The Orange Embarassment Doesn’t Even Know How to Order a Wiretap

This is the immediate aftermath of Trump’s insane lie about President Obama wiretapping him during the campaign according to a New York Times article by Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman:

That led to a succession of frantic staff conference calls, including one consultation with the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, as staff members grasped the reality that the president had opened an attack on his predecessor.

Mr. Trump, advisers said, was in high spirits after he fired off the posts. But by midafternoon, after returning from golf, he appeared to realize he had gone too far, although he still believed Mr. Obama had wiretapped him, according to two people in Mr. Trump’s orbit.

He sounded defiant in conversations at Mar-a-Lago with his friend Christopher Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax Media, Mr. Ruddy said. In other conversations that afternoon, the president sounded uncertain of the procedure for obtaining a warrant for secret wiretaps on an American citizen.

Mr. Trump also canvassed some aides and associates about whether an investigator, even one outside the government, could substantiate his charge.

The embarassment is off of his rocker.

Quake Champions Closed Beta

Bethesda and id announced a Quake Champions closed beta test with this trailer. I’m real curious how this turns out, but I’m already kind of skeptical about the character-specific powers. We’ll see how it turns out when the beta starts.

Bethesda notably stopped sending out their games for review prior to the games being released, so you’ll probably want to hold off on buying the game until you’ve either had a chance to experience the beta yourself or until reviews are out.

Andy Kelly’s Steam Link Review

PC Gamer’s Andy Kelly also posted his review of the Steam Link. In addition to having some success with playing over wi-fi, he’s also got a different perspective on what kind of game play it’s suitable for:

I’ve also noticed the Link having a positive impact on my terrible attention span. When I’m playing at my desk I’m forever alt-tabbing to check Twitter or any number of stupid distractions. And I’ll usually last an hour in a game before quitting and doing something else. But camped out on the sofa, my attention doesn’t wander as much. I pay more attention to what I’m playing, and play it for longer, which is a discipline I thought I’d lost. 

Steam Link Review

The Steam Link is Valve’s tiny computer that links any HDMI display to your gaming computer, running Steam, over a local network connection. I’ve had it for a few months and have been enjoying it despite a few obstacles, some of which Valve can’t work around.

The Link doesn’t take up a lot of space but it manages to fit several ports:

  • 3 USB 2.0
  • 1 Ethernet
  • 1 HDMI

As well as Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11 AC wifi.

You can connect wired Xbox One and 360 controllers as well as wireless 360 controllers with the Windows adapter. Valve also has their wireless Steam Controller, which is a middle ground for games that don’t support the Microsoft gamepads. If you need a mouse and keyboard they can be used as well.

Once everything is hooked up and the Link is connected over a wired Ethernet network to your gaming computer, you get a one-time code that allows the Link to verify your access to the remote gaming computer.

The computer’s display will be mirrored to the TV over the local network almost as if it were directly connected. Steam’s big picture mode boots up and it reformats their regular desktop interface for a more console style appearance and input from devices attached to the Link is sent back to the host machine over the network.

From big picture mode you can launch any games that Steam supports, though if you’re not using a Steam controller or mouse and keyboard, and the game doesn’t advertise controller support to Steam, you’ll have to pass a warning checkpoint to continue playing the game.

Although there is also an option to minimize big picture and use the desktop directly, I haven’t had much success navigating the desktop with a gamepad.

Performance on the Link is impressive. I had previously tried Steam’s built-in streaming to a micro computer hooked up to my TV and it never worked well. There were bursts of latency and a “slow network” error message would appear in a tiny font in the lower left corner of the screen. I don’t have a lot of time to diagnose networking issues and was surprised that it wasn’t up to snuff. My networking equipment isn’t that old, and while streaming will be difficult for a wireless network it should have been OK on the wired network.

The diagnostic steps I tried, reducing the number of pieces of networking equipment between the desktop gaming computer and the TV, swapping out network switches, none of them worked and I had given up on streaming. I figured the challenge wasn’t the streaming so much as keeping it to a low latency that Steam would need for a game to be playable. That’s why it is less likely to work over a wireless connection where interference and distance could prevent a solid connection.

When the Steam Link was discounted to $35 (down from $50) I purchased it and kept the receipt thinking that it might perform better than the pre-release developer-focused Steam Machine had, and was surprised to find that the Steam Link performed perfectly on my network. It streamed 1080p, 60 FPS video fluidly.

So if the Steam Link performed well, what are those obstacles? There are a few.

When a game doesn’t work right for whatever reason, maybe it locks up when launched, maybe it crashed while you were playing, when this happens the Link can get stuck in limbo and you’ll be forced to walk away to the desktop computer and force the game to quit.

Technical issues with games aren’t something Valve can prevent. Quality control is up to the developer and publisher. When this happens and it feels like something specific to games running on computers that they’re just going to crash in ways that aren’t recoverable from a controller because computer operating systems aren’t built with gamepads in mind.

These problems happen most often for me with non-Steam games. While some work fine if they’re added to Steam in desktop mode first, like Overwatch, others just won’t work well. That makes me want to try Nvidia’s competing Shield TV console that also includes game streaming. It has the benefit of not being affiliated with any particular digital download system, so it might be better at handling games from Origin, for example. The downside to their Shield console is that it is $200 new when the Steam Link is priced at $50 (without a controller) and I’ve seen it on sale as low as $20 during holiday sales.

Overall I am very satisfied with playing Steam games over the Steam Link. It’s a terrific experience to sit down on the couch, turn on a gamepad and have the Link remotely turn on my desktop computer and start playing Fallout 4 without hauling your computer around or using an extremely long HDMI cable. I just wish the Link had better support for games from third party services, or that third parties would stop exclusively releasing their games through other desktop download stores. There’s an opportunity for a third party to develop software that encapsulates gog, Origin, itch, Blizzard, and Uplay games into Steam for more streamlined streaming and game library management.

Send the schmo to talk to Letterman!

David Marchese has this fantastic interview with David Letterman. They talk about our Dear Leader and other topics, but this part echoes the considerations of many people after Trump insulted John Lewis:

David Marchese: Is it fair to say you’re not interested in revisiting a late-night talk show?
David Letterman: My interest has shifted. When I’m talking about things to do now, it’s not like, God-dang, let’s get right back into comedy. Let’s call the Butterball hotline on Thanksgiving. But bring in Donald Trump or Mike Pence or somebody, and let me smother them with my ignorance. I’ll tell you what really got up my nose — do you have a minute? — was the John Lewis thing. Congressman John Lewis. Do I have the name right?

DM: Yep.
DL: So he announces he’s boycotting the inauguration. Trump hops on his Twitter device and describes John Lewis as just another all-talk, no-action congressman, so sad.

DM: It turns out John Lewis has been involved in a fair bit of action.
DL: Holy God. First of all, because I’m always thinking about myself, I think, I was about John Lewis’s age when he marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Would I have had the guts to do that? The all-talk John Lewis goes down there and gets a goddamned skull fracture. I mean, Trumpy will never have to worry about a skull fracture because of the hair. Thank you! How do you know if Donald Trump is lying? His lips are moving. Thank you! But in addition to every other thing that’s wrong with the Trump, he’s ignorant in a way that’s insulting to the office, insulting to America, insulting to human rights, insulting to civil rights, insulting to John Lewis. Trump saying that broke my heart. I thought, You stupid son of a bitch. You ought to have known better than that.

Where Do You Get Your News?

Our President gets his from the best sources:

Mr. Trump’s demand for a congressional investigation appears to be based, at least in part, on unproved claims by Breitbart News and conservative talk radio hosts that secret warrants were issued authorizing the tapping of the phones of Mr. Trump and his aides at Trump Tower in New York.

If you had access to the best sources of information, you might be surprised this embarrassment turns to the worst instead.

Don’t Fall For Offers From T-Mobile For Free or Discounted Phones

When the iPhone 7 was announced last year my phone carrier offered a deal where you could get one for free (for the 7 base model) or at an extreme discount (any upgraded models, or the plus).

They’re at it again with another promise to offer you an iPhone 7 for ‘free’ under a certain scenario. I can only recommend saying “no” to this garbage deal.

Since I got my discounted iPhone 7 Plus it has been a never-ending hassle to call T-Mobile because they’ve screwed something up every month. At first they screwed up the order of the phone, then they couldn’t find the phone I had traded in to them to get the discount, now they haven’t discounted the equipment installment plan. It’s what you’re typically billed for every month if you buy a phone through them. In this case it is supposed to be zeroed out every month. Many times they have promised to fix it, and that I should just wait one or two months, and nothing has changed.

Several times I have called them and been promised a callback, that has never happened.

I’m still billed, every month, for an equipment installment plan unless I leave T-Mobile.

Don’t fall for it. If you want an iPhone, buy it directly from Apple. If you use Android, buy your phone unlocked from anyone but your carrier. This is why I switched to the iPhone in the first place – the ability to stop dealing with carriers for anything but their service.

Xbox Game Pass Announced

Microsoft recently announced their Xbox Game Pass subscription service.

Most people are comparing it to a Netflix for games, it’s not a bad comparison excepting that while Netflix streams, the games with Microsoft’s service will download to an Xbox One.

The selection of games available will be pretty small, “over 100” when the service becomes available later this spring for $10 a month. The games will change every month, and once the game is cycled out you lose access to it. You do get a discount for purchases of games in the Game Pass library. The Xbox Game Pass games are mostly older from the Xbox One and 360, no real newer options though there isn’t a final list of what will be available.

There’s nothing exactly comparable to this from Sony, their Playstation Now service on the PS4 and Windows is $15 a month at its cheapest (3 month subscription), only streams older Playstation 3 games. The PlayStation 4 has no backwards compatibility with the PS3 otherwise.

Both Microsoft and Sony include “free” games every month with the subscription they charge for online play. I dropped my Xbox Gold subscription because I wasn’t playing online regularly, and the games they were offering weren’t as good as the Playstation Plus games.

Nintendo is going to include free games with their online service for the Switch, but final pricing is unknown, and they’ll all be swapped out every month.

There’s nothing at all like it from Valve on Steam or Windows, though the third-party Humble Bundle has a monthly subscription for $12 that acts like a blind box. Subscribing to that only gives you access to the next month’s games.

There are a lot of questions left to be answered. Games are different from movies, you might take more than a month to play through something and even some games could stick around for multiple months you might be coming up on the end of the month wondering if the one you’re playing is going to cycle out.

Nintendo Switch Launch Day

Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Nintendo of America

Nintendo launched their new console, the Switch, today. The console plugs into a TV but can also be taken on the go with the built-in screen.

Kyle Orland at Ars has a review of the system. CNET’s Jeff “Autoplaying Video” Bakalar also has a review.

I have some concerns with the system’s a lack of games at launch, the two hardware flaws that we know about, it’s regressive online features, and the price.

The only major games available at launch are The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Dan Ryckert’s 5-star review) and the 1-2-Switch fifty dollar minigame collection that isn’t that great (Alanah Pearce’s 6.2 out of 10 review w/ autoplaying video) and should have been included with the system. 1-2-Switch seems to be the only game that makes use of the Switch’s full functionality by using the gyroscope and other sensors in the Joy-con controllers. Zelda sounds fantastic, but I’d understand why people are skeptical if they have read any of the reviews for console Zelda games in the past ten years. The reviews have been overly positive for games that aren’t that impressive.

Anyone that owns the Wii-U and is considering buying the Switch for Zelda would probably be better off just getting the Wii-U version of the game.

More games are coming, and Nintendo recently announced that a lot of independent developers have signed up to deliver their games to the Switch as it takes over the indie portable role from Sony’s now defunct Vita, but those are the only big games available today.

Those Joy-con’s have had two major issues already reported by journalists who have had the system early. One is that the left Joy-con’s wireless signal to the console isn’t great and disconnects or gets out of sync sometimes. Nintendo’s response was not very helpful. The other hardware issue is that the rails the system uses to hold the Joy-con controllers onto the system aren’t very sturdy.

When you’re holding the Switch in portable-mode, that connection rail mechanism is the only thing preventing it from falling onto the floor.

The Switch’s operating system is also woefully outdated at launch compared to its competitors. It is not possible to back-up saved games anywhere. They aren’t saved on Nintendo’s servers and Nintendo doesn’t let you carry them on an SD card to back them up. Sony and Microsoft both automatically back up saved games to their servers, though they do that with a paid subscription to their online service. Polygon’s article linked above incorrectly indicates that only Sony requires a paid subscription.

Finally, I don’t feel like the $300 price for a Switch is entirely fair when you can get an Xbox One for around $200 (on discount) or a PlayStation 4 for a little bit more.

The comparison may seem a bit more fair later this year when the Xbox One Scorpio is announced and released, I expect the Scorpio’s price to be comparable to the only PlayStation 4 anyone should be buying which is the $400 Pro model. However, even the base models of those systems have games that look better than the Switch’s whose leg-up is portability with a built-in screen and Nintendo’s exclusives like Zelda and Mario.

I wouldn’t let these caveats stop me, those games would be enough reason to own a Switch, but they may not be for many people.

A Legally Operated Taxi Service Wouldn’t Do This

Mike Isaac for the New York Times:

Uber has for years engaged in a worldwide program to deceive the authorities in markets where its low-cost ride-hailing service was being resisted by law enforcement or, in some instances, had been outright banned.

The program, involving a tool called Greyball, uses data collected from the Uber app and other techniques to identify and circumvent officials. Uber used these methods to evade the authorities in cities such as Boston, Paris and Las Vegas, and in countries like Australia, China, Italy and South Korea.

[…]

If users were identified as being connected to law enforcement, Uber Greyballed them by tagging them with a small piece of code that read “Greyball” followed by a string of numbers.

When someone tagged this way called a car, Uber could scramble a set of ghost cars inside a fake version of the app for that person to see, or show that no cars were available.

Intentionally obstructing local authorities from using their service probably isn’t illegal, but it isn’t something you would have to do if you were proud of your product and thought it was defensible in a court of law.

Could you imagine if Apple checked if users were government agents and shut off their laptop or desktop computers? Not that our government would worry, the president only uses devices that are designed in Korea.