supercomputer. By the time Gravy stopped playing, the bot had killed him eight times, compared to his five kills.

“The AI is definitely godlike,” Gravy, whose real name is Dustin White, told Quartz. “I am not sure if anyone could beat it.”

AI has already beaten world class players at chess, poker, and Go—games that have nearly limitless permutations and require strategy. Super Smash Bros. Melee might be the most overtly adversarial of the bunch. Players try to gain advantageous ground while punishing their opponents, until they’re weak enough to knock off the stage. It requires strategic thinking and a certain level of viciousness.

But the bot was once only as good as a mere mortal. At first, Vlad Firoiu, creator and a competitive Smash player himself, couldn’t train Phillip to be as strong as the in-game bot, which he says even the worst players can beat fairly easily. Firoiu’s solution? He started making the bot play itself over and over again, slowly learning which techniques fail and which succeed, called reinforcement learning. Then, he left it alone.

“I just sort of forgot about it for a week,” said Firoiu, who coauthored an unreviewed paper with William F. Whitney, the NYU student, on the work. “A week later I looked at it and I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I tried playing it and I couldn’t beat it.”

By the time Genesis 4 rolled around, which Firoiu had entered anyway, he had a bot that played unlike any human. Akin to its AI-counterpart AlphaGo, from Alphabet’s DeepMind, the bot had learned its play style by battling itself. As a result, it behaved oddly. It stomped its opponents to their death over the stage’s edge, while a human player would typically take the safer route of letting their opponents fall. If a player tried to recover after the first stomp, it would stomp twice. This is an advanced form of edge-guarding, or a technique to prevent a opponent from recovering after a fall. Humans do it, but according to Firoiu , the bot is a jerk about it, rapidly spiking opponents when a courteous human would let gravity do its work (and have the safety of still being on the stage).

Gravy says the bot would dash dance, a human-credited technique of quickly skirting back and forth on the stage, keeping your opponents guessing about how you’ll attack. As for overall strategies, Gravy had some pointers. He suggested flow-charting, making a graphical chart of tried-and-true combinations of moves that work well when stacked.

“I asked the creator if he had flow charted the AI but was told that he didn’t, and that it learned its own strategies,” he said. “I do think it would be stronger to program optimal flow charts in.”

The bot almost learns to make its own flow chart. Based on its past playing experiences, it learns that certain combinations of moves are more effective, through thousands of games of trial and error. However, its preferred move combinations are strange, and almost inhuman to pros who watch.

It often uses a slower but more powerful move (a forward Smash) that’s rarely seen in tournament play because it typically leaves a player unguarded for too long. The bot also presents itself as off-guard or vulnerable, potentially trying to lull its opponent into striking while it actually had an advantage.

But when considering how the bot learned to play, it begins to make sense. The typical human has a response time of about 200 milliseconds, about six times slower than the bot’s 33 ms typical reaction. When learning against itself, the bot optimized for a quicker opponent than any human, meaning any human competitor moves like molasses in the bot’s world. Firoiu calls this alternate reality the bot inhabits a “meta-game.”

The researchers’ choice of character for the bot for competition, Captain Falcon, was intentional. He’s “the worst character that can win a tournament,” Firoiu says, mainly due to the fact that he’s slower to execute moves than most of the top-tier characters. The team figured this would cut down on the bot’s reaction-time advantage. Captain Falcon is also one of the only characters that doesn’t fire any projectiles, which the team’s system can’t process.

But since the bot had only trained against itself as Captain Falcon, it played slightly worse against any other character. One professional player also found a glitch in the bot by doing something unexpected: By crouching close to the corner of the stage, the bot would not attack and eventually fall off the other side of the stage, killing itself. But no professional was able to consistently beat the bot. Of 10 professionals that faced the bot, each one was killed more than they could kill the bot. (All the pros played as Captain Falcon against the AI, but most of them mainly played as that character anyway.)

Super Smash Bros Melee might not be entirely solved, the way Go or chess could be categorized, but the MIT and NYU team has shown that even seemingly-complex multiplayer games aren’t safe from being beaten by AI in short order. And as the games—merely testing grounds for AI that will eventually live in the real world—get more complex, so does the ability for a future bot to understand the physical world it inhabits.

But that shouldn’t make us worry about Melee-happy robots—it seems for now that they’re still susceptible to cowering in fear.



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freeAgent
2 days ago
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This is pretty cool.
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2018 Audi S4 offers proper acceleration for a hair over $50,000 - Roadshow

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The hopped-up S4 is likely the fastest A4 variant the US will receive.
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freeAgent
2 days ago
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It's getting near-impossible to find manual transmissions these days, even in cars that traditionally have served the enthusiast community.
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The bizarre story of the 18th-century Frenchman who ate a quarter of a cow daily and never gained weight

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A man cuts a huge slab of red meat.

The professionals who win eating contests have nothing on the talents of Tarrare, a Frenchman in the 18th century.

Tarrare—which could have been just a nickname from the then-common French phrase “bom-bom tarrare!” used to describe explosions—was born in 1772 in Lyon, France. By the time he was 17, he was reportedly 100 pounds (about 45 kg), and consumed a quarter of a cow’s worth of beef per day. He ran away from home and joined a freak show, where he delighted attendees by eating anything—literally anything—they gave him, which ranged from a basket of apples, dozens of eggs, and even wine corks and flints.

Had you encountered Tarrare on the old Lyon streets, you probably wouldn’t have noticed him for his size (he reportedly was only average height with a thin frame), but you would smell him from afar. According to a delightfully disgusting account (see pages 203-205) published in the London Medical and Physical Journal in 1819, Tarrare was “constantly covered in sweat, and from his body…a vapor arose, sensible to the sight and moreso to the smell.” He had a wispy blond hair, and a large mouth surrounded by slender lips and discolored teeth. He frequently burped and farted, and had constant, particularly odorous bowel movements—which one would expect from someone whose diet consisted of massive amounts of both food and non-food items.

As Tarrare lived on, his appetite became even more bizarre. He joined the French military when the revolution began in 1789, although he didn’t fight. He helped out his fellow soldiers carry out day-to-day tasks, and then ate their rations as compensation. He ended up in the military hospital because no matter what he ate, his appetite was insatiable. Here, he amazed army physicians by putting away not only his quadrupled rations, but also gauze intended for healing wounds and live animals, including cats, dogs, snakes, and eels (the last of which he allegedly never even chewed).

One of the surgeons noticed Tarrare’s remarkable capacity, and as a test, had him eat a wooden box—presumably small enough to be swallowed, although the exact size isn’t stated in the London Journal—with a sheet of paper in it. When Tarrare successfully passed the box with the paper unharmed, doctors gave him a message in the same box to send to captured French soldiers being held in Prussia. Posing as a peasant, Tarrare made it across the border, but was quickly discovered to be an imposter because he didn’t speak German. The Prussian army captured and tortured him, and, according to the London Journal account, “Tarrare voided the wooden case…and had the address to swallow it again to conceal the knowledge of its contents from the enemy.”

 During his time at the hospital, staff found him drinking patients’ drained blood and even eating their corpses. Fortunately, Tarrare escaped back to France. Doctors tried to treat him with tobacco and opioids (they weren’t too far off there—opiates do cause constipation at the very least), but during his time at the hospital, staff found him drinking patients’ drained blood and even eating their corpses. He was finally kicked out in 1794 when a 14-month-old mysteriously went missing.

Tarrare fell off the radar for the next four years. When he died at the age of 26 in Versailles from tuberculosis, doctors performed a brief autopsy. They found that his stomach took up most of his gut, aside from his massive, fatty liver. His remaining organs were decaying; it smelled so bad the chief surgeon of the hospital called off the operation before they could look any further.

It’s clear that Tararre had some kind of polyphagia, a medical condition characterized by uncontrollable hunger and eating. Usually, polyphagia is a symptom of a more serious underlying problem. Syndee McElory, a physician based in Huntington, West Virginia suggests that it could have been hyperthyroidism, which increases metabolism, and causes diarrhea, sweating, and thin hair—all of which match descriptions of Tarrare. “That being said, generally we don’t accept that it also makes you eat live animals and drink human blood,” she said in an episode of Sawbones, a medical history podcast she co-hosts. Others have speculated that Tarrare’s uncontrollable appetite may have been a result of a brain injury to or tumor in either the amygdala or hypothalamus, both of which play a role in appetite.

Of course, in medicine, one diagnosis may not be enough. As influential physician and academic John Hickam once said, “Patients can have as many diseases as they damn well please.” (This phrase is affectionately called “Hickam’s Dictum,” and is often presented in medical contexts as a counter argument to Occam’s Razor.) In other words, it could have been a combination of any number of conditions that caused Tarrare’s strange behavior.

Jan Bondeson, a medical historian at the University of Cardiff in Wales who has written a book about Tarrare and other medical oddities, says we probably won’t see anything like him again. Medicine has improved greatly since the 18th century, and anyone like Tarrare would hopefully be diagnosed and treated appropriately before things spiralled out of control. But also, our interests have changed. “The working man’s pastimes were completely different,” he says. “Instead of sitting in front of the computer, they [used to] like brutal and unsavory amusements like…watching Tararre eat a cow’s udder. He was a product of his time.”



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freeAgent
2 days ago
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