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Preview: Digital Savant

Digital Savant

Reports from a wireless hotspot.

Published: 2013-05-09T12:00:44-06:00


A new home for Digital Savant


The end is nigh!

The Digital Savant blog is moving to a new URL on Austin360 (you can also find it on

If you have this blog bookmarked, please change it to this new address:

If you have Digital Savant in your RSS feeds, the new RSS address is

If you have suggestions for stuff you’d like to see on Digital Savant, bugs to report or anything else to share, post a comment on the new blog or shoot me an email.

Thanks for all your support and I’ll see you on the other side(blog)!

Rooster Teeth talks online video on Nerdist podcast


The creators of the popular web series “Red vs. Blue,” Austin-based Rooster Teeth, were featured in a recent Nerdist podcast. Image courtesy of Rooster Teeth.

The popular video wizards at Austin-based Rooster Teeth sat down for a second time in a few months with The Nerdist’s Chris Hardwick for a podcast recording.

Why a second time? According to Hardwick in the podcast, a live recording during South by Southwest Interactive was botched, resulting in unusable audio. Hardwick returned to Austin for the Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival and was able to catch the Rooster Teeth crew again on their home turf for a new recording.

In the podcast, which is just over an hour long, Rooster Teeth’s Burnie Burns, Gus Sorola and Joel Heyman discuss the company’s origins and pre-YouTube years and the current state of online video, where it’s becoming increasingly tough to stand out. There’s also some funny discussion of Austin’s Gourdoughs donuts, Daft Punk performance rumors and video games. There’s some profanity, so beware if you’re listening at work.

Rooster Teeth recently passed 2 billion views on YouTube and announced it was ending its partnership with

The Linkdown for Tuesday, May 7


You can now see what people are watching and sharing on YouTube by city and by demographic on its Trends Map page. The Linkdown is ready for summer! But not the heat! No, seriously, can we turn the air conditioning up? It’s too warm in here for this hot list of links! Here’s what you should know about online: Local tech events: Park Systems Atomic Force Microscope event is Tuesday and Wednesday and is free and open to all scientists, researchers and students. Nerd Nite: Nerds at Play is Wednesday night at The North Door. Austin All-Girl Hack Night meets Wednesday. “Listen To Your Mother,” featuring local writers and bloggers, happens Thursday. BASHH is Thursday night at The Brew Exchange. door64 Software Speaker Series on big data and analytics is on Friday. Dates for RISE Austin Week are May 13-17. Texas Linux Fest is on May 31-June 1. ATX Hackathon for Change is on June 1-2. Game of Thrones Quiz night happening at The Gibson on June 8. “Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses” is coming to the Long Center on June 29. RTX Austin is July 5-7. Classic Game Fest scheduled for July 13-14. Good reads and links: YouTube said to be working on pay channels. Following up on my recent column about my Kickstarter addiction, here’s a story about the rise of other crowdfunding services. State Farm is looking for people to test out its “RightLane” driving app. You need to be an Android user and you could get a $50 gift card. Building an indie games scene in Austin. Grumpy Cat is not only not going away; she’s becoming fine art. This analyst believes tablet shipments will surpass PC shipments by the end of 2013. You can be a “Star Trek” 3-D printed figure. For about $70. Samsung said to be opening up 1,400 mini-shops in Best Buy stores, presumably to sell tablets and those popular Galaxy S phones. Dell buys Minnesota cloud computing company. What’s going to happen to the used video games market if physical copies go away? Adobe is going all-subscription. It’s ending its Creative Suite software bundle and asking customers to switch to Adobe Creative Cloud for a subscription fee. Finally! A “Plants vs. Zombies” sequel out in July. And a funny video acknowledging the long wait. Lots of eyebrow raising over the news that a 3-D printed gun was successfully fired near Austin. Shawnee, Kansas, is also getting Google Fiber. Xbox Live gets a app. CEO of BlackBerry, which has not been able to sell its tablets, predicts tablet market will crash. “Dynasty of the Magi,” a transmedia project I wrote about, recently earned three eLit Book Awards. In case you missed it, Time Warner Cable is starting to roll out Wi-Fi in Austin for customers. Google is also planning city Wi-Fi. Got a Linkdown item we should include in a future update? E-mail it to us with “LINKDOWN:” in the subject line. [...]

Micro: what is 'gesture recognition?'


The Samsung Galaxy 4S includes several gesture recognition features. Photo by SeongJoon Cho / Bloomberg.

The release of Samsung’s new flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S4, is a good time to talk about gesture recognition. The phone includes features called “Air Gesture” and “Air View” that allow a user to control the phone without actually touching it. A sensor can tell when a finger is hovering over the phone’s screen or swiping past it. (You can imagine it’s a great idea for using your phone if your hands are sticky from candy, for instance.)

But gesture recognition has been around a while and figures to become increasingly common in the way we interact with electronics. The Xbox 360’s Kinect sensor uses a camera and lasers to scan a player’s body and detect movements that can control a game or manipulate the controls in apps like Netflix. And in July, a device called Leap Motion is expected to debut. It’s a simple USB device for computers that will add gesture recognition to some PC and Mac games: instead of using a mouse and keyboard, you might move your fingers or swing your hands over it to blast enemies or move around.

In this space every week, we’ll define a tech term, offer a timely tip or answer questions about technology from readers. Email

Hooked on Kickstarter: it's just another way to shop online


A little over a month ago, a website tricked me into spending $285. On a board game. A board game that doesn’t even exist yet; I’ll get to play it in September at the earliest. I also threw money at a movie that didn’t even have a finished script, a music album that had yet to be recorded and a weird-looking, multi-eyed cellphone case with lenses attached to make the camera shoot nicer photos. Listen, I can explain. I got a little addicted. OK, a LOT addicted. And maybe I wasn’t so much “tricked” as convinced that I was getting the most amazing deals of a lifetime. Like that kid who traded a cow for some magic beans. As I recall, things worked out pretty well for him. It might be time to admit that I could have a Kickstarter problem. The crowdfunding site, which allows artists, tinkerers and techies to ask the public to collectively fund their project, met my resistance for quite a while. In late 2010, I was asked to donate a few bucks for a micro-budget film. More to avoid the guilt from repeated emails than any real passion for the movie, I threw in $15. The emails continued, but the Kickstarter stalled far short of its funding goal. It would be a long while before I pulled out my credit card again, but by the time another project interested me late last year, Kickstarter had become a hot hub for indie video game projects, comic books and gadgets like the Pebble E-Paper Watch, which stunned the tech industry by raising $10 million. In the past few months, Austin has become a huge generator of high-profile Kickstarter projects. Game designers Richard Garriott de Cayeux and Chris Roberts, who used to work together at Origin Systems, each launched campaigns that were successfully funded by fans. Garriott’s “Shroud of the Avatar” collected more than $1.9 million to revive the game maker’s “Ultima” video game legacy. Roberts picked up $2.1 million via the site for a space game called “Star Citizen” and an additional $7 million on his own website. And Austin filmmaker Rob Thomas got fans of the cult TV series “Veronica Mars” to pitch in $5.7 million for a movie version. Thomas celebrated the funding with a party with fans at the Dog & Duck Pub last month. The campaign itself was a party, with frequent personal updates from Thomas, videos from stars like Kristen Bell and prizes like T-shirts and stickers promised to “backers” of the project. Which is about the time I got hooked. I was a “Veronica Mars” fan. I wanted to have a DVD of this planned movie and the warm glow of knowing I helped in a very tiny financial way to get it made. I put some money in. I also got hooked on a zombie board game called “Zombicide” that my brother backed last year. The second season of the game, which is like playing a tabletop version of “The Walking Dead” TV show with lots of miniature zombies, was posted on Kickstarter. I opted to get the new prison-themed game, an expansion pack and the original game. The devious geniuses at CoolMiniOrNot, the Atlanta publisher of the game, blew past their $250,000 Kickstarter goal almost instantly through fans of the original board game. Then they sailed past $1 million by offering lots of extra goodies, “stretch goals” that backers would get as more funds were raised. The numbers kept climbing. The free stuff kept piling up, as well as lots of optional survivor and zombie figures and other extras. Backers on message boards and comment threads breathlessly discussed what other items might be added and which optional items they were buying. It was a countdown that nearly 9,000 backers were watching. By the time the campaign ended on March 31, CoolMiniOrNot had raised $2,255,018. I had pumped more money into the campaign than I ever expected, but I was thrilled with what I saw as a bounty of stuff that would begin landing in m[...]

'Soul Sacrifice' and 'Far Cry 3' spinoff are new in game releases



New video games this week:

“Soul Sacrifice.” — An exclusive for Sony’s handheld Vita console, this role-playing adventure game features as its main character a former slave who must sacrifice parts of himself in order to gain powers in battles with magic and swordplay. It uses Vita motion sensors and touch controls. Rated M for Mature. $40, for PlayStation Vita.

“Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon.” — If this is a goof, it’s one spectacularly executed one. Using the technology from “Far Cry 3,” this spinoff spoofs ‘90s entertainment with its premise of a 2007 nuclear war and cyborg commandos on a mission. Rated M for Mature. $15, downloadable for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Windows PCs.

Also out this week: “Fez” (downloadable for PC), “Leviathan: Warships” (downloadable for PC and Mac), “Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut” (PS3), “Might & Magic VI: Shades of Darkness” (downloadable for PC), “Thomas Was Alone” (downloadable for PS3 and PS Vita), “Zeno Clash 2” (downloadable for PC), “Zombie Tycoon 2: Brainhov’s Revenge” (PS3, PS Vita), “Poker Night at the Inventory 2” (downloadable for PS3), “Strike Suit Infinity” (downloadable for PC), “Stealth Bastard Deluxe” (Mac and Linux).

Digital Savant column: all of the Microsoft things!



This week in the Digital Savant column, which ran in Monday’s Life & Arts section, I take a look at what Microsoft is up to in consumer products like the Surface Pro tablet/PC (pictured above) and how its line of Windows 8 products stacks up.

In the review, I take a look at Windows 8 itself, the Surface RT and Pro tablets, Windows Phone 8 and Microsoft Office 13 / Office 365, a subscription-based service in which you rent Office for $99 annually instead of buying it.

It’s a lot of ground to cover, but I hope it gives you a good overview of the products, which I think in general are all steps in the right direction for the company (all right, maybe not Surface RT). If you have any questions or would like me to go into more detail on any of them, feel free to leave a comment here and I’ll do my best to answer or elaborate.

Are you using Windows 8 products? Do you like the experience? Let us know.

Micro: Oculus Rift headset may redeem virtual reality concept


A visitor tries the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco on March 28. Led by Journey, the game of the year, independent studios outgunned majors for attention at the conference. Photo by Winni Wintermeyer / The New York Times

It’s not anywhere near mainstream yet and is not even available to buy, but in the video game community, “Oculus Rift” is building buzz as a potential future for the medium.

Oculus Rift is a virtual reality headset being developed after a successful Kickstarter campaign last year raised more than $2.4 million for the project. The headset includes two high-resolution video screens meant to display a wide field of view. It can also track head movement as a player looks around and moves within a virtual world. While VR might seem like a failed relic from the 1990s, technology might have finally caught up to the concept.

The project has received attention lately as $300 kits aimed at video-game makers and other developers have been shipped. Some developers, like Gabe Newell at Valve and John Carmack of id Software, have expressed enthusiasm for VR and are experimenting with adapting games for Oculus Rift. One set of developers has even created a treadmill-like prototype that would work with the headset. A video of a 90-year-old grandmother trying the headset for the first time recently delighted YouTube viewers. How soon before it’s on sale? The company behind it, Oculus VR. Inc., hasn’t said but promises on its website that it will be affordable and will have many improvements over the current developer-only version when it arrives.

In this space every week, we’ll define a tech term, offer a timely tip or answer questions about technology from readers. Email

UT mobile design students to show off apps at Saturday Demo Day event


A photo of the app “nerv,” one of five created by University of Texas students this semester. Photo provided by Robert Quigley. Most students working on class projects would settle for a good grade and course credit. But 26 University of Texas students may have a shot at App Store fame and fortune on top of that after the applications they developed during the spring semester are released. Students of UT’s Mobile App Design Class, 26 of them, on Saturday will show off the five apps they created in teams at a 1 p.m. Demo Day event. In the mix of apps is a music-themed photo-sharing app called “Pxljam,” a location-aware newsfeed app called “nerv,” an iPad scrapbooking application called “PicBook,” a Formula One events app called “Prix-Party” and “Glos Guide for Journalists,” which features AP stylebook tips and curated advice for newshounds. What’s remarkable about the class is that it features an even mix of journalism students and computer science students who worked in groups to plan, design, prototype, usability test and put the finishing touches on apps for Apple iOS devices like iPhones and iPads. Two of the apps, “Glos Guide” and “nerv” have already been submitted to the Apple App Store. “Glos Guide” was just approved and will cost 99 cents. The remaining apps are expected to be submitted to Apple by the end of the semester. The instructors for the course are Robert Quigley, a UT journalism professor and former American-Statesman social media editor, and Joshua McClure, an Austin entrepreneur currently working on a commercial real estate service called RealMassive. Broadcast specialist and doctoral candidate Lewis Knight is the class teaching assistant. Quigley said that the only requirements for the apps were that they had to be content-related. Students will earn either upper-level computer science or journalism credits, but more importantly they’ll learn to think about coding, communication skills and design. “I think we’ve hit a sweet spot with the skills we’re giving them,” he said. “I think we captured some of the most creative students on campus. They’re treating this project like a startup. They’re all developers now.” Team Awesomesauce at work on their app, “Pxljam.” Photo provided by Robert Quigley. Jonathan Long, a computer science senior who worked on “nerv,” said the most challenging part of working on the app was creating a good-looking design. The name, he said, came from the group’s effort to create a kind of central nervous system for news that’s based on where you are. Devyn Dippel, a journalism senior on the “PicBook” team, focused on design. “We designed it three times trying to get it right,” she said. The team worked toward a less photo-realistic look for the app from where it started. On a recent Wednesday morning, three of the teams showed off their in-progress apps in preparation for Demo Day, answering questions about design choices like their choice of app icons and about bugs that they were racing to fix. The “nerv” app needed bigger buttons and labels to make it clear what some functions did; a martini glass icon, for instance, was meant to represent “nightlife.” The “Glos Guide” team was working on a way to export information from the app as printable PDF files. And “Pxljam” creators discussed a video they put together to promote the app’s sense of fun. (You can see the video below.) Next semester, an Introduction to Mobile Programming for Journalists course will be offered and another Mobile News App Design class is planned for spring 2014. The Saturday Demo Day, 1 p.m. at[...]

The Linkdown for Tuesday, April 23


You’ll be able to order a pizza soon from your Xbox 360. Because… why the Hell not? (Image via The Linkdown is breaking tradition of end-of-the-week roundups to bring you a special Tuesday edition that should jumpstart your pre-Humpday celebrations. What, you don’t celebrate pre-Humpday, the day that comes before the the day that is the middle of the week? Well, you should start. Buy The Linkdown a drink. Here are some important links and events you should be aware of: Events: Austin-made “The Intergalactic Nemesis” airs Thursday night on KLRU. Door 64 Mobile Design and Applications speaker event is on Friday. Digital Inclusion in Texas Conference and Colloquium is Friday and Saturday. UT Apps Demo Day happens Saturday. Comedy Central is doing a comedy festival entirely on Twitter starting Monday. The Global Forum on Identity happens at UT Tuesday through May 1. Deadline for the National STEM Video Game Challenge extended to May 1. Microsoft Convert-a-thon, to bring apps to the Windows Store, is on May 7. Park Systems Atomic Force Microscope event is May 7-8 and is free and open to all scientists, researchers and students. “Listen To Your Mother,” featuring local bloggers, happens May 9. Dates for RISE Austin Week are May 13-17. ATX Hackathon for Change is on June 1-2. “Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses” is coming to the Long Center on June 29. RTX Austin is July 5-7. Classic Game Fest already scheduled for July 13-14. 90-year-old grandmother totally digs Oculus Rift VR headset. Good reads and links: Sloth reigns: you can now order pizza from your Xbox 360. Call it The Pizzularity. Tech conference focused on film, education, gaming and music is coming to Austin in October. Hey, that kind of conference sounds really familiar. Netflix appears to have rebounded. An animated “Ratchet & Clank” movie is in the works. A straight-to-video “Heavenly Sword” CGI movie is also coming. Neat: FingerLink turns paper into interactive screen. Amazing poster shows the history of video game controllers. Boston Police schooled social media last week. Robots and Texas: partners in commerce. Central Texas BBB warns of post-Boston and West, Texas, charity scams, especially online. Petition for Verizon to kill wireless contracts gaining steam. Facebook offers free voice-over-IP calling to Android users. Amazon offering 14 new web show pilots for free, wants to know which ones you think should survive. Cricket rolled out a no-contract wireless family plan. Girl Scouts will award a badge for video-game development. NYC Digital Public Library went into beta testing recently. Spammers post their evil comment template. Got a Linkdown item we should include in a future update? E-mail it to us with “LINKDOWN:” in the subject line. [...]

'Star Trek' reboot game and 'Dead Island' sequel boldy arrive on shelves this week



New video games this week:

“Star Trek.” — This video game adaptation of the 2009 J.J. Abrams movie reboot takes place after the events of that movie (and presumably before the upcoming sequel, “Star Trek Into Darkness”). It features voice acting from cast members including Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, co-op play and a “re-imagined” villains, the reptilian Gorn from the original “Trek” series. Rated T for Teen. $50-$60 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Windows PC.

“Dead Island: Riptide.” — The zombie craze has not slowed down (not even to a shamble) with the continued success of “The Walking Dead” and the upcoming movie “World War Z.” This sequel to the 2011 surprise hit features survivors from the original game, who’ve been rescued from their former island paradise only to find zombieism spreading through a military ship. Expect more weapons, vehicles and, of course, the rancid undead. Rated M for Mature. $40-$80 for Special and Rigor Mortis Editions, for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC..

Also out this week: “God of Blades” (downloadable for PC, Mac and Linux), “Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen” (Xbox 360, PS3), “Puzzler World 2013” (Nintendo 3DS), “StarDrive” (downloadable for PC), “LEGO City: Undercover” (3DS), “Draw Slasher” (downloadable for PS Vita), “Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus R” (PS Vita), “Monaco” (downloadable for Xbox 360), “Don’t Starve” (downloadable for PC), “XCOM: Enemy Unknown” (Mac), “Black Rock Shooter: The Game” (downloadable for Sony PSP), “Poker Night at the Inventory 2” (downloadable for PC, Mac and Xbox 360), “Dyad” (downloadable for PC), “God Mode” (downloadable for PS3).

Video game-designing students, paywalls, Mosaic and more


East Austin College Prep school teaches video game design in the Globaloria program to help students develop programming and problem-solving skills. Ninth graders Laura Plascencio (left) and Michael Alvarez have both been recognized for their game development. Photo by Mark Matson / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

A few Statesman stories you should know about:

This week’s Digital Savant column leads off with a look at the Globaloria program, which teaches lots of different skills to students using the medium of video game design. We looked specifically at East Austin College Prep, which appears to be grooming some truly talented students with great game ideas.

Also in the column, I talk a bit about Google Fiber and Provo, Utah, (which I expanded upon last week in this blog post) and some thoughts on “BioShock Infinite.” Two days after I wrote that for the column, I finished the game and I’ll be posting some spoiler-free thoughts about it here, probably later today.

Also in today’s paper and the website is a new Digital Savant Micro defining the term “Paywall.”


And lastly, in case you missed in in Sunday’s paper, the Insight section ran a great piece celebrating the 20-year anniversary of the Mosaic web browser. I had a short contribution in a collection of mini-essays from others who have fond memories of the web, circa 1993-1995.

Does anyone else feel weird about Google Fiber in Provo?


This looks familiar. Mayor of Provo, Utah, John Curtis (center) announces Google Fiber is coming to his city. Photo by Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune / Via Associated Press

Austin was a special, unique snowflake for just over a week.

After it was confirmed a little over a week ago that Google was bringing its Fiber Gigabit Internet service here, Google announced on Wednesday that another city would get it: Provo, Utah. Kansas City was the first to get Fiber, but Austin got a flood of national attention for being named the second Google Fiber city.

And, because Google is building on top of an existing fiber network that was started in Provo, it could be up and running by the end of this year, beating Austin to the punch.

You have to wonder if the Provo deal deflates our balloon a bit. Wasn’t Google telling Austinites last week how special and unique and fabulous and artist-friendly and BBQ-riffic and perfect we were? Should we take it personally?

Though Google said in an email that the Provo rollout won’t affect or delay progress in Austin, it certainly raises the question of whether Austin was just the first new stop in a series of announcements that’ll spread Fiber far and wide in the U.S.

Should we be jealous? How many other cities does Google have on tap for more announcements in the coming weeks? Is Google becoming the Don Draper of Fiber deployment, toying with our hearts and desires for faster Internet while laying down fiber pipes in other cities and wooing other city government officials?

Well, at least we had nine days of bliss before we learned that we’ll have to share the spoils of Fiber with more than just Kansas City. At least Provo can’t take that honeymoon away from us.

DC heroes and villains battle in new 'Injustice'



“Injustice: Gods Among Us.” — In a world where comic book heroes are given the grim and realistic movie treatment, it may be time for a gritty fighting game. This one, from Ed Boon of “Mortal Kombat” fame, gives characters like Batman, Wonder Woman, The Joker, Nightwing and Superman the chance to duke it out using special powers. Given its rating, it won’t be as gory as a “Kombat” game, but it still looks to feature lots of hard-hitting action. Rated T for Teen. $60-$100 in Standard and Collector’s Editions, for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii U.

“Pandora’s Tower.” — A long-awaited adventure game about a young woman who is turning into a beast and the man who is racing to save her. Multiple endings based on the interactions of the two main characters are promised. Rated T for Teen. $40, for Nintendo Wii.

Also out this week: “Papa & Yo” (downloadable for Windows PC), “Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers” (Nintendo 3DS), “Victoria II: A Heart of Darkness” (PC), “La-Mulana” (downloadable for PC), “Sacred Citadel” (downloadable for PS3), “Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams” (PC), “Star Wars: The Old Republic - Rise of the Hutt Cartel Expansion” (PC), “Darkfall Unholy Wars” (PC), “God Mode” (PC, Xbox 360), “Starseed Pilgrim” (downloadable for PC), “Little Inferno” (downloadable for Mac), “Mad Dog 2: The Lost Gold” (downloadable for PS3).

3-D printing poised to change our lives


Clay Shortall, an architectural designer and lecturer at the University of Texas uses 3-D printing technology as a tool to help create and perfect new concepts in design at the UT Materials Lab. Photo by Christina Burke / AMERICAN-STATESMAN.

This week’s Digital Savant column, which you can find on, is all about 3-D printing and my increasing belief that this is going to disrupt perhaps as many industries as the Internet did over the last 15-20 years and become part of our daily lives.

Here are a few bonus links from some of the sources in the story that didn’t make it into the article:

Additionally, one of the companies we mention in the article, MakerBot, missed our deadline after we reached out to them, but sent us some additional info:

“MakerBot has about 20,000 MakerBots out in the world. The main consumers are engineers, architects, industrial designers, product designers, entrepreneurs, educators and people that just like to make things. NASA is one of MakerBot’s largest customers… however, consumers and hobbyists are also quick to pick up this technology. We are seeing 3-D printing today moving into a wider set of consumers.”

Got thoughts about 3-D printing? Please post them in the comments.

'Red vs. Blue' creators Rooster Teeth going indie again


Michael “Burnie” Burns, left, co-founder and creative director and Matt Hullum, right, co-founder and chief executive officer of Rooster Teeth Productions, LLC. Photo by Annie Ray.

In today’s Austin American-Statesman, you’ll find a story from me in the business section about Rooster Teeth Productions, the Austin video company celebrating its 10th anniversary. Today, Rooster Teeth is announcing an end to its partnership with and new YouTube channels for some of its increasingly popular web shows.

A few other things that didn’t make it into the story: the company recently did a 10-year anniversary podcast, put out a highlight reel and invited viewers to create some of their own videos as part of the celebration and put together the following infographic (click on it for a larger version):


Micro: why are people buying 'Bitcoins?'


Bitbills, a physical representation of the virtual currency Bitcoin. Credit: Nancy Palmieri / The New York Times

A new kind of online currency that favors anonymity and is (so far) very secure has been in the news recently as its value has shot up dramatically. But most people still don’t know what a Bitcoin is and where it comes from.

Bitcoin’s origins are murky, but it began as a project in 2009 under the pseudonym “Satoshi Nakamoto.” Sophisticated programming creates new Bitcoins at a set rate of time. Those who trade Bitcoins install so-called wallet software on their computers that allows them to buy or sell Bitcoins online. While some exchanges for Bitcoins have been hacked, the currency itself has so far held secure; no one has yet been able to copy a Bitcoin. The wallet software keeps identities of buyers and sellers anonymous, which has caused Bitcoins to be linked to illicit markets.

Only 21 million Bitcoins are planned to be created and perhaps because of that limit and the slowing rate of new Bitcoin creation, their value continues to climb. As of this writing, a Bitcoin is worth more than $200, but the pricing fluctuates wildly.

The rush to buy Bitcoins as the value has soared has fueled concerns that there may be a bubble in the Bitcoin market. A crash of the currency last week (which then rebounded) doesn’t seem to have alleviated those fears.

The Linkdown for Friday, April 12


width="440" height="248" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>Round Rock math teacher Mark Rogers breaks down linear equations. Musically. Welcome back to The Linkdown, where we link it down and we don’t even charge you or ask you to buy us coffee or anything. It’s a pretty good deal, I think! Here are some important links and events you should be aware of: Events: Xamarin mobile developer event is Sunday-Wednesday. OpenGov Hack Night happens Monday. Austin Social Media Club on “Food Trucks and Social Media” is on Tuesday night. Tickets are almost gone. Registration is available for TEDMEDLive, broadcast from Washington, D.C. at UT and at Double Tree Suites. InfoSec Southwest 2013, a security and hacking conference, comes to Austin April 19-21. Deadline for the National STEM Video Game Challenge is April 24. “Listen To Your Mother,” featuring local bloggers, happens May 9. Dates for RISE Austin Week are May 13-17. ATX Hackathon for Change is on June 1-2. RTX Austin is July 5-7. Classic Game Fest already scheduled for July 13-14. Good reads and links: Round Rock math teacher Mark Rogers won a first-place teach innovator award from PBS Learning Media. You can check out his popular YouTube videos here. Tech entrepreneur and blogging pioneer Allen Stern, who had recently become part of Austin’s food blogger community, passed away this week. Uber is expanding its ride-sharing service to new cities, but unless rules change, I wouldn’t expect Austin to be on that list. Some Wii channels, including Forecast, News and Everybody Votes, are going offline in June. Not good for calorie counters: Skylanders toys are coming to a Happy Meal near you. LinkedIn acquired Pulse newsreader. Red Bull Creation is looking for your innovations. It could earn you a trip to Brooklyn’s Northside Festival. Not content to bring Gigabit to Austin, Google is also helping you take care of your online life in case you die. Even more details about Google Fiber in audio form and in live blog form. Lonely? Electronic girlfriend coat is there for you with a hug. Game Over Videogames is opening another store in Houston. That’ll make for seven stores total when it opens in May. Today, T-Mobile added the iPhone to its stable. Video service Vudu was robbed and some user information was compromised. Austin’s Storypress is doing a Kickstarter to fund the next version of its personal stories app. Got a Linkdown item we should include in a future update? E-mail it to us with “LINKDOWN:” in the subject line. [...]

Seven Austin nominees vie for the Webby


Above, Faces of Drunk Driving, one of the Austin-based nominees for the Webby Awards.

The 17th Annual Webby Awards, the prestigious online honor that is neither a Streamy nor a Shorty, are in season. Nominees were announced this week with voting continuing through April 26. Winners will be announced on April 30 and a ceremony will take place in New York City on May 21 with an edited broadcast to be presented the next day. (No live stream? Come on, guys.)

This year, seven Austin organizations are up for Webbys. They are:

MapMyRun in the category of “Best Lifestyle App (Mobile & Apps)”; Tory Daily by Tory Burch from Tocquigny in the category of “Best Shopping App (Mobile & Apps)”; Bubble Witch Saga from Consort Partners in the category of “Best Social Gaming App (Mobile & Apps)”; Austin Music Map from KUTX in the category of “Best Music Website (Websites - Media)”; SpareFoot Inc. in the category of “Best Real Estate Website (Websites - Media)”; Faces of Drunk Driving from Sherry Matthews Advocacy Marketing in the category of “Best Activism Website (Websites - Society)”; and The Unseen Bean from Whole Foods Market in the category of “Best Documentary: Individual Episode (Online Film & Video).”

You can see the full list of nominees and vote on the People’s Voice Award at the Webby website.

Some questions answered about Google Fiber in Austin


Google’s vice president for access services Milo Medin speaks at a news conference on Tuesday announcing that Google will bring its Fiber Internet service to Austin. Photo by Alberto Martinez / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Today was a big day for Austin broadband service as Google officially announced with the City of Austin that it is bringing Gigabit Internet service (about 200 times faster than the average home Internet connection) to the city.

It’s going to take a while: the first connections to homes won’t happen until the middle of 2014, says Google, but it’s something to look forward to and is already spurring established providers like Time Warner Cable and AT&T to announce their own Gigabit plans.

I attended today’s event (which was short on details, but large on huzzahs for Austin’s creative tech community and city leaders) and wrote up a question-and-answer on things you might be wondering about Google Fiber. You can also check out the official page from Google for more information and the Google Fiber Twitter account for updates.

Free-to-play martial arts MMO 'Age of Wushu' new in games



New video games this week:

“Age of Wushu.” — This massively multiplayer online role-playing game, endorsed by actor Jet Li, is already a hit in China, where it has drawn 10 million players. It’s a fantasy game featuring martial arts combat in the style of films like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” Rated M for Mature. Free to play; $20 retail disc version available with in-game bonus items. For Windows PCs.

“Age of Empires II: HD Edition.” — A complete visual makeover of the classic real-time strategy game, this one includes all of the original missions from “Age of Empires II” as well as those from its expansion pack, “The Conquerors.” Rated T for Teen. $20, downloadable for PC at

Also out this week: “Shootmania Storm” (downloadable for PC), “Ocean City Racing” (PC, Mac), “Guacamelee!” (downloadable for PlayStation 3 and PS Vita), “Dillon’s Rolling Western: The Last Ranger” (downloadable for Nintendo 3DS), “Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams” (PC).

Reader technology gripes and Wi-Fi calling


I can’t even count the number of times I’ve almost missed “Bob’s Burgers” due to NFL games running long. Credit: Fox

Last week’s Digital Savant column was me venting about things that frustrate me in the technology world that have been slow to change. This week, I turned the column over to a few readers who emailed in their own gripes, from DVRs that don’t auto-adjust recording times to email lists that won’t unsubscribe you right away and more. You can find it in Monday’s print edition or online here.

Also in today’s newspaper is a Digital Savant Micro explaining “Wi-Fi calling.” In the piece, I mention that T-Mobile is the only major wireless carrier that currently offers the feature, but some readers messaged me this morning to let me know that a less well-known one also offers it. Republic Wireless offers what it called “Hybrid Wi-Fi calling,” which uses Wi-Fi for calls and then switches to Sprint’s network when it’s out of Wi-Fi range.

Two other things you should know about today: Richard Garriott’s Kickstarter campaign for a new game, “Shroud of the Avatar” ended Sunday with almost $2 million raised.

And rumors are flying that Tuesday will bring the announcement of Google’s Gigabit Internet service to Austin.

We’ll have more about that to say very soon.

TEDxYouth@Austin exceeds attendance expectations


Photo provided by Scott Robinson.

At first, organizers weren’t sure they’d be able to fill up 700 seats for the first TEDxYouth@Austin event, which happened Saturday at the Westlake High School Performing Arts Center.

By the beginning of last week, it was clear they were going to blow past that number with local students attending, many of whom would be getting their first experience at a TEDx event.

In the end, more than 850 attended and another 400 from around the world watched an online live stream, said youth executive producer Richmond Dewan, a junior at Hyde Park High School. “We think that the event exceeded all the expectations that we had and we had some very high expectations going into the event given we were part of TEDxAustin,” Dewan said. “Our event was all about being limitless. It was an explosion in Austin. (Students) Didn’t know what were getting themselves into. They walked out and they were ready to take on the world.”

The event combined presentations from students and from authors, performers and some who’s spoken at previous TEDxAustin events.

The inaugural TEDxYouth event was themed “LimitLess” and was largely organized by students with the help of mentors and parts of the TEDxAustin team.

Scott Robinson, a vice president of client development at who served as a mentor for the event, said he’s been hoping for an event like this since he attended his first TEDx event two years ago. “All I could think about was that I hoped there was something like it that my kids could see earlier in life,” Robinson said. Of Saturday’s event, Robinson said the students knocked it out of the park. “It came together in a way that nobody really expected,” he said. “It says a lot about the youth of Austin. They are open-minded and progressive and in tune with what their contributions to society can be.”

The event was free to attend, but students were asked to contribute four hours of community service as part of their commitment to be at TEDxYouth.

Richmond says there’s no official word on another event next year, but that this one was so successful, the team can’t wait to get back to work on a follow-up.

Keep an eye on the site’s blog for content from the event. You can also read a detailed recap of the day from Shaku Selvakumar.

Some of the TEDxYouth@Austin organizers: Nishan Gajjar, Ellie Audet, Chris DuVarney and Max Marion. Photo provided by Scott Robinson.

Austin-made 'God of Blades' app spawns new ebook trilogy



The empire of the Nameless King keeps expanding.

“God of Blades,” a “retrofantasy adventure” game that began life in late 2011 as a humble $4,000 Kickstarter campaign, has come along so far that the first in a trilogy of books fleshing out its backstory has launched.

Announced Monday, but not an April Fool’s joke, the first volume of a set of ebooks based on the game hit the iTunes store today. “God of Blades: Hand of the Sable King” by Greg Moller is priced at $2.99 and a sample is available for free. The 196-page ebook also includes a behind-the-scenes video about the production of the game.

Launched for iOS devices last year, “God of Blades” also introduced an Android version this month.

The game itself contains lots of luscious, pulpy text and a feature of the game unlocks special game content when you access it from libraries.

White Whale Games said the game will also be updated today with a new sword, the Hallow.

'Defiance,' crossing over with Syfy TV show, new in games this week



New video games this week:

“Defiance.” — Heavily promoted at South by Southwest Interactive last month, this massively multiplayer online game takes place on Earth in 2046 after several alien races have arrived and shaken things up. The game ties into a new Syfy network show that will debut on April 15 and events from the show will make their way into the game. It’s developed by Trion Worlds, which was responsible for the well-received MMO “Rift” and which has an office in Austin. Rated M for Mature. $60-$100 in Standard or Collector’s Editions, for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Windows PCs.

“Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge.” — Basically a do-over of the poorly reviewed “Ninja Gaiden 3” that should fix some of the original game’s artificial intelligence problems. It also adds new characters and bundles downloadable content from the original game. Rated M for Mature. $40 for Xbox 360 and PS3.

Also out this week: “Ms. Splosion Man” (downloadable for PC), “Super Black Bass 3D” (Nintendo 3DS), “Toki Tori 2” (Nintendo Wii U), “Battleblock Theater” (downloadable for Xbox 360), “Painkiller: Hell and Damnation” (downloadable for Xbox 360 and PS3), “End of Nations” (PC), “Lords of Football” (PC).