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Earth receives an intelligent signal from the darkness

A potentially monumental moment in human history may be upon us. Last winter various radio telescopes around the world—over the span of about 3 days—picked up a repeating signal emanating from the region of space near Alioth (highlighted in the image), a star in the constellation Ursa Major, or the Big Bear. While this is nothing out of the ordinary for astronomers, some further details warranted a deeper investigation. Everything in the cosmos gives off some form of radiation; the trick is determining whether it is random noise, some natural repeating signal, or something we can't identify as a natural product, which might suggest an intelligent source. The signal in particular here was odd because of the frequency it was detected at, 5.0832 GHz. HangZhou Night Net

At first glance this is nothing extraordinary, but a student of mathematics might realize that this is the product of two of the most important numbers in the world: π and φ. Pi, of course, is recognized by everyone who has taken grade school mathematics as the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. It is a number that has been known throughout human history because of its intrinsic link with shapes and geometry. The other number is a bit more obscure, but holds similar importance to the foundations of mathematics. Phi is known as the golden ratio, approximately equal to 1.618. It was deemed to be the perfect ratio by Greek mathematicians and architects. It can be defined as follows: given two line segments a and b, it is the ratio of the lengths of a+b to a, and the ratio of a to b. It is also claimed to show up in natural forms, such as the ratio of area of mollusk shells, and in proportions seen in the human face, although variations in species and individuals make this statement tenuous.

The other intriguing fact about this signal is the pattern that the signal arrived with. The signal came in discrete pulses of radiation; from the beginning of the sequence, two single pulses were 'heard', then two pulses together, then three, then five, following this pattern until a sequence of 34 short bursts occurred. The series then repeated itself over and over for about three days. Again, aspiring mathematicians should pick up on this immediately as the first 10 Fibonacci numbers… (0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34). This ties back into the frequency it was broadcast on: the ratio of the (n+1)st Fibonacci number with the nth Fibonacci number as n gets very large is the golden ratio,φ, part of the frequency the signal was broadcast on.

What this means is the subject of heated debate. Alioth is only about 81 light years away from Earth and no one on Earth has produced a signal of sufficient strength that might have reached there in time to have been detected and triggered a reply. Given the distance, the signal recently detected had to have been sent over 81 years ago, but who or what sent it is not now, or may never be known. What it does suggest—emphasis on "suggest"—is that this is no naturally occurring phenomena. The frequency is composed of two irrational numbers that are universal, meaning they do not rely on any specific understanding of measurement or units. They are ratios found in naturally occurring shapes, and would suggest that the senders understood geometry similar to the way humanity's mathematical understanding evolved from natural forms to what we know today.

One final thought before I close what may be the biggest story ever… April Fools!

New York upset over new Grand Theft Auto, decides to look silly

With the release of the Grand Theft Auto IV trailer, many have noted that the game setting has a not-so-subtle resemblance to the real-life New York City. You can call it Liberty City all you want, but the trailer used many landmarks and well-known buildings to make its point: the game is going to have a New York flavor. HangZhou Night Net

This isn't sitting well with the real New York City, and of course that means it's time for the media to report poorly on Grand Theft Auto. It just never gets old.

In previous incarnations, players advanced through the game by killing cops, selling pornography to children and killing prostitutes. Details of the latest version have not been released.

"The mayor does not support any video game where you earn points for injuring or killing police officers," said Jason Post, a spokesman for Mayor Bloomberg.

I could be mistaken, but I have no recollection of any part a Grand Theft Auto where you had to kill police officers or prostitutes to advance the story. There are also no "points" to be gained in the game, so I'm not sure what Jason Post was trying to do, other than reveal that he has no idea what he's talking about.

I'm not trying to drag out the "movies and games" argument in terms of a difference in reaction, but why isn't there a public outcry every time a violent movie is set in New York? If you look at media as a whole, the things you see and do in the Grand Theft Auto games are actually pretty tame, but of course they make a good headline.

More public officials looking silly, and free publicity for Rockstar. The beat goes on.

New Civ IV expansion to be decidedly modern

Civ IV fans rejoice! 2K Games has announced a major expansion to Civ IV that sounds quite compelling, as far as expansion packs go. Dubbed "Beyond the Sword," the expansion pack will be available in July, and 2K says that it's the largest expansion pack in the history of the Civ franchise. Let's hope then that it's not a steaming pile… HangZhou Night Net

The title of the expansion hints at what it's about: the modern period and beyond. 2K says that the update is focused on later stages of the game, after the invention of gunpowder.

The key features, pared down from the announcement, with handy-dandy emphasis added:

Epic Game: massive increase in new units, buildings, and technologies to the epic
game, with focus on the late-game
time periods.New
Game Scenarios: The expansion will deliver 12
new scenariosNew
Civilizations: Ten new civilizations, such as Portugal, Babylon and
Netherlands. More
Civilization Leaders: Sixteen new leaders Corporations: Create corporations and spread them throughout the world. Each corporation provides
benefits in exchange for certain resources. Espionage: available
earlier in the game, this expanded
feature offers players many new ways to spy on opponents, stir
unrest and defend secrets. Events: New random
events such as natural disasters, pleas for help, or demands from
their citizens will challenge players to overcome obstacles. New
Wonders: Five new wonders await discovery including the Statue of Zeus,
Cristo Redentor, Shwedagon Paya, the Mausoleum of Maussollos, and the Moai
Statues. Advanced
Starts: A major fan request, this new
feature will enable players to
"buy" components of a custom-tailored empire and begin play in
the later part of the gameEnhanced
AI: generally tougher to beat on the higher
difficulty levels.

One of the things I really liked about Call to Power was the fact that you could play into the future with sci-fi-inspired future tech. As it stands, Civ IV's tech tree ends with the likes of "Fusion" and "Genetics". Will Civ IV get something a little more imaginative, or will they focus on filling out the tree with more examples from history? More complexity between Gunpowder and the current end of the tech tree would be welcome, but I'm really hoping for some truly awesome Future Tech.

And I think we might get it. 2K has posted a few samples of the artwork, and if I'm not mistaken, this image shows a giant city under a glass dome. It's… it's… the future!

Sunday Showdown: Was the GTA IV trailer impressive?

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The Saturday Sunday Showdown continues, a day later this week. Each week we'll pick a topic, flip a coin to see which OT writer gets which side to debate, and then we present it to you. This week? Whether or not the first official Grand Theft Auto IV trailer was impressive?

Frank: On Thursday, Rockstar released the first official GTA IV trailer. Video sites were hammered for hours as the masses stormed to get but the smallest of glimpses of the future platinum hit. After all the speculation, rumors and exclusivity claims, the titan software product finally saw the light of day. Alas, while Ben and many others around the Internet fell in love with the Source Engine-style graphics and their resulting incredible level of detail, I found myself less than thrilled with the first teaser trailer. We already knew the game was going to look good. The best minds at Rockstar have been working diligently to recreate the success of Grand Theft Auto 3, but that's going to take substantially more than just a visual upgrade. GTA3 grew to transcend mere gaming: it became a cultural icon. The jump to 3D created completely new game play opportunities, and the focus on story-telling created a great new level of appeal for the series. However, the trailer gives no such stunning impression, and I don't think that's just because it's early. If GTAIV is going to be nothing more than a superficial upgrade, I'm really not all that interested—I was already starting to get bored of the formulaic action by the time San Andreas rolled around. Nothing in the trailer—from the return of an old city to the new character's foreign background—has me even the least bit enticed. It looks good. So what? So does everything else "coming soon".

Ben: With video released this early you have to be careful about what you show. Rockstar had one job to do with this trailer, and that was to get people talking about the game. On that level, the trailer was a success. Many sites are even spending hours peeling it apart frame by frame to try to look for clues. A teaser released months months ahead of the game only has to prove to fans that the graphics are going to have a major leap in quality, and maybe show off one or two story points The GTA IV trailer certainly does this, and now that we have an idea of how good the game is going to look, we get to speculate on the actual game play. Say what you will about Rockstar, but they rarely fail to give us something interesting and new; this graphical leap can't simply be solely for the sake of "just another" GTA game. They've proven that the game is coming; it's real, and boy, does it look good. I wonder how many people would be willing to buy the game just based on the engine and graphics, but with standard GTA game play? We're looking down the barrel of a monster hit here, and that's even before we know if the game is going to have any new ideas in terms of play, which I think are definitely coming. This is a teaser more than anything else, and I feel appropriately teased.

Frank: As I said, I realize that this is an early trailer—but it's not that early. The game is shipping in October, so I'm sure they have a lot of it together and running. In fact, this is probably the latest an official trailer for a major release has ever surfaced; typically, we see videos (or at least stills) with over a year to go before the release. I want to be teased with something worth talking about. People are only talking about the game because it's pretty; it's the typical superficial conversation that always arises when something looks fancy. However, I know better. Need I bring the Killzone trailer into this? Sure, the GTAIV trailer is done with the in-game engine (at least, so we're led to believe), but it really doesn't showcase anything that would differentiate GTAIV from the others in the series. I'm also not saying that a superficial upgrade won't sell; we live in a shallow society, and a good looking game from a historically good series will sell well regardless. GTAIV is destined to become a platinum hit no matter how good or bad it is. However, I'm not willing to buy into the hype; I've spent enough time with the series to know that they're running out of ideas. From this trailer, there's nothing to be excited about yet, and that's why it fails as a teaser for anyone able to see past the glossy overcoat.

Ben: What they're doing is managing expectations, and the best way to do that while building the maximum amount of hype is to only show what you absolutely have to. Everyone ran to their computers to check out this trailer, and now they're endlessly discussing every little thing. If Rockstar releases another video in the next few weeks that shows off a little bit of game play they can expect the same reaction, and keep it going right until release. You can't get sustained buzz by showing your entire hand this early, you have to slowly reveal what you have planned. Not only that, but Rockstar tends to set trends, so any large announcement in game play would likely instantly be added to other upcoming games that might even see release before Grand Theft Auto IV. I don't blame them for being secretive, not yet. The big question is whether they have some good game play innovations to hide. If so, this was a good move. If we're going to be treated to "just another" Grand Theft Auto game however, I'm going to feel pretty cheated. The series has consistently delivered up until now, so I feel comfortable giving them the benefit of the doubt.

So what do you think? Did the first Grand Theft Auto IV trailer ignite your imagination? Or did it leave you saying "It's pretty, so what?"

New Bluetooth spec promises easier pairing, lower power consumption

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group has officially unveiled Bluetooth 2.1, the latest evolution of the Bluetooth spec. Its full name—Bluetooth Core Specification Version 2.1 + EDR—may be a mouthful, but the improvements over its predecessor are a couple of tasty bites. HangZhou Night Net

Fully backwards compatible with Bluetooth 2.0, version 2.1 offers lower power consumption and an improved device pairing experience. A new feature called "sniff subrating" optimizes battery life, which the Bluetooth SIG claims can result in a five-fold increase in battery life for peripherals including keyboards, mice, medical devices, and watches.

Device pairing should be much easier with Bluetooth 2.1. Mobile phone owners wanting to pair a wireless headset with their phone should have an easier go of it. In most cases, they should be able to turn on their phone and select "add headset" from the phone's menu. The phone and headset will then automatically pair with one another using an encrypted link. Security-conscious users can opt to use a six-digit passcode to verify the pairing.

Version 2.1 offers other ways of pairing as well. One such possibility is Near Field Communication, where users can hold two devices very close to one another to initiate the quick pairing process. Either way, it sounds like less of a hassle than the current system.

A few current devices should be upgradeable to the 2.1 spec via a firmware update; most others will not be due to the lack of an interface for updates and rewritable memory.

Next up for Bluetooth is integration with the WiMedia Alliance's Ultra-Wideband spec to incorporate that technology into the Bluetooth spec, leading to higher-speed data transfers.

New bill lets colleges use federal funds to fight P2P

Representative Ric Keller (R-FL) feels that colleges in America are teaching students more than literature, history, and computer science. They are alsodens ofthievery, places where students learn to steal "billions of dollars in intellectual property from hardworking people whose jobs hang in the balance." Rep. Keller is talking about illegal file-swapping, of course, and his new bill (HR 1689) could give schools more money to combat the P2P scourge. HangZhou Night Net

The bill is called the "Curb Illegal Downloading on College Campuses Act of 2007." It amends the Higher Education Act, a bill that supplies federal money to universities, allowing that money to be used for programs that reduce illegal downloading of copyrighted content.

The goal is to free up university money that would otherwise be spent on bandwidth costs and to keep networks more secure by keeping out viruses that may attach themselves to P2P files. The bill notes that "computer systems at colleges and universities are intended primarily to aid in educating and increase research capability among students and faculty;" clogging a campus network with BitTorrent traffic does not fall under the school's educational mandate.

The Higher Education Act (HEA) generally allows schools to spend the money they receive only on certain prescribed areas such as financial aid grants and Pell loans. The new bill would allow that money to be used for more things, but does not contain a request for additional funding. Whether schools would be interested in using a limited pool of federal money to police student file-swapping remains to be seen.

There'sno guarantee that the bill will make it to a vote, of course. It has already been shunted to the House Committee on Education and Labor, and might languish there until the end of this Congressional term except for the fact that the HEA needs to be reauthorized, and soon. The HEA expires this summer, and Congress will certainly find a way to extend it yet again or fully reauthorize it, since few things look worse than cutting massive student aid programs.

Campuses have come under plenty of scrutiny in the past few weeks, with the RIAA and the MPAA calling schools out for high levels of illicit P2P usage. Individual representatives in Congress have also taken an interest in the issue; can it be long before the carrot of additional funds for security is supplemented with the stick of penalties for not addressing the problem?

EMI goes DRM-free on iTunes Store

Update HangZhou Night Net

Apple and EMI announced today that the music label will begin selling all of its music through the iTunes Store, DRM-free. During a press conference in London this morning, EMI said that all of its unprotected tracks will be available worldwide from the iTunes Store starting in May for $1.29 and that customers will be able to upgrade their already-purchased EMI tracks for 30¢ if they so choose.

EMI and Apple said that the bit rate of EMI's tracks will be bumped up as well. EMI's catalog will now be available as 256kbps AAC files, upgraded from 128kbps. "We believe that offering consumers the opportunity to buy higher quality tracks and listen to them on the device or platform of their choice will boost sales of digital music," said EMI CEO Eric Nicoli during this morning's press conference. Customers who are not interested in the higher-quality, unprotected AAC files will still be able to buy protected tracks at 128kbps for 99¢ apiece.

EMI said that the iTunes Store will be the first to carry its higher-quality, unprotected music. The company will also be selling unprotected music videos through iTunes with no change in price, and plans to continue selling full upgraded albums at the existing wholesale prices.

It appears as if EMI and Apple are using the excuse of upgraded sound quality for the reason behind the individual track price bump, and not the lack of DRM. Whatever the true reason for the price bump, this ultimately breaks the (up until today) very consistent pricing scheme of the iTunes Store, and opens up the doors for other artists to start pricing their tracks differently—DRMed or not. One side effect: other music labels may now feel pressure to join EMI in dropping DRM through iTunes. There is no doubt that the rest of the Big Four will be watching this move very closely.

Original story

EMI will announce on Monday that it will be freeing much of its catalog from the shackles of DRM. The Wall Street Journal, citing "people familiar with the matter," reports (sub. required) that Apple CEO Steve Jobs will be present at the announcement in London and that the music will be sold through the iTunes Store and possibly other online outlets.

The news comes less than two months after Apple published Steve Jobs' famous open letter on the issue of DRM. In his missive, Jobs laid the blame for the DRM mess squarely at the feet of the music industry and said that he would gladly sell unprotected music if only the record labels would agree.

Jobs noted that if DRM requirements were removed, "the music industry might experience an influx of new companies willing to invest in innovative new stores and players." (Jobs also argued that interoperable DRM schemes are inherently less secure than closed systems—a questionable assertion, at best.)

EMI and the other Big Four labels have been beset by falling revenues over the past few years. Digital downloads are growing, but not quickly enough to offset the large declines in CD sales. Suggestions to drop the DRM have been widespread, and the recent formation of a licensing authority—Merlin—which combines a bunch of independent labels into a "virtual fifth major" have increased the pressure for change.

In early February rumblings were heard that EMI was thinking about ditching DRM, but EMI was unable to entice the likes of Apple, Microsoft, and others. As it turned out, EMI wanted a considerable advance payment to offset what it perceived as a "risk": selling DRM-free music online. EMI's position was simple: if they sell music without DRM, then users will find trading it that much easier. What this view ignores is the fact that DRM-free music already flows online, on P2P networks and USENET, among other places. This happens (in part) because CDs are, by and large, free of DRM and easy to rip.

When more details of the announcement become available Monday, we'll update here as necessary.

The $300 Mac

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You have to wonder if anyone at Apple foresaw the unintended consequences of using a modified version of OS X on the Apple TV. It's likely that hacks were expected. Certainly, that is one theory behind the Apple TV "repairing" itself and disabling modifications, but whether or not it was foreseen by Apple, the next logical step in hacking the Apple TV has taken place. Via Apple TV Hacks, there is now a how-to for running OS X on the Apple TV.

Semthex wrote a processor emulation for the kernel, to sidestep the hardware restrictions that previously disallowed Mac OS X from running on the Apple TV. was only too happy to help out, and when it turned out we needed more testers we launched a competition to get some. Within hours we had hundreds of eager Apple TV hackers submit entries.

The process is not simple, requiring the removal of the drive from the Apple TV, connection to a Mac, installation of OS X, and modification of files including the kernel of the Apple TV OS. For those who are curious, there some Xbench numbers too, and the discussion thread for the project can be found here.

Not surprisingly, the Apple TV does not make a great Mac. The Apple TV has only 256MB RAM, a 40GB hard drive, and no optical disc. The Apple TV's Pentium-M derivative is woefully underpowered compared to a Mac Mini with a Core Duo. However, the Apple TV does have discrete graphics, an Nvidia GeForce Go 7300/7400, compared to a piece of cardboard in the shape of a graphics card for the Mac Mini (also known as integrated graphics). Still, even at twice the price, the Mac Mini is the far better deal if you are looking for a Mac.

But what if you are looking a Mac to sit next to the TV, one that can do everything the Apple TV can do, and run OS X, all for half the price of a new Mac Mini? Finally, an Apple TV for the rest of us.

Legal guitar tabs return to the web

Wisconsin: it's home to broomball, sharp cheddar, and (strange but true) cranberry bogs. This last week, the Badger State added "home of legal guitar tablature service" to its list of distinctives.Madison-based Musicnotes announced a licensing agreement with the Harry Fox Agency that will bring legal, ad-supported tabs back to the 'Net. HangZhou Night Net

Tablature is a simplified system of guitar notation that is useful for players who can't read the standard notes and staff. Enthusiasts across the Internet created tens of thousands of these tablature files and sent them to sites like the Online Guitar Archive (OLGA) until the music industry cracked down on the practice.

Claiming that they alone have the right to reproduce music (even if that music iswritten downby volunteers), the Music Publishers Association and its licensing subsidiary the Harry Fox Agency managed to shutter the major tablature sites in the US last year.

Now, under a new agreement reached with Musicnotes (one of the largest publishers of sheet music), Harry Fox will allow the company to offer tablature so long as it splits its advertising revenue with the music publishers. The new service will launch this summer at, which Musicnotes recently acquired.

"Musicnotes proves the viability of a copyright-friendly, ad-supported guitar tab web site," said Gary Churgin, the CEO of Harry Fox, in a statement. "HFA has expanded its licensing and royalty distribution capabilities to support this kind of service, and we will continue to adapt to new licensing opportunities and models such as this to provide the most comprehensive service for our publishers."

There's one major snag, though: even though a deal is in place with Harry Fox, each copyright owner still needs to agree before Musicnotes can put tablature from their musicians online. This means that the archive will likely develop in a piecemeal fashion as publishers sign on.

In addition, the site will be making its money from users, who create and edit the tabs in question. Users get free access to legal tabs, while Musicnotes and music publishers get the cash. Will guitar players want to donate their time and energy to propping up The Man? Probably, if the site is slick, enough publishers sign on, and everything is fast and simple to use. The success of sites like YouTube is proof that plenty of people are willing to work for free when it comes to content they love, and this looks to be the only way to do it legally in the US at the moment.

Interview with Guitar Hero producer Daniel Sussman

Fair warning: we had these questions answered by Harmonix producer Daniel Sussman before theRock Band announcement. That means that he alludes to a big announcement we already have. Outside of that, there are some solid answers about the franchise here. HangZhou Night Net

Guitar HeroII for the 360 hits retail tomorrow, and many places already have it for sale. Expect our thoughts once our copy comes in.

Opposable Thumbs: Guitar Hero took off in a huge way. I know many people who bought a PS2 simply to play the game after they tried it at a party, and I know even more people who are now willing to sell their PS2 now that the game is coming to the 360. Of course, that success brings attention, and both you and Red Octane have since been acquired by MTV and Activision, respectively. So what does that mean for Harmonix and Guitar Hero? Are you still involved in Guitar Hero, or is it a case of building a boat and then letting other people sail it forward?

Daniel Sussman: We are still involved with the Guitar Hero franchise, though as it grows, we're more than happy to hand the reins to other developers so that we can pursue our own dream projects. The really exciting thing for me is that the music game, as a genre, has a full head of steam. Guitar Hero really broke the door down and now we're very excited to see what other developers bring to the table. No bullshit.

Q: There is a sense among many gamers I've talked to that while the game play updates in Guitar HeroII were all great, the song list wasn't quite as varied and interesting as the first game. Now that the game is coming to the 360 is there any chance of getting the Guitar HeroI tracks using the multiplayer modes and game updates from Guitar Hero II?

A: First off, I love the Guitar Hero II song list and think that, with the extra 10 songs, there is actually more variety than in the first title.We’ve gotten some feedback that maybe we skewed too metal on the sequel, but it has to be said that the GH2 song list runs the gamut from The Police to Lamb of God. That’s a really wide spread.With respect to song downloads, I will say that you are not the only person to have the idea of releasing GH1 songs for download.A lot of people are watching with intense curiosity as to how the first songs are received.It is really a brand new opportunity for record companies, bands, and developers–it's very exciting.

Q: I was playing Amplitude with some friends on the PS3 a few days ago, and they are all big Guitar Hero fans, but have never seen the earlier work Harmonix has done. Any plans to bring Frequency or Amplitude to the Live Arcade or as PS3 download? The games could find an entire new audience through that channel.

A: It makes me sad that those early titles are hard to find. Sony owns the Frequency/Amplitude brand and would have to revive them.I think we'd be willing to play a role.I wonder how Sony would feel about releasing one of their titles on Live Arcade …

Q: The upcoming Every Extra Extend Extreme apparently uses the custom soundtrack feature of the 360 in conjunction with the game play, altering how the game runs based on whatever song you play. Did you ever considertrying to incorporate custom soundtracks into Guitar Hero for 360? Perhaps using some kind of synthesizer-mapping programming to dynamically create a chord set for a custom song?

A: Yes, we did consider this. The fact is, a lot of effort goes into crafting each song, making it playable, and making it feel guitar-y and musical.I'm very proud of the job our audio team did and find it difficult to believe that we could have found a way to do that programatically.I think that all of the organic micro-decisions that our audio team made on a daily basis played a huge rule in what made Guitar Hero fun in the first place.

Q: What do you see as the best platform for rhythm games at the moment? When can we expect to see a Harmonix title on the Wii?

A: Rhythm games really transcend the console details as they don't necessarily need tons of CPU mojo to run. The gameplay itself is pretty straightforward, most of the time. Each platform brings something unique to the table, whether its physica gaming for the Wii, a great online infrastructure with the XBOX 360 or awesome programming power and graphics capabilities with the PS3.

Q: Do you ever bump into anyone from Konami and have an awkward moment? They have to be a little bitter about the success of Guitar Hero.

A: I still have tons of friends over there. No hard feelings …

Q: What's the next big thing we can expect from Harmonix?

A: We're working on the game we're dying to make. We've got big partners in MTV and EA. Stay tuned for more info …

Q: Lastly, what would your dream project be?

A: Like I said in the earlier question, I’m working on my dream game now. I’ll also say that I consider myself really lucky to have had an opportunity to have worked on some really fun games, from Frequency to Guitar Hero.

Whatever could it be? We'd like to thank Daniel Sussman for his time, and we can't wait to see what the franchise is like on the 360.