New Online Game Asks Players to Fight Homelessness

When many people think about video games, their minds fill with images of blue-furred hedgehogs and mustachioed plumbers. But while creating his new online game Can You Solve It?, Portland-based programmer James Moore has something else in mind: reducing homelessness.

Moore is a lifelong gamer with a passion for social justice, though he says it “wasn’t until the last couple of years until those things kind of started to melt together.” That melting resulted in Can You Solve It?, which can be played for free and asks players to help alleviate homelessness through both simple acts of kindness and political action.

Can You Solve It? is the work of a team that includes animator and composer Brian Lambert, Moore and Jes Larson, Moore’s wife.

“My wife is a housing advocate and we had pitched game ideas back and forth for a number of years,” Moore explains. “This was one that she came up with a couple of years ago. She and I worked on together somewhat, her mostly in the conceptual side of things.”

The concept of Can You Solve It? is a powerful one. The entire game takes place along a brick wall where the gamer encounters numerous homeless people. As the player, you have the option of either walking by without doing anything or handing out food, money and friendly greetings.

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Moore says that the game was motivated by his desire to counter what he views as misconceptions about homelessness. “We have been told that, ‘Oh, they’re going to convert whatever you give them into drugs,’” he says. “Or, ‘They made terrible life choices, so they don’t deserve X.’ We believe those ideas are just patently false.”

To counter those ideas, Moore says it was important to put players “in the position of giving things to people” to show them “that it’s okay to give things to someone because they’re a human being. It’s just basic human dignity that you’re serving.”

Can You Solve It? fulfills that mandate effectively. When you walk past someone sleeping on a sidewalk in real life, it’s too easy to ignore them. Can You Solve It? forces you to take notice, an experience that breeds both empathy and a desire to take action. The game’s simplicity is also a strength—the fact that you spend most of your time as a player simply moving along one street keeps you focused on the game’s message, instead of getting caught up in the experience of playing it.

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Moore used a game development tool called Construct to create Can You Solve It? The game “wasn’t programmed in the traditional sense that I was typing text commands,” Moore explains. He says that Construct “tells you what you can do and you kind of chain the commands together.” During production of the game, Lambert would create animated sequences which Moore would then weave into Construct.

Moore says he wasn’t satisfied enough with Construct to use it again, though he is proud of Can You Solve It? He also seems gratified by the experience of collaborating with Larson and Lambert. “The game wouldn’t be nearly as compelling without Brian Lambert’s great artwork or music,” he says. “There are indie game developers who do absolutely everything themselves and those people are geniuses, but more often than not it takes a team of people.”

Virtual Reality Startup VOKE Acquired by Intel

A gust of VR news swept through the tech community last week when it was announced that Intel acquired VOKE, a startup which focuses on virtual reality broadcasts of live events, including NBA games and fashion events.

“VOKE’s technology lets fans be where the action is without ever leaving their living rooms,” Intel’s James Carwana wrote in a blog post. According to TechCrunch, VOKE will be part of a brand-new division called Intel Sports Group, which Carwana is general manager of.

VOKE’s signature product is TrueVR™, which allows viewers to delve into the midst of events from various angles and zoom in on specific details. Since VOKE does not manufacture its own headsets, TrueVR™ is also created to be compatible with Gear VR and Rift headsets.

VOKE CEO Sankar Jayaram, who co-founded the company with Uma Jayaram, his wife, says he’s excited about VOKE being acquired by Intel because it will allow the company to bring TrueVR™ to more people’s homes. To do that “you need someone with big muscle,” he acknowledges.

The headquarters of both VOKE and Intel are located in Santa Clara. Chelsea Hossaini, Intel’s NW communications manager, says that there is no official headquarters for Intel Sports Group, but she does note that “we have employees across Intel sites working” on the new division.

The acquisition is part of Intel’s plan to diversify beyond the struggling PC market. Intel, the largest employer in Oregon, has acquired other intriguing companies recently the Israeli company Replay Technologies, which specializes in 3D sports, and the San Francisco startup Itseez, which wants to improve navigation in self-driving cars.

In other words, if you want to go full Intel, maybe you should pick up your next batch of VR gadgets in a Google X car.

Interested in VR?  Check out TechfestNW

Announcing TechfestNW 2017

Portland’s biggest and most exciting tech and startup conference is back—and, as they say, bigger and better than ever. TechfestNW 2017 is coming to the Portland Art Museum on March 23-24. 

TechFestNW is a gathering of leading thinkers, startups and established companies that has showcased the the Pacific Northwest’s talent and innovation for the past five years.

This year’s just-launched website is here.

This year at TechfestNW, the focus on the Pacific Northwest’s homegrown talent will remain strong. But in 2017,  TechfestNW will go global—bringing in international innovators from as near as Canada and as far away as Hong Kong.

As in previous years, TechfestNW will bring speakers from all across technology and innovation fields, from the head of Nike’s global digital innovation department bringing cutting-edge technology to athletic-wear across the world to Stanford University futurist and artificial intelligence expert Jerry Kaplan to the founder of fast-expanding vacation-rental site Vacasa.

PitchfestNW will also be back—linking up entrepreneurs looking to make their own bold ideas into viable companies with investors from around the world. If you want to pitch your idea to venture capitalists at PitchfestNW,  apply here.

For the third year in a row, TechfestNW needs to expand to a larger venue. In 2017, TechfestNW will move into the Portland Art Museum.

The new locale in the Portland Art Museum also means that the mission of TechfestNW will broaden to include not just innovative technologies but the stories that surround it.

TechfestNW is also excited to host famed Portland filmmaker Gus Vant Sant.

Attendees will also get to hear from the New York Times‘ tech reporter Nicole Perlroth, whose most recent high-profile pieces covered the international hacking scandals that have shaped our most recent elections, as well as writer and Carnegie Mellon-trained roboticist Daniel Wilson, whose novel Robopocalypse was optioned by Steven Spielberg.

And in a state that just legalized cannabis—and inaugurated cannabis as one of the main grounds for innovation—TechfestNW will also bring in one of the most important minds working in cannabis today, Jeremy Plumb, who plans to use science, medicine and state-of-the-art tech to revolutionize how we think about cannabis.

Attendees will get to check out new technology before it’s available at TechfestNW’s Demo Alley—as well as simply check out the city of Portland. TechfestNW will offer a number of Portland exploration meetups throughout town.

So mark your calendars. Buy your tickets. Ready your self-driving car.

A New Website Mapped and Animated The Movements of All TriMet Busses in a 24-Hour Period

Did you ride a TriMet bus on September 7, 2016? If you did, you were watched.

DB4IoT (a website that bills itself as “A Database Engine for Internet of Things”) has released a video that tracks the movement of every TriMet bus for a 24-hour period (from 3:30 am on September 7 to 3:30 am on September 8).

It turns out that tracking TriMet’s property is easier than you might suspect. According to DB4IoT, TriMet buses come outfitted with GPS sensors that track their location. “All of this data is sent from each bus to TriMet’s servers on the internet once every 10 seconds,” DB4IoT writer Eimar Boesjes says. “TriMet makes this available as a live data stream to the public.”

While the ability to follow every TriMet bus in Portland sounds like something ripped from the pages of 1984, the video itself is actually rather goofy. Sped up to show 24 hours worth of movement in three minutes, it represents buses using purple, red, yellow, gray, blue and green dots, which zoom across the screen like Tetris cubes while pulsating electronic music plays in the background.

We Changed Our Commenting System—Now Tell Us What You Think.

Last month, we changed our commenting system from Civil Comments back to Disqus. Since, we’ve seen a big increase in the number of comments and we’ve only had a delete a handful.

Now, you can weigh in on the change.

The Engaging News Project, a media research group based at the University of Texas at Austin is working with the Coral Project, a collaboration between the Washington Post, the New York Times and Mozilla Foundation to gather information from readers and commenters to better understand commenting on news sites.

Take a couple of minutes to fill out the survey here and enter in a drawing to win a $30 gift card to Mississippi Studios/Bar Bar or two Hollywood Theater movie passes.

There’s a Drone Show On the Roof of a Portland Hotel Tomorrow Night

Luddites, beware—the drones are coming.

Thursday night, tech publication Digital Trends will host a drone show on the rooftop of Hotel deLuxe garage from 6-9 pm—the perfect time for drones to capture the sunset. The event is part of TechPOP, a series of small parties to showcase cool tech, such as 3-D printers.

Guests will be able to test out drones, as well as virtual reality gear, with the HTC Vive and the Samsung Gear VR will have small stations.

and one lucky person will even take home the Typhoon H drone.

Light snacks Koi Fusion and Slick’s Big Time BBQ will be provided, as will beer from Breakside and Pfriem. Ezra from Case of Bass will be play tunes via his portable custom boomboxes, which are created with anything from skateboards to woks.

Here’s videos from their previous drone events:

Should We Be Rooting for Gawker Or the Billionaire They Publicly Outed?

I thought I’d learned everything I needed know about morality from Young Adult films in the 1990s.

Life was simple back then. There was always a clear hero and an obvious villain. Sure, every once in a while there’d be an oddly athletic Golden Retriever or angels would descend from heaven to change the course of sports history for the sake of an orphan boy’s wish. But no matter what antics ensued, you always knew who to root for.

For example, if a movie featured a ragtag group of kids playing a baseball game against the richest teens in town, then any decent human being knew to root for the team filled with misfits and oddballs. They may not have matching uniforms or proper training, but they’ve got heart. And in 90s movies about little league or junior hockey or youth football, heart was all that mattered.

Unfortunately, it’s a lot harder to tell the Good Guys from the Bad Guys in real life. Sometimes, it even seems like there are no Good Guys at all. Don’t get me wrong; the entitled, spoiled rich kids are still jerks. But who do we root for if it turns out that the ragtag team of misfits make money by publicly outing gay businessmen and non-consensually releasing celebrity porn?

Who do we champion when it turns out that everyone involved is a Bad Guy?

In 2012, Gawker.com leaked excerpts of Hulk Hogan’s sex tape, for which Hogan filed a lawsuit. In March of this year, a jury delivered a verdict in The Hulkster’s favor, awarding $140 million in damages to the wrestler. The lawsuit has since forced Gawker out of business, and that’s causing a whole mess of web-based hullabaloo.

The destruction of Gawker.com should be something most folks are pretty thrilled about. After all, anyone who was legitimately upset that Jennifer Lawrence had her naked photos leaked online or that Leslie Jones had her nude images hacked and plastered on her personal website should recognize Gawker’s decision to post Hogan’s sex tape as a vile and malicious breach of privacy. And anyone who pretended to be mad about the band YACHT releasing a fake sex tape a few months ago also has to pretend to be mad about Hollywood Hogan’s plight, otherwise you don’t get to share Reductress articles on your Facebook wall anymore.

Related: Should You Be Outraged by YACHT’s Sex Tape?

Hulk Hogan may be a racist, but even bigots deserve the god given right to make homemade sex-tapes without being publically shamed.

Initially, this seems like a clear-cut case of Bad Guy versus Good Guy. Gawker fucked up, and now they have to pay for it. But what complicates the issue is that Terry Boulder’s lawsuit was financially backed by billionaire entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who used the suit as a means of seeking retribution against Gawker for what he perceived as a personal slight that took place nine years ago. And waiting nine years to enact a fiscal revenge sounds like the work of a serious scoundrel. Plus, Peter Thiel is 1.) white 2.) male and 3.) a billionaire – and those are the three key ingredients in a Bad Guy starter kit. He also publicly supports Donald Trump and spoke at the Republican National Convention, which is something only fledgling supervillains get to do.

But, once again, the plot thickens: Peter Thiel is a gay immigrant, and he claims that Gawker outed him without his consent in a 2007 piece penned by Owen Thomas, the then managing editor of Valleywag, Gawker’s gossip and news blog about Silicon Valley.

Some have claimed that this is a lie and that Gawker did not out Peter Thiel, but I dunno. The piece was called Peter Thiel is Totally Gay, People. And amidst accusations of having outed a man, that title seems a lot like a smoking gun.

Plus, countless liberals have assured me that we should never question the validity of someone who claims to have been victimized or outed, and so I’m pretty sure rhetoric states that we have to take Peter Thiel’s word at face value or else risk being terrible allies.

So, to recap: A billionaire manipulated the law to destroy a “news” organization that immorally used its influence to out said billionaire and ruin a racist’s career. Because some stories don’t have a hero, and life is a Russian nesting doll full of villains.

Ultimately, I don’t know how to feel about all this because the rules of ’90s movie morality don’t apply to this scenario. This isn’t as clear-cut as Little Giants. This is more like Suicide Squad, where a bunch of villains fight another villain and it’s hard to care who wins because everyone deserves to lose.

It’s like if Kim Kardashian found a way to bankrupt Fox News. On the one hand, Fox News has done a lot of terrible shit. On the other hand (and to a much lesser degree), so has Kim Kardashian. But they both have the right to do all that terrible shit. And Kim K. is a wealthy woman of color, so I think I’m pretty sure I have to take her side no matter what. But also, the First Amendment defends Fox News. Because it’s a statistical fact that the First Amendment is 50% in support of progressive ideology, but then the other 50% is used to defend neo-Nazis, the Klux Klan, and Fox News.

At the end of the day, I’m not sure who’s been more victimized. Is it the gossip journalists at Gawker who definitely leaked someone’s pornography without their consent, or the outed gay billionaire who may have usurped the First Amendment?

I guess it’s a draw.

Either way, what’s scary is the possibility that this might become a trend. Wealthy citizens may now be able to use their money to affect and intimidate news outlets. Because, theoretically, this decision could lead to a loss of constitutional rights and allow the rich control the mediahahahahahahahaha.

I’m so sorry. I totally forgot that’s already how it is.

As the Impending Threat of the Zika Virus Looms Over Our Nation, the Line Between Legitimate Science and Sci-Fi May Get Blurry

I don’t know shit about science.

Because I don’t know shit about science, I frequently confuse potentially vital scientific works with the plot synopses of films featuring the evil schemings of a criminal mastermind hell bent on destroying the world. For example, if you were to tell me that researchers are currently exploring new options for couples who struggle with natural childbirth, I would be happy to tote my general support for any potential developments that might benefit struggling families. But were you to tell me that scientists may have discovered a way to take one woman’s egg and mix it with another woman’s egg in order to make a baby, then I would freak the fuck out. Because I read Y: The Last Man, and I can’t afford a monkey.

The realm of science is a vast, complex, expansive universe bursting with untold potential, but I don’t have time for potential. What I do have time for are dystopian dramas depicting science gone awry—and it’s that kind of fictional pseudoscience that has crafted the lenses through which I view the real world’s entire scientific community.

Unfortunately, new science—however vital—can often seem stranger than fiction. And as the impending threat of the Zika virus looms over our nation, the line between legitimate science and sci-fi may have to be blurred.

Florida has already housed several Zika cases. Recently, the Center for Disease Control issued a historic travel warning which advised pregnant women and their partners to avoid visiting a community in Florida where Zika is currently circulating. This is the first time that the presence of an infectious disease has forced the CDC to discourage people from traveling to an American neighborhood. And while the federal government is taking steps to prevent the spread of the disease, Texas health officials have already reported their state’s first Zika-related death.

These are real deaths, and real families that have been left grieving over great loss. There’s nothing funny about that, and I in no way wish to belittle those deaths or denigrate the suffering of others, be they within our outside our nation’s borders.

But while the presence of death and fear in the lives of so many is a very serious matter, there is a certain degree of absurdity in one of our government’s proposed solutions to stopping the spread of this deadly disease.

The FDA has recently approved of OX513A, a genetically modified mosquito designed to kill off Aedes aegypti mosquitoes – the species primarily associated with the Zika virus.

While this development does represent some hope in the fight against the disease, what’s most disturbing about this is that the words, “genetically modified mosquito” are definitely in somebody’s low budget screenplay—and I don’t trust any kind of science that sounds like it belongs in the expositional monologue delivered by Morgan Freeman at the beginning a Sci-Fi movie. What’s worse is that the plot thickens with each new detail involving this proposed solution to the very serious Zika problem.

It started with a virus. No one knew what it was or how serious it would be. Everyone hoped that, just like Ebola, it would run its course and disappear. But then, it started to spread. Soon the virus hit Florida. Then Texas. Soon, it seemed the whole nation was in danger of being infected…

Firstly, the genetically altered Mosquito has a creepy science name full of letters and numbers. In a digital age where having an accessible/humanizing/Snapchatable brand is clearly so important, the mosquito hasn’t been named “The Buzzkill,” or “World War Z(ika),” or “The Wrath of Prophet E-Zika-iel.” The mutant bug is currently being referred to as OX513A. And anything that sounds that much like an iTunes user password is going to start an apocalypse.

…In a desperate effort to fight the deadly virus, the government released genetically modified mosquitoes known as OX513A…

Secondly, the government hopes to conduct a small field study of OX513A in the unincorporated community of Key Haven on the island of Raccoon Key.

Rest assured, I am neither a conspiracy theorist nor a self-identified gamer. But I am a fan of Milla Jovovich, and I don’t think we should test a genetically altered anything in a real-word place that sounds that similar to Raccoon City.

…The government planned to release the genetically modified mosquitoes on a small island for what they thought would be a simple field test. But before their plan could be put into action, they let the people of Raccoon Key choose their own fate…

In an effort to be fair and democratic about the official release of our future insect overlords, the good people of Key Haven on Raccoon Key get to vote on whether or not they want their island to be the location that marks the first official step towards the end of the Zika virus and/or the birthplace of humanity’s demise. This is a fairly complex vote, because while the fear of being treated like a scientific lab rats is palpable, a vote against testing OX513A could potentially set the timeline way back in terms of finding a solution to the Zika virus.

And that’s the most terrifying part of all this. Because, no matter how the good people of Raccoon Key decide to vote, I think it’s safe to say that Floridians are pretty bad at decision making.

After all, the voters who are about to decide whether or not we release mutant blood mongers into the skies are the same people who elected folks like Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio into public office. That’s a cross-partisan legacy of shitty voting.

The mosquito is the only creature more dangerous to human beings than other human beings, and we’re about to let the decision on whether or not we release mutated versions of our species’ greatest nemesis up to Floridians—the same group of people who famously said, “Hey, this George Zimmerman guy seems legit.”

There’s no telling what type of catastrophic consequences will befall the human race now that this much power has been designated to a small island community in Florida. Sure, they’ll go in thinking they’re voting on whether or not to allow OX513A to roam their island, but they’ll leave having somehow elected George Bush as president. The Democrats will call for a recount, but it’ll be too late. We’ll have to invade Iraq all over again.

…By the time the virus had mutated, the people of Raccoon Key didn’t know what hit them. The government tried to quarantine the island, but it was too late. Humanity quickly faded into oblivion.

Just as the ancient prophecies foretold, the apocalypse started in Florida.

And sure, it’s easy to make fun of Florida—but this is a big decision. Zika is clearly a serious threat, and if we don’t do something fast, we still face the grave consequences that follow inaction. But it still feels unsettling to release mutated bugs to kill off disease riddled bugs, like fighting fire with genetically modified fire.

But how something “sounds” or “feels” has nothing to do with how scientific it is. And, again, I don’t know shit about science.

The release of OX513A has just as much—if not more—potential to do good. This may be one of the great scientific advancements of our time. This could potentially lead us down a path to the creation of an anti-Malaria mutant mosquito. We might be witnessing the dawn of a new era where no one ever has to buy insect repellent or protective bug nets or bury a child due to mosquito-born illness ever again.

Or maybe this is how we’ll all die.

Who knows? Science is crazy.

We’re Changing our Commenting System—Here’s Why

Back in January, we embarked on a bold experiment with the comments on wweek.com.

We partnered with a local startup Civil, the creators of Civil Comments, the first commenting platform designed to use peer review and self-review with the goal of creating a more welcoming comments section.

But, after six months, the results of this radical experiment are not what we’d hoped. Today, we are switching back to Disqus, our former commenting service.

The main reason is simple enough: We’ve seen a decrease in the number of comments on our site and the time people spend here. In other words, people weren’t as engaged. In addition, we felt the conversation was not markedly more courteous. It’s worth noting that this is unique among Civil clients, as other media outlets that use Civil saw a bump in their comment counts.

And in the six months since our switch, Disqus has introduced a number of new features to combat trolls and tailor the experience to each user’s sensibilities. One of which is “user blocking,” which will allow a reader or commenter to hide anyone whose comments you don’t want to see. This system is familiar from Facebook and Twitter. If you find a comment annoying—but not so offensive that it warrants flagging—simply block the user and you will not hear anything from him or her ever again.

A comments section with high engagement doesn’t necessarily have to be racist, mysogynistic and troll-heavy. It’s our job to moderate these comments. It’s going to be harder on us without Civil, but WW‘s staff will continue working to make our comments section a safe—and thriving—place.

Tech-Hater Brian McLean Won An Academy Award for “Scientific and Engineering Achievement” This Year

Laika’s Brian McLean finds it funny he won an Academy Award this year for “Scientific and Engineering Achievement.” Though he and colleague Martin Meunier helped drag stop-motion animation into the 21st century with their work on breakout hit Coraline, McLean spent most of his life actively opposing technological progress. As animation started to go CGI, jobs were tough for McLean to come by. He wanted to build old-school physical models.

“When I graduated college in ’99, I didn’t know how to write an email,” McLean recalls. “I was basically a Luddite—revolting against anything computer-generated—and it meant that I didn’t really know what I was going to do for a job because practical model-making had started to dry up.”

He was forced to take a job as shop steward at California College of the Arts. But as chance would have it, while there he was tasked with mastering the intricacies of a $250,000 3-D printer.

“Seeing the 3-D printer, that sort of changed my life,” he recalled. “It’s the bridge between the digital world and the physical world. It allows you to pull something out of ones and zeros and turn it into a physical object. I could still work with my hands, but now I’d be using the computers as a tool to generate something three-dimensional that I could hold and work with.”

He and Meunier presented the idea to current Laika president Travis Knight, and “rapid prototyping” was born. The process is especially good for making replacement faces: While a then-standard 800 heads were sculpted for Nightmare Before Christmas’ main character, Coraline could have 200,000 separate expressions, all made by 3-D printer.

Of course, not everyone was eager to welcome the coming revolution of McLean’s new Rapid Prototyping department. “A lot of people with careers in stop-motion had been really burned by computers in the ’90s,” he laughed. “I was one of them! People were nervous that 3-D printing was gonna come take their jobs away.”

People calmed down—McLean says staffing went up rather than down for Laika’s next feature, Paranorman. “It’s a tool,” says McLean. “No different than any other tool. You still are going to need artists to run it, you’re still going to need experts to figure it out.” And now? Laika’s upcoming August feature, Kubo and the Two Strings, will now also include McLean’s ancient enemy, computer animation. Except the CGI will be made to look like stop-motion models rather than the real world.

“The team had to find ways to make water look like water, but still feel like cheese cloth undulating around,” McLean says, “or make snow feel like it has been cut out of paper with very stylized edges reminiscent of origami.”

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