Monthly Archives: February 2013

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Review: Samsung’s ATIV Odyssey is Windows Phone 8 on a budget

Samsung’s ATIV Odyssey marries low-cost hardware with Windows Phone 8, but is it a good match?

Here at Ars we naturally spend a lot of time covering high-end, cutting-edge smartphones. You guys tend to be technology enthusiasts, and technology enthusiasts are generally more excited about newer, bigger, faster, higher-specced phones than you are by middle-of-the-road or low-end stuff.

Still, the free-with-contract market segment is important, especially for people moving from a feature phone to a smartphone for the first time. Even though the $199 or more that you’d drop on a high-end phone pales in comparison to the thousands of dollars you’ll pay for voice, texts, and data over the course of a standard two-year smartphone contract, it might be the case that someone living from paycheck to paycheck has the cash to pay for a smartphone plan every month but can’t spend a few hundred dollars up-front for hardware to use with it. There’s also, of course, something psychologically alluring about a price tag of $0, even if you have to make some compromises to get it—either way, it’s a part of the market I’d like to start paying a little more attention to.

Samsung’s ATIV Odyssey, a new midrange phone running Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8, isn’t quite free-with-contract, but as of this writing you can buy it with a two-year Verizon Wireless contract for a mere $9.99. It obviously gives things up compared to higher-end Windows phones like HTC’s Windows Phone 8X, Nokia’s Lumia 920, or Samsung’s own ATIV S handset, but for people looking to get into the smartphone (or Windows Phone) game for cheap, how does it stack up?

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Most Traffic Jams Are Caused By Just a Handful of Idiots

Deep in your heart you know it: there are like two drivers out there on the road that are causing all the traffic jams and one of those assholes is the guy right in front of you. Well, new information collected from hundreds and hundreds of drivers’ cellphones actually backs that up. Sort of. It turns out that it takes very few jackasses to screw things up for everyone. More »


Harlem Shake, Michael Waltrip Racing Edition


Your move Formula 1.

Unlock Old School Arcade Games in Your Mac’s Terminal

Unlock Old School Arcade Games in Your Mac’s TerminalWe here at Lifehacker are all about staying productive, but sometimes you just need to take a break. For those times, there’s this old-but-fun tip: with a few terminal commands, you can open up games like 5×5, Pong, Solitaire, Snake, Tetris, and others in your Mac’s terminal.

To start them up, just open your Terminal app (in /Applications/Utilities) and type emacs into the prompt. Press Enter to open it up, press Esc then x. Next, just type the name of the game you want to play and enjoy (note that different versions of OS X have different games, so see what you have first!). The games are simple and the graphics are not great but it is a perfect way to power down and relax without getting so engrossed in a game that you end up spending hours on it. Hit the link to read more, and have fun (but don’t forget to work)!

How to Activate Hidden Mac Games in Terminal | Make Tech Easier

This Lay-Z-Boy/Ergometer Hybrid Fails as Both Arm Chair and Rowing Machine

You know what smells awesome? Hot, sweaty leather—like the ass crack of Jim Morrison’s pants. And now you can enjoy this pungent aroma every time you sit in this Frankensteined armchair and pull a 10k on its integrated erg. More »


Bad News: A Brief History Of Media Controversies And The Auto Industry


“Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” That ages-old slur against the news media was used quite a bit this week after the New York Times’ failed drive of the Tesla Model S, and Tesla’s subsequent response to it. People have a right to be skeptical of the Times’ drive: after all, media coverage of scandals in the auto industry has a history of being ill-advised, misinformed, and at worst, manufactured.


Where do you begin when talking about journalistic failures at covering cars and the auto industry? There are almost too many to count. At least one two major ones seem to happen every decade. (I don’t think there’s enough evidence to make the Tesla story fall into this category quite yet, though. More on that later.)


As a journalist and a car enthusiast myself — and someone whose current job marries both of those things — I have often wondered how these stories happened.


Maybe it’s because like much of the general population, reporters, editors and producers don’t really understand how cars work in a mechanical sense. Maybe it’s because they’re too willing to go to press or air with the facts at hand instead of digging deeper. And in the most egregious cases, maybe it’s because they’re willing to totally disregard facts to go with a salacious story.


Whatever the reasons these journalists have for doing the stories they do, the impact of bad journalism on the auto industry is palpable. Bad stories have resulted in cars getting axed, brands falling apart, unnecessary regulations getting passed, and jobs being lost.


Conventional wisdom is that traditional outlets like newspapers and TV stations have lost much of their power in a world where the Internet allows for such diverse information sources, but if they are able to harness the power of car buyers’ fears, they can still make heads roll.


I’ll delve into some of my favorite examples of journalistic malpractice where cars are concerned. Many of these are taught in J-schools across the country as examples of what not to do.


Before I do, I need to say that I don’t want this to come off as a screed about how poor, innocent car companies are always getting screwed over by evil, greedy reporters. I fervently believe journalists have a duty to the public, to look out for consumers and taxpayers, and to hold the powerful accountable. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it, just like anything else, and it has to be done right. That means getting your facts straight and telling the truth. For all of these bad examples, there have been many more where journalists have done their jobs right when they’re covering cars.


And if any young or aspiring journalists are reading this, consider these excellent examples of what not to do. Let’s get started, shall we?


Graphic credit Jason Torchinsky



Chevrolet Corvair: Unsafe at any speed?


I feel bad for the Corvair. It was one of most unique and interesting American cars ever made, but no one remembers it for that. No one remembers its air-cooled, rear-engine architecture or how it was made to do battle with the Volkswagen Beetle. People only remember it as being an oversteering deathtrap that jump-started modern automotive safety.


The Corvair is now remembered for being one of the primary targets in Ralph Nader’s 1965 book Unsafe At Any Speed. Nader, then a young lawyer and consumer safety advocate, singled out the Corvair’s swing-arm suspension as being the cause of scores of crashes and more than 100 lawsuits, which were what spurred him to write the book in the first place. 


Nader may not have been a journalist, but the media jumped on his report with gusto, and the Corvair’s sales never recovered, even though GM made tweaks to its suspension (and made weird attempts to discredit Nader, including hiring people to follow him and tempting him with prostitutes).


Was it bad journalism? Fifty years later, the jury is still out on whether the Corvair was really unsafe. Texas A&M University did a study in the 1970s that concluded the car was no more dangerous than many of its contemporaries. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reached that same conclusion too. And the buff books opined that many drivers failed to account for the handling differences created by its rear weight bias. Still, the book — and the media coverage of it — doomed the Corvair for good. 


Photo credit emarschn



60 Minutes and the Audi 5000


Compared to Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs from the same era, you don’t see many 1980s Audis on the road anymore. There’s a reason for that, and it’s a reason that nearly killed Audi in the U.S.: 60 Minutes. In 1986, the venerable CBS news program ran a special report on the Audi 5000 sedan, accusing it of suffering from unintended acceleration. They interviewed multiple people who had filed lawsuits against Audi, claiming the cars raced off on their own and crashed. The story featured one woman who claimed that she ran over her six-year-old son while her foot was on the brake, though that contradicted what she told police when it happened. 


60 Minutes even supplemented their report with footage of the 5000′s gas pedal moving downward on its own and the car blasting off like a rocket. Audi fired back with a PR campaign featuring racing driver Bobby Unser explaining how safe the car is, but the company’s sales tanked hard. (On a side note, hearing Unser explain the technology behind a German luxury sedan in that accent of his is kind of hilarious.) 


Was it bad journalism? Unquestionably, yes. The scene with the runaway 5000 was manufactured by drilling a hole in the transmission and pumping in high-pressure air. It was a good visual for TV, but it wasn’t true. The real reason for the unintended acceleration incidents? Driver error and pedal misapplication. Unfortunately, Audi was hammered with lawsuits, and it would be another 15 years before their sales fully recovered. 



Suzuki Samurai and Consumer Reports 


Now-dead-in-America manufacturer Suzuki and Consumer Reports waged a war against one another in the magazine pages and the courtroom for years. In 1988, CR issued a report on the Suzuki Samurai that claimed the mini-SUV was prone to rollovers during evasive maneuvers and therefore "not acceptable" for buyers. As with the Audi and the Corvair, sales plummeted thanks to the fear instilled in consumers by the magazine’s report.


Suzuki stopped bringing the Samurai to the U.S. in 1995. The next year, they filed a now-famous lawsuit against Consumer Reports, dubbed Suzuki v. Consumers Union, that accused the publication of libel. Suzuki said the tests were fraudulently done, which resulted in a significant financial loss for them. The suit was finally settled out of court in 2004, but no money changed hands — the two essentially agreed to disagree. 


Was it bad journalism? CR wrote that the Samurai "easily rolls over in turns," something they meant to attribute to the evasion test. During the settlement, CR issued a clarification of the article that said they never meant to imply that it rolls over easily in normal driving. It was more a poor choice of words on the magazine’s part than anything else, rather than a staged test, but words matter. 



Chevrolet Trucks and Dateline’s "Waiting to Explode" story


Don’t expect too much fairness and nuance in a story called "Waiting to Explode." NBC’s Dateline ran this controversial story in 1993 where they attempted to question the safety of certain General Motors trucks. In particular, they implied that some of the trucks’ fuel tanks would explode if they were involved in a side collision. To help "prove" their point, Dateline strapped incendiary devices onto a 1977 Chevy truck which gave them the nice, big explosion they wanted.


Was it bad journalism? Heck yes. Dateline was caught in the act, and anchors Stone Phillips and Jane Pauley were both forced to read apologies and retractions on air. (Pauley even had nothing to do with the original story, which is kind of shitty.) GM still lost a bunch of money on customer lawsuits, though. Actual data as to how unsafe these trucks supposedly are is inconclusive. 



ABC News’ Runaway Toyota Investigation


Remember a few years ago when all the Toyotas were racing off on their own, killing people left and right? Except not because it was mostly just driver error? ABC News jumped at the chance to take part in this pseudo-crisis by doing a story in 2010 that wasn’t far off from what 60 Minutes did two decades earlier. 


ABC News reporter Brian Ross met a professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale who claimed to have duplicated the problem that was supposedly affecting the runaway Toyotas. The problem is, that car was rigged in a way that is extremely unlikely to happen in the real world, and elements of the video were faked as well. Seriously, guys — telling the truth is not that hard. 


Was it bad journalism? Certainly. The ABC News story was just one part of a scandal that Toyota is just now beginning to recover from, one that cost them $1.3 billion. That’s a hell of a lot of money for incidents that were mostly just people getting their pedals mixed up. 


Photo credit JLaw45




The New York Times’ Failed Tesla Model S Drive


You know the story by now, or at least you should. Tesla asks the NYT’s John Broder to drive the Model S from D.C. to Boston, charging the electric sedan at their Supercharger stations along the way. He ends the trip on a flatbed after running out of power. Tesla’s Elon Musk called the story a "fake." Both parties jump in to defend themselves and present their sides. Who’s right here? Did Broder pull a 60 Minutes or did he legitimately run out of power, even after following Tesla employees’ instructions?


Was it bad journalism? I can only speak for myself, but I don’t think this has been decided. As I have said before, I don’t feel like a veteran reporter of Broder’s caliber fits the profile of someone who would fake a story. But I wasn’t on that drive with him, and I haven’t done it myself. Musk has presented compelling data of his own, but some third parties have poked holes in that as well


I do have a feeling that many years from now — whether Tesla is a long-shuttered failed experiment or the world’s largest maker of EVs who has since bought out GM and Ford — that this incident will be a notable event in their history, in part because of the story itself and also because of Musk’s response to it. It’s probably not going away any time soon. 


Photo credit Tesla 

How do I deal with a team member who refuses to make comments in code?

This Q&A is part of a weekly series of posts highlighting common questions encountered by technophiles and answered by users at Stack Exchange, a free, community-powered network of 90+ Q&A sites.

Mahbubur R Aaman Asks:

One of my team members consistently avoids making comments in his code.

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iBuyPower Revolt System Review: Closing the Boutique and Opening the Store

At CES 2013, the PC boutique iBuyPower announced a product that's in many ways much more than the sum of its parts. They announced the Revolt, a small form factor gaming PC that's riding the same wave of small gaming PCs that includes Alienware's X51, DigitalStorm's Bolt, and the review pending Steiger Dynamics LEET. These products are essentially about the move of PC gaming into the living room, something arguably predicated by the continued miniaturization of PC hardware, a very mature gaming platform that's had time to sand off its harsh edges just as gaming consoles continue to develop more and more of their own, and the convergence of games for all three main gaming platforms.

The iBuyPower Revolt isn't just another indicator of a sea change in gaming and an upswing in interest in PC gaming, though. What iBuyPower has done with the Revolt is create a PC product that is almost wholly their own, from the chassis to—and this part is crucial—the motherboard. That makes the Revolt notable both in terms of how it falls into the larger PC gaming landscape, but also in how it establishes iBuyPower not as a boutique, but as a legitimate vendor with the potential to compete with heavyweights like Dell, HP, Lenovo, Acer, ASUS, and Toshiba. That means that more than just balance sheets hinge on the Revolt's success; to an extent, iBuyPower's very nature in the market hinges upon it. The question becomes: can the Revolt possibly live up to expectations?



iBuyPower Revolt System Review: Closing the Boutique and Opening the Store

At CES 2013, the PC boutique iBuyPower announced a product that's in many ways much more than the sum of its parts. They announced the Revolt, a small form factor gaming PC that's riding the same wave of small gaming PCs that includes Alienware's X51, DigitalStorm's Bolt, and the review pending Steiger Dynamics LEET. These products are essentially about the move of PC gaming into the living room, something arguably predicated by the continued miniaturization of PC hardware, a very mature gaming platform that's had time to sand off its harsh edges just as gaming consoles continue to develop more and more of their own, and the convergence of games for all three main gaming platforms.

The iBuyPower Revolt isn't just another indicator of a sea change in gaming and an upswing in interest in PC gaming, though. What iBuyPower has done with the Revolt is create a PC product that is almost wholly their own, from the chassis to—and this part is crucial—the motherboard. That makes the Revolt notable both in terms of how it falls into the larger PC gaming landscape, but also in how it establishes iBuyPower not as a boutique, but as a legitimate vendor with the potential to compete with heavyweights like Dell, HP, Lenovo, Acer, ASUS, and Toshiba. That means that more than just balance sheets hinge on the Revolt's success; to an extent, iBuyPower's very nature in the market hinges upon it. The question becomes: can the Revolt possibly live up to expectations?



Top 10 Underhyped Windows Apps

Top 10 Underhyped Windows AppsSome apps are essential, and everyone who’s anyone knows to have them on their computer. Some apps, however, are fantastic, yet fly under the radar. Today, we look at our top 10 underhyped apps on Windows.

We’ve shared our favorite underhyped webapps a few times before, but we were shocked to find we hadn’t done the same for our beloved desktops. So, this week, we’re tackling Windows. Come back next week to see our favorite underhyped Mac apps!

10. WizMouse

Top 10 Underhyped Windows AppsWizMouse is that app you never knew you wanted until you use it. It allows you to scroll in windows when you mouse over them, not just after you click on them—something OS X and Linux have built-in, but Windows is seemingly missing. It may seem trivial, but after using it for awhile, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it. It’ll even enable the mouse wheel in applications that don’t support it, or even reverse the direction for the “natural” scrolling some people prefer. Check out our original post on it for more.

9. Skitch

Top 10 Underhyped Windows AppsSkitch isn’t necessarily the best screenshot tool around, but it’s long been our favorite screenshot annotation tool for the Mac, and now it’s on Windows. It’s amazing what a few well-placed arrows, text, and shapes can do when you’re trying to explain something—and, while you could just do it in Microsoft Paint, Skitch makes it look good (and easy). If you use Evernote, the Evernote integration is pretty great too.

8. PotPlayer

Top 10 Underhyped Windows AppsYou’ve probably heard of PotPlayer before—after all, it’s our App Directory pick for the best video player on Windows. Despite that, however, it seems to be a much lesser-known app that deserves more attention. It’s fast, lightweight, and has more settings for tweaking your video than you can shake a stick at (plus it can play just about any video you throw at it). As such, it earns higher praise from us than more popular players like VLC, at least if you want those advanced settings. If you’ve been using another player and want more, PotPlayer is where you’ll find it.

7. Bins

Top 10 Underhyped Windows AppsWindows’ taskbar is still the best taskbar around, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Bins is a simple $5 app that adds a few really handy features to the taskbar, most notably the ability to group multiple apps into one square. Click on that square and it’ll launch the primary app, but hover over it, and you can choose which app to launch. It’s perfect for those that have multiple music players, photo editors, or other things that you don’t want taking up space on your taskbar. Check out our post on it to see even more stuff that it can do.

6. Chocolatey

Chocolatey brings Linux’s lightning-fast, super configurable package management to Windows. What does that mean? It means you can install a ton of apps at once (perfect for clean installs) with no effort. Or, you can try out that new app without having to find its site, download the file, and install it yourself. Everything happens with just a few keystrokes. Check out the video to the left to see it in action.

5. Dexpot

Dexpot is an awesome little utility that adds a ton of features to the windows on your desktop—and gives them all sorts of shortcuts. Its main purpose is to split your desktop up into four different workspaces, much like the Spaces feature on OS X or the Workspaces feature on Ubuntu. It can also make windows transparent, give you an Exposé-like view of all your open windows, and more. If your desktop is starting to feel a little cluttered with Windows, Dexpot is the perfect app to save your productivity.

4. Growl

Top 10 Underhyped Windows AppsGrowl is an incredibly popular program on the Mac, but its Windows version doesn’t get a lot of attention—despite the fact that its grown into quite the notification system. Growl essentially puts all the popups, balloons, and other notifications on your desktop into one unified system that you can control, customize, sent to other machines, or even forward to your phone. It supports a ton of popular apps, and it’s very easy to set up. Check out our guide to Growl for Windows for more info.

3. MusicBee

Top 10 Underhyped Windows AppsAt first glance, MusicBee seems like just another music player for Windows, but it’s actually the perfect balance between the existing programs out there. It’s fully-featured, like Winamp, but much lighter weight, and 100% free. It’s not quite as customizable as foobar2000, but is much easier to use, and has more than enough customization features for the average user. It’s even got a lot of tagging features for those that might be considering something like MediaMonkey. Plus, it syncs with Android phones superbly. Does it beat out any of these players at their specialty features? No, but it has a little bit of everything, is super lightweight, and is sure to fit into anyone’s workflow. If you haven’t found a music player you truly love, try it out. It was a contender in our Hive Five on desktop music players, but barely scraped together 6% of the final vote, so we’re still considering it very underhyped.

2. Nircmd

Top 10 Underhyped Windows AppsNircmd isn’t an “app” in the traditional sense of the word, but it’s something we think every life hacker should have on their Windows computer. Essentially, Nircmd is a command line tool that performs all sorts of system functions with really easy-to-understand commands. Sound boring? Combine it with AutoHotkey—one of Windows’ most deservedly hyped apps—and you can perform nearly any system task with one keystroke. You can open or close your CD drive, start your screensaver, put your computer to sleep, change the volume, speak the text on the clipboard, kill instances of any program, or perform over 70 other tasks. Check out Nircmd’s full list of features to see what it can do, and check out our guide to integrating it with AutoHotkey to really make it awesome. Photo by Neil T.

1. OneNote

Top 10 Underhyped Windows AppsMicrosoft’s note-taking application OneNote is one of those apps no one really talks about much, but is absolutely loved by everyone who uses it. Heck, you guys even voted it your favorite outlining tool, personal project management tool, and minutes meeting service, not to mention third place for best note taking app. It’s available for a ton of platforms, too (despite it being part of Microsoft Office), so if you’re finding that Evernote just isn’t quite powerful enough for your organizational needs, give OneNote a shot—you might be surprised at everything it can do given its lesser-known status.