Building On A Strong Foundation

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Controller 2

There are a lot of great companies out there that produce quality custom controllers, but I’m surprised how many you can come across out of left field. Sometimes the smaller companies are the ones that can really show you what they’re made of.

That’s where I came across TheControllerPeople, a team in the U.K. that specializes in modding and creating fancy PlayStation 4 controllers with some added features that really cater to the player. A few weeks back, I had talked with them about checking out their custom Titanfall controller, something I’ve been wanting to see since the PS4 never really got its own, like Microsoft did when the first game came out for Xbox One. (It’s only fair, right? Balance.)

And it’s with its first build of the controller that I was able to see what they were going for when it comes to taking customization of their peripherals to the next level over the (growing) competition, whether it was remapping certain features on the controller for a better fit for players, or utilizing some new “ClickSticks” for better convenience of functionality.

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Get With The Clicks, And Remaps

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That’s what the team call these little nubs that are installed on the back of the controller, standing out a little bit from the routine design to provide the player extra functionality in a game. Gripping onto the controller, they’re easily reachable using the middle fingers of your hands, sort of like how the triggers fit comfortably with the index fingers. It’s a neat idea, and one that the team has since improved upon with its models over time, as older sticks were a bit edgier, causing a very slight sticking feeling into the hands.

But the team now works with rounded ClickSticks, and I have to say it’s like night and day. I tried out two different models, one with the older ClickSticks and one with the new, rounded ones. Not only do you get the level of feel that you want out of these (with remapping capabilities – more on that in a second), but they’re really convenient to use, especially with something along the lines of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare or FIFA 18, when you can click on these without mashing on a face button. I was really impressed how routine they felt – and kind of missed them when I went back to another controller, Force of habit, I suppose.

As for the remap feature, it’s basically a matter of holding down the stick that you’re looking to reprogram for about 12 seconds or so, and pressing the button you want to interchange functionality with. So, sure, you could change the firing functionality if you want, should you want to save the wear on your thumbs during a match. There’s a little check card that shows you just how these can be mapped, included with the controller (along with a neat little box featuring the company’s logo and “winking people”.) I thought this was a brilliant feature that worked really well with the latest model of the controller, even without any sort of light-up feature to indicate you’re doing it right. (That would’ve probably added to the cost, anyway.)

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Features Galore

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The team has also built in these SST trigger stops built into the L2 and R2 triggers for better functionality, though it’s an option you can do away with if you choose. The stops help you fire and aim with more precision in first person shooters that can improve how they play, with more frequency. But the studs can be removed, if you prefer full-on usage out of them. I found it real convenient how you could put them in and take them out when needed, depending on the game you’re playing.

Other features worth noting on TheControllerPeople’s savvy little model are the custom grips, which feature little lightning bolts (well, on this model anyhow) that are fashioned together neatly into a pattern, and the interchangeable analog sticks, in case you want to go for a more concave feeling, instead of the general DualShock 4 design. These are great additions to an already smoothly built controller, adding more to the general attire we’ve come to expect from a team like TheControllerPeople. The grips are plastic, so there’s a slight chance they could break if you drop a controller or anything. But the team was real courteous when this happened with the initial test controller, and made up for it with a better model, so fret not. (Plus, they’re optional, so you can always go with routine grips, if you prefer. I like this design, though.)

As far as controller performance goes, TheControllerPeople’s peripheral did remarkably. Even the initial model I was sent, with the weirdly shaped ClickSticks, was really something, but I was amazed how well the second build performed when I swapped them out. I had no trouble playing anything from fighting games to adventure games with it, and the new ClickSticks fit right into my play style with ease. Plus, its smooth, polished build makes it easy to hold, melding in with the plastic grips to create an ergonomic, yet innovative, design. I was really pleased by how well this controller performed.

There is an option to get the controller with a bullseye-like D-pad for improved functionality, if you prefer. I think I prefer the general D-pad design, though, as these seem a bit on the large side. Still, for someone looking to try something new – particularly with fighting games – they might strike you as a curiousity.

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A Terrific Controller, And Not Bad On Price Either

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So we’ve got quality build and strong performance, along with features you don’t normally get from a company. Now, then, what about price? This is the thing that really makes you question if a custom controller is worth it, right? Fortunately, TheControllerPeople have some pretty fair rates going, with controllers going from around 62.50 in pounds on up (remember, they’re in the UK), depending what you’re going after. Controllers can fare anywhere from around, per estimates, $95 to $165 shipped (that’s a rough translation from pounds, but still reasonable), depending what you’re going after.

For instance, probably one of the most expensive controllers the company sells is its TCP Ultimate, with pretty much every feature it sells built into the controller. A plain model goes for around 110 pounds or so, which is pretty steep, but comes with a number of features you don’t expect. Now, that’s their highest selling model. There are a number of “hydro dipped”, custom and “Elite” controllers that rotate around a much lower price, plus there’s an option where you can send in your own DualShock 4 controller, if you want to save a few bucks – and it’s a worthwhile choice to have if you’re strapped for cash.

Sure, the shipping process can take a little time, but it’s worth it for the quality of the controller that you get. Plus it’s reasonable when it comes to price, with a number of different models and options available. So if you want a controller that’s entirely painted pink, including touchpad and face buttons, hey, you’ve got that option. (We know you D.Va fans are out there. Admit it.)

As stated before, I hadn’t really heard too much about TheControllerPeople when I was making my rounds for new controllers to try on the PS4, but I’m glad I did. This small, sufficient team is making some really good peripherals for the market, with features that can make a difference and the kind of design that can throw you for a loop if you’re not expecting it. I enjoyed my time with their newest model of a controller and getting to use its abilities in the best way possible, and chances are you will, too.

They may not be a popular brand just yet, but give them time – TheControllerPeople’s PS4 models will definitely grow on you. Especially the first time you use them “ClickSticks”.

RATING: Four and a half stars out of five.

Disclaimer: A review model was sent by the manufacturer.

 

Symantec Discovers 8 Minecraft Apps Building a Botnet | News & Opinion

Up to 2.6 million Android devices have been infected by these eight malicious apps discovered on Google Play.


Minecraft Pocket Edition Sockbot Maaaalware Apps

Security company Symantec recently discovered a set of eight Android apps available in the Google Play store that have been quietly building a botnet as well as generating ad revenue for the creators.

The Android malware being used is detected as Android.Sockbot. The set of eight apps all present themselves as allowing the modification of characters in Minecraft: Pocket Edition. Clearly that’s a popular thing to do as Symantec believes up to 2.6 million Android devices have downloaded and been infected with the Sockbot malware. Users in the US, Brazil, Germany, Russia, and the Ukraine were all targeted.

Once installed, the apps proceed to connect to a command and control server in the background. Once connected, a server sends a predefined list of ads and associated metadata and starts requesting ads from a ad server. The app can’t display any ads, but the requesting is thought to generate revenue for the malware distributors.

At the same time the device is added to a botnet, which means it could be called upon in future to carry out specific tasks including distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS). For the device owner who installed one of these apps, they will have no idea this is going on and that the smartphone in their pocket is helping to carry out an attack of some kind or generate revenue for a third party. The only tell is likely to be greatly reduced battery life and phone performance.

All eight apps have been traced back to one developer account called FunBaster. The apps avoided detection for malicious activity in a number of ways including code obfuscation, key strings encryption, and signing each app with a different developer key.

Symantec contacted Google on October 6 with details of the eight apps and Google has since removed all of them from the store. That may stop further infections, but doesn’t really help the up to 2.6 million already infected devices.

Hawthorne approves dense apartment building, rejects appeals from SpaceX and Amazon – Daily Breeze

A hotly divided Hawthorne City Council traded accusations of corruption, conflict and collusion Tuesday night before approving a dense apartment building that will share a corner with SpaceX, an Amazon delivery hub and other industry, despite strong opposition from those companies.

The council voted 3-2 to allow Blackwood Real Estate to erect 230 small apartments on Crenshaw Boulevard at Jack Northrop Avenue. The six-story project will occupy a rectangular 2.5-acre lot that will also include a restaurant and walking paths.

The so-called “Green Line” development, which needed waivers from the city because it violates several zoning restrictions, was sold as a modern, transit-oriented project by virtue of its location one-half mile from a Green Line station.

City Council supporters — Angie English, Haidar Awad and Olivia Valentine — also refused to allow a second public comment period to hear from representatives from Amazon, SpaceX and the railroad that runs directly behind the property who wanted to speak in opposition.

Mayor Alex Vargas and Councilman Nilo Michelin strongly opposed the development, and the city’s planning director raised several concerns about its incompatibility with city land uses. The project provides fewer parking spaces than the city normally requires, and apartments are smaller than Municipal Code allows. Residents there also will be subject to noise and emissions from the 24-hour industrial operations next to them.

“For me, change is not more apartments. It’s more aerospace companies,” Michelin said. “I was not elected to passively defend developers. We don’t need more apartments.”

Before the vote, council members accused one another of corruption.

Vargas said English’s proposal in September to reduce the apartment density from 274 units to 230 units was suspicious.

“Why are some council members entering into unilateral negotiations with the developer?” Vargas said. “We were prohibited from talking to the developer. Who chose that 230 number? Why not 150? Why not 80?”

English shot back: “Since (Vargas) put it out there, there’s a lot to be said. There’s also been collusion on his part. I want to know from the planning director how many times the mayor has been in contact with you. The bull has to stop.”

English also accused the nonprofit Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. of unethical behavior for opposing the deal.

“There’s a conflict with LAEDC and SpaceX,” she said. “SpaceX is a member of LAEDC, so of course they would be here to benefit SpaceX. They’re colluding to make efforts to trash this project.”

Valentine also said she believes it’s “very suspicious” that SpaceX and the LAEDC were in opposition because “this (apartment building) will make the area attractive for commercial development.”

Lilian Haney, community relations manager at SpaceX, asked the council to reopen a public comment period at the beginning of the meeting, saying the rocket maker is concerned about the safety of homes so close to its headquarters.

“We do not think this project proposed is correct for this space,” Haney said.

Judy Kruger, a director at the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., said the city should declare the area an aerospace park rather than building housing in an industrial area.

“Industrial land is employment land, and a critical factor in growing an industry such as aerospace,” Kruger said. “Jobs in industrial parks support high-paying jobs. Industrial land availability rates around the region are only at 1 or 2 percent and we don’t need to lose any more industrial property.”

But supporters said Blackwood’s project is the kind of modern, forward-thinking development that Hawthorne needs.

Kyle Orlemann, vice chairwoman of the city’s veterans affairs commission, said she would like to move to a place like the Green Line project when she gets older.

“The city is changing and, yes, we have a lot of rental units here,” Orlemann said. However, we have a lot of traffic. The city is going to be a model where people live near where they work. (Renters there) can certainly walk to Lowe’s and that development and take cars off the street. Using public transportation is the way of the future.”

Dense apartment buildings are a particularly sore issue in the city because, in the 1970s and ’80s, developers concentrated such projects in the crime-ridden Moneta Gardens neighborhood.

“We do have a lot of apartments,” said Alex Monteiro, a principal of Moneta Gardens Improvement Inc. “We have 70 percent renters. We need more homes and condominiums for sale, not for rent.”

Resident Andrea Santana accused Awad of having a conflict of interest because his father, who operates a used-car dealership and financing business, owns undeveloped land in the city. She has previously brought up concerns about whether the Blackwood deal will open the door to similar lucrative deals involving dense  apartment buildings.

Awad responded that he will make his personal finances public.

“I am clean,” Awad said. “When you’re clean, you have no fear of what’s in the shadows.”

Google is building a smart screen competitor to Amazon’s Echo Show


Multiple sources tell TechCrunch that Google is building a tabletop smart screen for video calling and more that will compete with Amazon’s Echo Show. The device could help Google keep up in the race for the smart home market after Amazon just revealed a slew of new Echos and as Facebook continues to work on its codename “Aloha” video calling screen.

Two sources confirm to TechCrunch that the Google device has been internally codenamed “Manhattan” and will have a similar screen size to the 7-inch Echo Show. One source received info directly from a Google employee. Both sources say the device will offer YouTube, Google Assistant, Google Photos and video calling. It will also act as a smart hub that can control Nest and other smart home devices.

Our sources say that Google previously was working on products with larger screens that would compete with full-sized televisions, but it’s now more focused on the Manhattan device. We’re told that the original target launch date was mid-2018. But due to the Echo Show there’s intense internal pressure to get this launched in 2017, though it may still end up released in 2018. That’s because there are a ton of moving parts to establishing the smart hub partnerships, plus it’s exploring the possibility of service partnerships with Best Buy Geek Squad and Enjoy for home installation.

Amazon’s Echo Show allows video calling

Our sources say that the device will run a version of Android, making it easier for third-parties to build apps for it. One app the team is particularly interested in seeing run on the device is Netflix, though that’s not confirmed yet.

It’s unclear what the price of the device will be or what exactly it will look like. The image up top is just a TechCrunch-made mock-up based on the Echo Show. Google did not respond to a request for comment before press time, but we’ll update if we hear back. Google does have a hardware event on October 4th, though there’s no indication that we’ll hear more about this device then.

Why Google Needs A Smart Hub Screen

The inclusion of YouTube on the Manhattan device gives more clarity to why Google recently pulled YouTube off the Echo Show. At the time, Amazon told The Verge “Google has chosen to no longer make YouTube available on Echo Show, without explanation and without notification to customers. There is no technical reason for that decision”.

Google responded that “Amazon’s implementation of YouTube on the Echo Show violates our terms of service, creating a broken user experience”. The Echo Show didn’t have all the subscriptions and video recommendations YouTube may believe are critical. It seems Google is willing to sacrifice added reach for YouTube to protect its integrity…especially when its own similar device where it controls the experience is on the way.

The existing Google Home lacks a screen

There are plenty of other reasons for Google to launch a smart screen.

  • It’s another way to get Google Assistant into people’s homes, which Google wants to become the voice operating system for your life.
  • It’s a vector for Google’s video chat apps like Duo and Hangouts. The tabletop form-factor could be popular with kids and seniors who might be less comfortable with a phone or traditional computer, and would appeal families who want to see each other while catching up.
  • It could allow Google to become the center of people’s growing array of smart home devices. Typically these gadgets require a hub or bridge that connects to ethernet or Wifi and then beams connectivity to the wireless devices, but having different hubs for every device can be annoying. A Google-made omni-hub that worked with many different partners could simplify set up, lock in Google as an essential part of the smart home, and compete with Amazon’s new Echo Plus hub.
  • It creates a new surface for experiencing the company’s other products like Google Photos, which could get a growth boost as people see the device running as a digital photo frame and want to download the app powering it. This could also be a differentiator from Amazon since the competitor’s Prime Photos service isn’t nearly as popular as Google Photos

Essentially, there are few reasons for Google not to launch this. It already has Google Wifi units, Google Home smart speakers, and Chromecasts. But what’s lacking is a screen and smart hub. The Manhattan device would perfectly complement Google’s existing offering. Finally, a smart screen would help the company keep up with Amazon’s Echo team that seems hellbent on leaving Google in the dust.