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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

What It’s Like to Play Sunset Overdrive, the Xbox One’s Cartoon-Violent Exclusive Shooter

What It’s Like to Play Sunset Overdrive, the Xbox One’s Cartoon-Violent Exclusive Shooter


What It’s Like to Play Sunset Overdrive, the Xbox One’s Cartoon-Violent Exclusive Shooter

Posted: 10 Jun 2014 11:35 AM PDT

In the hands of a skilled player, Sunset Overdrive is a beautiful sight. Effortlessly, the player bounces from car hoods to rooftops, gliding on banisters and leaping into the air, firing every manner of explosive, colorful weaponry at the scrambling, screaming mutants below. In a flash, they become a dazzling display of pyrotechnics and orange gore.

This was not quite my experience when I first played the game for myself at E3 2014. A perfect example of the disconnect between scripted presentations (like the one at Microsoft’s press conference) and hands-on demos, I immediately found myself on the ground and surrounded by mutants, failing to grasp the “traversal” system that lets players bounce and slide from one platform to the next. Moments later, I was dead.

But maybe quick punishment was a form of training. In no time, I learned that treating Sunset Overdrive like a typical shooter–strafing on the ground while using your weapons as crowd control–is a quick way to get killed. You need to learn the acrobatics if you want to survive.

This isn’t as easy as it looks in trailers and canned demos. If you’re trying to land on a railing and are off by a smidgen, or you don’t hit “X’ in time, you’ll simply fall to the ground below, leaving you exposed to the horde as you try to scramble back to high ground. While you’re positioning yourself and timing your “X” button taps, you also need to be aiming with the right stick, firing with the left trigger and occasionally switching weapons with the right trigger.

It’s a lot to handle, but in a way, Sunset Overdrive’s complex mechanics are better than something like Assassin’s Creed, in which the climbing and grappling feel automatic. It’s all the more rewarding when you actually start pulling off some impressive tricks yourself.

Over the course of my demo–which included a single-player mission and a “defend the base” multiplayer mode–I became more comfortable with jumping, landing and positioning. I started to grasp the intricacies of the game’s wacky weapons, which include a ricocheting vinyl disc thrower, a launcher for exploding teddy bears, an area-of-effect freeze ray and a gun that seems to just make everything explode. I stopped dying and completed my mission, laying waste to a pair of firework-laden towers while zipping around an old amusement park roller coaster.

Like any shooter that revolves around a central gimmick, I have concerns about how long Sunset Overdrive will remain as thrilling. It’ll depend on how much variety developer Insomniac Games can introduce through enemies and set pieces and, more importantly, how far the game will push its players toward mastery of more complex stunts. But in this demo, at least, it’s pushing in the right direction.

Sunset Overdrive launches for Xbox One on October 28.

Man Charged With Breaking Into Bullock’s Home

Posted: 10 Jun 2014 11:33 AM PDT

LOS ANGELES — Prosecutors have filed felony burglary and stalking charges against a man accused of breaking in to Sandra Bullock’s house while the Oscar-winning actress was at home.

The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office charged Joshua James Corbett on Tuesday, two days after he was arrested. Police say he jumped the fence at Bullock’s Los Angeles home around 1 a.m. and broke into her house.

The 39-year-old was also charged with felony possession of a machine gun, although prosecutors say he did not have the gun while on Bullock’s property.

Corbett is scheduled to be arraigned on Tuesday. He remains in custody in lieu of $50,000 bail, but prosecutors are asking to increase that amount to $185,000.

If convicted, he faces up to seven years and four months in prison.

Hillary Clinton Avoids Hard Choices in Hard Choices

Posted: 10 Jun 2014 11:13 AM PDT

The first thing to get out of the way is this: Hillary Clinton is running for President in 2016, even if she says on Page 595 of her new book, Hard Choices, “I haven’t decided yet.”

Without the reality of a coming candidacy, the rest of the book just doesn’t make any sense. This is a campaign book, written by a candidate (via her speechwriters), processed through a political machine, and delivered to the public with the contradictory goals of depicting the author as a decisive leader and not betraying any evidence of leadership that would turn a voter off. Here is how the candidate-without-an-official-campaign describes the choice facing the country in the next presidential election:

Ultimately, what happens in 2016 should be about what kind of future Americans want for themselves and their children—and grandchildren. I hope we choose inclusive politics and a common purpose to unleash the creativity, potential, and opportunity that makes America exceptional. That’s what all American people deserve.

Real people who aren’t running for office do not write like this. They do not think like this. They do not try to string together feel-good words in decisive ways that pretend at taking bold stands on the future without actually taking any stand. There are no clear-thinking Americans who do not want “inclusive politics” or “common purpose.” There is no one in public or private life in this country who does not want to “unleash the creativity, potential and opportunity” of the nation. So why write it? Because it is campaign mumbo-jumbo, and campaign mumbo-jumbo works if you want to win elections.

Clinton is only able to say that she not yet decided about running for President because of a legal technicality: She has not yet declared that she is running for President. But in the current environment, and with this book, that should not matter. She is doing exactly what she would do if she knew she was going to declare. It’s as if she left her home, walked down the street to her local bar, took a seat on a stool, handed the barkeep her credit card, and then told him, “I haven’t decided whether or not to order a drink.” She still has time to choose not to order the drink. She may not be a candidate when the Iowa caucuses meet. But that shouldn’t prevent anyone from observing what she is doing in the meantime.

And what she is doing in this book is a thing to behold. Over nearly 600 pages, she gives a grand tour of American foreign policy as seen from the communications operation of the U.S. State Department. There are dozens of pages devoted to singing the praises—and naming the names—of the people she worked with and the things she accomplished. There are hundreds of pages of history, recounting the major events of the last five years in a useful, matter-of-fact voice that would be well-suited to a high school textbook. There are some wonderful admissions and asides, like her habit of digging her fingernails into her hand when she gets sleepy at meetings, or the time when former French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared, while watching a traffic jam of motorcades after a frustrating day of summits in Copenhagen, “I want to die!”

There are also carefully constructed personal recollections of some of the hard choices she made, like her support for the Osama bin Laden raid, with which President Barack Obama agreed, and her support for arming the Syrian rebels, with which Obama disagreed. But as often as not, the hard choices are so polished as to lose their edge. She admits to a shouting match with the former CIA director over whether or not to authorize a particular drone strike, but on the subject of her approach to drone strikes in general she offers only diplo-babble fortune cookies. She agrees with Obama that the strikes raised “profound questions,” and writes that it’s “crucial that these strikes be part of a larger smart power counterterrorism strategy that included diplomacy, law enforcement, sanctions, and other tools.”

Got it?

There are other hard choices she clearly runs away from making. After mentioning the controversy over the National Security Agency’s mass collection of domestic phone records without a warrant, she offers a puzzle instead of a position: “Without security, liberty is fragile,” she writes. “Without liberty, security is oppressive. The challenge is finding the proper measure: enough security to safeguard our freedoms, but not so much (or so little) as to endanger them.” Even the NSA will struggle to decode that one.

She devotes an entire chapter to the need to take on climate change, imploring policy makers to save the world in the most vacuous language of policy making, which keeps rearing its head throughout the book: “Building a broad national consensus on the urgency of the climate threat and the imperative of a bold and comprehensive response will not be easy, but it is essential.” But she makes no mention of her position on the Keystone pipeline, which is arguably the most central domestic climate change issue she faced, and which coincidentally divides the Democratic Party.

Perhaps there is no reason to expect more from a politician in mid-stride. Barack Obama’s first book, Dreams of My Father, was widely hailed as a deeply personal literary work in its own right. The book he wrote before his 2008 campaign, The Audacity of Hope, was a far inferior list of policy maxims, Republican bashing and feel-good utopianism. But assuming she continues her campaign, Clinton has a problem to solve that Obama never had before he ran: She must convince voters both within and without the Democratic Party that she is a real person people can believe in, not just a political brand that is repolished and reintroduced to the public at regular intervals under the soft lights of a primetime television interview.

In Hard Choices, Clinton limits her personal admissions to the expected: Praise and pride in her daughter Chelsea, a tribute to her mother Dorothy, who passed in late 2011, and some glimpses of the personal toll of traveling 2,000 hours by plane to 122 countries over four years. Then, in the final pages, there is the hint of more:

Recently, Bill and I took another of our long walks, this time with our three dogs, near our home. It had been an unseasonably long winter, but spring was finally peeking through the thaw. We walked and talked, continuing a conversation that began more than forty years ago at Yale Law School and hasn't stopped yet.

Do you want to know what happened next? What they talked about? How things have changed for the most storied political couple in the land? Well, you won’t find it here. The paragraph over, she changes the topic, and moves on, with no indication why the walk might have been important or interesting, or needed to be included in her book.

Clinton has made the hard choice to hide any details of the hardest choice to come in a book she calls Hard Choices. It’s exactly what candidates do—when they are preparing campaigns.

Paternity Leave and Why Men Need Feminism Too

Posted: 10 Jun 2014 11:01 AM PDT

Happy Fathers' Day, American dads: our society still does a crappy job of encouraging you to be fathers! A new study from the Boston College Center for Work and Family has found that new dads take paternity leave only to the extent that they're paid to–i.e., not a lot. As the Washington Post reports, the majority of men who get two weeks' paid leave take two weeks, those with three weeks take three, and so on. And per the Families and Work Institute, those lucky guys are few; only 14% of employers offer any pay for "spouse or partner" leave, compared with 58% for maternity leave (mostly through temporary disability insurance and very rarely at full salary).

I can believe those studies because I lived them. When my first son was born, I took six weeks off–the one week of paid parental leave my company offered at the time, plus some accumulated vacation. I wanted to take more, but it would have been unpaid, my wife was getting ready to take leave from her own job at the time (as a librarian, so you do the math) and they're not giving diapers away.

Spending those few weeks at home with a cranky, leaky, smelly baby was exhausting and overwhelming–and to this day I wish I'd had more of it. And I was one of the lucky ones, by U.S. standards; unlike most fathers, I at least had some paid leave, fairly generous vacation, and, once I went back to work, a reasonably flexible job that allowed working from home. (It’s worth noting that the United States is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t mandate paid maternity leave, and that a number of countries also require paid paternity leave.)

As the Post article says, dads' choices about leave (and moms') are largely pocketbook decisions–a lot of those fathers are principal breadwinners and don't have the luxury to decide otherwise. But all that's intertwined with social expectations. Women get mommy-tracked and end up earning less. Dads are considered providers first and nurturers second. A dad who wants to stay at home, or at least take more time off, is not just considered less of a man but less committed as an employee–a slacker, a scammer, a liability, a beta.

It's true no matter how successful you are–say, New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy, who missed all of two games from a 162-game season for the birth of his baby and got blasted by male sportscasters. (Some suggested he "hire a nurse" or tell his wife "C-section before the season starts." Love you too, honey!)

It's fitting that these studies should come along at the same time that pundits are debating "Can men be feminists?" because few issues so clearly answer that question: Yes, duh, no matter what Pharrell Williams says.

We have a habit of talking about feminism as if it's something women do to men or men do for women–that feminism uplifts women at men's expense. (See the Shailene Woodley "I'm not a feminist because I love men" argument.) If men identify as feminists at all, goes the corollary, they're "allies" who are being altruistic (or trying to get laid). The cultural politics of this attitude aside, it just doesn't square with the real world of running a household and paying the bills. Paternity leave is a simple, practical lesson in why men should be feminists, not simply because it's right and fair but because feminism–in its simplest sense of treating people equally and not constraining them with artificial gender roles–benefits men too.

OK, to borrow the famous phrase: "Not all men." Sexism hurts and limits women much more than it does men, and women experience forms of misogyny that men will never experience (see the #YesAllWomen hashtag campaign). As a man, you can profit handsomely from sexism–but you profit most if you want to be a certain kind of man as the culture defines it: one who derives his self-worth from work and money, who conforms to traditional masculine roles, who sees himself as the backup parent who "babysits" his kids occasionally but delegates most of that work to the little woman. Don't like that setup? Man up, candyass! Get back to work!

Not everyone is in a heterosexual relationship with kids, of course. But when you're raising kids with an opposite-sex partner, the whole op-ed page, Internet-comments-section caricature of feminism as a zero-sum game looks especially silly and disconnected from nuts-and-bolts, bill-paying, time-managing life. When you’re in a family, you’re not an isolated representative of your demographic group. You’re part of a team, and something that holds back your partner holds you back too. If women are paid unfairly, sure, that's worse for women. But for a husband, that's also a wife who's bringing less money into the household. It's less security if he loses his own job. A husband who can take paternity leave means a wife who doesn't have to shortchange her career, which means more stable finances. Women who lean in give men the option to lean out, and vice-versa.

When women have more choices, in other words, so do men–including the choice to actually be present as parents to their own babies. A saner set of policies for parental leave and a more open-minded attitude toward parents' roles would be the best Fathers' Day gift we could give America's dads. And for that matter, its moms and kids.

California Teacher Tenure Law Unconstitutional

Posted: 10 Jun 2014 10:58 AM PDT

LOS ANGELES — California’s tenure protections for public school teachers were ruled unconstitutional Tuesday by a judge presiding in a lawsuit brought by nine students.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu cited the historic case of Brown v. Board of Education in ruling that all students are entitled to equal education and said the current situation discriminates against minority and low-income students in placing ineffective teachers in their schools.

“Plaintiffs claim that the challenged statutes result in grossly ineffective teachers obtaining and retaining permanent employment, and that these teachers are disproportionately situated in schools serving predominantly low-income and minority students,” the decision said.

The judge said the plaintiffs’ equal-protection claims validly stated that the statutes violated their fundamental rights to equality of education.

The judge stayed implementation of the ruling pending appeals. The case only involves K-12 teachers.

Other states tackling the issue are also paying close attention to how the case plays out in the nation’s most populous state.

One issue at the center of the lawsuit was whether bad teachers should be so heavily protected by tenure laws that they are almost impossible to fire. The lawsuit asked the courts to strike down several laws providing teachers with tenure, seniority-based job protection and other benefits.

Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy testified during the trial that it can take over two years on average to fire an incompetent tenured teacher and sometimes as long as 10. The cost of doing so, he said, can run anywhere from $250,000 to $450,000.

Treu heard two months of testimony for and against the lawsuit filed by students who claim that they are being deprived of a good education. The plaintiffs said that the state’s teacher tenure system, which allows only two years for evaluation before a teacher is hired permanently, does not provide sufficient time to weigh a teacher’s effectiveness.

The trial represented the latest battle in a nationwide movement to abolish or toughen the standards for granting teachers permanent employment protection and seniority-based preferences during layoffs. Dozens of states have moved in recent years to get rid of or raise the standards for obtaining such protections.

Lawyers for teachers object to changes that they say will allow the firing of teachers on a whim. They argue the current system preserves academic freedom and helps attract talented teachers to a profession that doesn’t pay well.

The lawsuit, Vergara v. California, was brought by Beatriz Vergara and eight other students who said they were saddled with teachers who let classrooms get out of control, came to school unprepared and in some cases told them they’d never make anything of themselves.

“This is a piece of a national debate and legal policy battle,” plaintiffs’ attorney Theodore Boutrous Jr. said. “It’s being watched around the country.”

James Finberg, who represents the teachers, agreed that Treu’s decision could be a bellwether for other states. With 325,000 teachers and 6 million students, California has one of the largest educational networks in the country.

WATCH: Nintendo Wants to Sell You Mario Figurines You Can Use in Its Video Games

Posted: 10 Jun 2014 10:45 AM PDT

Nintendo announced at E3 Tuesday a new line of electronic figurines called Amiibo that can interact with the Wii U's gamepad and be used in various titles for the console.

The figures, which will include popular Nintendo stalwarts like Mario and Link, can be leveled up by playing different games, while they keep their unique stats across multiple titles. Disney already uses similar figures of its own iconic characters for its Wii U game Disney Infinity.

The first Nintendo game to make use of Amiibo will be Super Smash Bros. this holiday season. The toys will also be incorporated into upcoming games like Mario Party 10 and already released titles like Mario Kart 8. Amiibo will also be compatible with the 3DS.

Guys, Your Smartphone Is Hurting Your Sperm

Posted: 10 Jun 2014 10:43 AM PDT

Even while the debate over whether cell phones cause cancer rages on, researchers are starting to explore other potentially harmful effects that the ubiquitous devices may have on our health. Because they emit low level electromagnetic radiation (EMR), it's possible that they can disturb normal cell functions and even sleep.

And with male infertility on the rise, Fiona Mathews at the University of Exeter and her colleagues decided to investigate what role cell phones might play in that trend. In their new research, they analyzed 10 previous studies, seven of which involved the study of sperm motility, concentration and viability in the lab, and three that included male patients at fertility clinics. Overall, among the 1,492 samples, exposure to cell phone EMR lowered sperm motility by 8%, and viability by 9%.

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Previous studies suggested several ways that the magnetic fields might be wreaking havoc on sperm – they could be generating DNA damage by promoting more unstable oxygen compounds, Or, because most men carry their phones in their pants pockets, the fields, which can cause up to a 2.3C temperature increase on the skin, could be raising the temperature of the testes enough to suppress and interfere with normal sperm production.

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Exactly how much the cell phones are contributing to lower quality sperm isn't clear yet—the researchers note that how long the phones are kept in pockets, as well as how much EMR the phones emit (most are legally required to stay below 2.0 W/kg) are also important things to consider when figuring out an individual's risk. But the lab dish studies do show that sperm are affected by the exposure, and that provides enough reason to investigate the possibility that cell phones may be contributing to lower quality sperm and potentially some cases of infertility. More good reason to keep cell phones away from your body when you're not using them – easier in theory than in practice, however.

WATCH: ‘Kid Icarus’ Character Lady Palutena Joins Smash Bros. Roster

Posted: 10 Jun 2014 10:30 AM PDT

Nintendo announced at E3 Tuesday that Lady Palutena, the goddess from the Kid Icarus franchise, will be a playable character in Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U and 3DS.

Palutena becomes the second playable character from the series to make the Smash Bros. roster, after main character Pit made his debut in Super Smash Bros. Brawl for the Wii. A gameplay video shows her using a large staff to pummel foes and interacting with a character called Dark Pit, who could be either a separate character or a costume change for the regular Pit.

Nintendo also announced that Miis will be playable characters in the new Smash Bros. with a customizable moveset. Other newcomers are the villager from Animal Crossing, the Pokemon Greninja, Little Mac from Punch-Out!! and the Wii Fit trainer.

Backlit Brazil: Photographing Silhouettes

Posted: 10 Jun 2014 10:20 AM PDT

29.1 Million Americans Now Have Diabetes

Posted: 10 Jun 2014 10:17 AM PDT

About 29.1 million Americans—nearly 10% of the U.S. population—now has type 2 diabetes, according to a new report.

Of those Americans with the illness, 27.8% of them are undiagnosed, according to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s 2014 National Diabetes Statistics Report released Tuesday. The report uses data collected between 2009-2012, as well as national surveys.

The CDC estimates that the direct and indirect costs of the disease have reached $245 billion, with direct medical costs making up 72% of that amount. People with type 2 diabetes incur medical costs on average 2.3 times higher than people without the disease, the CDC found.

Type 2 diabetes is caused by various factors that result in a heightened amount of blood sugar in the body. The disease is divided into two types; type 1 diabetics do not produce enough insulin, a hormone integral to metabolizing blood sugars, while in type 2, the body cannot use the insulin it makes. Diabetes can in the most severe cases result in serious complications including heart and kidney disease.

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