Xiaomi’s Mi A1 Special Edition in Red is coming to India (updated)

Update (12/19/17): The gorgeous Xiaomi Mi A1 Special Edition is officially coming to India. Beginning December 20, customers will have the chance to order the Red version of the Mi A1 from Mi.com and Flipkart’s online store. Additionally, the device will be available from Mi Home stores, Mi preferred partner stores, and other retail partners. The device will run customers Rs. 13,999.

December 20 is also the start of Xiaomi’s “No. 1 Fan Sale” in the country. Xiaomi is celebrating its fans with sales on phones like the Xiaomi Mi MIX 2, Mi Max 2, Redmi 4, Redmi Note 4, and Redmi Y1 Lite. The Mi MIX 2 will see a price drop from Rs. 35,999 to Rs. 32,999, while the Mi Max 2 will drop from Rs. 14,999 to Rs. 12,999. The Redmi 4 gets a Rs. 1,000 discount, while pricing details for the Redmi Note 4 and Redmi Y1 Lite have yet to be released yet.

You can get check out all of the deals on Mi.com starting December 20.


Original article (12/14/17): It seems like red has caught on as a color of choice for smartphones, since OnePlus and Samsung have red versions of their flagship smartphones. Whether it’s because of that, or whether it’s because it’s the season for such a color, Xiaomi has joined the fray with the Mi A1 Special Edition.

Don’t let the name fool you; the only thing special about the Mi A1 Special Edition is the red color it comes in. That being said, the shade of red looks much less like Samsung’s Burgundy Red and more like OnePlus’ Lava Red, with the color choice meant to stand out than be more subtle.

Either way, it comes across as vibrant and stunning, with the added red color meaning that the Mi A1 is now available in four colors.

Elsewhere, the Mi A1 Special Edition remains identical to the normal Mi A1. In other words, you’ll find a 5.5-inch Full HD display, with a 5 MP camera up front and dual 12 MP cameras around back. Under the hood, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 625 chipset and 4 GB of RAM power the phone, and while the processor might be a bit long in the tooth at this point, it allows for greater battery efficiency.

Editor’s Pick

That efficiency is what helps give the Mi A1 very good battery life in our testing, regardless of the modest 3,080 mAh battery. If the 64 GB of internal storage is not enough for your needs, the microSD card slot allows for up to 128 GB of additional storage.

Finally, the Mi A1’s story revolves around its status as one of the handful of Android One devices out there, which means that the phone runs stock Android 7.1.2 Nougat. That makes the phone the only Xiaomi smartphone that runs stock Android out of the box, something that slightly disoriented us at first but that we eventually got used to.

According to GizmoChina, which spotted the phone, the Mi A1 Special Edition is currently available in Indonesia for 3.099.000 rupiahs, which translate to roughly $228. There is no word if the phone will be available in other markets, though we’ll keep an eye out if it does.

Sand in my story

I don’t believe in black and white. 99.9% of everything is a shade of grey, and absolutes are at best naive simplifications and at worst dangerous traps. That is not a very trendy opinion. To my great despair the internet has not led to people to discuss their differences, but has isolated them into echo chambers where black and white are the only colors available. Whether it is politics, culture, or gaming, nobody wants to discuss the pros and cons of any issue any more, they just want shared outrage at whatever they believe is wrong. This is why blogging is in decline and tweeting is on top, Twitter just does outrage so much better.

In spite of these modern trends, I’m still trying to discuss issues, especially in gaming, by looking at them from both sides. And today I would like to talk about sandboxes and linear stories in Dungeons & Dragons, especially in the official Wizards of the Coast published adventures. Now none of them are perfect sandboxes or completely linear, as neither of the extreme cases works very well in pen & paper roleplaying. But if we compare the shades of grey of today with the shades of grey from the past, the current selection of adventures since the release of 5th edition is way more on the sandbox side as adventure modules from previous editions were.

The sandbox style has certain advantages. I believe that the best 4th edition adventure that Wizards of the Coast released for Dungeons & Dragons is Madness at Gardmore Abbey, which is more sandbox than the other 4E adventures. And so I am currently playing a 5E adaptation. However from the adventure books that WotC released in 5th edition my favorites are the Lost Mines of Phandelver from the Starter Set and Curse of Strahd, and both of these are more linear story than the others. My experience with the more sandbox adventures isn’t so good: As a player I watched a less experienced dungeon master flounder with Out of the Abyss; I spent hours to prepare Storm King’s Thunder, only to finally give up because the adventure was just too bad; and the Princes of the Apocalypse took me many hours of rewriting and changing into something a bit more linear in order to make it playable.

Much of the problem is one of presentation. A computer has no problems running a sandbox game, because he has perfect memory. In a game of D&D the information has to go from the adventure book into the head of the dungeon master first, before it can then be told at the table to the players. Humans don’t have perfect memory, and our brains can more easily remember stories than lists of unconnected facts. Human DMs are simply better at stories than they are at sandboxes. Madness at Gardmore Abbey works because it is basically a collection of stories which can be tackled in any order you like. That freedom makes it feel like a sandbox to the players, but the story content is easy to remember for the DM. When I prepare a session for Princes of the Apocalypse, for example my players currently breaking into Rivergard Keep, the presentation of the place by location number and the bits and pieces of story being distributed all over the location descriptions makes finding the stories much harder. I need to read every location back to front, locate the story bits, then read them again to puzzle them together, and finally find where the book simply doesn’t provide much explanation or story and invent some of my own.

I do like the fact that a place like Rivergard Keep has many different options for the players to tackle it. I’ve looked at YouTube videos of people playing that part of the adventure for inspiration, and various groups have done everything from negotiation, to charming the door guard, to infiltration by water, to frontal assault for this “dungeon”. But a better presentation of the power dynamics in that place and their likely response to attacks sure would have helped: In those YouTube videos I also saw DMs overdoing the response, ending with a near total party kill, and some improbable Deus-ex-machina intervention which saved the party but severely mauled the overall story and credibility.

Talking of credibility, I found that many WotC adventures of the sandbox style have a serious problem with experience points and levels. Fundamentally WotC is cheating: If you add up the experience points in Princes of the Apocalypse (the only one for which I have actually done the exercise, but I’m sure the problem is the same for the others) and apply WotC’s own level by experience points table, you fall far short of the levels required in the adventure. WotC sells you an adventure that says “level 1 – 15” on the back, but doesn’t actually have enough content in it to actually get a group from level 1 to 15 if you play by their own rules. The “fix” is a so-called milestones system in which the group gains a level at the end of a dungeon in order to have enough levels to tackle the next dungeon. However such a milestones system only works really well with a linear story and order of dungeons; it falls flat in a sandbox adventure where people can do the dungeons out of order, or do them only partially at one visit to come back another time. In my own campaign I had to double the regular monster xp and hand out bonus xp for certain story achievements in order to make the level system work. If I hadn’t done that, the latter dungeons of the adventure would have become quite impossible to beat.

Overall I believe that the focus on sandbox elements in WotC published adventures is more one of ideology or marketing than one of good game design. The result is that for many of these books as a DM you can’t just take the book and start playing. Even as an experienced dungeon master you need quite a lot of hours of preparation time to first understand all the elements in the book in spite of their chaotic presentation, and then to modify them in order to make them actually work. There is a huge gap in the offer between the very well done Starter Set adventure that can be played by a first time DM with no problem and the following books that can drive even an experienced DM to despair. For an edition which is designed to bring a lot new players and dungeon masters into the game, there really is something missing here.

Hascon

Today Hascon 2017 starts, the convention of Hasbro, one of the world’s largest toy and board game makers. Obviously gamers have little interest in the latest news on My Little Pony or Monopoly, but as Hasbro bought Wizards of the Coast, who previously bought TSR, Hasbro controls two of the biggest names in tabletop gaming: Dungeons & Dragons and Magic the Gathering. But the one reason I am interested in Hascon is the promised reveal of “Magic Digital Next”, the next generation platform for playing Magic the Gathering electronically.

Right now Magic Digital Next doesn’t have a lot of goodwill from the community. Too much went wrong or was badly handled with the previous incarnations like Magic the Gathering Online or Magic Duels. Personally I am still quite angry that Hasbro dropped Magic Duels like a hot potato in June. They should have waited with that until Magic Digital Next is actually available, not 3 months before we get to see the first playable alpha version at a convention. I am also unhappy that they didn’t even make the slightest effort to bring Magic Duels in a state where it would still be viable to play until Magic Digital Next is released. Instead they left it as it was after they added the Amonkhet expansion, so the computer is only ever playing decks around that expansion instead of using decks from all previous expansions. And more than half of the daily quests are still for online multiplayer only, which is a problem when players leave an abandoned game and the remaining players can’t find matches any more.

Then there is of course the issue of “virtual property”. Previous versions of electronic Magic sold you virtual boosters of cards. If you are forced to switch to a new product, you lose your virtual card collection of the previous versions and have to start over. Legally of course you never really owned those electronic Magic cards. But players don’t feel like that, especially with platforms like MtGO where cards can be traded with other players for real money. I liked Magic Duels because it altered the rules of how many rare and legendary cards you can use, which made building up a full collection much more affordable. I doubt the next version will have that feature.

I am still on the fence about Magic Digital Next (I assume they’ll announce another name for it this weekend). I left MtGO long ago because it was too PvP-centric for me, which resulted in an environment full of card sharks, scams, and toxic players. I mostly used the PvE part of Magic Duels, which for me was probably the best incarnation of Magic on a tablet. So my appreciation of Magic Digital Next will mostly depend on whether it supports more than a token AI and PvE play. These days far too many game developers have become extremely lazy, and beyond a tutorial make their games mostly PvP, basically using their customers as content for other customers. As they never solved even the basic problems of that approach for virtual cardgames, like stalling or quitting at the first sign of trouble, I wouldn’t be interested in a PvP version of electronic Magic the Gathering.

[EDIT: The new name is Magic the Gathering Arena, more info here.]

Switcheroo

I had a typical first-world problem in an affluent society: My wife asked me what I wanted for Christmas and I didn’t have a good answer. We were in the middle of a large electronics store and had just bought an expensive digital camera as my present for her, so she felt she needed to reciprocate. After some thinking and looking around, we settled on a Nintendo Switch for me, in a bundle with Super Mario Odyssey. And of course also bought Zelda, and a few other games. Normally I wouldn’t have bought a console for a few good games, but we are spending Christmas with family, and so the console wouldn’t just be for me, but also to keep the kids busy.

Being game language literate I immediately spotted a potential problem: The bundle doesn’t actually contain the game Super Mario Odyssey. It contains a code to download it. Whatever purists might think of it, you don’t want to unpack game stuff on Christmas and find it isn’t ready to play immediately with kids around. So I unpacked my Christmas present already, to set it up (not to play), charge the batteries, and then pack it again to be ready for the event. That turned out to be a good plan, as even on my ultra-fast VDSL the game needed 37 minutes to download, and over Christmas I will have much lower internet speed.

As this was a spontaneous buy, I hadn’t read up on the Switch. I’ve heard that it was usable both as a console connected to a TV and handheld, but hadn’t pondered that feature any further. It was on unpacking that the truth dawned on me: The Switch isn’t actually a game console, it is a tablet computer. A tablet computer with weird controllers, yes, but at its core a tablet computer. It turned out that for example setting it up and entering text like WiFi passwords, using the touch screen keyboard is far better than trying to type with the controllers.

On the other hand for a tablet computer the Switch has a lousy battery life (not tried myself, just read about it), and rather small screen. I imagine I will end up using it in the stand that turns it more or less into a console far more than handheld. It is a bit annoying that I’ll have to attach the controllers to the tablet after every playing session to recharge them, even if the controllers are reported to have a longer battery life than the handheld tablet.

I’ll report sometimes after Christmas on how playing games on the Switch turns out. I’ll start with a library of 4 games: Super Mario Odyssey (which I got more for the kids than for me, but the reviews are excellent), Mario + Rabbids, Zelda, and Disgaea 5. If you have any advice on good role-playing and strategy games for the Switch, I’m listening.

The T-Mobile HTC U11 Life is getting Android 8.0 Oreo (updated)

Update (12/18/17): Just about three weeks ago, the unlocked HTC U11 Life was upgraded to Android 8.0 Oreo. Now, the T-Mobile variant is receiving the update as well. T-Mobile is the only carrier in the United States to carry the HTC U11 Life so between it and the unlocked versions, pretty much everyone should be updated to Oreo at this point.

HTC warns that this is a pretty large download so you’ll need to connect to Wi-Fi before you start. As a reminder, Oreo brings background limits on apps that help to save power, smart text selection, grouped notifications, and picture-in-picture mode, among other features. To read more about Oreo, check out our review here.

Original article (11/30/17): The HTC U11 Life was introduced earlier this month, arriving on the Android One program in global markets (with almost stock Android), while those in the US received a variant with HTC’s Sense UI. The device launched with Android Oreo outside of the US, meaning those residing in the States were left waiting for the latest Google software, but HTC assured that it wouldn’t be far off.

Today, I bring good news as the US unlocked U11 Life is now said to be receiving Oreo. HTC Vice President of Product Manager Mo Versi delivered the news via a Tweet published a couple of hours ago. Versi said that the update would be available “starting today,” but we don’t know how long it could take to hit individual devices.

HTC has been on a roll with its rollouts this week, having upgraded the regular HTC U11 flagship to Oreo just a couple of days ago. Here’s hoping the speedy updates continue for the rest of its smartphone lineup.

Check out our full HTC U11 Life review at the link and visit our dedicated Android 8.0 Oreo update page to find out more about HTC’s schedule.

Wondering what comes next

The liberal world order has been defined as standing for “greater individual freedom, greater choice, support for democratic forms of government, a fundamental faith in free-market capitalism and private enterprise, a belief in constitutional forms of government with divided powers, an independent judiciary, separation of church and state, a strong support for free trade and an aversion to protectionism, among other things”. Obviously there is a lot to like about these values. Most economists believe that this system is the one that is best suited to the creation of wealth. However the predominance of the liberal world order in the last 30 years has also demonstrated that while the system is good for the creation of wealth overall, it isn’t all that good in the distribution of that wealth. That not only leads to a lot of opposition, but is also somewhat self-defeating in the long run: Concentrated wealth is less good at further powering the economy than distributed wealth.

In the USA and a lot of other places the current main opposition against the liberal world order comes from the right, from nationalism, protectionism, populism, and ethnocentrism. However if you look at those right-wing forces enacting policies like the current US tax reform or the Brexit from the UK, it is likely that the right will not solve the problem of wealth distribution any better than the liberal world order (and will presumably create less wealth in the first place). Blaming foreigners and the media will only get right-wing politicians so far until the people realize that they aren’t in fact “better off than they were four years ago”. It is that, and not the whole lot of unrelated shouting about various values, that ultimately will bring change. The liberal world order failed the people, but the conservative version isn’t doing any better. So I’m wondering what will come next.

One likely answer is in the form of people like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. The economic left might one day look like a good answer to people whose main concern is wealth distribution, because the economic left has always stood for redistribution of wealth. However the economic left also has some policies in their book that hinders wealth creation more than necessary for a fair distribution. And they have a long history of ending up with “more equal than others” policies that aren’t in fact much closer to a fair distribution of wealth than the conservative version.

What an optimist could hope for would be a reformed liberal world order, the same values as above but with a priority for wealth distribution and against too much wealth concentration. A vision like in Robert Reich’s Saving Capitalism. However if you look at how the world previously solved excesses of wealth creation, there are only few examples of peaceful solutions (e.g. Theodore Roosevelt) and lots of examples of the wealth ending up destroyed or redistributed through war and revolution. A pessimist would buy gold coins instead of bitcoins.

The best Total War?

I have played a few of the games in the Total War series, but I am not a big fan. Now I’m playing Total War: Arena, which isn’t a real Total War game at all, and like it much better. I’ve already played over 300 battles in the closed beta, in spite of knowing that my progress will be reset. So, why would I prefer this one?

I tend to think of games as having a core game, which in the case of Total War would be a battle, and a shell game, which is the rest of the game outside of battle. Now in the classic Total War games I feel that the core and the shell are at counter-purpose to each other. For maximum success in the shell game, the strategic map, you will always want to have battles in which your troops outnumber the enemy. You don’t want pitched battles, because even if you win, the losses will set you back in the strategic game. But if you consider the core game, the battles in which you are clearly superior in numbers and quality just aren’t any fun. The pitched battles are more fun, because they are more balanced and have a less certain outcome.

Total War: Arena gets rid of the strategic map, and thus resolves that conflict. And the matchmaking makes every battle balanced. I don’t really need to care about losses, because they are automatically bought back with silver, and playing aggressively earns you more silver than your losses cost you. The shell game around the battles is a game of simple progression of units and commanders. And as I said, I don’t even care much about that, as it will be reset at the end of the closed beta anyway.

Of course I can see how the battles in Total War: Arena might not be for everyone. You only control 3 units, and the action is mostly tactical. Due to the usual lack of coordination when playing with random strangers, the strategic positioning on the battle map is mostly non-existing. In fact the game appears to be designed to aggravate the kind of player that doesn’t suffer fools lightly, because there is friendly fire: Ranged units are not very accurate, and artillery is very slow and might fire on a spot where the enemy has moved away from and an ally moved into, so even with the best of intentions it is nearly impossible to completely avoid causing friendly fire when playing ranged. You can even suffer friendly fire from spearmen or pikemen in phalanx formation. Some players are extremely sensitive to losing units to friendly fire, or losing a battle due to allies playing badly or without coordination. I wouldn’t recommend Total War: Arena to them. Me, I’m having a lot of fun and even bought a founder pack.

Sarah Palin’s Son Track Palin Was Arrested in Alaska on Domestic Violence Charges

This is not the first time the former governor’s son has been arrested for violent behavior.

Track Palin, oldest son of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, was arraigned Sunday on charges of felony burglary, assault in the fourth degree and criminal mischief for causing property damage.

The charges are all related to domestic violence, of which Palin has a history.

An attorney representing Sarah Palin and her husband Todd said he was unable to comment on the situation.

“Given the nature of actions addressed last night by law enforcement and the charges involved, the Palins are unable to comment further,” attorney John Tiemessen told NBC News in a statement. “They ask that the family’s privacy is respected during this challenging situation just as others dealing with a struggling family member would also request.”

Last time Track was arrested following allegations of domestic abuse, Sarah used it as a disturbing political talking point to suggest Americans don’t have enough respect for the military.

 

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Quantum computing is now a commercial reality !

Quantum Computing

Quantum computing is the area of study focused on developing computer technology based on the principles of quantum theory, which explains the nature and behavior of energy and matter on the quantum (atomic and subatomic) level. The quantum computer, following the laws of quantum physics, would gain enormous processing power through the ability to be in multiple states, and to perform tasks using all possible permutations simultaneously. Current centers of research in quantum computing include MIT, IBM, Oxford University, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory. D-Wave Systems is the world’s first quantum-computing company.

quantum computing

Classical computing relies, at its ultimate level, on principles expressed by Boolean algebra, operating with a (usually) 7-mode logic gate principle, though it is possible to exist with only three modes (which are AND, NOT, and COPY). Data must be processed in an exclusive binary state at any point in time – that is, either 0 (off / false) or 1 (on / true). These values are binary digits, or bits. The millions of transistors and capacitors at the heart of computers can only be in one state at any point.
The Quantum computer, by contrast, can work with a two-mode logic gate: XOR and a mode we’ll call QO1 (the ability to change 0 into a superposition of 0 and 1, a logic gate which cannot exist in classical computing). In a quantum computer, a number of elemental particles such as electrons or photons can be used (in practice, success has also been achieved with ions), with either their charge or polarization acting as a representation of 0 and/or 1. Each of these particles is known as a quantum bit, or qubit, the nature and behavior of these particles form the basis of quantum computing. The two most relevant aspects of quantum physics are the principles of superposition and entanglement.

What Commercial Applications are Being Adopted?

It appears that while this is going to expand rapidly that current commercial applications are fairly narrow.

Lockheed Martin

In 2010 Lockheed became D-Wave’s first commercial customer after testing whether (now 7 year old) Quantum computers could spot errors in complex code.  Even that far back D-Waves earliest machine found the errors in six weeks compared to the many man-months Lockheed Martin’s best engineers had required.
Today, after having upgraded twice to D-Waves newest largest machines Lockheed has several applications, but chief among them is instantly debugging millions of lines of code.

Temporal Defense Systems (TDS)

TDS is using the latest D-Wave 2000Q to build its advanced cyber security system, the Quantum Security Model.  According to James Burrell, TDS Chief Technology Officer and former FBI Deputy Assistant Director this new system will be a wholly new level with real-time security level rating, device-to-device authentication, identification of long-term persistent threats, and detection and prevention of insider threats before network compromise and data theft occurs.

Westpac, Commonwealth, and Telstra

While the Australians are committed to getting out ahead their approach has been a little different.  Commonwealth recently announced a large investment in a Quantum simulator, while Westpac and Telstra have made sizable ownership investments in Quantum computing companies focused on cyber security.

QuantumX

There is now even an incubator focusing solely on Quantum computing applications called QuantumX with offices in Cambridge and San Francisco.
As for operational business uses these applications are not overwhelmingly diverse but this harkens back to about 2005 when Google was using the first NoSQL DB to improve its internal search algorithms. Only two years later the world had Hadoop.

Quantum Computing and Deep Learning

Here’s where it gets interesting.  All these anomaly detecting cybersecurity, IV&V, and Monte Carlo simulations are indeed part of data science, but what about deep learning?  Can Quantum computing be repurposed to dramatically speed up Convolutional and Recurrent Neural Nets, and Adversarial and Reinforcement Learning with their multitude of hidden layers that just slows everything down?  As it turns out, yes it can.  And the results are quite amazing.

Quantum computers are made up of parts called qubits, also known as quantum bits. You may have read that IBM Q’s Quantum machine available in the cloud via API is 17 Qubits while D-Wave’s is now 2,000 Qubits.  Does this mean IBM’s is tiny by comparison?  Actually no.  IBM and D-Wave use two completely different architectures in their machines so that their compute capability is roughly equal. D-Wave’s system is based on the concept of quantum annealing and uses a magnetic field to perform qubit operations.

IBM’s system if based on a ‘gate model’ which is considered both more advanced and more complicated.  So when IBM moves from 16 qubits to 17 qubits its computational ability doubles.

Do you want to Learn Python Programming?

John Kelly Reportedly Working Toward Bipartisan DREAMers Solution

He attended a meeting with senators from both parties.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly was seen on Capitol Hill Tuesday as part of the Trump administration’s push to reach a bipartisan solution for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

As Politico reports, Kelly attended a meeting with close to a dozen senators from both sides of the aisle and assured them that the White House “will soon present a list of border security and other policy changes it wants as part of a broader deal” for DACA recipients, also known as DREAMers.

“We couldn’t finish this product, this bill, until we knew where the administration was,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), one of the senators working on the compromise, told Politico. “And that’s why this meeting was so important.”

Though senators who left the meeting said Kelly insisted the president’s terms may be released in a matter of days, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said the upper chamber would not vote on DACA before they break for the holidays this Friday.

“That’s a matter to be discussed next year,” McConnell said in an interview with Fox News earlier on Tuesday.

 

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