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Think the government is doomed? See if you can build a better one in ‘Seed’

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***Original post published on Digital Trends***

Games are a potent way of looking at the world. We use the language of teams, scoring, plays, and counter-plays to describe warfare, politics, the law, and more. Dutch sociologist Johan Huizinga went so far as to say that games are the defining human activity in his 1938 classic, Homo Ludens.

But outside academia, games are rarely used as tools for understanding society. Berlin-based independent studio Klang aims to change that with its upcoming massively multiplayer simulation, Seed, which is early in development.

The whole idea is that we want the game to spin out of what the players decide to do and create

In order to add weight to Seed‘s intellectual ambitions, Klang has brought on one heck of a ringer. Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig is a world-renowned scholar of constitutional law, a liberal political activist, and onetime presidential candidate. He’s spent a career studying governance in the abstract, and helping to shape it in the real world. Now he’s applying that experience to developing the in-game political framework for Seed.

We spoke to Lessig and Klang co-founder Mundi Vondi earlier this summer about Seed and the team’s ambitious goals for pushing the boundaries on what games can do and be.

Putting the “simulation” back in The Sims

Describe any game as “massively multiplayer,” and most gamers will likely make a few assumptions. You run around killing things for experience points, gathering loot, and cooperate with teammates to kill a big enemy at the end. That’s weirdly specific description for a term that really only describes how many people can play, but that’s how dramatically World of Warcraft’s success has reshaped the industry.

Early concept art for Seed

Seed will look nothing like the MMORPGs you’re used to. In the game, You control several characters living in an upstart community as part of an effort to populate a new planet in a new solar system. You are responsible for your characters’ health and happiness. You have to make sure they have a roof over their head and food in their belly, such that they and their community can continue to grow and thrive.

Unlike conventional online games, Seed will keep running with all of its denizens 24/7, whether you’re actively playing or not. “This was essential to us,” Vondi explained, “because online communities tend to turn into ghost towns when players are offline — for more than 90 percent of their daily lives they’re not actually in the game.” For Seed to really work as a simulation, it can’t have only a fraction of its population present at any given moment. This is because absolutely everything in Seed, from the environment to every item bought and sold, is driven by players.

In practice it’s like a massively multiplayer take on The Sims.

In practice, it’s a massively multiplayer take on The Sims. You only control the characters indirectly, however, setting tasks and schedules for when they should work, sleep, and enjoy free time (similar to systems in management sim games like RimWorld). Artificial intelligence, taking into account any number of mood-affecting factors, will determine what the characters actually do from moment to moment, which is why the player isn’t necessary for their continued existence.

“What we’re going for basically is that there’s a lot of Butterfly Effects that we’re building up,” Vondi said. “So you can imagine for instance a character that doesn’t sleep in a bed because the player didn’t give him one, so he doesn’t show up to his job the next day, and the restaurant where he works gets in trouble because they’re short-staffed, which might affect another person who’s eating there, and so on — it has a trickling effect.”

Other online games, such as EVE Online and Albion Online, have experimented with managing player-driven virtual societies before, allowing players to shape the in-game world through economics — production, supply, and demand. This allows for dynamic in-game systems, but within prescribed boundaries. What separates Seed is the extent of the control which players will have over all the systems of governance and economics. Players within communities will collectively decide how they want to govern themselves, ranging from major decisions like whether to be a democracy or a monarchy, to more fine-grained policy-making like open carry laws and income taxation rates.

Political Animals

As a world-renowned scholar of political science, this is where Lessig’s expertise comes to bear. He helped design the systems for how communities in Seed will make these collective decisions, mapped out a conceptual paper of these options and trade-offs earlier in the year, and spent the month of July embedded with the studio in Berlin to help flesh it out in practice.

Lawrence Lessig (left) and Mundi Vondi

More than just an interesting opportunity for experimentation, Lessig sees this a way to give players a direct hand in shaping their play experience into what they want:

“Obviously people don’t come to a game like this to practice model U.N., they come to play and build communities and I really think about the governance as a kind of utility that we offer them to make it so that their gaming experience will be more rewarding and more fruitful.”

Lessig and Vondi both said part of the impetus behind Seed is the tenuous state of many democracies around the world. Lessig recalled their first real meeting about the game the morning after President Trump’s election.

The whole idea is that we want the game to spin out of what the players decide to do and create

“I remember that morning feeling like things seemed so hopeless, and it was a wonderful escape to be at the Seed studios talking to developers about what we can do with it…

“We’ve got real challenges with democracy in the real world. At least in my country it’s not working well, if at all. So what was really intriguing to me was the idea that here we could create an environment where there could be many tens of thousands of experiments with different forms of governance. It might be that we can actually learn something about which forms work best in this context, and it might be that that helps us understand something about the same question in the real world.”

Using Seed as a tool to gain understanding about societies is built into the foundation of the project. Vondi explained how the game will launch with tools designed for collecting and modeling the huge amounts of data that Seed will produce.

“I would love to see people outside the game take all that data and build models to look at it more deeply than what we would think to do, and that’s the exciting part,” Vondi said. Social scientists and other researchers have already found ways to squeeze useful information out of existing online games, but Seed will be the first game built from the ground up with this in mind.

As a scholar, Lessig is particularly interested in building a game that “would help political scientists and constitutionalists think about what’s the relationship between these forms of governance and the kinds of activities it encourages.” Down the road, he road, he hopes data from the game could even be studied.

Blue sky thinking, big tent development

“Games aren’t anymore just these simple entertainments,” Vondi mused, “but they can be tools for understanding, which is an elevation from your average story- or action-driven experience.” He mentioned the famous Corrupted Blood Plague from World of Warcraft — when a boss’ contagious spell ended up accidentally escaping a dungeon and infecting the game in a way that epidemiologists found perfectly matched how real-world diseases spread — as an inspiration for Seed: “Obviously that was a mistake, but if that was to be the focus you could take it much further. It’s going to be a simulation, rather than a fully controlled game.”

Vondi hopes that bringing a high-profile intellectual like Lessig will set an example for others outside the field to come and add their voices.

Although Vondi’s co-founders came from EVE Online developer CCP, he himself has no professional gaming background. His background is in fine art, production, and filmmaking. He feels that bringing in more outside perspectives like his own and that of Lessig will be instrumental for helping games escape, “the stigma that they are all driven by nerds and male-oriented adventure-seekers.” While Vondi and Lessig are of course nerdy men themselves, their interests in Seed seem unrecognizable next to the power fantasies of typical, mainstream video games. Vondi hopes that bringing a high-profile intellectual like Lessig into gaming will set an example for others outside the field to come and add their voices.

For Lessig, the project extends beyond his professional interests and into the personal as well: “Frankly, my closest connection to games right now is the obsession of my sons. I’ve got a 13-year-old and a 10-year-old” – “Hello!” a young voice interjects into the call — “they’re here playing a game right now. Just watching the fascination and the way these games take over their whole perspective and their life has been both interesting and worrisome. I’m eager to get into a project that gives me a closer touch to that part of their life.”

Lessig is one of those rare academics willing to put his money where his mouth is, running for the Democratic nomination in the most recent primary on the platform of campaign finance reform he’d been developing through his scholarship. Seeing the powerful effect that games have on his children gives Seed compelling personal stakes for him, as he recognizes the immense potential for both growth and abuse in the flourishing, young medium.

Video games are at an exciting turning point as a medium. Seed is very early in development, but it presents a fascinating vision of gaming’s potential future, designed from the ground up as both entertainment and a tool for the social sciences. It will be available on PC in some form in 2018.

***This post originally published on Digital Trends***

Digital Trends is a leading consumer technology publisher helping people navigate an increasingly digital world. With easy-to-understand product reviews, entertaining news and videos, Digital Trends serves more than 30 million unique visitors each month. Digital Trends reaches 90 million tech influencers through their own media network, and its syndicate partners include Yahoo!, FOX News and more than 200 broadcast news stations. Digital Trends is headquartered in Portland, OR with offices in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Chicago.

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For American astronauts, the moon beckons once again

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On the 45th anniversary of American astronauts’ last visit to the moon, President Trump signed a new directive to launch a plan to once again set foot on the lunar surface.

The signing of Space Policy Directive-1 at the White House on Monday, December 11 authorizes NASA to focus efforts on a moon landing, reinforcing a unanimous recommendation by the new National Space Council, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, in October 2017.

You may be asking, “So what happened to Mars?” after so much bold talk in recent years of manned missions to the red planet. Well, plans to embark on that ambitious journey certainly haven’t been abandoned, with the moon trip expected to lay the foundations for a future mission to the faraway planet.

“The directive I am signing today will refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery,” President Trump said on Monday. “It marks a first step in returning American astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972, for long-term exploration and use.”

Trump added, “This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprints — we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars, and perhaps someday, to many worlds beyond.”

Vice President Pence insisted America will “lead in space once again on all fronts,” adding, “Space is the ‘next great American frontier’ and it is our duty — and our destiny — to settle that frontier with American leadership, courage, and values.”

Despite the ambitious proclamations, details for the moon mission — or missions — are currently thin on the ground. It’s not yet clear what kind of funding NASA will receive, or whether it will partner with private outfits like SpaceX to expedite the plan. And there was no mention of a timeline for a manned mission to the moon, or indeed to Mars.

NASA nevertheless said it was looking forward to “supporting the president’s directive, strategically aligning our work to return humans to the moon, travel to Mars, and opening the deeper solar system beyond.”

Trump signed the directive in front of a small group of dignitaries, among them NASA astronauts Sen. Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, who landed on the moon 45 years to the minute that the policy directive was signed, Buzz Aldrin — the second human to set foot on the moon back in 1969, Peggy Whitson, the current holder of the record for the longest time (665 days) spent in space by a U.S. astronaut, and Christina Koch, a member of NASA’s astronaut class of 2013.

The White House directive intensifies a new space race between the U.S., China, and Japan to return humans to the moon. Both Asian countries in 2017 outlined separate plans for moon missions. Japan appears to be looking at 2030 for a trip to the lunar surface, while China has outlined plans for a mission soon after that. We’ll have to wait for more details from the U.S. government to find out if it has any hope of getting there sooner.

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***This post originally published on Digital Trends***

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How to change the background on a Mac

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***Original post published on Digital Trends***

You’ve got a brand new MacBook or iMac, so it’s time to spruce up that desktop background with something other than the stock Apple photos.

The good news is that it’s not hard to change the background on your Mac computer. Whether you want to switch to a favorite new photo, put up a dazzling image you found online, or rotate between a collection of your favorite backgrounds, we can show you how to change the background on a Mac the easy way.

Changing your background to another image

Mac Background Finder

This option is for those of you who recently downloaded an image online or from a similar source and want to make it your background. It’s quick and simple, here’s how to get started:

Step 1: Exit out or downsize any windows on your screen so your Mac is focused on the desktop. In the upper left corner you will see the option to choose and open the Finder window. If you don’t already have a Finder window open, start one by choosing this option or using a keyboard shortcut.

Step 2: In the Finder window, search for the image that you want to use for your background. Make special note of what the image was called when you downloaded it, or just search your most recently downloaded images to find it. Make sure that it is the correct image. If you have saved the image to your desktop, the file icon should be visible out there as well, if you want to save a little time.

Step 3: Right click on the image to show the dropdown menu of everything you can do with it. Toward the bottom of this menu, you should see an option to Set Desktop Picture. Choose this, and this image should automatically be moved to your background. This gives you an opportunity to immediately see how it looks and if the resolution is acceptable.

Changing your background to a specific photo

Mac Background PhotoSuppose you have a specific photo that you or a friend took, that you want to use for your Mac background. Here’s how to do it quickly!

Step 1: Make sure the photo is imported into your Mac Photos app. This may have happened automatically, depending on how your devices are set up. Open your Photos app (you can find it in Applications in the menu bar) and find the photo that you want to use as a background.

Step 2: Right click the photo that you want to use, and select Share. This will create a secondary menu of the places you can share the photo, and at the bottom you will find an option to Set Desktop Picture. Choose this.

Note: Photos also makes it easy to assign photos to specific screens if you have multiple monitors. Just drag the Photos app window to the monitor that you want equip with that background as you are working.

Advanced option: Set your background to rotate images

Can you just not make up your mind about the best image to use? Do you have a lot of favorites and like to switch a lot? It’s easy to set your Mac up to automatically switch between images, although it takes a bit more work. Here’s how to do it.

Step 1: Using the Finder, create a new folder and call it something easy like “Background Images.” Copy all the images that you really want to use as backgrounds, and paste them into this folder. Add any new images or photos that you also want to use as backgrounds. Anything you want for your background needs to be in this folder.

Mac Background Rotate

Step 2: Head to the menu bar and open up System Preferences, which you can find under the Apple menu in the top left corner of the screen. Once there, look for the icon for Desktop & Screen Saver and open it up. Make sure you are on the desktop tab and not the screensaver tab.

Step 3: In the select-an-image menu on the left, you should see a small plus and minus sign at the bottom. Select the plus sign, which will allow you upload a folder from your Mac. Choose the folder where your images have been collected, and add it.

Step 4: At the bottom of the window you will see an option to Change picture. Make sure this option is checked and that your folder is the source selected. You can then choose how often you want the desktop background to change. Choose something that works for you – we like changing the image once a day so every morning is something different, but if you want more of a slideshow feel, you can cut that down by a lot. You can also choose whether pictures are chosen randomly from the folder, or if they change in order.

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***This post originally published on Digital Trends***

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Outfit the athlete in your life with one of the best gifts for runners

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***Original post published on Digital Trends***

Tis the season for hanging mistletoe, listening to holiday carols, and shopping ’til you drop. If you still have a runner on your list to find a gift for, you may be scrambling to try to track something down they’ll actually like. If you don’t run yourself, this daunting task is even harder — how are you supposed to know exactly what a runner wants for the holidays? You’re still trying to get your head around the fact people find it fun to jog in circles until they collapse.

Fear not, we’re here to help. We’ve rounded up the latest gadgets, coolest gear, and sleekest apparel in the running world to give you a hand with your shopping woes. Below, you’ll find the products we thought were the best gifts for runners this season. Whether they’re into trail running, road races, marathons, triathlons, or just jogging around the block, we found something for everyone.

best gifts for runners fuelbelt ultralight belt lifestyle

This amazing little hydration gadget has the ability to revolutionize anyone’s running game. The extremely lightweight belt features two ergonomically shaped plastic bottles which sit smoothly against the fabric and fit perfectly into the curve of their hand when they go to have a drink. With Helium Hex airflow, the water is easy to drink and its clip-lock security bottle holster keeps the dishwasher-safe bottles free from bouncing around during a run. Featuring a unisex design, its fits runners of any size.

Buy it now:

Amazon

best gifts for runners night trek shoe lights lifestyle

If the person you’re shopping for is someone who likes to run at night, these LED shoe lights will help keep them visible while also allowing them to avoid rocks, ruts, and sidewalk cracks. The water-resistant contraptions blast 150 lumens up to 30 or more feet ahead of the runner, offering light to illuminate whatever surface they’re jogging on. Rear-facing red tail lights also let drivers know where they’re at and the whole unit offers 270 degrees of visibility. The devices clip on securely, delivering three to five hours of light in one stretch of battery life.

Buy it now:

Amazon

best gifts for runners arc teryx norvan sl jacket lifestyle 1

This lightweight trail running jacket is constructed with ShakeDry, a type of Gore-Tex technology that doesn’t have face fabric, allowing it to weigh less than similar Gore-Tex shells. The breathable, packable jacket clocks in at just 4.2 ounces and can be compressed into a tiny ball. Lastly, the waterproof hood rolls back and snaps together so it doesn’t flap around when not in use.

Buy it now:

Moosejaw

best gifts for runners balega silver ion socks lifestyle

They will never experience softer, more securely fitting training socks than Balega’s Silver Ion line. Unlike many runner’s socks which constantly slide down and bunch up around the heel, these offer compressive arch support bands that keep them fitting snugly — there’s even a high heel tab that hugs the inside of shoes and an extra deep heel pocket to prevent sliding. The design also encourages a more natural foot movement and improved circulation. This line of Balega socks uses technology that encapsulates the sock fibers in silver ions to create enhanced antibacterial properties which, paired with the fabric’s Drynamix moisture management, keeps the runner’s feet dry and odor-free.

Buy it now:

Amazon

best gifts for runners yaxtrax run traction device lifestyle

There are fair-weather runners and then there are die-hards who get outside to train in the rain, sleet, snow, and hail. If you’re shopping for the latter runner, YaxTrax’s device is a game changer for them. The anatomically designed product fits snugly on their shoe and is built with strong rubber, 1.4-millimeter steel coils, and carbide steel spikes, allowing them to winterize their running shoes and train more safely on snow and ice. It offers traction for temperatures as low as ‑41 degrees Fahrenheit and, as a bonus, has a reflective heel tab for night training.

Buy it now:

Amazon

best gifts for runners katadyn befree collapsible flask lifestyle

This lightweight, award-winning water flask has a built-in filter, allowing runners to “be free” of the hunt for hydration, filling up their bottles virtually anywhere and letting the flask’s EZ-Clean Membrane clean it up for them. It features a gentle-squeeze top and a removable filter that easily pops out for a quick rinse. The collapsible design even allows it to fit into small backpacks and some pockets.

Buy it now:

Amazon

best gifts for runners scarpa spin lifestyle2 1

The Spin is a sleek trail running shoe that offers high-level performance without the cumbersome bells and whistles. The shoe performs fabulously on technical terrain, allowing runners to tackle hills faster and enjoy precise foot control. It features a Vibram outsole with Megagrip technology, a high-density rock plate, and a mesh upper with welded PU overlay. All told, it’s a great running shoe that offers superior stability in a simple, minimalist package.

Buy it now:

Amazon

best gifts for runners aftershokx trekx titanium lifestyle

When they’re out jogging around, they need music to get in the zone and this gadget from AfterShokz is essentially the Cadillac of running headphones. The wireless, open ear design showcases bone conduction technology, a method which delivers music through someone’s cheekbones, allowing their ears to stay open to their surroundings. This maintains their situational awareness, keeping them safer while also allowing them the ability to listen to their favorite tunes. The Bluetooth 4.1 offers perfect syncing to a smartphone, the sound quality is stellar, and the titanium wraparound headband keeps the device securely in place.

Buy it now:

Amazon

best gifts for runners garmin forerunner 935

Garmin’s Forerunner 935 is one of the best sport watches available for runners, particularly those who regularly participate in races, marathons, and triathlons. The device tracks heart rate, sleep, calories burned, personal records, steps, and other fitness metrics while they run. The lightweight watch also delivers smart notifications, allow for automatic workout uploads and syncs with Strava Live Segments to let them compete with their friends. With interchangeable bands, they can swap out a variety of options for a different style, making it a versatile, top-of-the-line running accessory.

Buy it now:

Amazon

best gifts for runners spy hunt sunglasses lifestyle

Happy runners are fast, effective runners. This cool pair of shades from SPY boasts Happy Lens technology that filters out bad short-wave blue light, allowing more long-wave blue light to penetrate the lens. The idea is that with more of this type of ray — which has been connected to improvements in mood — it will theoretically boost their happiness and make for a more enjoyable run or outdoor activity. The lens technology also offers stellar visual clarity, enhancing colors and contrast to make training safer and more effective. These “trail to tavern” sunglasses even have a stylish, casual frame with sturdy Grilamid material which allows them to look as good as they function.

Buy it now:

Amazon

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