Dad, husband, reader, gamer and geek in Wiltshire UK
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Combine a PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U into a Single Frankensystem

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Swapping wires and switching inputs on your TV to use different game systems is a pain. Ben Heck was sick of it, so he hacked-together a custom system that combines a PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U in one box.

Ben walks you through the process over the course of three episodes of his eponymous Revision3 show. With new generations of the Playstation and Xbox on the way this year, this could be a fun use for your old systems. If you want to try it yourself, you'll need a fully-stocked workshop and a surplus of courage, but the finished product is a modern marvel of gaming. Even if you don't want to try it yourself, the episodes are worth watching, if only to marvel at the creativity.

If you don't have a Wii U handy, we previously featured a similar build that only combined an Xbox and Playstation, so give that a look for some more ideas.

Episode 71: Ben's Ultimate Combo Gaming System Episode Part 1 | Element14

Episode 72: Ben's Ultimate Combo Gaming System Episode Part 2 | Element14

Episode 73: Ben's Ultimate Combo Gaming System Episode Part 3 | Element14

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How to complete 'Snake' and accept the emptiness of life


It takes 13 minutes and seven seconds to complete Snake, the decades-old game that enjoyed a renascence through Nokia's early mobile phones. 13 minutes, seven seconds, one hundred pellets. But what is this endless pursuit of pellets for? What reward lies at the end of this snake's insatiable desire for food? Nothing. Victory in life only results in death. Immortalized in a two-minute GIF, this foreboding tale of how reptilian consumerism breeds nihilism is a mesmerizing journey of birth, life, and death.

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OK, cupid: giving your love life to Google Glass and the hive mind

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On January 20, 2013, sometime before 7:45PM, Lauren McCarthy sat down at a table. She was early. She always arrived early. Once she had a spot, she checked her setup. She kept the iPhone in her purse, its camera poking out and angled to capture the whole scene. The iPod touch was kept close at hand. The iPhone was connected to Ustream and Ustream was connected to Amazon's Mechanical Turk. The Turk workers had a web form to fill out, which would send texts to the touch. Satisfied that it was all in order, she settled in to wait for her date.

Over the next two hours, McCarthy and an anonymous man went through the motions of a first date, while a rotating series of Turk workers watched the video feed for an average of four minutes and 32 seconds, wrote down what they saw and sent McCarthy instructions, which she tried her best to follow. At 9:24PM, one worker rated the interaction a five out of five, told McCarthy that she should say, "What are you looking for?" and logged the following observations: "man seems to pity her and find her exquisite at the same time. WOMAN SEEMS TO HAVE STUMBLED UPON THE WAY TO LIVE!" For this, the worker was paid $0.25.

“man seems to pity her and find her exquisite at the same time. WOMAN SEEMS TO HAVE STUMBLED UPON THE WAY TO LIVE!”

McCarthy's date was part of a project she's calling Social Turkers. In January, 2013, she moved to Portland, Oregon, a city where she barely knew anyone, and went on sixteen first dates. For each date, she streamed audio and video of the proceedings to Ustream, and paid workers from Amazon's Mechanical Turk (a market for crowdsourcing tasks) to watch, comment, and send her instructions. Her dates were crowdsourced.

It's a strange art project about technology and relationships. It's also a glimpse into a possible future for always-on wearable computing platforms like Google Glass.

Google is pushing Glass hard. Between the skydive stunts, a presence at New York's Fashion Week, high energy demo videos, and its exclusive invite system, Google is trying to imbue in Glass a glamour that transforms their strange face computers into desirable objects.

Google wants Glass to become a heads-up display for your life. With integration into GPS navigation, livestreaming chat, and third party services like Evernote, the information that you need when you need it should be available at a glance. If Google's other big new product, the predictive Google Now takes off, the promise is that Glass will get you the information you need before it even occurs to you to ask. This is Google as eternally attentive nanny, personal assistant, and data butler, whispering in your ear, and giving you superpowers.

Glass developer advocate Timothy Jordan hinted as much at SXSWi 2013. As The Verge reported, during a Q&A following the Glass preview event one audience member said: "I don't want to post more social network crap." Jordan smiled and said "We want to choose services that improve your life."

Lauren McCarthy's date — mediated by the Mechanical Turk — is the story of a woman who prototyped what one of those services could be.

This is the kind of thing McCarthy does. "A lot of this work comes out of feeling like it's sometimes difficult to connect with people in a really honest and open way because we are so caught up with social routines and expectations," McCarthy says. "I think, I don't know how to talk to people but I know how to code, can I hack my way out of this situation?"

She once created a table with a surface made of dimmable lights. Sitting at the table you could nudge a foot pedal left or right depending on whether you were loving or hating the conversation. The table combined your vote with the votes of your seated companions, glowing brighter or dimmer depending on the aggregate mood. If the rating fell too low, the table would flash a distress signal, summoning nearby people to step in and save the day. It's a technical solution to a social problem. McCarthy knows it's probably flawed.

"The technologies we create shape our experience into rational interpretations," says McCarthy. "I want to keep pushing on the boundaries of this and asking what kind of experience of reality are we building for ourselves."

Google Glass is a prosthetic. As marketed so far, it's a prosthetic for navigation, communication, and memory. Using turn-by-turn directions, search, and Maps integration you can find your way around. Using video or audio streaming you can talk to people anywhere. Using the camera you can store things as they happen, and using notifications you can remind yourself of things you need to recall.

McCarthy wants to see what happens when we turn a device like Glass into a social prosthetic.

She wonders if Glass can make you a better person. "I'm really interested in ways that these kinds of augmentations can do more than just supply you with information, putting you in a kind of autopilot where you barely need to think," she says. "Could they instead augment your experience in ways that change you as a person, at the level of core values and experience?"

Consider the problem of remembering names. It's hard! If you're the kind of person who meets a lot of people, it's a useful thing to get right. The obvious solution — the one that every augmented reality demo uses — is to throw up a person's name when the system recognizes them, next time you see them.

She has a different idea. "A more interesting implementation would remind me at the moment when I was meeting someone, to pay attention and remember, to ask again if I'd already forgotten their name. Over time, I might change my behavior and start remembering without the prompts, rather than becoming completely reliant on the technology."

This emphasis on the personal aspect of wearable computing has been part of research in the field for quite some time. Nicholas Negroponte wrote about it for Wired in 1996. "If you wish, your wearable computer could whisper in your ear, perhaps after playing for a few too many hours with a few too many kids, 'Patience, the birthday party is almost over,'" he writes, before going on to consider the need for emotional intelligence in these systems.

what happens when we turn a device like Glass into a social prosthetic?

McCarthy is thinking along similar lines. "It gets even more interesting when you think about a system where you could input the kind of person you want to become, the kind of interactions you want to have, and let the technology guide you there at a base level," she says.

Wearable fitness trackers are meant to be self-discipline prosthetics. They promise that by quantifying ourselves, they will help us become fitter, happier and more productive. Wearables like Fitbit and Nike FuelBand aren't meant to just track what we do, they're meant to encourage us to do it better.

As it turns out, outsourcing your personality can seriously mess you up

As Mat Honan points out at Wired, these are still early days. These wearables could be coaching us, but so far they aren't. They will be soon.

When Jawbone, maker of the UP, purchased big data startup Massive Health, it bought a company intent on using crowdsourcing to (amongst other things) coach people to be better eaters. "Imagine if you could have a personal trainer who knew you and cared about you who could show up for 30 seconds 10 times a day," said then CEO Sutha Kamal last year.

This is wearable computers, the quantified self, and massive data services as tiny homunculus, sitting on your face and whispering advice in your ear. What kind of daemon or angel should they be?

"This kind of thing both terrifies and fascinates me," says McCarthy. "It's all being imagined and developed right now, so I see my role as an artist as pushing on the edges of these technological futures. Creating scenarios that tread a line between something dystopic and something positive, and trying to tease out some of the issues and subtleties in the confrontation."

Social Turkers is an experiment in what happens when you turn over life coaching duties to a crowd of (paid) strangers. "We've seen with open source software development, for example, how communities can come together online and create something beyond what any individual could even fathom," says McCarthy. "What if we applied similar methodology to ourselves and our lives?"

There is a freedom in turning over your decisions to someone else. By outsourcing part of her personality for the duration of the date, McCarthy didn't need to worry about the awkwardness of trying to read a situation and push forwards or hold back. The Turk workers took care of that for her. It was clumsy, but all prototypes are clumsy.

"I didn’t find love, though I was definitely open to it," McCarthy says. "I’m interested in art that blends into reality, so I wanted to let this affect me and my life as much as possible."

The random strangers part of Social Turkers is clearly unworkable. The quality of advice given wasn't that good. Imagine if she could assemble a collection of smart and trusted Turk workers.

The hardware and software parts are all in place with Glass. It already offers livestreaming to and from the device. A well-designed cloud service could handle the rest, matching paying clients to smart advisors, be they human or software agents. The same tech that powered McCarthy's dates could match her up with a board of wise elders instead.

Imagine a system that makes better decisions than we'd be able to make on own. We go to bars with wingmen and women to look out for us. Why not virtual wingmen? We turn to friends and family for advice on big decisions. Shouldn't we plug in to the collective wisdom day to day?


Portrait of the artist

“When he tried to kiss me, I believe my exact phrase was ‘I really don’t have any grasp on my basis for making decisions about this stuff right now, so ok?’”

"I go into all of my experiment projects open to the possibility that the system I've set up for myself might work out better than my normal, and I might end up living the rest of my life that way," says McCarthy. "However, a couple weeks into each one, the projects usually get pretty psychologically difficult, and evidently unsustainable for a lifetime."

As it turns out, outsourcing your personality can seriously mess you up. To turn over your decisions to the crowd is to encounter questions about what it means to be an individual or to be part of a hive mind.

"At first I felt really uncomfortable not having complete control over myself, it was hard to say and do things that felt like they weren't 'me'," McCarthy says. "Over time though, as I surrendered to the system and tweaked some of the technical details of the user experience, I started to really embrace the collective consciousness and naturally incorporate it into my concept of who I was."

It's strange enough to talk to someone not knowing whether you are talking to them or them + crowdsourced overseer, but McCarthy says it was even stranger to live as that person. She says it began to provoke a profound identity crisis. "Who am I? Am I Lauren or Lauren + The Turk Hive? And which do I like better?"

Consider the case of wearable computing pioneer Steve Mann who found himself stripped of the rigs he'd been wearing for years by overzealous airport security back in 2002. "Without a fully functional system, he said, he found it difficult to navigate normally," writes Lisa Guernsey for the New York Times. "He said he fell at least twice in the airport, once passing out after hitting his head on what he described as a pile of fire extinguishers in his way. He boarded the plane in a wheelchair." He was assaulted again in 2012 at a McDonald's in Paris with similar results.

Lose a beloved smartphone, or find yourself without data while roaming in a foreign country and you get a glimpse of what that was like. Suddenly you'll find it difficult to navigate normally. Everyday tasks like contacting a friend become expensive and hard. It's like gaining a disability.

If these technologies are successful in the way their makers want them to be, we are setting ourselves up for a profound dependence on the next generation of wearable hardware and related services.

When January ended, McCarthy returned to the East Coast in a "pretty confused state." She ended up on date on her first night back, unplanned and with no Turk workers to back her up. "When he tried to kiss me, I believe my exact phrase was 'I really don’t have any grasp on my basis for making decisions about this stuff right now, so ok?'"

McCarthy's disorientation happened after only a month of using a system that was kludgy and unoptimized. With Glass and whatever the rest of the wearable computing industry brings, we are being promised much more intimate and seamless relationships. This is dangerous. The more seamlessly we integrate with our tools, the more wrenching it will be if they are torn away.

Illustration by John Chae
Photographs courtesy of Lauren McCarthy

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How Can I Make Traveling with Kids Less of a Nightmare?


How Can I Make Traveling with Kids Less of a Nightmare?Dear Lifehacker,
I have to fly with my two kids, a toddler and an infant, for the first time. I am absolutely dreading it. Besides dealing with the car seats, stroller, diaper bags, and other child contraptions I have to drag along, I'm afraid of being that parent whose children are a terror to the rest of the plane. What can I do to make this trip suck less for everyone involved? >%JUMP:More »% >

Can I Drug Them?

Dear CIDT,
Traveling is stressful enough for people without kids. Add restless, impatient, volatile, and messy little ones and it's a whole new ball game. Much of your fear is probably due to having seen the "eye daggers of hate" which other travelers tend to throw at parents and their progeny (maybe you've thrown those invisible daggers yourself before). Part of it also is you just don't know what might happen while you're all trapped 10,000 feet above ground—even if you usually have well-behaved kids—and so you imagine the worst: from diaper blowouts and vomit on a stranger's laptop to 6-hour screaming sessions.

The good news is, with a little preparation, you can mitigate many of the biggest concerns about flying with your kids. You don't have to be the most hated person on the airplane or get gray hair just from that one flight, and you might even actually enjoy it.

The tips below are specifically about flying, but many of them apply to other kinds of travel.

Ignore the Idiots (and Don't Be One Yourself)

How Can I Make Traveling with Kids Less of a Nightmare?First off, forget trying to appease everyone on the airplane. There are some people who simply hate children, and these misopedists will bristle at the mere sight of a child on a plane or the sugary sound of his or her voice, even if your kid is an angel (which many strangers will define as "completely silent and nearly invisible"). Ignore these people and their damning glares, because your kids have as much right to be on the plane as they do. Photo by Sky Eckstrom

On the other hand, it's your responsibility as a parent to not be an idiot as well, and to make sure your kids don't intrude on the other passengers' space or comfort. When we last talked about rude flying experiences, readers shared (almost) shocking stories about parents changing poopy baby diapers on the tray tables, letting their kids kick other passengers, and other atrocious behaviors that give traveling families a bad rap. Since you're asking this question, you're likely a conscientious parent who would try to keep your kids as calm and well-mannered as possible on the plane. So as long as you're keeping an eye on your kids and not completely spacing out on the flight, you should be fine. It also helps to be prepared.

Strategically Plan Your Flight

According to some people, there's never a good time to fly with a young child, and some parents even delay traveling with their kids until they're over the age of seven. If you've got no choice or simply want to travel with your children, here are the less-risky times and ways to fly:

  • If you have an early morning flight, make sure your kid gets to sleep early enough the day before, because taking an under-rested (read: cranky) child to the airport in the wee hours of the morning is a recipe for disaster.
  • If your kids still take naps or tend to get tired at certain times of the day, try scheduling your flight for that drowsy time.
  • If you have an afternoon flight, you can try to wear your kid out in the morning with plenty of sunlit, outdoor physical play. At the airport, let them run around at the play areas (if available) before they're going to have to sit for hours.
  • Beware the notorious "witching hour" in the early evening (right around normal dinner time) when kids tend to turn into demons and everyone's blood sugar is the lowest.
  • Everyone knows red-eye flights are torture, so, if you can help it, don't add to the torture by bringing a colicky infant or restless toddler onto one of those overnight flights. People expect to actually relax and sleep on the plane on a red-eye flight; a screaming baby ruins that fantasy and draws their ire. After movie theaters, the airplane (especially the airplane in the middle of the night) is the most annoying place to hear a crying baby.
  • Fly nonstop if possible. Getting off the plane, dragging around all your baggage, and rushing to make a connection with kids in tow is not good for your mental health.
  • Also if possible, fly on an airline that lets you choose your seats (e.g., JetBlue) ahead of time, so you can be sure you'll all sit together as a family. If that's not possible, book your seats as early as you can or you might have to pony up for the privilege of sitting together. Some airlines are more family-friendly than others, with things like family pre-boarding and entertainment options. The New York Times offers this helpful comparison in its story about the challenges of flying with kids.
  • Try to sit at the back of the plane. As Sara Esther Crispe writes on The Jewish Woman, you'll be closer to the bathrooms, less likely to bother the other passengers, and possibly have more help from flight attendants. You're going to have to wait for the stroller when you get off the plane anyway.
  • You can have a kid under the age of 2 sit on your lap instead of a separate seat, but I don't recommend it. Children are more protected strapped in car seats and the plane seat, and it's really no fun having a wiggling child (more likely to kick the seat in front of you) in your lap for a whole flight.

Basically, know when your kids tend to get sleepy or are more energetic and try to plan your flight around that if you can. Also, don't implement some newfangled sleep hack on your kid the day before or of the flight, such as keeping the baby up and skipping naps in the hopes of a longer sleep on the plane; this will backfire and everyone will regret it. Especially you.

Ease the Discomfort of Flying

How Can I Make Traveling with Kids Less of a Nightmare?The rapid change in air pressure as your plane ascends or descends makes many adults feel like they've stuck screwdrivers in their ears. Imagine how it feels to babies who don't know what's happening and have tiny eardrums. Photo by César Rincón

You probably don't want to offer that time-tested remedy, chewing gum, to a child under the age of three. Instead, offer milk or juice during takeoff and landing to relieve the inner air pressure. It's a good time to nurse babies too.

For little kids, gummy worms are also a great alternative to gum. They last a while and, well, who doesn't like gummy worms?

One other solution is Earplanes Ear Plugs, available for kids 1-10 and adults 11 and up. These ear plugs are designed to relieve air pressure discomfort. (I used them for my daughter on three flights without a problem, but to be honest, the last time we used them, one of the ear plugs fell out and it didn't make a difference. Reviews on the Earplanes from people who normally have bad ear pain when flying are really positive, though. So if your kid is very sensitive or you're not sure, the $4 may be well worth the investment.)

Pull Out All the Distractions to Make the Time Fly By

How Can I Make Traveling with Kids Less of a Nightmare?Did you know that many airlines allow you to carry a diaper bag in addition to all the other crap you're carrying onboard? That extra bag is allowed because they know you need milk bottles and juice boxes, blankies and favorite stuffed animals, ziplock bags of Cheerios, baby wipes, diapers and more. And we're not even talking about the stuff to entertain the baby yet—these are just the essentials. Photo by Pat Guiney

Your pre-emptive strategy for staving off on-plane meltdowns is packing several immersive kid distractions. Sticker books, toys that don't have too many pieces, an iPad (with new offline games), portable DVD player (with 2-hour-plus videos), and so on are your best bet. Don't forget the headphones, and make sure everything is charged. Your kid might even be able to pack and carry his/her own entertainment in a small backpack.

You don't have to spend a lot on new travel toys, though. A new pack of trianglular crayons (which are less likely to roll off the seat tray) and a pad of paper might hold your kid's attention for a while, especially if you're engaged with him or her. You know your kids best, so take along the kinds of things that occupy them most—and introduce new toys slowly over the course of the trip.

One word of advice if you pack favorite stuffed animals or other comfort items: Mark them somehow with your contact info just in case they get lost. (We even have duplicates of some irreplaceable stuffed animals, because we don't want to see our daughter go crazy like Gollum after he lost the precious ring.)

Pack Helpful Accessories to Save Your Sanity

In addition to the toys and such, don't forget to bring these essentials on the plane:

  • A spare outfit for yourself as well as for your kids in case of spills (and other worse things)
  • Lots of wet wipes and large zip lock bags, which serve as garbage bags and have many other uses
  • Extra formula/milk
  • Snacks (good choices include: crackers, string cheese, carrots, dried fruit)
  • Any medication and first aid supplies you might need, including hand wipes, children's Tylenol, teething remedies, an antidiarrheal option, kid vitamins, band aids, etc.

If there's anything that your child would go crazy without, consider getting duplicates of it. My mom often tells the story of traveling with me as a baby when my pacifier melted. It was the only one I would take and every store in Florida didn't carry it. You can imagine how that trip went.

Two travel tools that have really made traveling much easier for me as a parent are the CARES airplane safety harness and the RideSafer car vest. The first is an FAA-approved harness that secures your kid in the plane seat, and the second secures your kid in a car. This means you don't have to lug around a heavy car seat for your toddler.

To Drug or Not to Drug, That Is the Question

Many parents turn to medication, such as Benadryl, to sedate their kids on flights, but this is a really polarizing issue. Personally, I don't think it's a good idea because it can be dangerous for very young children, and you might end up with the opposite effect—a hyper child or a groggy and cranky one. Still, people do it. If you choose to, make sure you talk to your pediatrician beforehand and be extra careful with the dosage.

Teach Your Kids What to Expect and How to Behave

Finally, just attend to your kids. Watch out for signs that they're over-stimulated or bored. Have fun with them on the flight, when those close quarters offer a chance for some real quality time.

And if worst comes to worst, know that the other parents on the plane who see you doing the best you can are sympathizing with you. For the other, perhaps hostile fellow travelers, at least you'll hopefully never see them again after you get off that plane.


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Photo by Surkov Vladimir

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Improve Your Health and Meeting Frustration with Walking Meetings

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Improve Your Health and Meeting Frustration with Walking MeetingsYou have heard and read by now about the rather terrible impact of sitting all day. You also know that meetings involve lots of sitting, and are often terrible. Kill two birds with one stone, and extend your life, by taking every walking meeting you can. >%JUMP:More »% >

Forbes makes the case that taking more meetings out to the streets, or just around the office/campus/neighborhood loop, can foster greater creativity while simultaneously boosting health and energy. That can seem like a fairly easy thing to act on, if you want to, but only certain meetings really work for walking about, Forbes suggests:

According to (Silicon Valley executive Nilofer) Merchant, walk-and-talks are best for exploring an idea, building a shared purpose, or getting to know one another more deeply. But routine planning meetings don't work well for a walking venue. "Project management meetings where you're just trying to get through status updates aren't a good fit," says (frequent walk-and-talker Kristen) Galliani. "Walking meetings are more about ideation than about ticking the box."

You can actually make meetings a three-in-one benefit, if you have a dog that needs walking and your meeting partner might not mind you, well, taking care of the product of that walk. In any case, it's a novel concept that moves two different personal progress bars forward.

How Taking More Meetings Could Save Your Life | Forbes

Original photo by tedeytan (Flickr)

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Take Better Notes by Structuring Them in a Hierarchy


Take Better Notes by Structuring Them in a HierarchyEveryone has a different way of jotting down notes in a meeting or lecture, but if you need precision in your notes, The Atlantic suggests you stick with a rigorously structured order. >%JUMP:More »% >

Notes exist to both help you learn material, and to help you recall it later. You have a lot of ways to boost your note taking skills, including simple things like underlining the important stuff, and making sure you actually reread those notes later on. That said, The Atlantic suggests a structured, hierarchal method works best:

The Journal of Reading compared different note-taking methods and found that the most rigorously structured—those with hierarchal ordering and numbered subsections—were of the highest quality and accuracy. A two-column method came in a close second; these notes were arranged such that the left column contained the information from the given event (i.e. the meeting, lecture or talk) and the right column was used later to fill out follow-up points and highlight key themes. Although these notes were significantly more precise than freestyle note-taking, there was little difference in the ability of the note-taker to recall the material.

The second method The Atlantic talks about is the Cornell note-taking method, but the hierarchy method is nice because it works both for paper notes and electronics ones. Of course, everyone's a little different, but if you find yourself having a little trouble understanding material because your note-taking method isn't structured, this is worth a try. Head over to The Atlantic for a few more tips on improving your notes.

How to Become a Masterful Note-Taker: 8 Lessons From Research | The Atlantic

Photo by English106.

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